Pierre (Peter) Abelard, introduction and short biography
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Pierre (Peter)
Abelard of Le Pallet,
introduction and short biography

 

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on Pierre Abelard - logic & writings on Pierre Abelard - places For further background

I am being repeatedly asked questions about the original Abelard. I tend to write as a means of avoiding the need for continual repetition. I also go along with the dictum on the seal of the great mathematician Gauss, “few but seasoned” (pauca sed matura).
No details guaranteed, especially in view of the intervening 900 years and the current unavailability of the original Abelard for interview!


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Index 

  1. Major dates and details
  2. Probable locations of Abelard with approximate dates
  3. Some common misperceptions
  4. Some other background notes
  5. The trial of Abelard for heresy at Sens, 1140
  6. Abelard and ‘heresies’
  7. Sources
  8. Abelard of Le Pallet’s works in English translation
  9. And some other useful books on Abelard
    End notes
to index start

1 Major dates and details

   
1079 Born
1121 Forced to burn his book Theologia, at Soissons
1121 Accused of treason over the origins of ‘St.’ Denis and forced to flee to Provins in Champagne.
1140 Accused and found guilty of ‘heresy’ at Sens.
Thence protected in his last years by Peter the Venerable at Cluny.
Cluny and Citeaux (S of Dijon) were in some degree of rivalry at this time [Cistercians (white friars) centred on Citeaux; Cluniacs (black friars) on Cluny]. Both sects/cults headed large monastic organisations with great temporal power. All three locations are in what was Burgundy, the cradle of the great monastic revival.
1142 or 1144 died
  Buried now at Père Lachaise, Paris East, alongside Heloise, after some shifting around of the couple’s remains over the centuries (see below).
Pursued and persecuted by his authoritarian ‘rival’ ‘Saint’ Bernard of Clairvaux, preacher of crusades, a  form today recognisable in the idea of jihad.

2 Probable locations of Abelard with approximate dates[1]

map showing places in Northern France where Peter (Pierre) Abelard lived, worked or visited. Paris, Le Pallet, St Gildas-de-Rhuys, Loches, Cluny, Chalons-sur-Saone, Sens, Morigny-CHampigny, Melun, Le Paraclet, Provins, Colbeil, Soissons, Laon.(Also some locating towns)

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1079

Le Pallet, Brittany (20km SE of Nantes), born
1093 Loches (SE of Tours), taught by Roscelin
1100 Paris, taught by William of Champeaux
1102 teaching at Melun followed by Corbeil (both S.E of Paris)
1105 returns to Le Pallet ‘exhausted’
1108 Arrives as student in Ile de la Cité, Paris
1112 Teaching at Mont St Genevieve (outside old Paris city walls on the south bank of the Seine),
then to Le Pallet (family administration)
1113 Laon (NE of Paris), to learn from Anselm of Laon
1114 Ile de la Cité, Paris - to teach
1118 St-Denis (now North Paris suburbs) as a monk, during which time he was forced to burn Theologia at Soissons, after a first trial for heresy.
1122 Le Paraclet’, SE of Nogent-sur-Seine, near Troyes
1125 St Gildas-de-Rhuys (on coast, SW of Vannes)
Of his time as abbot of the monastery at St. Gildas, Abelard wrote to Heloise, “I live in a barbaric country whose language is unknown to me in horror and I have to trade with a brutal and savage people. My monks have other rules that have no point.”
1129 returns to Le Paraclet, then possibly back to St Gildas (lost to sight for approx. 4 years)
1131 Morigny-Champigny (east of Chartres, just north of Étampes), then back to St Gildas
1136 Mont St Genevieve (reported by John of Salisbury)
1140 Sens, accused of heresy
1140 Cluny (NW of Macon), under protection of Peter the Venerable
1142? Dies at Cluniac house near Chalons-sur-Saone (south of Dijon)

Peter the Venerable then took Abelard’s body for burial at ‘Le Paraclet’, a nunnery founded by Abelard and run by Heloise (‘Le Paraclet’ was 5 miles SE of Nogent-sur-Seine, on the road from Paris to Troyes, close to the village of Quincey and the River Ardusson.). Heloise died in 1163 and was then buried alongside Abelard. In 1497, the bodies were move to a new oratory and placed either side of the high altar. In 1621, they were moved again to the crypt. They were moved again in 1780 to another position in the crypt. The remains then went to Nogent-sur Seine at the time of the revolution (approximately 1789), and then to a museum in Paris, and most recently to Mont Louis, now Père Lachaise cemetery. Weird are the ways of humanity.

Clanchy’s book opens: ‘Peter Abelard, now forgotten, was once the most famous man in the back to indexworld’.

