Generations of students have been introduced to medieval scholastic thought via Eugene Fairweather's classic volume, A Scholastic Miscellany: Anselm to Ockham. There, Peter Comestor's twelfth-century Historia scholastica is described by the single word, "successful" (228). Otherwise, this text by the Paris master and Chancellor of Notre Dame receives no mention. But what made it a "successful" text? And what exactly was it? A chief aim of Mark Clark's The Making of the Historia scholastica, 1150-1200 is to address these questions. How did this "formerly famous" work become, in the words of Jacques Le Goff, so "little studied and poorly known" (4)? Clark's other principal aim is to establish the case for producing what he calls a "Langton" or "University" edition of the Historia scholastica, that is, an edition that approximates as nearly as possible the version of the text employed in the Paris classrooms in the decades of the 1160s and the 1170s. Accordingly, Clark begins his study by reviewing the historiography of the Historia scholastica. Marshaling the evidence for the work's great popularity in the twelfth through the fourteenth centuries (there are over 800 extant manuscripts copied from the twelfth through sixteenth centuries), Clark argues that the text's recent neglect is partly a consequence of its misclassification in the early twentieth century. Martin Grabmann had characterized it as a product of the "biblical-moral" school and thus obscured its ties to Peter Lombard and to more speculative approaches to theological study. Also obscured were the novelty of the Historia's format and its purpose. "Pregnant with the Bible...[but] not a biblical commentary" (xiii), the Historia should be understood as "a hybrid, the offspring of the new and the old, the progressive, as well as the traditional" (47).
The lack of a modern edition has likewise contributed to the Historia's relative neglect. As Clark notes, the edition printed in Migne is seriously flawed; the formatting is incorrect and the printed text incorporates sections of Stephen Langton's commentary on the Historia. Interestingly, it is the close scholarly relationship between Langton and Comestor that is the key to Clark's own approach to the work. Characterizing the Historia as a "living, prototypically scholastic text" (254) that underwent revisions by Comestor, Langton, and other masters as it was being used in the schools, Clark eschews the possibility of creating an Urtext. Instead, he composes a history of the work which highlights its malleability as the source of its success. Clark takes as his starting point Comestor's teaching on the glossed Gospels. Using unpublished student reports of Comestor's lectures, Clark extrapolates from the emphasis that Comestor placed on explaining the Biblical glosses Comestor's belief that the Bible furnished only an incomplete record of salvation history. However, the format of the Scriptural material that Comestor likely used in his lectures--Biblical text arranged on the center of each page and surrounded by the collected interlinear and marginal glosses referred to as "the Gloss"--proved a cumbersome vehicle for teaching. Clark argues that Comestor's response was to create an abridged work which integrated "Scripture, gloss, and extra-scriptural sources in a cogent narrative" (151). Employing numerous examples from Comestor's Gospel lectures and from his own working edition of the Historia, Clark painstakingly shows how Comestor would have constructed his opus. Abbreviating sources by intermingling paraphrases with quotations, Comestor further streamlined his materials by selecting only glosses which he saw as expounding the literal sense of Scripture. This editorial philosophy, as Clark points out, demonstrates the continuing influence of the Victorine school and its emphasis on history's role for studying the Bible.
Having situated the origins of the Historia within Peter Comestor's teaching method in chapters two through four, Clark builds the next layer of its history through an exposition of Stephen Langton's relationship to the text. Clark lays out detailed evidence for pushing back the date traditionally accepted for Langton's entrance into theological studies in order to establish that Langton studied with Comestor and then collaborated with him in revising the Historia. This allows Clark to set out an eleven-step chronology for the making of the work, beginning with Comestor's first making public "what Langton recognized as the original text of the History" (170) between 1167-1173, and continuing with strata of revisions by Comestor, by unnamed masters, and most importantly, by Stephen Langton. Clark ends his chronology in 1193 with Langton's second revision of his teaching course on the Historia. Chapters five through seven thoroughly document this step-by-step chronology. Clark provides translated block quotations from his working editions backed up by Latin footnotes so that readers have ample opportunity to follow Clark's reasoning and to appreciate Langton's role in editing the Historia. After a brief conclusion, Clark provides a summary statement of his editorial conventions as well as eight textual appendices of selections from the editions he plans to publish. Here, with the opening chapters of Comestor's Historia Genesis and of his treatment of the Gospels, one can see quite clearly what this textbook was and why, as Clark argues throughout his study, it would have been successful in the schools.