The Twelfth And Thirteenth Centuries
In the twelfth century, the sentence collection became the central genre of theological writing, overshadowing the Scripture commentary and the treatise. A theologian now had to prove his competence by presenting a comprehensive synthesis of traditional doctrine. A number of factors flowed together to produce this situation, especially the inherent dynamics of the development of the Christian intellectual tradition and the increasing importance of urban schools as centers of education. In the monasteries—the paradigmatic institutional setting of earlier medieval writers—education and learning served a contemplative goal: the monks saw themselves as pursuing salutaris scientia, "salvific knowledge." In the schools, on the other hand, knowledge came to be conceivable as an end in itself, dissociated from spirituality. The "master" teaching at the school was neither a monk nor a bishop entrusted with the care of souls, but an intellectual. He competed with masters at other schools for students, who judged his performance based not least upon how effectively he presented his subject matter.
The tradition of the sentence collections culminated in Peter Lombard's (c. 1095–1160) Sententiarum libri IV (Book of sentences), which quickly became the standard theological textbook of the medieval schools—to the chagrin of more conservative thinkers, such as the English bishop Robert Grosseteste (c. 1168–1253), who believed that theology should remain centered on the study of Scripture. In the Sentences, Peter Lombard divides theology into four books, logically starting with God and the Trinity in book one, then moving on to Creation, the human being, and the Fall in book two, treating Christology in book three, and concluding with the sacraments in book four. The books were further broken down into chapters, with a table of contents placed at the beginning of the work to facilitate its consultation—a remarkable innovation at the time. Moreover, Lombard indicated the internal structure of each chapter by means of red subheadings, so-called rubrics. Within each chapter, a theological question is posed, then answered provisionally by means of scriptural and patristic quotations that often remain discordant, therefore requiring reconciliation. This harmonization is effected through detailed examination of the texts, determination of each author's precise meaning, and careful weighing up of arguments. Lombard usually attempts to formulate a consensus position in a short paragraph at the end of the chapter.
From the beginning of the thirteenth century until the early sixteenth, the history of Scholasticism can to a large extent be written as the history of commentaries upon the Book of Sentences. In the commentaries of the theologians of the thirteenth century, Scholastic method reached its most developed stage. Under the influence of newly available Aristotelian methodology, theology came to be defined rigorously as scientia divina, "divine science." This scientia divina was conceived as being distinct both from philosophy (taught in a separate faculty at the recently founded universities) and from sacra pagina, that is to say, "sacred page" or Scripture commentary. Furthermore, in the commentaries upon the Sentences, the dialectical structure of Peter Lombard's analyses was formalized, to yield the schema with which every reader of Thomas Aquinas's (c. 1225–1274) Summa theologiae is familiar (the Summa is, in fact, a revised version of Aquinas's own Sentences commentary): question; arguments con; arguments pro; solution by means of a distinction in which both sides are usually shown to have seen parts of the truth; response to the opening arguments. The "divine science" of the Summa theologiae leaves the narrative structure of Scripture behind completely, replacing it with a system that articulates all the elements of the Christian faith as parts of a coherent whole—a whole that represents the methodically generated sum total of all the authoritative voices of the tradition.
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