Peter Lombard Essay - Critical Essays

Peter Lombard


Peter Lombard c. 1095-1160

Italian theologian.

Lombard is the author of the Sententiarum Quatuor Libri, more commonly known as Sententiae (circa 1155–57; Sentences), the foremost theological work of the twelfth century and a standard university textbook for five hundred years. The Sentences contains little original material; instead, it is a thoughtfully chosen and carefully arranged selection of the opinions of the church fathers, especially Augustine. The Sentences is praised for its advancement of systematic theology and for having generated hundreds of commentaries.

Biographical Information

Lombard is commonly referred to as Magister sententiarum (“Master of the Sentences”) or as the Lombard, after his birthplace. He was born in Novara, then a part of Lombardy, and educated at Bologna, but nothing else is known of his life up to the time he was between thirty-five and forty years old. In about 1135 he was recommended for study at the cathedral school of Rheims. He left for Paris in 1136 and he wrote commentaries on the Psalms and the Epistles of St. Paul while at Rheims. At about the time he was made a canon at the school of Notre Dame, 1145, he started work on the Sentences. Lombard was well respected by his peers and advanced in his church career by merit, attaining the position of subdeacon in 1147 and serving as a theological expert at the Council of Rheims the following year. He became a deacon sometime after 1150, then archdeacon, and was elected Bishop of Paris in 1159. Lombard died in Paris in 1160.

Major Works

Lombard's earliest work was his commentary on the Psalms, Commentarius in psalmos Davidicos (before 1138). This was followed by what would later—in the sixteenth century—be titled Collectanea in omnes D. Paitli epistolas (1139-41; revised 1155-58). Collectanea, as it is usually referred to, is a commentary on St. Paul's Epistles. Both commentaries are largely compilations of the writings of the great exegetes of the past and were used by Lombard in teaching his classes. The Sentences is Lombard's most acclaimed work. He began writing it in 1145, completed it between 1155 and 1157, and made final changes in 1158. Scholars note the strong influence of Peter Abelard, the celebrated and controversial theologian who taught at Paris from 1108 to 1118. The Sentences is organized into four books, and then further into topic questions. When faced with a point on which the church fathers disagree, Lombard either resolves it himself or leaves the issue open in order to foster debate.

Critical Reception

Lombard and the Sentences have had considerable influence on later religious scholars. Stephen F. Brown explains that Lombard's stature was such that each graduate student in the faculty of theology at the University of Paris in the mid-fourteenth century was required to write a solemn introduction to his commentaries on the Sentences. Brown examines the introductory sermons of Peter of Candia, which extol Lombard personally as a model for theology students. Candia explained that Lombard had a holy fear of God, effective study habits, humility and perseverance, and was of good moral character. Timothy C. Potts examines the issue of conscience and Lombard's analysis of St. Jerome's stance on the matter. Michael P. Malloy discusses the interesting connection Lombard makes between the human potential for sin and the problem of civil authority. Mark A. Zier assesses the impact of Lombard on the study of the Bible and examines the development of the Glossa ordinaria (or biblical glosses). Odd Langholm reviews some of the commentary literature on the Sentences. One of the most prolific of the Lombard scholars, Marcia L. Colish, offers essays on the commentaries on the Psalms and Paul's Epistles, on Lombard's contribution to the history of nominalism, and an overview of his importance and theological views. Colish states that the Sentences “did more than any other text to shape the discipline of medieval scholastic theology.”

Principal Works

Commentarius in psalmos Davidicos (commentary) before 1138

Collectanea in omnes D. Paitli epistolas (commentary) 1139-41; revised 1155-58

Sententiarum Quatuor Libri (essays) 1155-57

The Four Books of Sentences (partial translation) available at


Stephen F. Brown (essay date 1976)

SOURCE: Brown, Stephen F. “Peter of Candia's Sermons in Praise of Peter Lombard.” In Studies Honoring Ignatius Charles Brady, Friar Minor, edited by Romano Stephen Almagno and Conrad L. Harkins, pp. 141-76. St. Bonaventure, N.Y.: The Franciscan Institute, 1976.

