Boston conference, English version


I. The Master’s book. II. Peter Lombard and the Sentences; 2c. Presentation of the site.III. The GRPL. IV. Our practice.


I. The Master’s book.

According to a medieval adage, the master is the one who opens the book. He opens it because he has understood it and knows how to convey to others what he has learned from it. There is no book without master : a master who can understand it and explain it to others.

For Christians of the Middle Ages this dynamic begins with Philip, the deacon of Jerusalem. We know the narrative of Philip’s meeting with the Ethiopian eunuch, senior official of Queen Candace, in the Acts of the Apostles (8, 29–31): “And the Spirit said to Philip: Go near, and get on his carriage. And Philip, running up to him, saw that he was reading Isaiah the prophet, and said to him, Is the sense of what you are reading clear to you? And he said: How is that possible when I have no guide? ”

Likewise, according to medieval Christians, commenting on Scripture and communicating the truth rightfully belonged to the Fathers. In fact, a similar situation obtained for all the books that one could read. From Hugh of Saint-Victor’s Didascalicon, for example, we know the desire of the twelfth century to connect all science or knowledge to an author, understood as founder of this science or this knowledge. This is even more so in the thirteenth century, which goes on to identify the person and function: Aristotle is the Philosopher, Averroes is the Commentator.

Finally, with the licentia docendi the function of master of theology appears, whose chair would soon be established at the university. However, according to the hierarchical constitution of the medieval guilds, the master remains a magister operis: someone who puts the discipline he teaches to work. The point here is not to claim a title and the privileges that accompany it, but, in accordance with the Dionysian hierarchies, to be able to transmit this same function to those who follow. The master opens the book: let’s listen to him.


II. Peter Lombard and the Sentences

But who is the master? Who can answer this question? The medievals themselves respond: Thomas of Aquinas, Bonaventure, Albert the Great, Alexander of Hales say so in their commentaries on the Sentences. The Master is Peter Lombard. That title does, indeed, go to Lombard, because throughout the Middle Ages teaching the Sentences, the Four Books of Sentences, made it possible to become master in turn.

Following the recommendation of the Fourth Lateran Council (1215), the Sentences of Peter Lombard became the basic textbook of theology for the European universities from the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, and even through the seventeenth century in Spain. That is indicative of their importance. The brightest minds of this period—Thomas of Aquinas, Bonaventure, Duns Scotus, among many others—were led to study the text, since it was necessary to produce a commentary on the Sentences to obtain the title of master, and only then to occupy a chair of theology.

The Book I presents the doctrine of the Trinity.

The Book II concerns creation, grace and sin.

The Book III describes Christology and the Christian life.

The Book IV presents the theology of the sacraments and Last Things.


Note that Peter Lombard, who died in 1160, wrote his famous Sentences between 1155 and 1157, before preparing a second version in 1157 to 1158.


Presentation of the site: big screen

– authors

– books

– citations

– sources

– index cards


III. The GRPL (The Research Group Peter Lombard)

So much is clear: no medievalist can ignore the Sentences and their commentaries. Whoever the author in question, he had to comment on the Sentences to obtain his master’s degree. Any academic study of a particular author should therefore take the Sentences commentary by that author into account, at least as an early work; and it should show the evolution of the author’s thought (or the absence of such evolution) in relation to the first work. Knowing the Sentences and the commentary tradition is therefore essential for the entire field of medieval studies.

It is from this perspective that our research group, affiliated with the Institute of Medieval Studies (IEM) at the Catholic Institute of Paris (ICP), has given itself the name “Peter Lombard Research Group” (GRPL). This group is now ten years old. Between 2012 and 2015, we completed the French translation of the Sentences. And on 28 January 2016, we opened the site that I just presented.

This site is therefore only six months old. Our ultimate project is as follows: to connect all these texts through hyperlinks by following the logic of their own medieval intertextuality, that is to say, through the authors as they cite each other.

— Concretely, as user, you are reading a text ; you find a citation ; clicking on the text of the citation, you will find yourself on the original page from which this citation was pulled (through the hyperlink). In this way, you will find out how the author worked; and how authors repeat each other in order to contradict each other or to confirm their own thinking. This is how medieval intertextuality functions.



IV. Our practice.

Our research group wanted to answer a twofold question:

How to enable the beginner to take advantage of the work of the specialist?

How to put the computer tool at the service of the medieval text?


The first is an ethical question: we wish to pass on to as many people as possible what we have learned from the Middle Ages. The second is an epistemological question. The French philosopher Gaston Bachelard has taught us that the technical tool is not neutral, that the tool is not simply an extension of our senses, but is already a theory that defines our relationship to the world. We had to learn how to use this tool without betraying the medieval text.

Our group has provided a unique answer to this twofold question. This answer, I think, is what has made writing and reading our site so simple.


A comparison. Consider the master-builder, the magister operis of a cathedral. Look at the plans: you do not have a top view, as do today’s architects. Rather, the medieval master establishes his plans from inside the building, and develops them in the same way. He is therefore in the same situation as those who will later attend services celebrated in the cathedral. It is from this center that we must “understand” the cathedral. Similarly, the measures which the master-builder uses are related to the human body (the palm, the cubit, etc.). Therefore it is from a human body present in the interior of the (future) cathedral that it must be constructed. It is the same for the Sentences and their commentaries. Just as the person who attended a service in the cathedral found himself occupying the place of the master of works, so the reader should be able to take the place of the author when reading the Sentences or commentaries. And memory should be the human measure that the reader uses, just as the author himself did.

Here is therefore our answer. We must recapture the place of the author. We do this by retrieving the materials he used to compose his work. This principle applies particularly to those texts which consist mostly of the repetition of prior works, of selected extracts, of citations. This is why the “citation” is the place where the computer hypertext and medieval intertextuality are going to meet. Thus, our site deliberately designed the digital links that will connect all these works with each other in accordance with the intertextuality of the medieval texts themselves. Our site, based as it is on “citation,” demonstrates that these texts are actually built around the practice of citation—in their writing just as in their reading, in their writing yesterday, just as in their being read today.

Hence the answer to the first question. Any student, therefore, not only the specialist, is through the hyperlink able to discover medieval intertextuality. By doing the first (following the link), which everyone is able to do, the user will do the other: namely, discover the intertextuality that the specialist will have made available to him through this site. Such a site is therefore open to everyone.

Conclusion: To conclude, I invite each of you, according to the focus of your research or your favorite author, to join us in order to promote, through your expertise, your favorite author.