Peter Lombard Critical Essays


(Classical and Medieval Literature Criticism)

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.”