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Title: Peter Abélard
Author: McCabe, Joseph
Language: English
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Author of
‘Twelve Years in a Monastery,’ etc.


Duckworth and Co.
3 Henrietta Street, W.C.

Edinburgh: T. and A. Constable, (late) Printers to Her Majesty


The author does not think it necessary to offer any apology for
having written a life of Abélard. The intense dramatic interest of
his life is known from a number of brief notices and sketches, but
English readers have no complete presentation of the facts of that
remarkable career in our own tongue. The _History of Abailard_ of Mr.
Berington, dating from the eighteenth century, is no longer adequate
or useful. Many French and German scholars have rewritten Abélard’s
life in the light of recent knowledge and feeling, but, beyond the
short sketches to be found in Compayré, Poole, Rashdall, Cotter
Morison, and others, no English writer of the nineteenth century
has given us a complete study of this unique and much misunderstood
personality. Perhaps one who has also had a monastic, scholastic,
and ecclesiastical experience may approach the task with a certain

In the matter of positive information the last century has added
little directly to the story of Abélard’s life. Indirectly, however,
modern research has necessarily helped to complete the picture; and
modern feeling, modern humanism, reinterprets much of the story.

Since the work is intended for a circle of readers who cannot be
assumed to have a previous acquaintance with the authorities who
are cited here and there, it is necessary to indicate their several
positions in advance. The chief sources of the story are the letters
of Abélard and Heloise. The first letter of the series, entitled the
‘Story of my Calamities,’ is an autobiographical sketch, covering
the first fifty years of Abélard’s life. To these must be added the
letters of St. Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux: of Peter the Venerable,
abbot of Cluny: of Jean Roscelin, canon of Compiègne, Abélard’s early
teacher: and of Fulques of Deuil, a contemporary monk. A number
of Latin works written shortly after Abélard’s death complete, or
complicate, the narrative. The principal of these are: the _Vita
Beati Bernardi_, written by his monk-secretary: the _Vita Beati
Goswini_, by two monks of the period: the _De gestis Frederici I._
of a Cistercian bishop, Otto of Freising: the _Metalogicus_ and the
_Historia Pontificalis_ of John of Salisbury: and the _Vita Ludovici
Grossi_ and _De rebus a se gestis_ of Suger, abbot of St. Denis, and
first royal councillor. Many of the chronicles of the twelfth century
also contain brief references.

Chief amongst the later French historians is Du Boulai with his
_Historia Universitatis Parisiensis_—‘the most stupid man who ever
wrote a valuable book,’ says Mr. R. L. Poole. Amongst other French
chroniclers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries we may
mention: De Launoy (_De scholis celebrioribus_), Dubois (_Historia
Ecclesiæ Parisiensis_), Lobineau (_Histoire de Bretagne_), Félibien
(_Histoire de l’abbaye de Saint Denys_ and _Histoire de la ville
de Paris_), Longueval (_Histoire de l’Église Gallicane_), Tarbé
(_Recherches historiques sur la ville de Sens_), and, of course,
the _Histoire littéraire de la France_, _Gallia Christiana_, and
ecclesiastical historians generally.

A large number of ‘lives’ of Abélard have been founded on these
documents. In French we have _La vie de P. Abélard_ of Gervaise,
a monkish admirer of the eighteenth century, far from ascetic in
temper, but much addicted to imaginative description: the historical
essay of Mme. and M. Guizot, prefixed to M. Oddoul’s translation of
the letters of Abélard and Heloise: the _Abélard_ of M. Rémusat,
pronounced by Ste. Beuve himself to be ‘un chef d’œuvre’: and the
_Lettres Complètes_ of M. Gréard, with a helpful introduction.
In German Reuter chiefly discusses Abélard as a thinker in his
_Geschichte der religiösen Aufklärung_: Deutsch is mainly preoccupied
with his theology in his _Peter Abälard_, but gives an exhaustive
study of the last years of his life in _Abälards Verurtheilung
zu Sens_: Neander discusses him in his _Heilige Bernhard_: and
Hausrath offers the most complete and authoritative study of his
career and character in his recent _Peter Abälard_. In English we
have, as I said, the eighteenth-century work of Berington, a small
fantastic American version (quite valueless), and the more or less
lengthy studies of Abélard found in Rashdall’s fine _Universities of
Europe_, Cotter Morison’s _Life and Times of St. Bernard_ (scarcely
a judicious sketch), Compayré’s _Abélard and the Universities_ (in
which the biography is rather condensed), Roger Vaughan’s _Life of
St. Thomas of Aquin_, and Mr. R. L. Poole’s _Illustrations of the
History of Mediæval Thought_ (from whom we may regret we have not
received a complete study of Abélard).

_January_ 31, 1901.


  CHAP.                                           PAGE

     I. THE QUEST OF MINERVA                         1

    II. A BRILLIANT VICTORY                         18

   III. PROGRESS OF THE ACADEMIC WAR                41

    IV. THE IDOL OF PARIS                           64

     V. DEAD SEA FRUIT                              96

    VI. THE MONK OF ST. DENIS                      124

   VII. THE TRIAL OF A HERETIC                     146

  VIII. CLOUD UPON CLOUD                           163

    IX. BACK TO CHAMPAGNE                          181

     X. THE TRIALS OF AN ABBOT                     202


   XII. A RETURN TO THE ARENA                      253

  XIII. THE FINAL BLOW                             281

   XIV. CONSUMMATUM EST                            309

    XV. THE INFLUENCE OF ABÉLARD                   329



Peter Abélard was born towards the close of the eleventh century. No
other personality that we may choose to study leads to so clear and
true an insight into those strange days as does that of the luckless
Breton philosopher. It was the time of transition from the darkest
hour of mediæval Europe to a period of both moral and intellectual
brilliance. The gloom of the ‘century of iron’ still lay on the
land, but it was already touched with the faint, spreading dawn of
a new idealism. There is, amongst historians, a speculation to the
effect that the year 1000 of the Christian era marked a real and very
definite stage in the history of thought. Usually we do violence
to events by our chronological demarcations; but it is said that
Christendom confidently expected the threatened rolling-up of the
heavens and the earth to take place in the year 1000. Slowly, very
slowly, the sun crept over the dial of the heavens before the eyes
of idle men. But no Christ rode on the clouds, and no Anti-Christ
came into the cities. And the heaviness was lifted from the breasts
of men, and the blood danced merrily in their veins once more. They
began again ‘to feel the joy of existence,’ as an old writer has it,
and to build up their towers afresh in the sun-light.

