Peter Lombard

From New World Encyclopedia

Peter Lombard (c. 1100 – July 20, 1160) was a leading scholastic theologian and bishop of the twelfth century. His philosophical work, the Four Books of Sentences, a broad compilation of Church theology and doctrine, became the basic textbook for the education of university theologians during the Middle Ages from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, and had influence on numerous philosophers. During this period, doctoral candidates were often required to lecture on the Sentences for two years, and apart from the Bible, Sentences has been one of the most commented works in Christian literature. All the major medieval thinkers, from Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas to William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel, received considerable influence from it. The young Martin Luther also wrote glosses on the Sentences. In the Sentences, Peter Lombard quoted St. Augustine many times while paying little attention to the Greek Fathers of the Church.

Peter Lombard upheld the use of reason in interpreting dogma, while deferring to the authority of the Roman Catholic Church, thereby guaranteeing a place for philosophy in the study of theology. His emphasis on the teachings of St. Augustine over those of the Greek Fathers of the Church influenced the development of Christian theology in Europe. The Sentences, however, did not contain many original philosophical ideas.


Peter Lombard was born in Lumellogno, near Novara, Italy, to a poor family. His date of birth was likely between 1095 and 1100. Nothing is known for certain in regard to his origins, his social background, or his education as a youth. His education probably began in Italy at the cathedral schools of Novara and Lucca. With the patronage of Otto, bishop of Lucca, and of St. Bernard, he was able to further his studies at Reims and Paris. Lombard arrived in Paris in 1136, and by 1142 he was recognized as a writer and teacher. In Paris, he came into contact with Peter Abelard and Hugh of St. Victor, who were among the leading theologians of the time. His pupil John of Cornwall reports that Peter studied the works of Abelard assiduously.

The Parisian school of canons had not included among their number a theologian of high regard for some years. The canons of Notre Dame were all relatives closely aligned to the Capetian house by blood or marriage, scions of the Ile-de-France or eastern Loire Valley nobility, or relatives of royal officials. Peter had no illustrious relatives or ecclesiastical connections, and no political patrons in France, yet he was considered a celebrated theologian by 1144. It appears that he must have been invited to join the canons of Notre Dame solely for his academic merit. Around 1145, Peter became a "magister," or professor, at the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris. It was during this period that he wrote his famous Book of Sentences.

The date of Lombard's ordination to the priesthood is uncertain. He became a subdeacon in 1147. At the Council of Rheims, and possibly at the consistory of Paris the year before, he took part as a theological expert. At some time after 1150, he became a deacon, then an archdeacon by 1156, perhaps as early as 1152. In 1159, he was named bishop of Paris, and was consecrated on July 28, 1159.

His reign as bishop was brief. He died on either July 21 or 22, 1160. He left behind few episcopal acta to illustrate his administrative style or objectives. His tomb lay in the church of St. Marcellus in Paris before it was destroyed during the French Revolution. The epitaph mentioned his fame as the author of the Four Books of Sentences and glosses on the Psalms and the Pauline epistles.

Thought and Works

Peter Lombard’s writings include Commentaries on the Psalms and St. Paul, and a collection of Sermons. His most famous work was "Libri quatuor sententiarum, the Four Book of Sentences, which served as the standard textbook of theology at the medieval universities from the 1220s until the sixteenth century. There is no work of Christian literature, except for the Bible itself, that has been commented upon more frequently. Doctoral candidates were required to lecture on the Sentences for two years. All the major medieval thinkers, from Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas to William of Ockham and Gabriel Biel, were influenced by it. Even the young Martin Luther wrote glosses on the Sentences.

The Four Books of Sentences is a collection of biblical texts, together with relevant passages from the Church Fathers and many medieval thinkers on the entire field of Christian theology. Its purpose and methodology reflect the intellectual tendencies current at the time: arguments of the Church authorities stating official doctrines, and dialectic explaining the doctrines or attempting to reconcile certain beliefs with the “Authorities.” Peter successfully avoided the excesses of the dialecticians, while upholding the use of reason in understanding theology. Four Books of Sentences was a response to the growing thirst for knowledge among medieval scholars and appeared at a time when conservatives were advocating a complete separation between dogma and philosophy.

The book was a faithful compilation of theological writings, intended to save students the work of looking up so many different books. Only about ten sentences of the work have been found to be wholly original. Sentences drew from the Decretum of Gratian of Bologna, which dates from about 1140, and it appears that Peter also copied some of the texts from that work instead of the original sources. Other sources were Hugo's De Sacramentis and the Summa Sententiarum, which is attributed to multiple theologians. Peter Lombard's genius consisted in his selection of passages, his attempt to reconcile them where they appeared to defend different viewpoints, and his arrangement of the material in a systematic order. The original manuscript was a long series of successive questions; towards the thirteenth century the four books were divided into distinctiones (an old Latin word that first meant “a pause in reading” but came to signify a division into chapters).

The first book of the Four Books of Sentences deals with God and the Trinity, the attributes of God, Providence, predestination, and evil; the second with the creation, the work of the six days, angels, demons, the fall, grace, and sin; the third with the Incarnation, the Redemption, the virtues, and the Ten Commandments; the fourth deals with the sacraments, which mediate Christ's grace, and with the four last things, death, judgment, hell, and heaven.

The most famous and most controversial doctrine in the Sentences was the identification of the virtue of charity with the Holy Spirit in Book I, distinction 17. According to this doctrine, when one loves God and neighbor, this love literally is God; one becomes divine and is taken up into the life of the Trinity. This idea was never declared unorthodox, but few theologians have promoted it. (Compare Pope Benedict XVI's encyclical Deus Caritas Est, 2006.)

The Sentences also contained the doctrine that marriage was consensual (and need not be consummated to be considered perfect, unlike Gratian's analysis). Lombard's interpretation was later endorsed by Pope Alexander III, and had a significant impact on Church interpretation of marriage.

During his lifetime Peter Lombard experienced some opposition to his Four Books of Sentences from those who either did not agree with his use of philosophy or did not accept some of the doctrines. After his death, his opponents, especially Gautier of St. Victor and Joachim of Flora tried to have his writings condemned. In 1215, the Lateran Council suppressed these attempts, and the second canon began a profession of faith in these words: "Credimus cum Petro [Lombardo]."

The Sentences, together with the earlier work of Gratian, were the chief source from which medieval scholars and theologians drew their knowledge of the Fathers of the Church, and consequently had a powerful influence on the formation of Western theology. Augustine is quoted about ten or fifteen times as often as Ambrose, Jerome, or Hilary; the Greek Fathers, with the exception of John Damascene, who is quoted about 25 times, are scarcely represented; the ante-Nicene writers, except Origen, are barely mentioned at all.

The Sentences of Peter Lombard was first printed in 1472; the last printing was in Paris in 1892.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Colish Marcia L. Peter Lombard, vol. 1. New York: E. J. Brill, 1994. ISBN 9004098615
  • Evans, G. R. Mediaeval Commentaries on the Sentences of Peter Lombard: Current Research. Brill Academic Publishers, 2002.
  • Herlihy, David. Medieval Households. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985. ISBN 067456376X
  • Lawrence, Ralph J. The Sacramental Interpretation of Ephesians 5:32 From Peter Lombard to the Council of Trent. Catholic University of America, 1963.
  • Rosemann, Philipp W. Peter Lombard. New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. ISBN 0195155459

External links

All links retrieved November 23, 2022.

General Philosophy Sources


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