3 Some common misperceptions

While my main interest in Abelard is in his philosophy and his life, I must refer to his relationship with Heloise and its consequences, as a concession to these matters that are of more interest to this escapist age. The relationship betwixt Abelard and Heloise is regarded as one of the great romances of history, à la Romeo and Juliet and Dante and Beatrice. This romance was, however, most real.

Heloise was probably in her 20s, perhaps approaching 30, not a teenager as is commonly romanticised (Clanchy, p.275).

Abelard and Heloise were married in accord with customary legitimate process at the time. Their marriage was to be kept secret by agreement with the parties; the agreement was flaunted by the ‘party’ of Fulbert.


4 Some other background notes

Marriage, while legitimate, had the potential to limit Abelard’s advancement in the church, the only available route for advancement as a literate. But Heloise’s main objection was the judgement that marriage would be a betrayal of the philosophic ideal. Such views are now returning to our society after the long 800 years of dark ages perpetrated by the fundamentalism of modern European ‘Christianity’. These considerations were likely to have been at the base of the secrecy over the marriage forced by Abelard upon Heloise.

It is possible that Fulbert, the uncle of Heloise, imagined that Abelard had cast Heloise aside and on this imagining, perpetrated the castration of Abelard. An interesting article by B.M. Cook and other sources [2] can be read to suggest another possibility: that an aggravating factor was political rivalry between the powerful factions of the Montmorency family and that of Stephen de Garlande, a protector and sponsor of Abelard. The incident seems to have been in the nature of family ‘honour’, politics and blood feud, still common in backward societies; with Abelard and Heloise becoming enmeshed in an early real life version of the Montagues and the Capulets.[3]

Two of the perpetrators, one a servant of Abelard who betrayed him and the other probably a kinsman of Fulbert, were in their turn castrated and blinded. Fulbert was expelled from Notre-Dame and deprived of all his goods and possessions, but these measures were rescinded within a year or two.

The 12th century started with rivalries at all levels of the feudal system, which was then establishing itself in present day France. This was a time of great transition that I would date between 1066 and 1200. It is conceivable that much of Abelard’s calamities involved being caught up in the political crosscurrents at times. He was clearly subject to considerable rivalries and jealousies.

Quote from Abelard: “Logic has made me hated by the world”.

Quotes from Heloise: “The name of mistress instead of wife would be dearer and more honourable for me, only love given freely, rather than the constriction of the marriage tie, is of significance to an ideal relationship”. According to Abelard, she also wrote of the unbearable annoyances of marriage and its endless anxieties, that a man should not take a wife and of the constant muddle and squalor which small children bring into the home. She was further concerned that marriage would interfere with his work in philosophy. In one of her letters, written when she was a nun, is the following: “God is my witness that if Augustus, emperor of the whole world, thought fit to honour me with marriage and conferred all the earth upon me to possess for ever, it would be dearer and more honourable to me to be called not his empress but your whore”.

Abelard and Heloise had one child, a boy they named Astralabe, born in 1118. He was cared for by the sister of Abelard’s at Le Pallet, with apparently little contact with his parents. Astralabe was eventually found a canonry at Nantes.

These were times of growing repression and orthodoxy, generated by the growing power of Rome and by the political allegiances between the Normans and the church. The centralising power structures of the church and kings were back to indexgaining an ever-increasing stranglehold on society between approximately 1066 and 1200.

 


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5 The trial of Abelard for heresy at Sens, 1140 [4]

Abelard was tried for heresy under nineteen headings or ‘capitula, the trial being master-minded by Bernard of Clairvaux who wished to destroy Abelard’s power and influence.

In the second of three documents commenting on the thought of Abelard, the logic of ethics, I have discussed eight of the capitula. That document also has a summary of Abelard’s approach to ethics. Also see On aliquid by Roland. An outline of ‘heresies’ may be seen on this site at ‘heresies’, authority, quarrels and words.


capitulum 7 Power
capitulum 6 Grace
capitulum 9 Nature of sin and the place of ignorance
capitulum12, 19, 8 Neutrality of acts – intentions
capitulum 4 Redemption
capitulum 11 Powers of clergy

The rest of the capitula, Abelard’s approach to theology, and an analysis of the psycho-social context of his life, are treated in “Logic has made me hated among men”.
   
capitulum 3 world-soul
capitulum 15 superstition and magic
capitulum 18 space, time and ‘god’, see also god’s power
capitulum 2, 5, 13, 16, 1 trinitarian issues
capitulum 7, 17 god’s power
capitulum 10 possible ‘nestorianism’
capitulum 14 does not include commentary by abelard
back to indexNote that capitulum 7 has commentary in both the logic of ethics and Logic has made me hated among men.