It was a strangely chequered period, this that changed the darkness
of the tenth into the comparative radiance of the thirteenth century.
All life was overcast by densest ignorance and grossest lust and
fiercest violence, the scarcely altered features of the ‘converted’
northern barbarians; yet the light of an ideal was breaking through,
in the pure atmosphere of reformed monasteries, in the lives of
saintly prelates and women refined beyond their age, and in the
intellectual gospel of a small band of thinkers and teachers. Amid
the general degradation of the Church and the cloister strong souls
had arisen, ardent with a contagious fire of purity. High-minded
prelates had somehow attained power, in spite of the net of simony
and corruption. The sons of St. Benedict, rising and falling too
often with the common tide, had, nevertheless, guarded some
treasures of the earlier wisdom, and shared them lovingly at their
gates with the wandering scholar. Thousands there were who could
close heart and home at the fiery word of a preacher, and go to
starve their souls in the living tomb of a monastery. Thousands could
cast down their spades and their wine-cups, and rush to meet death in
the trail of a frenzied hermit.[1] They were the days of the travail
of the spirit; and they rise before us in arresting vision when we
look into the life of Peter Abélard.

  [1] I am thinking, of course, of the thousands of simple folk who
  rushed blindfold into the fatal procession towards Jerusalem,
  setting their children on their rude carts, and asking naïvely,
  at each tower that came in sight in their own France, if that was
  the Holy City: those whose bones marked the path to Palestine for
  later Crusaders. As to the professional warriors, there is surely
  more humour than aught else in the picture of the King of France
  and his like setting forth to ‘do penance’ for their vice and
  violence by a few months of adventure, carnage, and pillage.

That life begins some day in the last decade of the eleventh century,
when the young Breton, then in his fifteenth or sixteenth year, went
out from his father’s castle into the bright world on the quest
of Minerva. Of his earlier years we know nothing. Later fancy has
brooded over them to some purpose, it is true, if there are any whom
such things interest. The usual unusual events were observed before
and after his birth, and the immortal swarm of bees that has come
down the ages, kissing the infant lips of poets and philosophers, did
not fail to appear at Pallet. In point of sober fact, we rely almost
exclusively on Abélard’s autobiography for the details of his earlier
career, and he tells us nothing of his childhood, and not much of his
youth. It matters little. The life of a soul begins when it looks
beyond the thoughts of parents and teachers—if it ever do—out into
the defiant world, and frames a view and a purpose.

The home from which Abélard issued, somewhere about the year 1095,
was an ancient castle at Pallet, in Brittany, about eleven miles
to the south-east of Nantes. At the end of the village, which was
threaded on the high road from Nantes to Poitiers, a steep eminence
dominated the narrow flood of the Sanguèze. The castle was built on
this: overlooking the village more, as it chanced, in a spirit of
friendly care than of haughty menace. The spot is still visited by
many a pilgrim—not with a priestly benediction; but the castle is now
the mere relic of a ruin. In the most penetrating movements of his
prophetic genius, Abélard never foresaw the revolt of the serfs,
or indeed any economic development. In this one respect he failed
to detect and outstrip what little advance was made in his day. His
father’s castle has disappeared with the age it belonged to, and the
sons of his vassals now lay the bones of their dead to rest on his
desolated hearth.

Bérenger, the father, was a noble of a rare type. He had fortunately
received a little culture before setting out in the service of
Hoel IV., Duke of Brittany and Count of Nantes, and he in turn
communicated his taste and his knowledge to his children. From the
fact, too, that he and his wife Lucia adopted the monastic life a few
years after Abélard’s departure, we may gather that they were also
above the moral level of their class. It is not idle to note that
Abélard’s mind encountered no evil or irreligious influences when it
first opened. All the circumstances that are known to us suggest a
gentle, uplifting, and reverential education. He was the eldest of
the sons of Bérenger; and, partly, no doubt, because greater care had
been taken with his education, partly in the necessary consciousness
of mental power, he early determined to leave home, and wander over
the land in search of learning. His words give one the impression
that he shouldered a wallet, and sallied forth alone, after the
adventurous fashion of the day. However that may be, he says that he
resolved to leave the chances of the favour of Mars to his brothers,
and set out to woo the gentler Minerva. Abandoning the rights of
primogeniture and the possible grace of kings, he passed away from
the great castle, and turned eagerly in the direction of the nearest

It was not uncommon in those ‘Dark Ages’ for a young noble to resign
the comfort of the château and the glamour of a courtly life in this
way. The scholastic fever, which was soon to inflame the youth of the
whole of Europe, had already set in. You could not travel far over
the rough roads of France without meeting some foot-sore scholar,
making for the nearest large monastery or episcopal town. Before
many years, it is true, there was a change, as the keen-eyed Jew
watched the progress of the fever. There arose an elaborate system
of conveyance from town to town, an organisation of messengers to
run between the château and the school, a smiling group of banks and
bankers. But in the earlier days, and, to some extent, even later,
the scholar wandered afoot through the long provinces of France.
Here and there a noble or a wealthy merchant would fly past in his
silks and furs, with a body-guard of a dozen stout fellows; or a
poor clerk would jog along on his ass, looking anxiously towards
each wood or rock that bordered the road ahead. Robbers, frequently
in the service of the lord of the land, infested every province. It
was safest to don the coarse frieze tunic of the pilgrim, without
pockets, sling your little wax tablets and style at your girdle,
strap a wallet of bread and herbs and salt on your back, and laugh
at the nervous folk who peeped out from their coaches over a hedge
of pikes and daggers. Few monasteries refused a meal or a rough bed
to the wandering scholar. Rarely was any fee exacted for the lesson
given. For the rest, none were too proud to earn a few sous by
sweeping, or drawing water, or amusing with a tune on the reed-flute:
or to wear the cast-off tunics of their masters.

