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Last week on Five Minutes in Church History we looked at the Abbey at St. Victor and I mentioned one of the famous Medieval figures who studied there, Peter Lombard. Well, on this week we’ll just focus on Peter Lombard. He’s not to be confused with the Italian sculptor Pietro Lombardo. Pietro, he designed, among many other things, the tomb of Dante. This Peter Lombard was Italian just like Pietro, but he was not a sculptor. Instead, he was a Theologian. And when he started his life out in Italy he ended up in Paris. After his early studies, Peter Lombard taught at the Cathedral School at Notre Dame and also, as we learned, he spent some time at the Abbey at the School at St. Victor. He was born in 1095 and he died in 1160. From 1155 to 1158, just shortly before his death, he wrote his magnum opus, the Four Books of Sentences. These are indeed four books. The first one he entitled The Trinity, the second he titled The Creation in Sin, the third is The Incarnation and the Virtues, and the fourth is The Sacraments and the Four Last Things.
These were instantly well received and throughout the Medieval Ages there were many commentaries written on them by leading lights including the leading light, Thomas Aquinas. By 1222, the fourth Lateran Council declared them mandatory for the curriculum. And it was just a few years after that that one of the professors at the University of Paris, Alexander of Hales used Lombard instead of the Bible. He replaced the Bible with Lombard as the textbook and many followed suit. That was true right on down to Luther’s day. When Luther was working through his doctorate in Theology, and this was actually his second doctorate, he had his first doctorate in Jurisprudence and then worked his way through a Bachelors, and Masters, and a Doctorate in Biblical Studies and Theology. One of his qualifying exams concerned Peter Lombard’s The Sentences. Luther had to master it and be able to recite it in order to qualify for his doctorate. And after he received that in the Fall of 1509, he was at Erfurt and tasked with his first assignment to lecture through Theology. And this was his textbook. And Luther’s personal volume of Lombard’s Sentences survives down to this day. The volume is full of lengthy marginal notes and we assume these notes were the basis of his lectures. Well, while Luther had to study it, and while he lectured from it, very quickly Luther is going to come to disagree with it.
In one of the books – book four on the Sacraments – Peter Lombard lays out for us, the church at that time, the Roman Catholic Church’s view on the Sacraments. And in chapter one he tells us, first of all, the number of the Sacraments. And so, as I read them, keep track. He says, “Now let us approach the sacraments of the new law which are Baptism, Confirmation, the Bread of Blessing (that is, the Eucharist), Penance, Extreme Unction, Orders, and Marriage.” Now, that’s seven. In the Protestant world we’re used to two. They are, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. Here’s seven. What’s also telling is not just the number, but the understanding of the Sacraments. And a little bit later in the book, what Peter Lombard tells us is that the Sacraments are a second plank after the shipwreck of Adam’s Fall. The first plank is Baptism. And this is what Lombard said, “the first plank is Baptism whereby the old man is put off and the new man put on. And the second plank is Penance by which we raise ourselves again after a fall.” His view is that at Baptism we are made new creatures through the Sacrament of Baptism. And then, as we live our lives and we sin, those are like spots on our new garments, as it were. So, along comes the Sacrament of Penance to remove those spots form our garments.
Well, as Luther was looking at Peter Lombard, then he started looking at Augustine, and then he started looking at Scripture and he began to see some discontinuity between what he had learned from Peter Lombard and what he had learned in the Scriptures. And one of the first books Luther writes is the Babylonian Captivity of the Church and he challenges head-on Lombard’s view of the Sacraments.
The Abbey of St. Victor in Paris was founded around 1108. It began as an Augustinian community, and a number of very famous medieval people made their way through the abbey. Thomas Becket studied there. He was murdered in Canterbury Cathedral, so that’s a fascinating story. Peter Lombard spent some time there. He would come to be the author of the Four Books of Sentences, a standard medieval textbook on theology. It was the book that Martin Luther had to study and master. We’re going to look at three key figures who had a long association with the abbey. They’re all from the 1100s, and they are Hugh of St. Victor, Richard of St. Victor, and Adam of St. Victor.
Hugh was born around 1096 in Saxony. He made his way to Paris and died there in 1141. From 1120 through 1140, he was master of the school at St. Victor. He gets credit for books he likely didn’t write; they were probably written anonymously by others in the abbey and were later attributed to him. But one book that we know he did write was his book on the sacraments. In this book, he starts by talking about why we need the sacraments. The first line says, “Man’s first sin was pride.” From that first sin came three consequences—death, depravity of the flesh, and depravity of the mind. So far, Hugh of St. Victor is rather Augustinian in his outlook, and when he turns to Christ, he remains Augustinian. This is what he says:
From our nature he took a victim for our nature that the whole burnt offering to be offered up for us might come from that which is ours. In other words, this Redeemer, Christ, had to be us; had to be flesh; had to be truly human. This he did in order that the redemption might have to do with us by this very fact that the offering had to be taken from that which is ours. We are truly made partakers of this redemption if we, through faith, are united to the Redeemer Himself who, through the flesh, entered into fellowship with us.
We also have Richard of St. Victor. Richard was born in Scotland and also made his way to Paris. From 1162 until 1173, he was head of the abbey at St. Victor. He died there in 1173. He is classified as a mystic, but he also wanted to systematize and bring a structure to mysticism. Among his many books was a book on the Trinity. He opens that book by talking about the three ways we have of knowing: by experience, by reason, and by believing. He continues, “The main things we know, or the main reason we can know, is by faith, by believing. That is first.”
Finally, there is Adam of St. Victor. He was a theologian too, but he was also a poet. Let’s just end with a stanza from one of his poems. “Here the world’s perpetual warfare holds from heaven the soul apart; Legioned foes in shadowy terror vex the Sabbath of the heart. O how happy that estate where delight doth not abate! For that home the spirit yearneth where none languisheth nor mourneth.”