[In the following excerpt, Brown analyzes Peter of Candia's sermons extolling Lombard as an appropriate personal model for theologians—one who points beyond himself to Christ.]

The mid-fourteenth century statutes at the University of Paris demanded that every graduate student in the faculty of theology offer a solemn introduction to their commentaries on each book of Peter Lombard's Sentences.1 These solemn introduction or principia, if the Bologna pattern can serve as a model, were made up of a collatio or sermon in praise of theology or the Sentences of Lombard, a disputatio or theological question which would be carefully presented, and a profession of faith.2 In some cases the first two elements were split in time: the sermon was given in the morning and the theological discussion took place after the noon meal.3 The discussion at times was a real disputatio with prepared counter arguments given by another bachalarius,4 or the original position could be challenged by any members of the theological audience.5 Although the principium formally was a generic term including both the collatio and the disputatio, copyists of the Middle Ages sometimes use the expression principium either for one or the other, with the result that when one finds the notation principium super Sententias in modern catalogues, he may find either the collatio, or the disputatio (sometimes along with its replicatio) or both together.6 The principia of Peter of Candia7 are especially significant because they are one of the rare instances where we have both the collationes and the disputationes for all four books of the Sentences.8 In the present article we will edit his collationes or sermons for all four books, along with providing a general introduction to them.


The Bologna statutes tell us that the introductory sermon to each Book of the Sentences should be in praise of theology or of Peter Lombard's Sentences. Msgr. A. Combes, in the introduction to his edition of John of Ripa's Lectura super Primum Sententiarum, has traced the history of this type of sermon from its known beginning in Peter Aureoli's Prooemium, through Alphonsus Fernandi of Toledo and Ascensius of Sainte-Colombe, to his own author.9 With Peter Aureoli, Alphonsus and John of Ripa the sermons are either a praise of theology or of Lombard's Sentences, whereas in the mouth of Ascensius the collationes become a praise of Sacred Scripture to such an extent that Combes wonders if they are an introduction to the Sentences or rather an introduction to the Bible given by Ascensius as a bachalarius biblicus. In Peter of Candia's sermons there is also a slight change: instead of being a praise of theology or the Sentences, they become a praise of Peter Lombard personally who can, as author of the Sentences, serve as a model for all members of the theology faculty.

The style itself of the collatio continually develops from Aureoli to John of Ripa. Already in Aureoli we have the divisions à rimes léonines10 which will play such an important part in the collationes of future commentators on the Sentences:

Magister studiosissime laborando, librum istum Sententiarum composuit:

In rudimentum respectu agendorum,
In fulcimentum respectu credendorum,
In argumentum respectu perfidorum,
In iuvamentum respectu provectorum,
In tutamentum respectu infirmorum.(11)

as well as:

Respectu Magistri diligentem visum,
Respectu nostri congruentem stylum,
Respectu libri continentem sinum.(12)


Explicativus respectu agibilium,
Roborativus respectu credibilium,
Confutativus respectu horribilium dictorum haereticorum,
Elevativus respectu docibilium,
Manuductivus respectu imbecillium,
          de quibus scriptum est: Erunt omnes docibiles Dei.(13)

By the time of John of Ripa's Lectura on Book I in 1357 we already have the basic structure for this type of introductory sermon set as far as the style in concerned. It is precisely this format which Peter of Candia will follow. Here is John of Ripa's sermon format:

a) First, there are the divisions patterned after Aureoli:

Ut ex sacris codicibus colligere possumus:
Ingens scrutinium promens trisagium de summo numine,
Clarum ingenium distendens radium in toto germine,
Fulgens eloquium decernens osculum Dei cum homine,
Fervens preconium trahens ad lavacrum depulso crimine,
Supremum solium velut stipendium petit in cardine.(14)

b) Secondly, there is the linking of the fourfold division of Lombard's Sentences back to the Scripture citation with which the sermon began (Amice, ascende superius: tunc erit tibi gloria, Luke 14, 10):