It is fitting that we should first find little Pierre—Master Roscelin
recalls him in later years as ‘the smallest of my pupils’—under the
care of a rationalist scholar. Love was the first rock on which the
fair promise of his early manhood was shattered, but throughout the
long, sternly religious years that followed, it was his restless
application of reason to the veiled dogmas of faith that brought
endless cruelty and humiliation upon him. Now, Jean Roscelin, canon
of Compiègne, was the rationalist of his day. As Abélard was fated
to do, he had attempted to unveil the super-sacred doctrine of the
Trinity; not in the spirit of irreverent conceit, with which people
credited both him and Abélard, but for the help of those who were
afflicted with a keen intellect and an honest heart. For this he had
been banished from England in 1093, and from the kingdom of France,
and had settled in one or other of the Gaulish provinces.

Mme. Guizot, in her very careful study of Abélard, sees no evidence
for the statement that he studied under Roscelin, but the fact is now
beyond dispute. Otto von Freising, a contemporary historian, says
that he ‘had Roscelin for his first master’; Aventinus and others
also speak of Roscelin as an early teacher of his. Roscelin himself,
in a letter which it seems ‘frivolous,’ as Deutsch says, to hesitate
to accept, claims that Abélard sat at his feet—it was the literal
practice in those days—‘from boyhood to youth.’ Abélard, on the other
hand, writes that he attended Roscelin’s lectures ‘for a short time’;
but this correspondence took place at a moment when the one would
be greatly disposed to exaggerate and the other to attenuate. An
anonymous anecdote, which we shall examine presently, pretends that
he found Roscelin unsatisfactory, but ‘controlled his feeling so far
as to remain under Roscelin for a year.’ It is clear enough that he
spent a few of his earlier years on the hay-strewn floor of Master
Roscelin’s lecture-hall.

There is some uncertainty as to the locality, but a sufficient
indication to impart an interest to the question. Roscelin says it
was at the ‘Locensis ecclesia.’ This is easily understood if we
interpret it to mean the monastery of Locmenach[2] in Brittany. The
monks of St. Gildas, on the coast of Brittany, a wild band whose
closer acquaintance we shall make later on, had established a branch
monastery at Locmenach. As will appear in due time, they would be
likely to have small scruple about increasing its revenue by erecting
a chair for one of the most famous dialecticians in Christendom,
in spite of his condemnation for heresy at London and Soissons.
We have no special information about the manner of school-life at
Locmenach, save that we know the monks of St. Gildas to have been the
living antithesis to the good monks of Bec; but it is interesting to
find Abélard studying dialectics under a famous rationalist, and in
a monastery that was subject to the Abbey of St. Gildas of Rhuys.
The dark pages of his later history will give point to the dual

  [2] Locmenach = _locus monachorum_, ‘the place of the monks.’ The
  older name was Moriacum. It is now called Locminé, and lies a few
  miles to the east of Vannes.

There is one other, and less reliable, account of Abélard in his
school-days. In an anecdote which is found in one or two older
writers, and on the margin of an old Abélard manuscript, it is stated
that he studied mathematics under a certain Master Tirricus. The
anecdote is generally rejected as valueless, on the ground that it
contains clear trace of the work of a ‘constructive imagination’;
but Mr. Poole points out that ‘there is no reason to doubt’ the
authenticity of the substance of the narrative, and it seems to
me that the fictional element may be reduced to a very slender
quantity. The story runs that Tirric, or Theodoric, one day found
Abélard shedding tears of fruitless perspiration over mathematical
problems. He had already, it is said, mastered the higher branches
of knowledge, and was even teaching, but had omitted mathematics, and
was endeavouring to remedy the omission by taking private lessons
from Tirric. Noting his effort, the master is represented to say:
‘What more can the sated dog do than lick the bacon?’ ‘To lick the
bacon’ is, in the crude Latinity of the age, _bajare lardum_, and the
story pretends the phrase afforded a nickname for Pierre (Bajolard
or Baiolard), and was eventually rounded into Abélard or Abailard.
The construction is so crude, and the probability that Abélard is
a surname needing no legendary interpretation is so high, that the
whole anecdote is often contemptuously rejected. It is surely much
more reasonable to read the phrase as a pun on Abélard’s name, which
some later writer, to whom the name was unfamiliar, has taken in a
constructive sense.[3]

  [3] The name occurs in a dozen different forms in the ancient
  records. I adopt the form which is generally used by modern
  French writers. D’Argentré and other historians of Brittany say
  that it was not unknown about Nantes in those days. We must
  remember that it was the period when nicknames, trade-names,
  etc., were passing into surnames. Another pun on the name, which
  greatly tickled the mediæval imagination, was ‘Aboilar,’ supposed
  to convey the idea that he was a dog who barks at heaven (_aboie
  le ciel_). It was perpetrated by Hugo Metellus, a rival master.

