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Modern scholarship suggests that the principium in aula was one part of a series of required steps in a master’s inception. There were disputed questions at or around the hour of vespers the day before the principium and others on the day of the official inception before the assembled masters, four in all. Although the possibility exists that what I have been calling resumptio addresses were the inception addresses given when a young baccalarius incepted as a biblicus, for the present, we will continue to accept the thesis that, in the thirteenth century, the principium in aula and the resumptio were two parts of a multistage ceremony. We have special reason to believe that Thomas’s second “commendation of Sacred Scripture” entitled Hic est liber came from his inception as a master, since he never incepted as a biblicus at Paris. As both Fr. Weiheipl and Fr. Torrell indicate, it is likely that Thomas delivered Hic est liber – an address that contained a continuation of his praise of Sacred Scripture and a divisio textus or partitio of all the books of the Bible – on the first day of classes after his inception.
We have been examining the culture of preaching and prologues at the University of Paris in the thirteenth century using the works of two of that century’s greatest masters of sacred theology, Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure. One goal has been to show how the three arts of the master – preaching, disputation, and lecturing on the Bible – though distinct, ran together and influenced each other in important ways.
To understand the sermo modernus style of preaching, it is necessary to understand how it differed from what preceded it. In the early fourteenth century, Thomas Waleys, an Oxford Dominican, looking back on the “homiletic revolution” of the thirteenth century, wrote a widely circulated tract entitled “On the manner of composing sermons” (De modo componendi sermones). The difference between the “modern” sermons of the thirteenth century and the “ancient” sermons of the Church Fathers, said Waleys, was that, whereas the “ancient” sermon consisted of a verse-by-verse commentary on the entire Gospel reading for the day, the “modern” sermon was built around a thema or single Bible verse. Indeed, as Michèle Mulcahey notes, “The theme [that is, the thema] of a sermon modernus was often likened by the authors of preaching manuals to the root of a tree which was the sermon, or similarly it was the trunk from which sprung the various branches.”
One of Thomas’s most elegant and most philosophically profound prologues was one of his last: the prologue to his Commentary on the Gospel of John, crafted during his second regency at Paris (1268–1272). The entire prologue was structured around a single sentence from Isaiah 6:1: “I saw the Lord seated on a throne high and lofty, and the whole earth was full of his majesty, and the things that were under him completely filled the temple” (Vidi dominum sedentem super solium excelsum et elevatum, et plena erat omnis terra maiestate eius, et ea quae sub ipso erant, replebant templum).
Nancy Spatz comments that “Stephen’s inception speech shows that a principium in aula typically contained a commendation of Scripture and a comparison of Scripture to other fields of study, while the principium at the resumption contained a division of the books of the Bible and an analysis of Scripture.”
In this volume, Randall B. Smith provides a revisionist account of the scholastic culture that flourished in Paris during the High Middle Ages. Exploring the educational culture that informed the intellectual and mental habits of Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure, he offers an in-depth study of the prologues and preaching skills of these two masters. Smith reveal the intricate interrelationships between the three duties of the master: lectio (reading), disputatio (debate), and praedicatio (preaching). He also analyzes each of Aquinas and Bonaventure's prologues from their student days to their final works, revealing both their artistry and their instructional character. Written in an engaging style, this book serves as an invaluable resource that will enable scholars and students to read thirteenth-century sermons, prologues, and biblical commentaries with greater understanding and ease.
In Part I, we examined several of the early prologues Thomas Aquinas crafted during his student years at Paris. In the next several chapters, we will examine several of Bonaventure’s early prologues, specifically to his commentaries on the Gospel of Luke and John, written, scholars think, while he was still a lector biblicus at St. Jacques, the Franciscan house of study in Paris. In this chapter, however, we will examine the general prologue to Bonaventure’s Commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard, just as in a previous chapter we examined Thomas’s general prologue to his Sentences commentary.
In the modern world, we don’t assume that sermons and book prologues should be done in the same style, or that book prologues and introductory lectures should share the same style, let alone that either of these should be written as sermons. Yet the sermo modernus style we have just described was used in all three types of principia distinguished in Chapter 2: introductory lectures, book prologues, and inception addresses. What order of development resulted in all three making use of the same style is unknown to us. Whether masters first developed a new method of introducing students to a book that would help them keep its sections in memory and then later found it useful for sermons, or whether a style of preaching was incorporated into the methodology of the classroom, we do not know. What we do know is that by the time Thomas and Bonaventure incepted as masters at Paris in 1256 and 1254 respectively, the sermo modernus style was accepted as the default mode for delivering principia of any type, written or oral, and no one seems to have questioned the practice.