Ut sic concludendo dicamus quod, quia Magister Petrus Lumbardus in suis Sententiis declaravit:
De primis entibus et suis gradibus dicta sublimia, upote in primo,
De nostris orbibus et fixis legibus vera iudicia, utpote in 2°,
De sacris nexibus et pulsis sordibus mira prodigia, utpote in 3°,
De largis ymbribus et claris dotibus summa stipendia, ut in 4°, ideo non immerito:
Amoris tractibus et vivis gressibus scandit pro gloria, ut sic dicatur sibi a Deo: Amice, ascende superius, et erit tibi gloria.
in quo quidem verbo luculenter exponitur tota continentia istorum librorum. Ostenditur enim primo, qualiter scilicet
Iunguntur germina per nodum validum,
                    quia per amorem: amice, inquit, ut in primo;
Pandutur semina per verbum stupendum,(15)
                    quia dicit et facta sunt, ut in 2°; et ideo
                    ascende puta de non esse ad esse;
Monstrantur federa per datum osculum,
                    quia per summum pretium, in 3°; et ideo dicitur superius;
Purgantur scelera per sacrum lavacrum,
                    ut in 4°, et ideo consequenter: tunc erit tibi gloria.(16)

c) Finally, there is the poetic outline of each book which is being introduced by the sermon:

Et ut breviter et in summa recolligam continentiam huius libri, que tota exprimit firmum nodum et colligationem divinorum suppositorum, dico quod prius tractat de divina essentia, scilicet de Deo:

Qualiter excolitur et quibus culturis,
                    ut in prima distinctione, de fui et uti;
Qualiter distinguitur trinus in personis,
                    ut a secunda usque ad septimam;
Qualiter concluditur simplex ex figuris,
                    ut in octava distinctione;
Qualiter producitur in fixis mensuris,
                    ut in nona, de eterna Verbi generatione; etc.(17)

Peter of Candia does not simply recopy John of Ripa's sermon, but into its general structure or mould he pours his own individual content. His personal contribution is evident, first of all, because even though John of Ripa speaks of the Lombard in a certain personal way, he in no way accents the example of Peter Lombard as a personal model for the theologian to the extent that Peter of Candia does. Secondly, Peter of Candia's opening scriptural citation is different and he adjusts his sermons accordingly. Despite the similar structure the content is dramatically different. Even the outline of each book takes on a personal stamp. Thirdly, Peter of Candia goes back to the Fathers and Ancient authors to sustain his argument in all four sermons, unlike John of Ripa. There is no doubt that John of Ripa's sermon is the model; but neither is there any doubt that our text is the fruit of a very personal meditation by the Cretan lecturer.


At a solemn convocation of the faculty of theology at the University of Paris in 1378, and as the prelude to his lectures on Peter Lombard's Sentences, Peter of Candia chose to show his scholarly audience18 how the Lombard could serve as the model for all the members of the faculty—for the beginning undergraduates (the discipuli or scholares), for the graduate students who already had completed their preparatory studies and first theological degree (the bachalarii or bachelors in theology), for those wisened with tested and tried learning (the doctores or magistri), and finally even for those in the audience who have gone on to the realm of crowned wisdom (the episcopi or bishops).

He began the first sermon in a series of four with a theme which he carried through the next three semesters.19 The theme our late 14th century bachalarius sounded focused on the Magister himself and began with this very apt and also quite personal vision of the author of the Sentences: “Behold a man stood before me clothed in a white garment.” The quote is taken from the 10th chapter of the Act of the Apostles where God's messenger leads Cornelius to visit St. Peter. How apt a quote it is, since Peter of Candia envisioned the Magister as a divine messenger who stood before him (and now stands before his memory's eye) as a teacher of theology. The Magister is a bright shining example for him and for his listeners. He is like the man in St. Luke's scriptural story: a messenger from heaven appearing in the shiny white apparel of a divine herald. It is an apt quote for introducing his audience to the text of a man who will stand before them for the next two years and perhaps their whole lives.

