Peter Lombard

c. 1100-1160

Peter Lombard's birthplace, the Piedmontese town of Novara, lies at a strategic crossroads between Turin, Milan, Genoa, and Switzerland. When Peter found himself at the crossroads of competing approaches to theology, he again chose the middle ground.

The intellectual climate of the early twelfth century was stormy. Peter Abelard (1079-1142), author of Sic et Non (Yes and No), questioned everything—and readily flouted church authority—in a quest for theological truth. Ecclesiastical authorities struggled just as vigorously to maintain the primacy of church fathers such as Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory the Great.

Peter Lombard responded to this clash by writing a textbook characterized by its rigorous approach to the whole spectrum of theological knowledge. This text, called Sentences, would become the template for formal theological discourse well into the Modern period.

"We have studied to encircle the Tower of David with shields … and open things withdrawn from theological inquiry and display the knowledge of the church's sacraments as far as our poor understandings might reach." So begins Peter's prologue to the four books in which he attempts to navigate a path between reckless speculation and authoritarianism.

The first book, on the unity of God and the nature of the Trinity, is followed by books devoted to created beings and their corporeal and spiritual natures, the Incarnation and Christ's rescue of humanity, and the sacraments and the four last things (death, judgment, hell, and heaven).

Peter consistently looks to both tradition and reason. While exploring questions about the Trinity, for example, he quotes Augustine: "Against the garrulous reasoners, more elated than capable, ...

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