|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).
|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’
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
|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 world’.
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.
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  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.
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 gaining an ever-increasing stranglehold on society between approximately 1066 and 1200.
5 The trial of Abelard for heresy at Sens, 1140 
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 9||Nature of sin and the place of ignorance|
|capitulum12, 19, 8||Neutrality of acts – intentions|
|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 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|
|Note that capitulum 7 has commentary in both the logic of ethics and “Logic has made me hated among men”.|
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|
|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.|
|‘Nestorianism’||unclear [A] [B]|
|very likely||This a more modern word; in 1140, it would have been linked with paganism.|
|‘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 Scientific Biography.|
|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|
McKeon, R. P. (translator), ‘Selections
from Medieval Philosophy’, 1929, I, pp 208-58
From Abelard’s Glosses on Porphyry in
his Logica ‘Ingredientibus’
|5||The Letters of Abelard and Heloise|
Radice, B (translator), 1974, Penguin, 0140442979
|6||Sic et Non|
At long last, there is a full English translation of Abelard’s major work Sic et Non in English.
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
|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.
|All that remains is available upon a Herald compact disc, no. HAVPCD 168|
|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!
Clanchy, M. T., Abelard,
a Medieval Life
|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]
Joseph McCabe [1867-1955],
Peter Abélard, Duckworth, London,
hbk, Bastian Books, 2008
pbk, BiblioBazaar, 2009
$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.||pbk, BiblioBazaar/Bibliolife, 2009
$18.99 [amazon.com] /£12.99 [amazon.co.uk]
|Related further reading|
|the logic of ethics, including Pierre (Peter) Abelard on ethics|
|Abelard of Le Pallet on theology: “Logic has made me hated amongst men”|
|On Aliquid by Roland, Pope Alexander III (12th century A.D.); translator: Dr Carolinne White|
|Le Pallet, birthplace of Pierre Abelard|
|For further background:|
|The rise and fall of the Church of Rome|
|‘Heresy’, authority, quarrels and words|
|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,
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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© abelard, 1998 (27 december)
the address for this document is http://www.abelard.org/abelard/abel-hi.htm