But the citation is also good choice for personal reasons. It is from a story about St. Peter and is applied to Peter Lombard by Peter of Candia. And further, when you look at the latin text of the Scripture quotation it betrays an even more personal ring, for “He stood before me clothed in a white garment” becomes “Stetit ante me in veste candida.” How much more personal a quote could one find? It is a story about Peter and speaks of a messenger clothed in veste candida. The scriptural incipit of the sermon is also Peter of Candia's signature. After the anonymity of the thirteenth and earlier centuries our preacher is a 14th century man who inaugurates his Commentary on the Sentences with his own signature hidden in the opening Scripture citation.20

“A man stood before me clothed in a white garment.” If we go back and examine the Scriptures, our speaker tells us, we will find that the phrase “a white garment” (veste candida) has four meanings. It stands for:

I. The possession of acknowledged truth.

II. The revelation of truth which is still uncertain.

III. The acknowledgment of outstanding character or value.

IV. The anointing or crowning of established excellence.

First, it stands for the possession of acknowledged truth. In the 7th chapter of the Book of Daniel we read of the Ancient of the days whose garment was white as snow. Now according to the Scriptures old age (the Ancient of days) is a sign of wisdom or the possession of acknowledged truth. Thus the white garment of the Ancient of days symbolized this possession of acknowledged truth.

Secondly, a white garment stands for the revelation of truth which is still uncertain. For doesn't St. Mark tell us that when the disciples went to the tomb to see if Christ was truly risen, they found a young man clothed in a long white garment who told them that Christ was risen? He revealed to them a truth which was to the apostles still uncertain.

Thirdly, a white garment in scripture signifies the acknowledgment of outstanding character or value. The author of the Book of Machabees tells us that Machabeus and his small army were sent a divine leader of superior power or character to lead them: “A rider attired in white appeared at their head.”

Fourthly or finally, a white garment stands for the crowning of established excellence. Ecclesiastes correctly argues: “Let thy garment be always white and let thy head lack no ointment.”

These four scriptural meanings of white garment fit in very well with Peter of Candia's view of his audience. For the faculty of theology, like other scientific faculties, has beginners, advanced students, and those who have approached perfection. Or to put it more technically: scholares (scholars), bachalarii (bachelors), and magistri (masters or doctors). For good measure we can add a fourth group—those who have passed on to the level of episcopi, those men whose honored wisdom has been recognized...

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Timothy C. Potts (essay date 1980)

SOURCE: Potts, Timothy C. “Peter Lombard and Jerome.” In Conscience in Medieval Philosophy, pp. 1-11. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1980.

[In the following essay, Potts discusses how medieval philosophers studied the question of conscience, particularly as it was presented in the writings of Lombard and Jerome.]

Conscience has been much neglected by philosophers. It is not directly treated in ancient philosophy, while, apart from Bishop Butler, who was primarily interested in the aspect of self-deception, there is scarcely a philosopher from Descartes to the present day who has touched upon it more than tangentially. In the thirteenth and fourteenth...

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Michael P. Malloy (essay date 1985)

SOURCE: Malloy, Michael P. “The Problem of Civil Authority in Lombard's Sentences.” In Civil Authority in Medieval Philosophy: Lombard, Aquinas, and Bonaventure, pp. 24-45. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1985.

[In the following essay, Malloy offers textual analysis of Distinction 44 of the Sentences, which concerns the problem of obedience to civil authority.]

Peter Lombard consolidates his remarks on the problem of civil authority in one small section out of three in Distinction 44 of Book Two of his Sentences.1 At first glance, it would appear that the first two sections of the distinction have little, if anything, to do...

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Marcia L. Colish (essay date July 1992)

SOURCE: Colish, Marcia L. “Psalterium Scholasticorum: Peter Lombard and the Emergence of Scholastic Psalms Exegesis.” Speculum 67, no. 3 (July 1992): 531-48.

[In the following essay, Colish examines how Lombard differs from his predecessors in his commentary on the Book of Psalms.]

