Peter Lombard

The Italian theologian Peter Lombard (ca. 1095-1160) wrote "The Sentences, " a work that became the standard textbook on theology in European universities for 400 years.

Peter Lombard was born at Lumellogno in the region of Novara in northern Italy. After a period of study at Bologna or Vercelli, he crossed the Alps to France in 1134 and went to Reims to study under a fellow countryman, Lutolph of Novara, who held a prominent position in the cathedral school at Reims. Lutolph had previously been a student of Anselm of Laon, and in his teaching he continued the exegetical traditions of the school of Laon, which concentrated on the interpretation of Scripture through the sayings of the Church Fathers.

After studying under Lutolph for 2 or 3 years, Lombard moved to Paris, where he may have attended at SteGeneviève the lectures of Peter Abelard, a long-standing enemy of Lutolph. During the next 5 years Lombard wrote his commentaries on the Psalms and on the Letters of St. Paul, both of which were soon used in the schools. About 1140 Lombard received his license to teach and he probably remained in Paris, where in 1144 he became a canon of the Cathedral of Notre Dame.

Lombard's reputation as a theologian grew rapidly, and he seems to have developed a friendship with Bernard of Clairvaux. At the Council of Reims in 1148, Pope Eugenius III named Lombard to a commission to study the writings of the leading theologian of the school of Chartres, Gilbert de la Porrée, who was then the bishop of Poitiers. Although Lombard seems to have favored a condemnation, one was not forthcoming, and he continued in his writings the struggle against what he considered suspicious doctrine. Following a journey to Rome in 1153 and the reward of a prebend at Beauvais, he continued his teaching at Paris, where, before 1156, he became the archdeacon of the Cathedral.

Lombard's greatest theological work, The Sentences, was completed in 1157 or 1158. It not only was a summary of Christian doctrine but was critical of positions taken by Gilbert de la Porrée. The work is a compilation of the sayings of the Fathers, especially of St. Augustine, on the major aspects of Christian dogma. However, it is not a mere collection of authorities but an attempt to group the most important theological statements from the sources around particular problems. Lombard made an effort to harmonize seemingly conflicting statements and constructed the outlines of a solution. But the solutions offered were not of a kind to end discussion but rather to stimulate it and to channel it within orthodox and, hopefully, fruitful lines. The form of Lombard's work was not unique but was based on De fide orthodoxa of St. John of Damascus and the Sentences of St. Isidore of Seville, and it was similar to Gratian's Decretum.

The content of Lombard's Sentences covers most of Christian theology, moving from the nature of God and the Trinity at the beginning, through the doctrine of creation and Christology, to the Church, the Sacraments, and the Final Judgment. The theological bias is Augustinian, and Lombard was particularly concerned with the question of man's salvation and the nature of the moral act. He tried to maintain a strong concept of the freedom of man while stressing the omnipotence of God and the absolute need for grace.

Within 2 years after its completion, students were writing commentaries on the Sentences, and the work was made a major theological source by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215. In 1159, after the death of Bishop Thibault, Lombard was elected bishop of Paris. He died there the following year on August 21.


Further Reading on Peter Lombard

There is no full-length study of the life and thought of Lombard in English. Lombard's teaching on the Sacraments is examined in Elizabeth Frances Rogers, Peter Lombard and the Sacramental System (1917).