Peter Lombard was a bishop and theologian in the Middle Ages. He is also known as Peter the Lombard after the place of his birth, although this and much else about his life is uncertain. He was born somewhere in northwestern Italy, probably between 1095 and 1100. He was educated at various schools in Europe and eventually began teaching theology in Paris around 1134. The next year Peter became a professor at the cathedral school of Notre Dame, and there he began to distinguish himself as a teacher and writer. Later he was ordained as a priest and eventually became the bishop of Paris in 1159. Peter Lombard had only a short time as bishop of Paris, as he died in 1160. His tomb in Paris was destroyed during the French Revolution.
Peter Lombard is most remembered for his writing. His Sentences, four books of commentary on portions of Scripture, was considered to be the most important theological textbook in the medieval period. This work was a compilation of Scripture and commentary from the church fathers and later commentators on a whole range of theological topics—a compendium of theological knowledge.
The four books cover the following topics:
(1) The mystery of the Trinity
(2) On Creation
(3) On the Incarnation
(4) The Doctrine of Signs (concerning the sacraments and sacramental signs)
Sentences was studied and quoted by scholars and theologians from Thomas Aquinas and William of Ockham to Martin Luther and John Calvin. In fact, in the medieval period, Sentences and its commentaries (particularly one by Duns Scotus) were studied more than the Bible itself. In his biography of Martin Luther, Eric Metaxas sums it up this way: “Thus students were enticed to gambol [run or jump about playfully] on the loose tiles of the roof, unable to see or know anything of the house and foundation below them” (page 25). It was this sort of devotion to commentaries (and even commentaries on commentaries) that Martin Luther rebelled against in his insistence upon the authority of Scripture alone and the need for each person to be able to read the Bible for himself.
Even before Luther, Lombard had his critics. During Lombard’s lifetime some within the Catholic Church sought to have Sentences condemned due to statements that they considered to be unorthodox, but this never happened. Later, most of Peter Lombard’s views were affirmed by the Catholic Church, and he is still held in great esteem today. Pope Benedict XVI called him “an outstanding theologian.” Sentences and even commentaries on the medieval commentaries on Sentences are still being produced, although the primary interest in them is historical, not exegetical.