Abelard, Pierre [or Abaelard, Abaillard, Abelhardus]
Abelard, Pierre [or Abaelard, Abaillard, Abelhardus]
born at Le Pallet, or Palais, near Nantes, 1079, was a man of the most subtle genius, and the father of the so-called scholastic theology. In many respects he was far in advance of his age. After a very careful education, he spent part of his youth in the army, and then turned his attention to theological study, — and had for his tutor in logic, at thirteen years of age, the celebrated Roscelin, of Compiegne. He left Palais before he was twenty years of age, and went to Paris, where he became a pupil of William of Champeaux, a teacher of logic and philosophy of the highest reputation. At first the favorite disciple, by degrees Abelard became the rival, and finally the antagonist of Champeaux. To escape the persecution of his former master, Abelard, at the age of twenty-two, removed to Melun, and established himself there as a teacher, with great success. Thence he removed to Corbeil, where his labors seem to have injured his health; and he sought repose and restoration by retirement to Palais, where he remained a few years, and then returned to Paris. The controversy was then renewed, and continued till Champeaux's scholars deserted him, and he retired to a monastery. Abelard, having paid a visit to his mother at Palais, found on his return to Paris in 1113 that Champeaux had been made Bishop of Chalons-sur-Marne. He now commenced the study of divinity under Anselm at Laon. Here also the pupil became the rival of his master, and Anselm at length had him expelled from Laon, when he returned to Paris, and established a school of divinity, which was still more numerously attended than his former schools had been. Guizet says, "In this celebrated school were trained one pope (Celestine II), nineteen cardinals, more than fifty bishops and archbishops, French, English, and German; and a much larger number of those men with whom popes, bishops, and cardinals had often to contend, such men as Arnold of Brescia, and many others. The number of pupils who used at that time to assemble round Abelard has been estimated at upward of 5000." Abelard was about thirty-five when he formed an acquaintance with Heloise, the niece of Fulbert, a canon in the Cathedral of Paris. She was probably under twenty. He contracted with her a secret and unlawful connection, the fruit of which was a son named Peter Astrolabus. Soon after Abelard married Heloise; but the marriage was kept secret, and, at the suggestion of Abelard, Heloise retired into the convent of Argenteuil, near Paris, where she had been, as a child, brought up. The relatives of Heloise, enraged at this, and believing that Abelard had deceived them, revenged themselves by inflicting the severest personal injuries upon him. He then, being forty years old, took the monastic vows at S. Denys, and persuaded Heloise to do the same at Argenteuil. From this time he devoted himself to the study of theology, and before long published his work Introductio ad Theologiam, in which he spoke of the Trinity in so subtle a manner that he was openly taxed with heresy. Upon this he was cited to appear before a council held at Soissons, in 1121, by the pope's legate, where, although he was convicted of no error, nor was any examination made of the case, he was compelled to burn his book with his own hands. After a brief detention at the abbey of St. Medard, he returned to his monastery, where he quarreled with his abbot, Adamus, and the other monks (chiefly because he was too good a critic to admit that Dionysius, the patron saint of France, was identical with the Areopagite of the same name mentioned in the Acts), and retired to a solitude near Nogent-sur-Seine, in the diocese of Troyes, where, with the consent of the bishop, Hatto, he built an oratory in the name of the Most Holy Trinity, which he called Paraclete, and dwelt there with another clerk and his pupils, who soon gathered around him again. His hearers, at various periods, were numbered by thousands. Being called from his retreat (A.D. 1125) by the monks of St. Gildas, in Bretagne, who had elected him their abbot, he abode for some time with them, but was at length compelled to flee from the monastery (about 1134) to escape their wicked designs upon his life, and took up his abode near Paraclete, where Heloise and her nuns were at that time settled. About the year 1140, the old charge of heresy was renewed against him, and by no less an accuser than the celebrated Bernard of Clairvaux, who was his opponent in the council held at Sens in that year. Abelard, seeing that he could not expect his cause to receive a fair hearing, appealed to Rome, and at once set put upon his journey thither. Happening, however, on his route, to pass through Cluny, he was kindly received by the abbot, Peter the Venerable, by whose means he was reconciled to Bernard, and finally determined to pass the remainder of his days at Cluny. He died April 21, 1142, aged sixty-three years, at the monastery of S. Marcel, whither he had been sent for his health.