6 Abelard and ‘heresies’

In the following table, the first column links to a description of each ‘heresy’, the second column links to where the ‘heresy’ is discussed in the main documents on Abelard’s philosophy, the logic of ethics and “Logic has made me hated among men”. These documents refer in more detail to Abelard’s ‘trial’ at Sens, in 1140.


what is the ‘heresy’? was Abelard ‘guilty’? commentary
Pelagianism probably  
Donatism probably  
paganism probably In the sense of having much respect for non-christianist thinkers.
Sabellianism probably So probably was the early christianist Church, and so is much protestantism.
Arianism probably not  
adoptionism no  
‘Nestorianism’ unclear  [A]  [B]  
pantheism
(also see)
very likely This a more modern word; in 1140, it would have been linked with paganism.
back to index

7 Sources:

‘All the known works of Abailard have been published at least once,
but no single edition contains more than about half the extant texts.’
  Gillespie, Charles Coulston (ed.), Dictionary of Scientific Biography,
New York, Scribner, 1978 (0684147793), vol. 1, p.3 (out of print).
   
A list of the Latin sources may also be found in this Dictionary of Scientificback to index Biography.

8 Abelard of Le Pallet’s works in English translation

1 Ethics
  a) Luscombe, D.E. (translator and commentator), Oxford U. P., 1971 (out of print).
This is a parallel Latin/English text with much interesting commentary.
  b)  There is also a translation of ‘Ethics’
in Spade, P. V. (translator),Peter Abelard’s Ethical Writings, with a short introduction by Adams,
hbk, 1995, M. M., Hackett Publishing Co.,0872203239,
$32.50 [amazon.com]/ £27.95 [amazon.co.uk]
  c) There is also a partial translation of ‘Ethics’ by. McCallum, R in Hyman and Walsh (below), 1973
2 Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jew and a Christian
    a translation is available in Spade's Peter Abelard’s Ethical Writings (above)
3 Exposition of the Epistle to the Romans
    There is an excerpt in Fairweather, E.R. (ed.), A Scholastic Miscellany, pp 276-87.
1995 Westminster John Knox Pr, 0664244181: £18.50 but ‘out of stock’ at amazon.co.uk [29.8.01]
4 The Glosses on Porphyry
    two translations available in
    a)

McKeon, R. P. (translator), ‘Selections from Medieval Philosophy’, 1929, I, pp 208-58 
now available reprinted in

Hyman,, A and Walsh, J.J.(editors), Philosophy in the Middle Ages,
first published 1973, Indianapolis & Cambridge, Hackett Publishing Co.
pbk, 2nd ed., 1983, Hackett Pub Co, 0915145804
$29.95 [amazon.com]/ £19.95 [amazon.co.uk]
hbk, 2nd ed., 1983, Hackett Pub Co, 0915145812
$55.00 [amazon.com]/ £34.00 [amazon.co.uk]

    b)

From Abelard’s Glosses on Porphyry in his Logica ‘Ingredientibus’
 in translation by Spade, P.V., Five Texts on the Mediaeval Problems of Universals,
p.46., 1994, Hackett Pub Co Inc
ISBN-10: 0872202496 / ISBN-13: 978-0872202498
£8.54 [amazon.co.uk] / $15.25 [amazon.com]

Five Texts on the Medieval Problem of Universals: Porphyry, Boethius, Abelard, Duns Scotus, Ockham translated by P.V. Spade
5 The Letters of Abelard and Heloise
   

Radice, B (translator), 1974, Penguin, 0140442979
pbk: $10.40 [amazon.com] / £8 [amazon.co.uk].
This also contains a useful introduction and a translation of Abelard’s Historia Calamitum,
a sketchy but important autobiography, one of the earliest such works.

 

6 Sic et Non
   

At long last, there is a full English translation of Abelard’s major work Sic et Non in English.

YES AND NO: Peter Abelard's SIC ET NON
by Priscilla Throop

2007, publisher: MedievalMS, 414 pages,
paperback: $30.00
(on demand printing through lulu.com)

This takes the form of Abelard’s notes from many sources on 158 theological questions, where he contrasts the opinions given by a wide variety of church writings. These are not Abelard’s opinions, but his collection from the writings of previous theologians. Hence, Yes and No opinions on the various questions. This is not light bedtime reading.

There is a translation to the

Sic et Non by pierre Abelard, translated by Pricilla Throop
  a) ‘Prologues to the Sic et Non and St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans’
in Minis, A.J. and Scott, A.B (translators), Medieval Literary Theory and Criticism,
first published 1988, pp 87-105
pbk, 1992, revised ed., Clarendon Press, Oxford, 0198112742 $36.00 (“limited availability”)
  b)  Sic et Non – A Critical Edition
   

Boyer, B. B. and McKeon, R. P., Univ. of Chicago Press. 1977, out of print.
This is a ‘complete’ Latin (original) rendition. 