There are several good reasons for retaining the historical
framework of the anecdote. It is a fact that Abélard never mastered
mathematics; chancing to mention arithmetic in one of his works,
he says, ‘Of that art I confess myself wholly ignorant.’ It was
unfortunate for mathematics. Most probably the puerility of that
liberal art, in its early mediæval form, repelled him. In the next
place, there was a distinguished master living in France of the
name of Tirric, or Theodoric, who is said to have had a leaning to
mathematics. He taught in the episcopal school at Chartres, long
famous for the lectures of his brother Bernard. Finally, a Master
Tirric (presumably the same) turns up at Abélard’s trial in 1121,
and boldly and caustically scourges papal legate and bishops alike.
However, if we attribute so much authority to the story, it clearly
refers to a later date. The picture of Abélard, already a teacher,
sated with knowledge, coming ‘in private’ to repair an omission in
the course of his studies, must be relegated to one of the intervals
in his teaching at Paris, not, as Mr. Poole thinks, to the period
between leaving Roscelin and arriving at Paris.

Abélard himself merely says that he ‘went wherever dialectics
flourished.’ For five or six years he wandered from school to
school, drawn onward continually by the fame of schools and of
masters. Schools were plentiful, and the age was already rich in
great teachers. Charlemagne had inaugurated the scholastic age two
hundred years before with the founding of the Palace School, and had
directed that every monastery and every episcopal town should give
instruction. With periods of languor the Benedictines had sustained
the scholastic tradition through the soulless age that followed, and
the second half of the eleventh century saw a brisk development.
There was the great abbey of Bec, in Normandy, where St. Anselm still
detained crowds of pupils after the departure of Lanfranc. But at
Bec the students were not part of a ‘great undisciplined horde,’
as Rashdall calls the students of the early Middle Ages. With its
careful regulations, its bare-back castigations, its expurgated
classics, and its ever watchful monks, it contrived at once to
cultivate the mind (in moderation) and to guard the sanctity of
faith and morals. Cluny, in the south, had a similar school at its
gates, and the same control of the scholars it lodged and fed. St.
Denis, near Paris, had another famous Benedictine school. The forty
monasteries that William of Dijon had recently reformed had opened
free schools for the wandering pupils, and even fed the poorer youths.

Then there were men of European fame teaching in the cathedral
cloisters of the larger towns. At Chartres, good Bishop Ivo—the only
lawyer who ever lived and died in the odour of sanctity—had spent
much energy in the improvement of his school. Little John, or John
of Salisbury, has left us a proud record of its life at a slightly
later date, when Tirric and his brother Bernard presided over it.
At Tournai, Master Eudes of Orleans, the peripatetic of the time,
walked the cloisters all day with his questioning scholars, and
gathered them before the cathedral door of an evening to explain
the profound mysteries of the solid spheres that whirled overhead,
and of the tiny, immortal fires that were set in them. Other famous
episcopal schools were those of Tours, Rheims, Angers, and Laon. But
every bishop had his master or masters for the teaching of grammar,
rhetoric, and dialectics (the _trivium_), and in the larger towns
were ‘lectors’ of the other four liberal arts (the _quadrivium_),
music, geometry, arithmetic, and astronomy. Theology was taught under
the watchful eye of the bishop and his chapter, and in time chairs
of Hebrew, and, with the progress of the Saracenic invasion of the
intellectual world, even of Arabic, were founded. At the abbey of
St. Denis, monk Baldwin, sometime physician to the King of England,
taught and practised the art of healing. At Chartres, also, medicine
was taught somewhat later; and there are stories of teachers of law.
And beside all these, there were the private masters, ‘coaches,’
etc., who opened schools wherever any number of scholars forgathered.

Thus the historical imagination can readily picture all that is
contained in the brief phrase with which Abélard dismisses the five
or six years of his studies. ‘There was no regular curriculum in
those days,’ Mr. Rashdall says, in his study of the ‘Universities
of Europe’; but the seven liberal arts were taught, and were
gradually arranging themselves in a series under the pressure of
circumstances. Music Abélard certainly studied; before many years
his songs were sung through the length and breadth of France. None
of his contemporaries made a more eager and profitable study of what
was called grammar—that is, not merely an exercise in the rules of
Donatus and Priscian, but a close acquaintance with the great Latin
poets and historians. Rhetoric and dialectics he revelled in—‘I went
wherever dialectics flourished.’ To so good purpose did he advance
in this work of loosening the tongue and sharpening the wit, that
throughout his life the proudest orators and thinkers of Christendom
shrank in dismay from the thought of a verbal encounter with him. ‘I
am a child beside him,’ pleaded Bernard of Clairvaux, at a time when
France, and even Rome, trembled at the sound of his own voice. But we
must defer for a few pages the consideration of mediæval dialectics.

    ‘Illi soli patuit quicquid scibile erat,’

said an ancient epitaph; and, though the historian handles epigrams
with discretion, it must be admitted that Abélard surpassed his
contemporaries, not only in ability and in utterance, but also
in erudition. There is the one exception of mathematics, but it
seems probable that he despised what passed under that name in the
twelfth century. ‘Mathematics,’ he says somewhere, in a sarcastic
parenthesis, ‘the exercise of which is nefarious.’ But in the thrust
and parry of dialectics he found a keen delight; and so he wandered
from place to place, edging his logical weapons on fellow-pupils
and provincial masters, until one day, about the opening year
of the twelfth century, he directed his steps towards far-famed
Paris—beautiful, naughty, brilliant, seductive Paris, even in those
distant days.

But the Paris of the first decade of the twelfth century was wholly
different, not only from the Paris of to-day, but even from the Paris
of Victor Hugo’s famous picture.



