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Marcia Colish Explains the Mind of the Great Master

By Sue Kropp


Marcia Colish

SEPTEMBER 29, 1999--Like the theologians of the 12th and 13th centuries who worked to explain Peter Lombard's opinions through their commentaries, Marcia Colish seeks to explain the mind of Lombard, known as the great master.

Colish--Artz Professor of History now in her 24th year of teaching at Oberlin--has been researching the works of the 12th-century theologian since the mid-1980s. Soon she will complete an edition of an anonymous 12th-century commentary on Peter Lombard's Sentences.

Colish's 1994 book, Peter Lombard, detailed Lombard's contributions to western Christian theological tradition. Lombard, who pioneered a genre of theological writing known as the sentence collection, taught theology at the Cathedral School of Notre Dame at Paris. The new genre, a collection of the opinions of earlier theologians, became a popular teaching tool in its time. Starting in the 13th century and continuing for over four centuries, aspiring university theologians were required to write a commentary on Lombard's Sentences before they could progress to the doctoral degree.

After spending the summer of 1998 in Europe studying manuscript material, Colish felt she was ready to tackle the earliest continuous commentary of Lombard's Sentences, known as The Pseudo Peter of Poitiers Gloss.

"Since I now know Peter Lombard intimately," Colish says, "I seemed like a good candidate to edit the gloss." Colish's research focuses on the three intact copies--from Paris, Naples, and London--of the 12th-century commentary. She will also use the remaining fragments of 13 partial gloss manuscripts in her research.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, book-making workshops produced copies of the original manuscript. The extant copies, some of which were made a century or more after Lombard's death, reflect the enormous popularity of his work during a period when scholastic theology changed dramatically.

To edit the gloss, Colish will decipher the varying types of handwriting and transcribe the manuscripts from Latin. Then she will prepare what is known as a parallel edition, placing segments of each manuscript side by side to alert scholars to differences among the texts and flag important shifts in theological thought.

Brepols, a publishing company in Belgium that specializes in edited versions of medieval Latin manuscripts, is interested in publishing Colish's finished work. Colish intends her new work, "The Pseudo Peter of Poitiers Gloss on the Sentences of Peter Lombard," to be read by scholars; it will enable them to study Peter Lombard on one of the pedagogical levels on which he was taught from the mid-12th to the late-13th century.

Colish's interest in Peter Lombard began when she discovered that, despite his importance in his own age and beyond, not one book had been written about him during the 20th century.





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