 

7 Abelard’s music
    All that remains is available upon a Herald compact disc, no. HAVPCD 168 
      return to contents

9 Some other useful books on Abelard

8 Sikes, J.G., Peter Abailard, 1932, republished 1965, Russell and Russell Inc, N.Y., by arrangement with Cambridge U. P.
Note the uncommon spelling of Abelard’s name. Spelling in days of yore was not standardised as with current practice. It is known from poems of the time that Abelard was known as A-bay-ee-lard-us from the scanning requirements of the writing!
9

Clanchy, M. T., Abelard, a Medieval Life
pbk, 1999, Blackwell Pub, 0631214445
£23.74 [amazon.co.uk] / $44.95 [amazon.com].
This publication lacks the rather pompous tone of much historic writing and the author is not afraid to guess a little. It therefore gives a good feel for the times.

Abelard, a medieval life by M.T.Clanchy
10 Marenbon, J., Philosophy of Peter Abelard, Cambridge U. P., [1st ed1997]
pbk: 1999, 0521663997
$24.95 [amazon.com] / £13.56 [amazon.co.uk]
11 Luscombe, D.E., The School of Peter Abelard, Cambridge U. P., 1969, SBN 521073375, out of print.
12 Gurevitch, A., The Origins of European Individualism, especially pp 126-145.
hbk, 1995, Blackwell Publishers, 0631179631
$33.95 [amazon.com] /£23.62 [amazon.co.uk]
13

Joseph McCabe [1867-1955], Peter Abélard, Duckworth, London, 1901
Fascinating, as it is written by an ex-priest who, unlike most writers on Abelard, has a reasonable knowledge of theology. However, the book is written in a clumsy and cumbersome fashion. McCabe was a prolific writer, producing over two hundred books. When he left the priesthood, he became a militant secularist to the dismay of Catholic apologists. Thus he can see Abelard both from inside and outside the Church of Rome.
Quotation from this book, Peter Abélard.

 

Joseph McCabe, Peter Abélard
hbk, Bastian Books, 2008
ISBN-10: 0554655667
ISBN-13: 978-0554655666
$19.94 [amazon.com]
Joseph McCabe, Peter Abélard
pbk, BiblioBazaar, 2009
ISBN-10: 1113212128
ISBN-13: 978-1113212122
$26.99 [amazon.com] /£16.14 [amazon.co.uk]
       
14 O.W. Wight, The romance of Abelard and Heloise, D. Appleton and Co. New York, 1853. O.W. Wight, The romance of Abelard and Heloise pbk, BiblioBazaar/Bibliolife, 2009
ISBN-10: 1103696696
ISBN-13: 978-1103696697
$18.99 [amazon.com] /£12.99 [amazon.co.uk]
 
 

Marker at abelard.org

Some reference keywords/tags:
abelard,pierre,peter,abailard,abeillard,abaelardus,abélard,psychological profile,Eloise,Héloise,Heloise,history,biography,mediaeval,medieval,france,heloise,persecution,book-burning,heresy,trial,bibliography,dates,geography,Shakespeare,location,
return to contents

Related further reading
marker at abelard.org the logic of ethics, including Pierre (Peter) Abelard on ethics
marker at abelard.org Abelard of Le Pallet on theology: “Logic has made me hated amongst men”
marker at abelard.org On Aliquid by Roland, Pope Alexander III (12th century A.D.); translator: Dr Carolinne White
marker at abelard.org Le Pallet, birthplace of Pierre Abelard
link to related photos for Pierre Abelard
For further background:
marker at abelard.org The rise and fall of the Church of Rome
marker at abelard.org ‘Heresy’, authority, quarrels and words

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END NOTES

1 Sources: Radice and Clanchy above
2 For example: Grant, Lindy, Abbot Suger of St-Denis – Church and State in Early Twelfth-Century France, 1998, Longman
0582051509 (pbk) £17.99 (amazon.com)
Addison-Wesley Pub Co 0582051509 (hbk) $35 (amazon.co.uk)
3 I have at least suspicions: that the plight of Abelard and Heloise served as a source for Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. The play opens with Capulet servants’ fantasies of exploits with Montague women. Abelard was, through Stephen de Garlande, a servant of the royal household of the Capetians. The Montmorency clan and the Capetians were enemies and political rivals. The play ends with Romeo killing Paris and the two lovers dying. Abelard came to Paris and defeated rivals in intellectual disputes. This was followed by the withdrawal of himself and Heloise to the monastic life, whence they become ‘dead to the world’. Note that Shakespeare appears to have reversed the family names and allegiances.
If any ‘literate’ can enlarge upon this, it would be of interest to me.
4 Abelard had been tried previously for heresy in 1121 at Soissons. There, he was forced to burn his book, Theologia. The Soissons trial is not so technically interesting. If you wish to read more about it, his own account of his troubles, Historia Calamitum (see §8-5 above), is an interesting place to start.
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