If you desire to see the Paris of those early days, imagine yourself
beside the spot where the modern Pantheon stands. It is the summit
of what Paris called ‘the hill’ for many a century—the hill of St.
Genevieve. Save for the large monastery of secular canons beside you,
the abbey of St. Genevieve, there is yet little sign of the flood of
grimy masonry that will creep up slowly from the river valley, as the
ages advance, and foul the sweet country for miles beyond. Paris lies
down in the valley below, a toy city. The larger island in the Seine
bears almost the whole weight of the capital of France. It has, it
is true, eaten a little way into the northern bank of the river, to
which it is joined by the Great Bridge. That is the Lombard Quarter,
and Lutetian commerce is increasing rapidly. Numbers of curious
ships sail up the broad, silver bosom of the Seine, and make for
the port of St. Landry. The commercial quarter is already spreading
in the direction of Montmartre, with the public butchery and bakery
at its outskirt; but it is a mere fringe. The broad valleys and
the gentle hills that are one day to support Paris are now clothed
with vineyards and orchards and cornfields, and crowned with groves
of olive[4] and oak. On the nearer side, too, the city has already
overflowed the narrow limits of the island. There are houses on the
fine stone bridge, the Little Bridge, and there is a pretty confusion
of houses, chapels, schools, and taverns gradually stealing up the
slope of St. Genevieve. But, here also, most of the hill is covered
with gardens and vineyards, from which a chapel or a relic of old
Roman Lutetia peeps out here and there—the ruins of the famous old
thermæ lie half-way down the hill below us—; and along the valley of

    ‘... florentibus ripis amnis’

(to quote a poet of the time), to east and west, are broad lakes
of fresh green colour, broken only in their sweet monotony by an
occasional island of masonry, an abbey with a cluster of cottages
about it.

  [4] This and other details I gather from fragments of the minor
  poets of the time.

It is down straight below us, on the long, narrow island, that we see
the heart of France, the centre of its political, intellectual, and
ecclesiastical life. A broad, unpaved road, running from Great Bridge
to Little Bridge, cuts it into two. Church occupies most of the
eastern half, State most of the western; their grateful subjects pack
themselves as comfortably as they can in the narrow fringe that is
left between the royal and ecclesiastical domains and the bed of the
river. Each generation in turn has wondered why it was so scourged
by ‘the burning fire’ (the plague), and resolved to be more generous
to the Church. From the summit of St. Genevieve we see the front
of the huge, grey, Roman cathedral, that goes back to the days of
Childebert, and the residences of its prelates and canons bordering
the cloister. Over against it, to the west, is the spacious royal
garden, which is graciously thrown open to the people two or three
times a week, with the palace of King Philip at the extremity of the
island. That is Paris in the year of grace 1100; and all outside
those narrow limits is a very dream of undulating scenery, with the
vesture of the vine, the fir, the cypress, the oak, the olive, and
the fig; and the colour of the rose, the almond, the lily, and the
violet; and the broad, sweet Seine meandering through it; and the
purest air that mortal could desire.

To our young philosopher Paris probably presented itself first in the
character of ‘the city of philosophers.’ Each of the great abbeys had
its school. That of the abbey of St. Genevieve will soon be familiar
to us. The abbey of St. Germain of Auxerre, to the north, and the
abbey of St. Germain of the Meadow, to the west, had schools at their
gates for all comers. St. Martin in the Fields had its school, and
the little priory of St. Victor, to the east, was soon to have one of
the most famous of all schools of theology. The royal abbey of St.
Denis, a few miles away, had a school in which Prince Louis was then
being trained, together with the illustrious Abbot Suger. A number
of private schools were scattered about the foot of St. Genevieve.
The Jews had a school, and—mark the liberality of the time—there was,
or had been until a very few years before, a school for women; it
was conducted by the wife and daughters of famous Master Manegold,
of Alsace, women who were well versed in Scripture, and ‘most
distinguished in philosophy,’ says Muratori.

But Abélard went straight to the centre of Paris, to the cloistral
enclosure under the shadow of old Notre Dame,[5] where was the first
episcopal school in the kingdom, and one of the first masters in
Christendom. William of Champeaux was a comparatively young master,
who had forced his way into high places by sheer ability. He was
held to be the first dialectician in France, and ‘almost the first
royal councillor.’ In the great philosophic controversy of the period
he was the leader of the orthodox school. The Bishop of Paris had
brought him to the island-city, and vested him with the dignity of
archdeacon of the cathedral and _scholasticus_ (chancellor or rector)
and master of the episcopal school. So high was the repute of his
ability and his doctrine that, so Fleury says, he was called ‘the
pillar of doctors.’ From an obscure local centre of instruction he
had lifted the Parisian school into a commanding position, and had
attracted scholars from many lands. And he was then in the prime of
life. Within a few months Abélard made his authority totter, and set
his reputation on the wane. In six or seven years he drove him, in
shame and humiliation, from his chair, after a contest that filled
Christendom with its echoes.

  [5] The Notre Dame of to-day, like the earlier Louvre, dates from
  the end of the twelfth century.

Let us repeat that William of Champeaux was then in the prime of
life, or only ten years older than Abélard. There are those who talk
of the ‘venerable teacher’ and the audacious, irreverent stripling.
This picture of the conflict is historically ridiculous. Rousselot
and Michaud, two of the most careful students of Champeaux’s
life, give the date of his birth as 1068 and 1070, respectively.
He had fought his way with early success into the first chair in
Christendom; he cannot have been much older than Abélard when he
secured it. Abélard had an immeasurably greater ability; he was
frankly conscious of the fact; and he seems promptly to have formed
the perfectly legitimate design of ousting William—whose philosophy
certainly seemed absurd to him—and mounting the great chair of Notre

Such a thought would naturally take shape during the course of the
following twelve months. The only indication that Abélard gives
us is to the effect that William was well disposed towards him at
first, though there is no foundation in recorded fact for the
assertion that William invited the youth to his house, but they
were gradually involved in a warm dialectical encounter. Abélard
was not only a handsome and talented youth (which facts he candidly
tells us himself), but he was a practised dialectician. The lectures
of those untiring days lasted for hours, and might be interrupted
at any moment by a question from a scholar. Moreover, William
was principally occupied with dialectics, and it would be quite
impossible—if it were desired—to instruct youths in the art of
disputing, without letting them exercise their powers on the hosts
of problems which served the purpose of illustration. Hence the
young Breton must have quickly brought his keen rapier into play.
The consciousness of power and the adolescent vanity of exhibiting
it, both generously developed in Abélard, would prepare the way for
ambition. Question and answer soon led on to a personal contest.

