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Sentences and Summae


Since theology is based essentially on authority, being affirmations of Scripture or tradition examined by reason, it was natural that its earliest elaboration should take the form of collections of Sentences borrowed from the Fathers and early Christian writers. As theological thought progressed, it was marked by a growing use of reason and by a more orderly presentation of material.

Sentences. The collections referred to were called Sententiae or Summa sententiarum. The term "Sentences" indicates either citations and excerpts from works by the Fathers (such as the ancient florilegia, Flores patrum, excerpta, and catenae ), or simply their doctrinal positions. The latter meaning was generally preferred. The Sentences thus became something more than a series of selections from one book or one author. For example, the teaching of augustine appeared in the work of prosper of aquitaine, that of gregory i, in Paterius, and many florilegia of the 8th and 10th centuries. The materials were methodically chosen and carefully ordered.

Doctrinal Sentences in canonical, historical, or ascetical anthologies, as well as Sentences of grammar or logic, centered around one or more points of dogma or morals, and soon even around the totality of doctrine. Each author, choosing the order he preferred, built his synthesis around an idea that seemed fruitful or valid. Thus these collections were diversified and more or less complete and coherent.

The doctrinal type of Sentences appearing at the beginning of the 12th century developed rapidly, especially at the time of anselm of laon. His Biblical commentaries, enriched with many quaestiones, gave rise to collections named after the place of origin of their manuscripts, such as the Sententiae Attrebatenses, Berolinenses, and Varsavienses; or by their first words, such as the Summa Principium et causa, Deus de cujus principio, and Prima rerum origo; or simply the Sententiae divinae paginae.

Gradually the genre developed method and originality. abelard's Introductio ad theologiam (1125), and Sic et non show selection of patristic texts expressing pros and cons on the principal questions of theology. peter lombard although proceeding somewhat in the same manner, took an independent stand. To the school of Abelard belong the Sentences of Master omnibonus, the Sententiae Florianenses, and the Sententiae Parisienses. About 1139 hugh of saint-victor published his De sacramentis christianae fidei. There followed the Summa sententiarum, and the Sententiae divinitatis, both of unknown authorship; the Sentences of robert of melun (115260); and of Gandolph of Bologna. Roland Bandinelli (see alexander iii, pope) wrote his Sentences c. 1149; alan of lille, his Summa Quoniam homines c. 1160. Peter Lombard had published his Libri IV sententiarum c. 1155 to 1157. About 1167 to 1170 peter of poitiers produced his Sententiarum libri quinque; simon of tournai's work appeared c. 1170, as did peter comestor's Sententiae de sacramentis. These are the important but by no means the only collections.

The Sentences vary in plan, presentation of problems, and method. Thus the six treatises that make up the Sententiae divinitatis examine in succession: the creation of the world; the creation of man with free will; original sin; the Incarnation; the Sacraments; and finally, God and the Trinity. Robert of Melun, on the other hand, first treats of what he calls the "sacraments" of the Old Law (God, the angels, and man), then of the "sacraments" of the New Testament (the Incarnation, the Sacraments, the virtues, and eschatology). The plan of Alan of Lille provides for three books on the Creator, creation, and recreation. Peter Lombard discusses God in His unity and Trinity; Creation, including man and original sin; the Incarnation; and lastly the Sacraments.

Commentaries on the Sentences. Of all these, the Sentences of Peter Lombard won official acceptance despite the violent opposition they occasionally encountered, e.g., from walter of saint-victor in his Contra quatuor labyrinthos Franciane (1178). The explicit approbation given in 1215 to the Master's doctrine by the Fourth lateran council confirmed the position he had already attained. His Sentences became the textbook for students and candidates for the degree of master of theology, on a par with the works of Priscian, Aristotle, Justinian, Gratian, Galen, and Hippocrates, in the faculties of the arts, law, and medicine.

It was as an auditor that the student came into contact with various theological problems. Then by "lecture" (reading) and his coherent commentary on these problems, the bachelor was introduced to theological teaching. Starting with the literal reading, which he explained, and following the identical order of distinctions and articles adopted by the Master of the Sentences, he took whatever position he pleased on all the problems raised. He was free to sift, complement, and develop as he chose. Moreover, it was on positions thus taken, on their value and on the arguments advanced by him, that he would be judged. On the basis of this his licentiate would be granted or refused.