As Bernard was the representative of Church authority in that age, so Abelard was the type of the new school of free inquiry, and of the use of reason in theology. His philosophy was chiefly, if not wholly, dialectics. In the controversy between the Realists and the Nominalists he could be classed with neither; his position was the intermediate one denoted by the modern term Conceptualism. In theology he professed to agree with the Church doctrines, and quoted Augustine, Jerome, and the fathers generally, as authorities; but held, at the same time, that it was the province of reason to develop and vindicate the doctrines themselves.
"At the request of his hearers he published his Introductio ad Theologiam; but in accordance with the standpoint of theological science in that age, the idea of Theologia was confined, and embraced only Dogmatics. The work was originally, and remained a mere fragment of the doctrines of religion. He agreed so far with Anselm's principles as to assert that the Intellectus can only develop what is given in the Fides; but he differs in determining the manner in which Faith is brought into existence; nor does he recognize so readily the limits of speculation, and, in some points, he goes beyond the doctrinal belief of the Church; yet the tendency of the rational element lying at the basis, and his method of applying it, are different. The former was checked in its logical development by the limits set to it in the Creed of the Church; many things also are only put down on the spur of the moment. The work not only created a prodigious sensation, but also showed traces of a preceding hostility." He treated the doctrine of the Trinity (in his Theologia Christianna) very boldly, assuming "unity in the Divine Being, along with diversity in his relations (relationum diversitas), in which consist the Divine Persons. He also maintains a cognition of God (as the most perfect and absolutely independent Being), by means of the reason, which he ascribes to the heathen philosophers, without derogating from the incomprehensibility of God. He also attempted to explain (in his Ethica), on philosophical principles, the chief conceptions of theological morality, as, for instance, the notions of vice and virtue. He made both to consist in the mental resolution, or in the intention; and maintained, against the moral conviction of his age, that no natural pleasures or sensual desires are in themselves of the nature of sin. He discovered the evidence of the morality of actions in the frame of mind and maxims according to which those actions are undertaken." A pretty clear view of Abelard's theology is given by Neander, Hist. of Christian Dogmas, 478 sq. (transl. by Ryland, Lond. 1858, 2 vols.). Abelard founded no school, in the proper sense of the word; the results of his labors were critical and destructive, rather than positive. The later scholastics, however, were greatly indebted to him, especially as to form and method. His writings are as follows: Epistolae ad Heloisiam, 4; Epistolae alie al diversos; Historia Calamitatum suarum. Apologia;
Expositio Oration's Dominicae; Expositio in Symbolum Apostolorum; Expositio in Symbolum Athannasii; Solutiones Problematum Heloisae; Adversus Haereses liber; Commentariorum in Epistolam ad Romanos, libri 5; Sermones 32; Ad Helo sam ejusque Virgines Paracletenses; Introductio ad Theologiam, libri 3; Epitome Theologies Christianae.
The philosophy and theology of Abelard have been recently brought into notice anew; in fact, the means of studying them fully have only of late been afforded by the following publications, viz.: Abaelardi Epitome Theologioe Christianae, nunc primum edidit F. H. Rheinwald (Berlin, 1835); Cousin's edition of his Ouvrages inedits (Paris, 1836, 4to); by the excellent Vie d' Abelard, par C. Remusat (Paris, 1845. 2 vols.); and by P. Abaelardi Sic et Non, primum ed. Henke et Lindenkohl (Marburg. 1851, 8vo). The professedly complete edition of his works by Amboeseus (Paris, 1616, 4to) does not contain the Sic et Non. Migne's edition (Patrolregioe, tom. 178) is expurgated of certain anti-papal tendencies. An edition was begun in 1849 by MM. Cousin, Jourdain, and Despois, but only two vols., 4to, were published. See Berington, History and Letters of Abelard and Heloise (Lond. 1784, 4to); Neander, Ch. Hist. 4:373; Meth. Quar. Review, articles Instauratio Nova, July and Oct. 1853; Bohringer, Kircheng. in Biog. vol. 4; Presb. Quarterly, Philada. 1858 (two admirable articles, containing the best view of Abelard's life and philosophy anywhere to be found in small compass); The English Cyclop.; Wight, Romance of Abelard and Heloise (N. Y. 1853, 12mo); Guizot, Essai sur Abelard et Heloise (Paris, 1839); Edinb. Rev. 30:352; Westm. Rev. 32:146.