But there was a stronger source of provocation, and here it will
be necessary to cast a hurried glance at the great controversy of
the hour. Cousin has said that the scholastic philosophy was born
of a phrase that Boetius translated out of Porphyry. It is a good
epigram; but it has the disadvantage of most epigrams—it is false.
The controversy about _genera_ and _species_ is by no means of vital
importance to the scholastic philosophy, as Abélard himself has said.
However, there is much truth in the assertion that this celebrated
controversy, as a specific question, may be traced entirely to

Boetius was the chief author read in the early mediæval schools.
Amongst other works they had his Latin translation of Porphyry’s
_Introduction_ to Aristotle, and in one corner of this volume some
roving scholastic had been arrested by the allusion to the old Greek
controversy about _genera_ and _species_. To put it shortly: we have
mental pictures of individual men, and we have also the idea of man
in general, an idea which may be applied to each and all of the
individual men we know. The grave problem that agitated the centuries
was, whether not only the individual human beings who live and move
about us, but also this ‘general man’ or species, had an existence
outside the mind. The modern photographer has succeeded in taking
composite photographs. A number of human likenesses are super-imposed
on the same plate, so that at length individual features are blended,
and there emerges only the vague portrait of ‘a man.’ The question
that vexed the mediæval soul was, whether this human type, as
distinct from the individual mortals we see in the flesh, had a real

In whatever terms the problem be stated, it is sure to appear almost
childish to the non-philosophical reader; as, indeed, it appeared
to certain scholars even of that time. John of Salisbury, with
his British common sense and impatience of dialectical subtlety,
petulantly spoke of it as ‘the ancient question, in the solution of
which the world has grown grey, and more time has been consumed than
the Cæsars gave to the conquest and dominion of the globe, more money
wasted than Crœsus counted in all his wealth.’ But listen to another
Briton, and one with the fulness of modern life outspread before him.
Archbishop Roger Vaughan, defending the attitude of the enthusiasts
in his _Thomas of Aquin_, says: ‘Kill ideas, blast theories, explode
the archetypes of things, and the age of brute force is not far
distant.’ And Rousselot declares, in his _Philosophie du Moyen Age_,
that the problem of universals is ‘the most exalted and the most
difficult question in the whole of philosophy.’ Poor philosophy!
will be the average layman’s comment. However, though neither
ancient Greeks nor mediæval formalists were guilty of the confusion
of _ideas_ and _ideals_ which Dom Vaughan betrays, the schoolmen
had contrived to connect the question in a curious fashion with the
mystery of the Trinity.

When, therefore, Jean Roscelin began to probe the question with his
dialectical weapons, the ears of the orthodox were opened wide.
The only position which was thought compatible with the faith was
realism—the notion that the species or the genus was a reality,
distinct from the individuals that belonged to it, and outside the
mind that conceived it. By and by it was whispered in the schools,
and wandering scholars bore the rumour to distant monasteries
and bishoprics, that Roscelin denied the real existence of these
universals. Indeed, in his scorn of the orthodox position, he
contemptuously declared them to be ‘mere words’; neither in the world
of reality, nor in the mind itself, was there anything corresponding
to them; they were nothing but an artifice of human speech. Europe
was ablaze at once. St. Anselm assailed the heretic from the
theological side; William of Champeaux stoutly led the opposition,
and the defence of realism, from the side of philosophy. Such was
the question of the hour, such the condition of the world of thought,
when Pierre Abélard reached the cloistral school at Paris.

If you stated the problem clearly to a hundred men and women who
were unacquainted with philosophic speculations, ninety-nine of them
would probably answer that these universals were neither mere words
nor external realities, but general or generalised ideas—composite
photographs, to use the interesting comparison of Mr. Galton, in
the camera of the mind. That was the profound discovery with which
Abélard shattered the authority of his master, revolutionised the
thought of his age, and sent his fame to the ends of the earth. He
had introduced a new instrument into the dialectical world, common
sense, like the little girl in the fairy tale, who was brought to
see the prince in his imaginary clothes.[6] This, at least, Abélard
achieved, and it was a brilliant triumph for the unknown youth: he
swept for ever out of the world of thought, in spite of almost all
the scholars of Christendom, that way of thinking and of speaking
which is known as realism. I am familiar with the opinion of
scholastic thinkers in this question, from the thirteenth century to
the present day. It differs verbally, but not substantially, from the
conceptualism of Abélard. The stripling of twenty or twenty-one had
enunciated the opinion which the world of thought was to adopt.

  [6] Lest there be a suspicion of caricature, or of ignorance
  (though I too have sat in the chair of scholastic philosophy, and
  held grave discourse on _genera_ and _species_), let me remind
  the reader of the theological import which was read into the

We still have some of the arguments with which Abélard assailed his
chief—but enough of philosophy, let us proceed with the story. Once
more the swift and animated years are condensed into a brief phrase
by the gloomy autobiographist; though there is a momentary flash of
the old spirit when he says of the earlier stage that he ‘seemed at
times to have the victory in the dispute,’ and when he describes the
final issue in the words of Ovid,

    ‘... non sum superatus ab illo.’

He soon found the weak points in William’s armour, and proceeded
to attack him with the uncalculating passion of youth. It was
not long before the friendly master was converted into a bitter,
life-long enemy; and that, he wearily writes, ‘was the beginning of
my calamities.’ Possibly: but it is not unlikely that he had had a
similar experience at Locmenach. However that may be, it was a fatal
victory. Ten years afterwards we find William in closest intimacy and
daily intercourse with Bernard of Clairvaux.