Thus the commentary on the Sentences required the student to examine the totality of theological problems, providing a framework within which teaching must necessarily be given. However, it gave each one an opportunity to prove his capacity for original thinking by delving more deeply into the questions, presenting new aspects or new problems, and advancing new arguments, some of which might express his disagreement with an outworn solution. Thus, from their first contacts with theology, the future bachelors began to prepare themselves for the commentary that would be required of them. It was therefore not a work of improvisation, but the product of mature reflection. Besides, no one could become a bachelor of the Sentences until he was 29 years old, or a master before he was 35.

The commentaries on the Sentences preserved in manuscripts are the literary product of the bachelors' studies. They were, therefore, the works of beginners that in some cases were later revised and published by the author after he had become a master. Stegmüller, who has prepared the most complete catalogue of these commentaries, lists 1,407 titles. And these are only a fraction of the total production. Many have undoubtedly been lost; many more consisted merely of reportata or notes taken in class by students but not revised into final form by the author. Finally, many were never put down in writing.

The study of the commentaries is of great value for what they reveal about an author and his doctrinal positions. Moreover, the variety of questions he had to answer, the arguments he presented, and the authorities on which he relied, quickly reveal the author's intellectual quality and his doctrinal filiation. Finally, because of the many terms of comparison the documents provide and because they can usually be dated with accuracy, these commentaries are valuable for a study of the progress and evolution of theology. It is possible to follow the trends within various schools, the rise and development of polemics, changes in problematic emphasis, and the furtherance or decline of certain doctrines.

Summae. The bachelor commenting on the Sentences enjoyed real latitude with regard to the positions he adopted, the choice of questions he would treat, and the importance he would give them. However, certain more original minds were hardly satisfied with merely doing a work so highly dependent upon a text. Lombard's plan hampered them. They conceived both presentation and interrelationships differently and adopted other systems dependent upon other theories. Such was the origin of the theological Summae properly so called. They were distinguished by their freedom from dependence on Lombard's text, and by an individual approach to the whole field of theology. They were works of masters, written especially in the 13th century; in the century that followed, the genre quickly disappeared.

The Summa was not bound by any strict rules. Some of them encompassed the whole of theology; others were incomplete. robert of courÇon, for example, dealt particularly with morals; Guy de l'Aumône, with the law and the Commandments; Guy of Orchelles, with the Sacraments. Certain Summae had previously provided subjects of oral instruction as Quaestiones disputatae. Such was undoubtedly the case with the works of alexander of hales, peter john olivi, and henry of ghent. Other Summae included several treatises published separately, such as william of auvergne's Magisterium divinale; albert the great's Summa de creaturis, containing five Summae: De quatuor coaevis, De homine, De bono et virtutibus, De sacramentis, De Incarnatione et resurrectione. However, Albert the Great's Summa theologiae, written toward the end of his life, was an independent work, complete in itself. The same is true of most of the other Summae, of which the best known by far is the

Summa theologiae of thomas aquinas. This Summa was to become in its turn a textbook, on a par with the Sentences of Peter Lombard.

Each of the Summae should be studied individually. Some have not yet been edited, e.g., the Speculum universale of Ralph Ardent (c. 1179); the Summae of Martin of Fougàres, Robert of Courçon, Prepositinus of Cremona (119094), Godfrey of Poitiers (121015), Ardengus, and Hubert of Auxerre (c. 123034), the last depending upon the Summa aurea of william of auxerre (121520); the Sententiae of roland of cremona; philip the chancellor's Summa de bono (123036), whose importance cannot be exaggerated; the Summae of Guy de l'Aumône, of an anonymous author of Basel (B.IX.18) c. 1240 to 1250; Ulrich of Strasbourg's Summa de bono; and those of Gerard of Bologna, nicholas of strassburg, and of the author of MS Vat. lat. 4305.

The study of the Summae, even more than that of the commentaries on the Sentences, offers rich insight into the character and originality of an author, who has allowed himself greater freedom of thought and expression than would have been possible in commenting on a specific text. The Summae reveal the underlying tendencies of their authors, the influences exerted on them, their reactions, and their progress. They also unfold the history of doctrine. For these reasons they may be considered one of the most precious legacies we possess.

Bibliography: p. glorieux, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant et al., 15 v. (Paris 190350) 14.2:186084, 234164. f. stegmÜller, Repertorium commentariorum in Sententias Petri Lombardi, 2 v. (Würzburg 1947). j. de ghellinckm, Le Mouvement théologique du XII e siècle (2d ed. Bruges 1948). o. lottin, Problèmes d'histoire littéraire: L'École d'Anselme de Laon et de Guillaume de Champeaux, v. 5 of Psychologie et morale aux XII e et XIII e siècles, 6 v. in 8 (Louvain 194260).

[p. glorieux]

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