|A new year of friendship with Christ
At the General Audience on
Wednesday, 30 December 2009, in the Paul VI Audience Hall, the Holy
Father commented on Peter Lombard. This outstanding theologian of the
12th century died as Bishop of Paris. He is best known for his work, the
"Book of Sentences". The following is a translation of the Pope's
Catechesis, which was given in Italian.
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
At this last Audience of
the year I would like to speak to you about Peter Lombard: he was a
theologian who lived in the 12th century and enjoyed great fame because
one of his works, entitled the Sentences, was used as a
theological manual for many centuries.
So who was Peter Lombard?
Although the information on his life is scarce it is possible to
reconstruct the essential lines of his biography. He was born beween the
11th and 12th centuries near Novara, in Northern Italy, in a region that
once belonged to the Lombards. For this very reason he was nicknamed
He belonged to a modest
family, as we may deduce from the letter of introduction that Bernard of
Clairvaux wrote to Gilduin, Superior of the Abbey of Saint-Victor in
Paris, asking him to give free accomodation to Peter who wanted to go to
that city in order to study. In fact, even in the Middle Ages not only
nobles or the rich might study and acquire important roles in ecclesial
and social life but also people of humble origin such as, for example,
Gregory VII, the Pope who stood up to the Emperor Henry or Maurice of
Sully, the Archbishop of Paris who commissioned the building of
Notre-Dame and who was the son of a poor peasant.
Peter Lombard began his
studies in Bologna and then went to Rheims and lastly to Paris. From
1140 he taught at the prestigious school of Notre-Dame. Esteemed and
appreciated as a theologian, eight years later he was charged by Pope
Eugene II to examine the doctrine of Gilbert de la Porrée
that was giving rise to numerous discussions because it was held to be
not wholly orthodox.
Having become a priest, he
was appointed Bishop of Paris in 1159, a year before his death in 1160.
Like all theology teachers
of his time, Peter also wrote discourses and commentaries on Sacred
Scripture. His masterpiece, however, consists of the four Books of the
Sentences. This is a text which came into being for
didactic purposes. According to the theological method in use in those
times, it was necessary first of all to know, study and comment on the
thought of the Fathers of the Church and of the other writers deemed
Peter therefore collected a
very considerable amount of documentation, which consisted mainly of the
teachings of the great Latin Fathers, especially St Augustine, and was
open to the contribution of contemporary theologians.
Among other things, he also
used an encyclopedia of Greek theology which had only recently become
known to the West: The Orthodox faith, composed by St John
Damascene. The great merit of Peter Lombard is to have organized all the
material that he had collected and chosen with care, in a systematic and
harmonious framework. In fact one of the features of theology is to
organize the patrimony of faith in a unitive and orderly way.
Thus he distributed the
sentences, that is, the Patristic sources on various arguments, in four
books. In the first book he addresses God and the Trinitarian mystery;
in the second, the work of the Creation, sin and Grace; in the third,
the Mystery of the Incarnation and the work of Redemption with an
extensive exposition on the virtues. The fourth book is dedicated to the
sacraments and to the last realities, those of eternal life, or
The overall view presented
includes almost all the truths of the Catholic faith. The concise, clear
vision and clear, orderly schematic and ever consistent presentation
explain the extraordinary success of Peter Lombard's Sentences.
They enabled students to learn reliably and gave the educators and
teachers who used them plenty of room for acquiring deeper knowledge.
A Franciscan theologian,
Alexandre of Hales, of the next generation, introduced into the
Sentences a division that facilitated their study and consultation.
Even the greatest of the 13th-century theologians, Albert the Great,
Bonaventure of Bagnoregio and Thomas Aquinas began their academic
activity by commenting on the four books of Peter Lombard's Sentences,
enriching them with their reflections. Lombard's text was the book in
use at all schools of theology until the 16th century.
I would like to emphasize
how the organic presentation of faith is an indispensable requirement.
In fact, the individuals truths of faith illuminate each other and, in
their total and unitive vision appears the harmony of God's plan of
salvation and the centrality of the Mystery of Christ.
After the example of Peter
Lombard, I invite all theologians and priests always to keep in mind the
whole vision of the Christian doctrine, to counter today's risks of
fragmentation and the debasement of the single truths. The Catechism
of the Catholic Church, as well as the Compendium of
this same Catechism, offer us exactly this full picture of Christian
Revelation, to be accepted with faith and gratitude.
