Peter Lombard On The New Perspective On Paul

That the observances of the old law are better called signs than sacraments. For those things which were instituted only for the sake of signifying are merely signs, and not sacraments; such were the carnal sacrifices and the ceremonial observances of the Old Law, which could never justify those who offered them. As the Apostle says, “the blood of goats and of oxen, and the ashes of an heifer being sprinkled, sanctified such as are defiled, for the cleansing of the flesh,” [Heb 9:13] ‘not of the soul’ [Glossa Ordinaria] because the defilement arose from contact with the dead.—Augustine. Hence Augustine: ‘By that defilement which the Law cleanses, I understand noting other than contact with a dead person; anyone who touched such a person was unclean for seven days; but according to the Law he was purified on the third and seventh day, and was cleansed,’ so that he might enter the Temple. At times, those legal observances also cleansed ‘from bodily leprosy’; but as the Apostle says, no one was ever justified by the words of the Law, even if they were done in faith and charity. Why? —Ambrose, On the Letter to the Hebrews: ‘Because God imposed them for servitude, not for justification, and that they should be a figure of the future, willing them to be offered to himself rather than to idols.’ —And so they were sings; and Scriptures, because they were signs of a sacred thing, which they certainly did not confer.

4. Which things are called works of the Law. The Apostle calls those things the works of the Law which were instituted only for the sake of signifying, or as a burden.

Peter Lombard, Sentences, Book 4, dist. 1, ch. 4, §§ 3-4.


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  1. Are you suggesting that Lombard thought we ought to believe NT sacraments ‘confer’ to us a knowledge of things that God has sealed until the Last Day? Hebrews 9 does not distinguish OT sacraments by their inability to confer. NT sacraments still do not confer. More especially they do not confer secret knowledge either to the person baptized or to the visible Church.

    What is conferred to the visible Church and its members is only what is revealed in Scripture and what we can apprehend by our earthly (created) senses. The sacraments, by contrast are promises, assurances and foretastes of an inheritance that lies beyond. They do not confer that inheritance of heavenly knowledge to us in the here and now. To me, the problem with FV and NPP is that they grant to the visible Church and its members the forbidden fruit of secret knowledge. This is not what the New Covenant is all about.

  2. Similar question to the above:
    Is Peter Lombard making the distinction he does based on a Medieval (and perhaps even late-ancient) understanding of sacramental efficacy?

    Because, it seems to me, notwithstanding the Scripture and fathers adduced in his support (above), that we strengthen our solidarity with our OT fathers if we recognize that they as well as we had sacramental signs in the same basic sense as NT saints.

    The main difference being: their OT signs/sacraments stood in such a preliminary or anticipatory relationship to the thing signified historically, that they rested (so to speak) “in the air” until their foundation was manifested.

    But surely, because the efficacy of the Mediator’s work reached backward as well as forward in history, those OT signs/sacraments were efficacious unto faith. As so, for all their weaknesses–their airy and insubstantial quality–they functioned as usefully as our simpler, but more substantial sacraments do today.

    For our greatly moderated sacraments are nevertheless more substantial, in that they rest historically on the accomplishment, as interpreted by the Word of God. The NT signs/sacraments do not require the pseudo-substance of the OT “glory.”

    • What I mean to conclude is: Peter Lombard seems to have a better grasp of the universal biblical faith in its OT expression, than he does of the NT expression wherein he himself participates; at least so far as the limitation mere outward participation confers.

      If I read him right, he implicitly (in this quote) ascribes new efficacy to NT sacraments (identifying them as sacraments in contrast to the OT), due to nothing but their historical relation to the Mediator. As if that conveyed greater effects to the signs themselves.

      So, the FV wants to take us back to Lombard, only also ascribing (in contrast to him) the same efficacy for sacraments under the OT as they claim for the NT sacraments today.

      Have I got it?

      • Hi Bruce,

        Lombard is doing two things, teaching what became the dominant and dogmatic view in the 13th century of sacramental efficacy, which the Reformed rejected and he was defining the “works of the law” as OT ceremonies.

        What I was pointing out in the quotation is that there’s nothing new in the NPP. They’re just re-stating 12th-century theology. Lombard was wrong and the NPP is wrong. The works of the law are not just ceremonies.

  3. Dr Clark,

    Would you recommend students today study Lombard’s sentences (albeit with caution)? I’m about halfway done with Aquinas’ Summa Theo. Would Lombard be worth one’s time today?

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