The Prologue for All Theology
Another school year is upon us. Students and scholars alike are getting back into the routine of the academic cycle, preparing courses, reading texts, plotting research trajectories, and so on. This is certainly the case for me as I begin my second year at Boston College. I’m in the process of transitioning into the daily work that accompanies the excitement of a new semester, while also finishing up some revisions for journal articles after review and working on book manuscripts due at the end of the year. As I work on both the material for my coursework and the theological research and writing outside the classroom, I find myself reflecting on the prologue to the Sentences of Peter Lombard.
There is perhaps no more-important medieval text than Lombard’s Sentences, even if you’ve never heard of it. This particularly influential collection of authoritative theological opinions relate the early university study of scripture to the pressing doctrinal questions of the day. It became the blueprint for students studying to be theology masters in the high-middle ages, it was the structure that framed the commentaries of the theological masters. It also inspired others to consider alternative framings for a theological treatise of central Christian doctrine — think Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologica or Bonaventure’s Breviloquium, to name two.
While reading Lombard’s prologue for a class earlier this week, I was struck by how the opening paragraph could — or maybe should — rightly serve as the “prologue for all theology” and stand as something like the motto or mission statement that each theologian should hold in view of her or his work. It could be something of an implied preface to the task at hand, a task that is truly intimidating, a task that is important and necessary, a task that should always be seen as ministry as much as scholarship.
And so, with that, I share the opening paragraph of Lombard’s Prologue to the Sentences:
Wishing, with the poor widow, to give something to the Lord’s treasury out of our penury and poverty, we have dared to scale the difficult heights and to undertake a work beyond our strength. We have grounded out confidence of completion and the reward for our labour in the Good Samaritan, who, after giving two silver pieces for the care of the man left half-dead, promised to repay all the expenses of the caregiver, who might have to spend more. The truthfulness of the one making that promise delights us, but the immensity of the work terrifies us; the desire to make progress spurs us on, but the weakness of failure discourages us, and only the zeal for the house of God overcomes it.
Happy New Academic Year!