However I would like to
encourage the individual faithful and the Christian communities to make
the most of these instruments to know and to deepen the content of our
faith. It will thus appear to us as a marvellous symphony that speaks to
us of God and of his love and asks of us firm adherence and an active
To get an idea of the
interest that the reading of Peter Lombard's Sentences still
inspires today I propose two examples.
Inspired by St Augustine's
Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Peter wonders why woman was created
from man's rib and not from his head or his feet. And Peter explains:
"She was formed neither as a dominator nor a slave of man but rather as
his companion" (Sentences 3, 18, 3).
Then, still on the basis of
the Patristic teaching he adds: "The mystery of Christ and of the Church
is represented in this act. Just as, in fact, woman was formed from
Adam's rib while he slept, so the Church was born from the sacraments
that began to flow from the side of Christ, asleep on the Cross, that
is, from the blood and water with which we are redeemed from sin and
cleansed of guilt" (Sentences 3, 18, 4). These are profound
reflections that still apply today when the theology and spirituality of
Christian marriage have considerably deepened the analogy with the
spousal relationship of Christ and his Church.
In another passage in one
of his principal works, Peter Lombard, treating the merits of Christ,
asks himself: "Why, then does [Christ] wish to suffer and die, if his
virtues were sufficient to obtain for himself all the merits?". His
answer is incisive and effective: "For you, not for himself!".
He then continues with
another question and another answer, which seem to reproduce the
discussions that went on during the lessons of medieval theology
teachers: "And in what sense did he suffer and die for me? So that his
Passion and his death might be an example and cause for you. An example
of virtue and humility, a cause of glory and freedom; an example given
by God, obedient unto death; a cause of your liberation and your
beatitude" (Sentences 3, 18, 5).
Among the most important
contributions offered by Peter Lombard to the history of theology, I
would like to recall his treatise on the sacraments, of which he gave
what I would call a definitive definition: "precisely what is a sign of
God's grace and a visible form of invisible grace, in such a way that it
bears its image and is its cause is called a sacrament in the proper
sense" (4, 4).
With this definition Peter
Lombard grasps the essence of the sacraments: they are a cause of grace,
they are truly able to communicate divine life. Successive theologians
never again departed from this vision and were also to use the
distinction between the material and the formal element introduced by
the "Master of the Sentences", as Peter Lombard was known.
The material element is the
tangible visible reality, the formal element consists of the words
spoken by the minister. For a complete and valid celebration of the
sacraments both are essential: matter, the reality with which the Lord
visibly touches us and the word that conveys the spiritual significance.
In Baptism, for example,
the material element is the water that is poured on the head of the
child and the formal element is the formula: "I baptize you in the name
of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit".
Peter the Lombard,
moreover, explained that the sacraments alone objectively transmit
divine grace and they are seven: Baptism, the Eucharist, Penance, the
Unction of the sick, Orders and Matrimony (cf. Sentences 4, 2,
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
it is important to recognize how precious and indispensable for every
Christian is the sacramental life in which the Lord transmits this
matter in the community of the Church, and touches and transforms us.
As the Catechism of the
Catholic Church says, the sacraments are "powers that come forth
from the Body of Christ, which is ever-living and life-giving. They are
actions of the Holy Spirit" (n. 1116).
In this Year for Priests
which we are celebrating I urge priests, especially ministers in charge
of souls, to have an intense sacramental life themselves in the first
place in order to be of help to the faithful.
May the celebration of the
sacraments be impressed with dignity and decorum, encourage personal
recollection and community participation, the sense of God's presence
and missionary zeal.
The sacraments are the
great treasure of the Church and it is the task of each one of us to
celebrate them with spiritual profit. In them an ever amazing event
touches our lives: Christ, through the visible signs, comes to us,
purifies us, transforms us and makes us share in his divine friendship.
Dear friends, we have come
to the end of this year and to the threshold of the New Year. I hope
that the friendship of Our Lord Jesus Christ will accompany you every
day of this year that is about to begin. May Christ's friendship be our
light and guide, helping us to be people of peace, of his peace. Happy
New Year to you all!