- Orthodoxy and Controversy in Twelfth-Century Religious Discourse: Peter Lombard’s Sentences and the Development of Theology by Clare Monagle
The present book is interested in the rise of the clerici, the schoolmen, during the twelfth century. These men were well trained in the techniques needed by popes, [End Page 811] princes, and town councils—that is, “systematization and codification” (p. xii). Among them, Peter Lombard stands out as the author of the most influential collection of patristic sentences in medieval times. When the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 emphatically endorsed his trinitarian theology, “the figure of Peter Lombard was constructed as the voice of orthodoxy and as the builder of a reverent and authoritative system of theological speculation” (p. xiii). This was, however, far from self-explanatory, since there had been severe criticism of the Lombard’s Christological reasoning around 1179 and of his Trinitarian theology, uttered by Richard of St. Victor and Joachim of Fiore. The author investigates the history of theological controversies from mid-eleventh to mid-twelfth century (chapter 1), introduces the Lombard and his Sentences (chapter 2), analyzes Christological thought and debate in his later work and its critics (chapter 3) and in schools of the period after 1160 (chapter 4), and finally explains the endorsement of the Lombard by the Fourth Lateran Council (chapter 5).
The trials of Berengar of Tours, Roscelin, Peter Abelard, and Gilbert of Poitiers set the scene for the “discursive tradition of both attacking and endorsing the schools” (p. 41) and thus for the Lombard’s life and work. Methodological innovations are hinted at in the Magna Glosatura on the Psalms (pp. 52–53) and come to the fore with the Four Books of Sentences, whose organization of the matter is “held together through his authorial explanations” (p. 54). The Lombard managed to articulate “the crucial relationship between God, language, and virtue” on which the twelfth-century scholars concentrated (for example, John of Salisbury; p. 68). This did not save the Lombard from criticism of his Christology, in which he stressed “the absolute reality of Christ’s participation in humanity” (p. 75). Such accusations of heresy can be traced back to the Lombard’s lifetime (Robert of Cricklade, p. 87); they continued with Gerhoh of Reichersberg, John of Cornwall, and Walter of St. Victor and reached a peak with the Lateran Council of 1179, whereas the Lombard’s legacy was defended by Peter Comestor and Peter of Poitiers (p. 126). They produced different interpretations of the Christology of the Sentences and thus each “another Peter Lombard” (p. 129), culminating in the perfectly orthodox Peter of Lateran IV, who “was constructed as a thinker who enabled the possibility of orthodoxy expressed notionally” (p. 149), against Joachim and the Amalricians (pp. 152–53).
In sum, this is a readable book with a clear-cut argument that will greatly contribute to our understanding of twelfth-century debates. The argument is mainly convincing, although the wide horizon of “orthodoxy and controversy” is not always in the foreground, as the title might suggest. Following the seminal work of Marcia Colish and others, Monagle has succeeded in placing the Sentences within the debates and developments of its time and has explained convincingly how “theology became a tool for reform” with Pope Innocent III (p. 169) and why the Lombard’s work finally succeeded as hallmark of orthodoxy, although there had been substantial suspicions of heresy. The book thus reminds us that even this most influential book initially had to overcome severe obstacles and needed strong patronage before dominating the theological discourse and education for centuries. [End Page 812]