Christian Themes

(Literary Essentials: Christian Fiction and Nonfiction)

The period from 100 to 800 was a time of intense theological labor during which the Church’s leaders and teachers strove, often with much controversy, to express the right understanding of the truth that God had revealed through Scripture and holy tradition and which Christians believed and confessed through their prayer and worship. During that period, the Church, through a series of great councils, formulated and published official statements about its dogma. In subsequent centuries, the work of theology continued, as medieval churchmen both looked back to the statements of the fathers of the Church for guidance as new questions arose and tried to resolve discrepancies among their pronouncements. In the Four Books of Sentences, Saint Augustine is quoted twice as often as all other church fathers combined, so often that the reaffirmation of Augustine is spoken of as fundamental to the work’s program. However, Lombard’s work is not just a validation of Augustine’s. Lombard draws on other patristic writers such as John of Damascus (eighth century), whose writings were not well known in the West before this time.

Lombard shows considerable control over his sources, so that the final product not only promotes patristic authority but also contributes to the exposition of places in the patristic legacy where there are gaps or apparent contradictions. He both uses and argues with his near contemporaries, especially Hugh of St. Victor and Peter Abelard. Lombard, in fact, contributed to the making of theology more of an ongoing project. He refined the discipline’s language and methodology, sought to employ state-of-the-art tools of logical analysis, and further helped thrust the entire project as it was practiced in the Western Middle Ages toward the open spaces where there were still unresolved, problematic areas in expressing the articles of the Catholic faith. Not all of Lombard’s efforts to set forth alternative theological opinions were met favorably. His presentation of the alternative theologies of the hypostatic union led to accusations of nihilism, that Christ’s humanity is nothing. The charges were overruled at the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215.