As I mentioned in the Introduction, I have chosen to treat Thomas and Bonaventure’s inception addresses first before considering their earlier and later works. There are several reasons for beginning with each master’s inception addresses and not with earlier or later works. First, each man’s inception addresses were delivered to a similar audience and were written according to the same University regulations. It is revealing to see how the two men approached the same assignment in different ways. Second, the master’s principium marks a definite beginning to each man’s career. However good or ill their earlier student efforts might have been, when they were incepted, the educational development of the two masters should have been equal. Both had been through the required two years as a cursor biblicus and four as baccalarius sententiarum, and both were judged worthy by their superiors for taking on the duties of a master. Shortly after each man was incepted, however, their careers veered off in very different directions: Bonaventure became the master general of the Franciscan order but remained in Paris; Thomas remained teaching as a master of theology but left Paris for other assignments after only three years. The inception addresses of the two masters constitute the last point at which their educational development remained similar enough that the effort to compare their efforts is meaningful.
Bonaventure’s Commentary on the Gospel of John was revised, scholars tell us, when he was an early master, but it was based on materials he had prepared several years before as a baccalarius biblicus. An interesting characteristic of this prologue is that, unlike his later prologue to his Commentary on the Gospel of Luke in which Bonaventure spent very little time talking about St. Luke, in this prologue, the figure of St. John dominates. The praise of the Gospel is carried out primarily by praising its author because, as Bonaventure comments, “the commendation of the author redounds upon the work.”
We have been examining the development of Aquinas’s proficiency using the sermo modernus style to compose prologues during his early years as a bachelor of the Bible and bachelor of the Sentences. Our examination has shown that Thomas composed prologues using the sermo modernus style when he was a bachelor of the Bible in Paris and may have done so even earlier, when he was studying with Albert in Cologne. All inception principia had to be given in this style, as did all university sermons. Furthermore, University regulations stipulated that masters had to use the same thema verse in their evening collatio at vespers that they had used for their morning sermon.
We have been concerned thus far primarily with prologues of Thomas Aquinas. The reason for focusing on the work of one master was to examine how he developed his proficiency in using the sermo modernus style over his student years and how engaging in the practices of preaching and writing prologues influenced him over the course of his entire career from a young cursor biblicus to a mature “master of the sacred page.” The prologues of other masters were introduced only for comparative purposes and to show that this emphasis on the arts of preaching and writing prologues was not something peculiar to Thomas, the Dominicans, or the middle decades of the thirteenth century.
One of Bonaventure’s most sophisticated prologues is the prologue to his Commentary on the Gospel of Luke. Although it is likely that the text of this commentary underwent several revisions between its first version and the final one found in the Quaracchi edition, Bonaventure most likely undertook the first version of the work in 1248 while he was a lector biblicus in the Franciscan studium at Paris but not yet a master at the University. Scholars agree that the text shows remarkable proficiency; indeed Theodore Crowley has claimed that “a mere baccalarius biblicus” could not have produced the Commentary on Luke. “The Commentary in its present state is undoubtedly the work of a master and not a beginner.” Jay Hammond’s suggestion, though, seems most reasonable: that Bonaventure composed the earliest version while he was still a lector biblicus, a position above a cursor biblicus (who could give only a cursory reading of the text) but below a magister (the position needed to “determine” a question arising within the text). Even so, the sophistication of this early prologue is still quite remarkable.
The young candidate – some thought too young – sat behind a large podium at the front of the room. To his left, seated in a long line of chairs, were the junior masters of the university; to his right sat the chancellor and all the senior masters. The previous evening had been spent responding to bachelors and masters in a complex series of “disputed questions.” But now the presiding master stood and placed on his head a biretta and said aloud: “I place on you the magisterial biretta in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.” The young candidate had become a master, and after birettas had been distributed to the other masters to place on their own heads, the gathered company sat down to hear the new master deliver his inaugural lecture: the principium. It was spring, 1256, and the new master was the Dominican friar, Thomas d’Aquino, the son of a minor nobleman from Italy, who had grown up in a small castle not too far from the site of the great Benedictine abbey at Monte Cassino, where the newly incepted master had studied as a youth.