15.01.34, Monagle, Orthodoxy and Controversy

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Franklin T. Harkins

The Medieval Review 15.01.34

Monagle, Clare. Orthodoxy and Controversy in Twelfth-century Religious Discourse: Peter Lombard’s Sentences and the Development of Theology. Europa Sacra. Turnhout: Brepols, 2013. Pp. ix, 191. ISBN: 9782503527956 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Franklin T. Harkins
Durham University

Building on the foundational work of R.I. Moore (The First European Revolution, c. 970-1215, Blackwell 2000) and other scholars of what has been termed 'the long twelfth century' (c. 1050-1215), this engaging monograph seeks a deeper understanding of precisely how the schoolmen and their ideas came to assume the considerable authority and cultural prestige that they did during this crucial period in European history. Like many of her scholarly predecessors, Monagle sets the terminus ad quem at 1215, the year of Lateran IV, which ecumenical council emphatically supported Peter Lombard and his Trinitarian orthodoxy. Monagle explains: "[T]he figure of Peter Lombard was constructed as the voice of orthodoxy and as the builder of a reverent and authoritative system of theological speculation. The author of the Sentences was made an emblem of the schools and endorsed as a voice of reasoned and profound inquiry. In so doing, the council not only endorsed the intellectual methods invented in the schools over the preceding 150 years but used those methods to both persuade and mandate a series of reforms" (xiii-xiv). Seeking to account for Peter Lombard's place in the "grand legislation of papal sovereignty" at Lateran IV (141), Monagle sets the story of the rise of the schoolmen and their methods in the twelfth century alongside the narrative of the contested reception of the Lombard's Sentences during this same period. How might the latter be held together with, and indeed be crucial in throwing light on, the former? Monagle’s "hesitant answer" to this complex and expansive question is that Peter Lombard's technical, systematic innovations in theology, having been appropriated by Peter the Chanter and his circle, provided schoolmen in the late twelfth century with the tools necessary for articulating and mandating a coherent program of practical reform (170).

A crucial assumption of the book and its approach is, of course, that the ascendancy of the schoolmen was not an historical inevitability: the intellectual tumult of the twelfth century must not, as Moore notes, be merely a footnote to the scholastic innovations of the following century (xiv). Monagle develops her argument over the course of five chapters. The first, "Schoolmen and their Critics, from Berengar to Gilbert of Poitiers," sets the stage for the critical reception of Peter Lombard and his book by considering the waves of criticism attendant upon the theological work of Berengar, Roscelin, Abelard, and Gilbert of Poitiers. It was a general grammatical approach to divine names shared by these thinkers, Monagle maintains, that attracted the ire of such defenders of the faith as Lanfranc, Anselm, Bernard of Clairvaux, and Gerhoh of Reichersberg. Chapter 2 provides an introduction to the life and work of Peter Lombard, particularly to his Sentences in the broader context of the theological work of contemporary thinkers such as Hugh of St. Victor and Robert of Melun. From here Monagle proceeds to a treatment, in Chapter 3, of the Lombard's Christology, as set forth in Book III of the Sentences, and its critics, specifically Robert of Cricklade, Gerhoh of Reichersberg, John of Cornwall, and Walter of St. Victor. Noting the paucity of modern scholarship that recognizes the continuity of the attacks on the Lombard's Christology with those made against his twelfth-century predecessors, Monagle reads these criticisms as "striking evidence for the confusion and fear aroused by the schools and their method" even after the publication of the Sentences (111). Chapter 4 continues this line of argument, with a consideration of how the memories of the Lombard's students and "the truncations of those who abbreviated the Sentences" reveal criticisms of his Christology that persisted after the Third Lateran Council of 1179. Here Monagle claims that it was precisely in not basing their claims of Lombardian error in the text of the Sentences itself that early abbreviators of the work such as Bandinus and Gandulf of Bologna, which presented Peter Lombard as espousing habitus theory, instantiated diverse and dynamic understandings of the master's theological legacy. In fact, they produced, she argues, various Peter Lombards and a number of different positions about his orthodoxy, or lack thereof. The book concludes with a "contextual unpacking" (142) of Lateran IV in Chapter 5, wherein Monagle traces the formal conciliar approval of Peter Lombard and his theology, at least in part, to the earlier scholastic training of Pope Innocent III and his advisors at Paris, particularly their exposure to the moral theology of the school of Peter the Chanter. Monagle maintains that, although Peter the Chanter and his disciples had a firm grasp on contemporary Christology and its controversial potentials, "they were not interested in such questions for their own ends, preferring [instead] to focus on their broader pastoral implications" (156). It is here, in the realm of "practical theology" (170), where Peter Lombard's work and method--as representative of that of the schools more generally--met the needs of the thirteenth-century Church and became "a technology of reform" at Lateran IV, Monagle concludes.