Most of the scholars at Notre Dame were incensed at the success
of Abélard. In those earlier days the gathering was predominantly
clerical; the more so, on account of William’s championship of
orthodoxy. But as the controversy proceeded, and rumour bore its
echo to the distant schools, the number and the diversity of the
scholars increased. Many of the youths took the side of the handsome,
brilliant young noble, and encouraged him to resist. He decided to
open a school.

There was little organisation in the schools at that period—the
university not taking shape until fully sixty years afterwards
(Compayré)—and Abélard would hardly need a ‘license’ for the purpose,
outside the immediate precincts of the cloister. But William was
angry and powerful. It were more discreet, at least, not to create a
direct and flagrant opposition to him. The little group of scholars
moved to Melun, and raised a chair for their new master in that royal
town. It was thirty miles away, down the valley of the Seine; but a
thirty mile walk was a trifle in the days when railways were unknown,
and William soon noticed a leakage in his class. Moreover, Melun was
an important town, the king spending several months there every year.
William made strenuous efforts to have the new academy suppressed,
but he seems to have quarrelled with some of the courtiers, and these
took up the cause of the new master of noble rank.

When Abélard saw the powerlessness of the chancellor of Notre Dame,
he decided to come a little nearer. There was another fortified and
royal town, Corbeil by name, about half-way to Paris, and thither
he transferred his chair and his followers. The move was made, he
tells us, for the convenience of his students. His reputation was
already higher than William’s, and the duel of the masters had led to
a noisy conflict between their respective followers. Corbeil being
a comfortable day’s walk from Paris, there was a constant stream of
rival pupils flowing between the two. In the schools and the taverns,
on the roads and the bridges, nothing was heard but the increasing
jargon of the junior realists and conceptualists. Besides the great
problem, dialectics had countless lesser ones that would furnish
argumentative material for an eternity. ‘Whether the pig that is
being driven to market is held by the man or the rope’; ‘whether
a shield that is white on one side and black on the other may be
called either black or white,’ and problems of that kind, are not to
be compared in point of depth and fecundity with such mere matters
of fact as the origin of species. But the long and severe strain
had gravely impaired Abélard’s health; he was compelled to close
his school, and return to Brittany. William was not the only one
who rejoiced. The Church was beginning to view with some alarm the
spread of the new doctrine and the new spirit. Cynical rivals were
complaining that ‘the magician’ had brought ‘a plague of frogs’ on
the land.

Abélard tells us that he remained ‘for several years almost cut off
from France.’ Rémusat thinks it was probably during this period
that he studied under Roscelin, but there is now little room for
doubt that his intercourse with the famous nominalist falls in the
earlier years. Much more probable is it that we should assign his
relations to Tirric of Chartres to the later date. The substance of
the anecdote that was found on the margin of the Ratisbon manuscript
seems to accord admirably with Abélard’s circumstances in the period
we have now reached. The question, however, will interest few, beyond
the narrow circle of historical specialists. He himself is silent
about the few years of rest in the Breton castle, merely stating that
he returned to Paris when he had recovered his health. We have to
remember that the autobiography he has left us was entitled by him
the ‘Story of my Calamities.’ It is not the full presentment of the
swiftly moving drama of the life of Abélard. He speaks of joy only
when it is the prelude to sorrow, or when some faint spark of the old
ardour leaps into life once more.

When Abélard at length returned to the arena, he found a significant
change. William had deserted the cloistral school. In a solitary
spot down the river, beyond the foot of the eastern slope of St.
Genevieve, was a small priory that had belonged to the monks of St.
Victor of Marseilles. Thither, says Franklin, William had retired
‘to hide his despair and the shame of his defeat.’ The controversy
had by no means been decided against him yet. Indeed, William’s
biographers loyally contend that he was sincerely touched by the
religious spirit of the age, and adopted the monastic life from the
purest of motives. Abélard, on the other hand, declares that the
inspiration came from a hope of exchanging the chair of Notre Dame
for that of an episcopal see. Abélard is scarcely an ideal witness,
though the passage was written nearly thirty years afterwards, yet
his interpretation is probably correct; at least, if we take it as
a partial explanation. William was shrewd enough to see that his
supremacy in the scholastic world was doomed, and that the best
alternative was a bishopric. He was still young (about thirty-eight,
apparently) and ambitious; in his character of archdeacon, he was
already only one step removed from the episcopate; and he had
influence and qualifications above the average. It is scarcely
correct to say, as Gervaise does, that at that time ‘the monastery
was the recognised path to the episcopacy,’ on account of the wide
degradation of the secular clergy. Their degradation was assuredly
deep and widespread, but so were simony and electoral corruption. We
generally find, in the old chronicles, one or other of the deceased
bishop’s archdeacons ascending the vacant throne. However, William
of Champeaux was a religious man; for the pious the surest path to
the episcopate passed through the monastery.

Whatever be the correct analysis of the motive—and it was probably a
complex feeling, including all the impulses suggested, which William
himself scarcely cared to examine too narrowly—the fact is that in
the year 1108 he donned the black cassock of the canon regular, and
settled with a few companions in the priory of St. Victor. The life
of the canons regular was a compromise between that of the sterner
monks and the unascetic life of the secular canons and secular
clergy. They followed, on the whole, the well-known rule of St.
Augustine. They arose at midnight to chant their matins, but, unlike
the Cistercians, they returned to bed as soon as the ‘office’ was
over. They ate meat three times a week, and were not restricted in
the taking of fish and eggs. They had linen underclothing, and much
friendly intercourse with each other, and they were less rigidly
separated from the world. Altogether, not too rough a path to higher
dignities—or to heaven—and (a not unimportant point) one that did not
lead far from Paris.