The Book of Psalms was unquestionably the book of the Old Testament most beloved by patristic and medieval exegetes. Seen as a guide to the Christian life and as a prophecy of Christ and his church, the Psalms received extended attention from Hilary of Poitiers, Augustine, and Cassiodorus and from their Carolingian and Anglo-Saxon successors. After the ninth...

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Marcia L. Colish (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: Colish, Marcia L. “Peter Lombard and Abelard: The Opinio Nominalium and Divine Transcendence.” Vivarium 30, no. 1 (1992): 139-56.

[In the following essay, Colish examines the conflicting positions of Lombard and Abelard concerning the relationship between the power of God and the will of God.]

This paper has a double inspiration. One is my own investigation of Peter Lombard's doctrine of God, as part of a larger study of his theology. The second is the discovery, on the part of William J. Courtenay, following Artur Michael Landgraf, Marie-Dominique Chenu, and Johannes Schneider, of the fact that the Lombard appeals to an argument derived from the...

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Marcia L. Colish (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: Colish, Marcia L. “Peter Lombard as an Exegete of St. Paul.” In Ad litteram: Authoritative Texts and Their Medieval Readers, edited by Mark D. Jordan and Kent Emery, Jr., pp. 71-92. South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1992.

[In the following essay, Colish explains why Lombard's exposition of the Pauline Epistles was the most acclaimed commentary of its kind in the twelfth century.]

There is no doubt that medieval Christian thinkers saw the Bible as the book of books and its study as the discipline of disciplines. Nor is there any question of the privileged position they gave to the Pauline Epistles. In the twelfth century, as...

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Mark A. Zier (essay date 1997)

SOURCE: Zier, Mark A. “Peter Lombard and the Glossa ordinaria on the Bible.” In A Distinct Voice: Medieval Studies in Honor of Leonard E. Boyle, O.P., edited by Jacqueline Brown and William P. Stoneman, pp. 629-41. South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1997.

[In the following essay, Zier examines Lombard's use of the Glossa ordinaria in composing the Sentences.]

Every student of medieval theology knows the importance of Peter Lombard to the history of that field: the Libri quatuor Sententiarum served as an official textbook in theology for hundreds of years. What is less well known and less well documented is the Lombard's impact on...

(The entire section is 5263 words.)

Odd Langholm (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: Langholm, Odd. “The Augustinian Tradition.” In The Legacy of Scholasticism in Economic Thought: Antecedents of Choice and Power, pp. 43-56. Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

[In the following excerpt, Langholm examines how certain commentators on the Sentences dealt with the terms absolute and conditional will.]


At the time when the interest of the canonists was being deflected from Gratian's Decretum to the more recent decretals, a tradition on the subjects examined in the preceding section was gathering momentum in theological circles. Shortly after the middle of the...

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Marcia L. Colish (essay date 2001)

SOURCE: Colish, Marcia L. “Peter Lombard.” In The Medieval Theologians, edited by G. R. Evans, pp. 168-83. Oxford, Eng.: Blackwell Publishers, 2001.

[In the following excerpt, Colish provides an overview of Lombard's life and works.]

Born ca. 1095/1100 in the Novara region, Peter Lombard entered the historical record in the early 1130s when Bernard of Clairvaux met him in Italy and urged him to study theology in France. Peter did so, first at Rheims and, then in 1136, at Paris. Probably an extern student of Hugh of St. Victor, he was in any case thoroughly versed in Victorine theology and in the teachings of other recent and current schools and masters. Peter began...

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Further Reading


Brady, I. “Peter Lombard: Canon of Notre-Dame.” Recherches de Théologie ancienne et médiévale 32 (July-December 1965): 277-95.

Attempts to prove that Lombard was a canon of Notre Dame of Paris.

———. “Peter Manducator and the Oral Teachings of Peter Lombard.” Antonianum 41, no. 4 (October 1966): 454-90.

Contends that Peter Manducator was the chief witness to Lombard's oral discussions.

Colish, Marcia L. Peter Lombard. 2 vols., 893 p. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 1994.

Definitive work on Lombard's life, methodology, and theology....

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