This study will be of interest and of considerable use to students and scholars of the intellectual, institutional, and/or cultural history of medieval, particularly twelfth- and thirteenth-century, Europe. Monagle's work is particularly helpful in its repeated reminders--aimed especially at intellectual historians who tend to study the reception of and commentary tradition on Lombard's university 'textbook' with hindsight that is 20/20--that the great success subsequently enjoyed by the Sentences was neither historically nor theologically inevitable. One criticism that these same intellectual historians may level against Monagle, on the other hand, concerns the broad brushstrokes with which she paints the twelfth-century context in which Peter Lombard and his theology is placed, particularly in the introduction and chapter 1. Much of the literature on the nature of scholasticism and scholastic method used here is quite dated (see, e.g., the citation on p. 2, n. 2, of A. Murray's Reason and Society in the Middle Ages, published in 1977, as providing "a relatively more recent approach"), resulting in some rather flat-footed affirmations and misleading generalizations about the schools and their pedagogical orientation. Claims such as "education in the schools was concerned less with the cultivation of a holy person than with the production of a body of skills in Latin language" (3), and "where the monasteries cultivated learning as part of a faithful orthopraxis embedded in cloistered space, the schools were, crudely, service providers for hire" (3) are certainly surprising given the current state of scholarly understanding. At times Monagle herself seems to contradict such oversimplifications, as when she describes Hugh of St. Victor's pedagogical interest in "mystical union and contemplation" as well as in "developing productive and rational schemes for spiritual progress" (50). Whereas Monagle's treatment of the theology of Hugh of St. Victor and its influence on Peter Lombard relies almost exclusively on two general introductory studies, she might have offered a fuller and richer picture by making use of other relevant studies, such as Cédric Giraud, "L'école de Saint-Victor dans la première moitié du XIIe siècle, entre école monastique et école cathédrale" and Grover A. Zinn, "Vestigia victorina: Victorine influence on spiritual life in the Middle Ages with special reference to Hugh of Saint-Victor's De institutione novitiorum" (both in Dominique Poirel, ed., L'école de Saint-Victor de Paris: Influence et royannement du moyen âge à l'époque moderne, Brepols, 2010), F.T. Harkins, Reading and the Work of Restoration: History and Scripture in the Theology of Hugh of St. Victor (Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2009), and the first four volumes recently published in Brepols's Victorine Texts in Translation series.

Some readers may also be disappointed by Monagle's analysis in chapter 3 of Peter Lombard's treatment of the three Christological opinions (Bk III dd. 6-7), which offers a reading that runs contrary to the received scholarly view (viz., she claims that the Lombard appears to have rejected homo assumptus and habitus theories outright; 81) without sufficiently and critically engaging the substantial body of modern scholarship on this topic (though she does engage it to a greater degree in the chapter 4). Relatedly, in chapter 4, Monagle offers two abbreviations of the Sentences, namely those of Bandinus and Gandulf of Bologna, which presented the Lombard as proponent of the habitus theory as indicative of the late-twelfth-century "conversational world of gossip and defamatory rumour" (114) concerning the master's status vis-à-vis Christological orthodoxy. Although she notes that "[m]uch of this [early reception of the Lombard's theology as found in glosses, abbreviations, and lecture notes] is lost to us" (114), the abridgments of Bandinus and Gandulf by no means tell the whole story, even insofar as this story is able to be known by scholars. For instance, there is an entire family of 'updated abridgments' of the Sentences known as Filiae magistri that circulated in at least 34 extant manuscripts produced between the early-thirteenth and sixteenth centuries that awaits further scholarly investigation. Although this text (as attested in Manchester, John Rylands University Library, MS Latin 203) dates to the period after the papal condemnation of 1177 and reveals its determinative influence on subsequent Christological formulation, it clearly affirms that the Lombard's second opinion is conceded by all whereas his third (i.e., habitus theory) is condemned as heretical by all (fol. 170v). It could be argued, in light of such evidence, that the two late-twelfth-century abbreviations attributing habitus theory to the Lombard himself do not reflect the controversial reception of his theology, but rather his own assumption that all three opinions could legitimately be held within the bounds of orthodoxy (which represents the standard scholarly reading of Bk III d. 6).

Finally, the reader may be surprised by the number of proofreading errors in the book: e.g., 'writes says' on p. xv, line 10; 'was...was...' on p. 43, line 4; 'through admiration with advance to love' on p. 55, lines 26-27; 'perhaps…perhaps…' on p. 70, line 26 and 28; and 'nibilianism' on p. 110, line 29.

In spite of these limitations, Monagle's book is a stimulating study that offers insights into Peter Lombard, his theology, and its myriad and lasting intellectual, institutional, and ecclesiastical receptions.

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Author Biography

Franklin T. Harkins

Durham University