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Petrus Comestor, also known as Pierre le Mangeur – both names, respectively, the Latin and French for "Peter the Devourer" (of knowledge) – was a twelfth-century French theological writer and university administrator who died around 1178.
Petrus Comestor was born in Troyes and was a member of the Church of Notre-Dame, referring to himself as "Presbyter Trecensis". In approximately 1148 A.D., he became Dean of the Chapter and received a benefice. In 1160, he formed one of the Chapters of Notre-Dame at Paris. He then replaced Eudes (Odon) as ecclesiastical chancellor and took charge of the theological school.
While in Paris, Petrus Comestor composed and finished his Historia Scholastica dedicated to the Bishop of Sens, Guillaume aux Blanches Mains (1169–76). Pope Alexander III ordered the Cardinal Peter of St. Chrysogonus to allow Chancellor Peter to charge a small fee on conferring the license to teach. This authorization was personal. In conversation with Alexander III shortly thereafter, Cardinal Peter of St. Chrysogonus described Petrus as one of the three most cultured men in France.
Petrus’s nickname "Comestor" ("Devourer") demonstrated the esteem in which his learning was held. He was a bibliophile and prolific author, although much of his work was not published. Some of his unpublished work included commentaries on the Gospels, allegories on Holy Scripture, and a moral commentary on St. Paul.
His Historia Scholastica is a kind of sacred history composed for students. The author begins the sacred narrative at the Creation, and continues it to the end of the incidents related in the Acts of the Apostles. All the books of the Bible are contained therein, except those whose nature is purely didactic – the Book of Wisdom, the Psalms, the Prophets, the Epistles, etc. The discourses are abbreviated.
Petrus Comestor borrowed frequently from profane authors, especially Flavius Josephus for the beginning of the Gospels. The text is as though paraphrased in a commentary where all data, cosmological, physical, philosophical, theological, geographical, etc., are found. There are numerous inaccuracies and fables. The work consists of twenty books, and often small "additions" supply geographical or etymological appendices at the end of the chapters. This Biblical history met with great success, as witnessed by the large number of manuscripts, by the mention of his name in all the libraries of the Middle Ages, and the lists of classical books for the universities and schools. The quotations and eulogies where the author was named (cf. the canonist Huguccio, about 1190) and its numerous translations, the first written by the Flemish poet Jacob van Maerlant († c. 1288) and finished on March 25, 1271: Scolastica in dietschen better known as Rijmbijbel, but most of all the Bible Historiale in French. In the fifteenth century, the work was still in great demand, as can be seen by the editions made before 1500 of the Latin text, or of the French translation. Migne reproduces the Madrid edition of 1699.
The sermons of Peter Comestor have left us numerous manuscripts, often under different names. However, the complete and continued series has not yet been published. A series of fifty-one sermons was placed wrongly under the name of Peter of Blois and printed among his work. Some believe the work of Hildebert de Mans was also included. The sermon in which the word "transubstantiation" occurs, the ninety third (not seventy third), is not Hildebert's but Peter Comestor's; the word however is already found in Roland Bandinelli (the later Pope Alexander III) before 1150.
Other collections, like that of the 114 sermons copied at St. Victor before 1185, are still unpublished. More than twelve manuscripts are in Paris libraries, and all have not yet been unraveled. As a preacher, Peter was subtle and pedantic in his style in keeping with the taste of his time, and of his audience of scholars and professors assembled around the pulpit of the chancellor. The sermons attributed to him during his stay at St. Victor are simple in style, instructive, and natural in tone. Also some verses are attributed to Peter Comestor and a collection of maxims entitled Pancrisis, perhaps that which still exists in a manuscript of Troyes.
He often referred his surname in his sermons and in his own epitaph, which he allegedly composed. The words included "Petrus eram ... dictusque comestor, nunc comedor." ("Peter was I... and called the devourer: now I am eaten.") Afterwards, he withdrew to St. Victor's Abbey, Paris and made a profession of canonical life. Petrus Comestor died in Paris, around 21 October 1178 and was buried at St. Victor's. The necrology of the canons mentions him as "one of themselves".
- Petris Comestoris Scolastica Historia: Liber Genesis. Edited by Agneta Sylwan. Turnhout: Brepols, 2004, Pp. xc + 227. (Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis, 191). ISBN 978-2503049113