Why Lombard?

In my last post, I talked about how I think I’m becoming a theologian because I’m not just reading theology for personal use or to teach church history but because, in January, I’ll be teaching theology at Ryle Seminary! “Theology 1”, in fact, covering “theology proper” — the doctrine of God and the Trinity plus creation and revelation. It’s a lot of stuff.

And so, naturally enough I’m reading Peter Lombard, The Sentences, Book 1.

Right? That’s normal, isn’t it?

Maybe — if you’re Stephen Langton (amirite?). But since I’m not assigning the Lombard to my students (it no longer being the year 1200), why him? Why not, oh, say, Herman Bavinck? I’m friends with some leading Bavinck scholars, after all. Or simply get back together with the Fathers? Or, given his current flash of light amongst online Protestants, Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae?

Well, the simple reason is: Peter Lombard interests me, so I’m using this an excuse. He is upstream of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure — and Stephen Langton. All of them used Lombard’s material, Aquinas and Bonaventure even writing commentaries on The Sentences like, well, almost every scholastic theologian beginning with Alexander de Hales. Lombard is also after one of my favourite Latin theologians, St Anselm of Canterbury (Langton, however, may be my favourite Archbp of C). And he’s contemporary with some of my favourite mystics, those early Cistercians Bernard, Aelred, William of St-Thierry.

As a historian of Christianity, this makes him interesting to me. He’s a piece of the puzzle whose shape and contours I want to know.

But that’s not the only reason I picked Lombard up off my shelf — after all, I’m turning into a theologian (in the modern sense — in the Evagrian sense it’s still a long term work in progress).

Why Peter Lombard is ultimately rooted in what The Sentences — all four volumes of it — is. Peter Lombard’s Sentences is not a modern systematic theology textbook. The majority of the text is quotations from theological authorities, most of them being Church Fathers. Actually, more precisely, most of them being St Augustine of Hippo, who accounts for 90% of the quotations — or sententiae chosen.

Besides St Augustine and the Bible, in Book 1 Lombard cites St Ambrose of Milan, Ambrosiaster, the Athanasian Creed, Boethius, Cassiodorus, the “Nicene”/Constantinopolitan Creed, a creed from a Council of Toledo, St Cyril of Alexandria, Didymus the Blind, Fulgentius of Ruspe, the Gelasian Sacramentary (I wonder if actually just the Roman Mass), St Gregory the Great, St Hilary of Poitiers, St Isidore of Seville, St Jerome, St John Chrysostom, somebody called Mediocre John, St John of Damascus, the Liber Pontificalis, Origen, Pelagius (!), and Syagrius.

The passages are usually about as long as a modern paragraph. They are excerpted from their source and then arranged topically. In Book 1, later users of The Sentences divided them into 48 groups called Distinctions. Alongside the sententiae Lombard has inserted his own analysis of particular problems that may arise or clarifications or summaries along the way.

These passages have been culled not directly from their authors’ works but from other, slightly earlier, similar enterprises, chiefly the wonderful canon law textbook we call the Decretum of Gratian, which is very similar but for canon law, and the Sic et Non of Peter Abelard. That is to say — Lombard is not choosing those passages from the Fathers that most support his argument, which is a valid thing to do and is what Peter Martyr Vermigli will do in On the Two Natures in Christ. Instead, he is choosing authorities who are already established in the tradition.

What he then does is produce a work that enables the reader, whether teacher or student, to work through these authorities and the difficulties they raise of one sort or another, and then come to a sound, orthodox conclusion with a deeper appreciation for the logic behind orthodoxy and a deeper knowledge of the authorities of the faith.

So I’m becoming a theologian. And I think to myself, what better way to strengthen my foundations than to work through this casebook of theological authorities for myself?

(I’m also going to read Bavinck because I’m assigning him.)

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One thought on “Why Lombard?

  1. I’ve been struck by a professional theologian who said (paraphrasing his point) that everyone is a theologian. The act of thinking about God is theology, and we all do it. But do we all do it well? (Switching back to me commenting) For professional academic theologians, I think the deepest risk in “becoming a theologian” is the risk of thinking more about other theologians than about God. May you become a theologian who sticks blessedly close to the well!
    Take care & God bless
    Anne / WF

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