Speaking Theologically: The Concept of habitus in Peter Lombard and His Followers

  • Bonnie KentEmail author
Part of the Historical-Analytical Studies on Nature, Mind and Action book series (HSNA, volume 7)


This essay examines the theological concept of a habitus, the problems it was intended to solve, and how it was developed by masters of Paris in the late twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. I argue that Peter Lombard and Peter of Poitiers embraced the broad concept of a habitus they found in Augustine’s work: that by which something is done when there is a need. A habitus, then, did not have to be acquired by practice, and it might never be manifest in the agent’s behaviour, because the need for it might never arise. This conception of a habitus was wide enough to encompass both naturally acquired dispositions and God-given dispositions, such as the virtues that theologians thought young children received through the grace of baptism. On the other hand, neither Peter Lombard nor Peter of Poitiers tried to explain how an adult with a virtuous habitus could fail to exercise it when appropriate circumstances arose. Stephen Langton broke new ground in arguing that an adult with a virtuous habitus might still lack the necessary power or strength to resist temptation. Stephen’s effort to account for moral failure by appealing to empirical psychology represents a step beyond the more idealized (and philosophically puzzling) teachings of his predecessors.


Augustine Peter Abelard Peter Lombard Peter of Poitiers Stephen Langton Baptism habitus Merit Temptation Virtues Connection of virtues Infused virtues 


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of HumanitiesUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA

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