Such was the foundation of one of the most famous schools of mystic
theology. The abbey that William instituted, before he was removed to
the coveted dignity in 1113, has attained an immortality in the world
of thought through such inmates as Richard and Hugh of St. Victor.

Abélard’s first impulse on hearing the news was to repair at once
to the cloistral school. He found the chair occupied. William had
not, in fact, resigned his title of scholastic, and he had placed a
substitute in the chair. It was a poor ruse, for there was now no
master in Christendom who could long endure the swift, keen shafts
of the ambitious Breton. Abélard would quickly make the chair of
Notre Dame uncomfortable for the most pachydermatous substitute; and
he seems to have commenced the edifying task at once, when he heard
that the unfortunate William had set up a chair of rhetoric at St.
Victor. Like a hawk, Master Peter descended on the ill-fated canon.
The Bishop of Mans had, it appears, stimulated William into a renewal
of activity, and he had chosen that apparently safe section of the
trivium, the art of rhetoric.

With what must have been a mock humility, Abélard went down the river
each day with the crowd of monks and clerks to receive instruction
in rhetoric from the new Prior of St. Victor’s. Deutsch remarks, with
Teutonic gravity, that we do not read of a reconciliation between the
two. Nor do we find that Abélard had been ‘converted’ to the spirit
of Robert of Arbrissel or Bernard of Clairvaux during his retirement
at Pallet. Abélard, now nearly thirty years of age, could have
taught William the art of rhetoric with more profit than he himself
was likely to derive from William’s _prælectiones_. His obvious aim
was to break William’s connection with Paris and with Notre Dame.
The high and gentle spirit of these latter days, that studies the
feelings of an antagonist, and casts aside an ambition that would
lead over the fallen fame of a fellow-man, did not commend itself to
the mediæval mind.

And so the contest ran on, until at length a new rumour was borne
over the roads and into the schools of Europe. The ‘pillar of
doctors’ was broken—had fallen beyond restoration. Guillaume de
Champeaux had changed his doctrine on the question of universals.
Swiftly the story ran over hill and dale—they were days when the
words of masters outstripped the deeds of kings and the fall of
dynasties: the champion of realism had so far yielded to Abélard’s
pressure as to modify his thesis materially. For long years he had
held that the universal was _essentially_ one and the same in all its
individuals; now he admitted that it was only _indifferently_, or
_individually_, identical.[7] The death of King Philip was a matter
of minor interest to a world that brooded night and day over the
question of genera and species.

  [7] The reader would probably not be grateful for a long
  explanation of the meaning of the change. It amounted to a
  considerable approach of William’s position towards that of

Abélard felt that he need strive no longer in the hall of the poor
canon regular, and he turned his attention to the actual occupant of
the chair of Notre Dame. We need not delay in determining the name of
the luckless master, whether it was Robert of Melun, as some think,
or Adam of the Little Bridge, or Peter the Eater—poor man! a sad
name to come down the ages with; it was merely an allusion to his
voracious reading. He had the saving grace of common-sense, whatever
other gifts he was burdened with. As soon as he saw the collapse of
William’s authority and the dispersal of his pupils, he resolved
to decline a contest with the irresistible Breton. He voluntarily
yielded the chair to Abélard, and took his place on the hay-strewn
floor amongst the new worshippers. Such a consummation, however, was
not to the taste of the angered scholastic. A substitute had, it
seems, the power to subdelegate his license, so that the installation
of Abélard in the cathedral school was correct and canonical. But
William was still scholastic of the place, and he had an obvious
remedy. Robert, or Peter, or whoever it may have been, depended on
him, and he at once set to work to recall the delegation. Abélard
says that he trumped up a false and most obnoxious charge against
the intermediary. He did, at all events, succeed in changing the
appointment, and thus rendering Abélard’s subdelegated license null.
The new-comer was a man of different temper, so that Abélard only
occupied the great chair ‘for a few days.’ He could not teach in or
about the episcopal school without a ‘respondent,’ and he therefore
once more transferred his chair to Melun.[8]

  [8] To transfer a chair was frequently a physical operation in
  those days. There is, in one of the old records, a story of
  a dissatisfied master and his pupils removing their chair to
  another town, higher up the river. They were not welcome, it
  seems, and their chair was pitched into the river to find its way

The Prior of St. Victor’s had won a pyrrhic victory. Whether or
no Abélard had learned a lesson from him, and began in his turn to
practise the subtle art of diplomacy, we cannot say, but Paris was
soon too warm for the prior. The lawless students respected his
authority no longer, and clamoured for Abélard. The king was dead:
long live the king! They discovered that William’s conversion was
peculiarly incomplete. For a man who had felt an inner call to leave
the world, he still evinced a fairly keen interest in its concerns.
William found their ‘ceaseless raillery’ intolerable. He fled, says
Archbishop Roger Vaughan, ‘to hide his shame in a distant monastery.’
Abélard merely records that ‘he transferred his community to a
certain town at some distance from the city.’ The path to Paris lay
open once more.



When Abélard and his admirers returned from Melun to Paris, they
found William’s new successor sitting resolutely in the chair of
Notre Dame. From some manuscripts of the ‘Story of my Calamities’ it
appears that he had won repute by his lectures on Priscian, the Latin
grammarian. He had thus been able to augment the little band who
remained faithful to William and to orthodoxy with a certain number
of personal admirers. Clearly, the episcopal school must be taken by
storm. And so, says Abélard, his pen leaping forward more quickly at
the recollection, twenty years afterwards, ‘we pitched our camp on
the hill of St. Genevieve.’

During the century that preceded the coalescence of the schools
into a university, St. Genevieve was the natural home of rebellion.
Roscelin had taught there. Joscelin the Red, another famous
nominalist, was teaching there. The ‘feminists’ had raised their
tabernacle there; the Jews their synagogue. From its physical
advantages the hill naturally presented itself to the mind of every
master who had designs on the episcopal school or the episcopal
philosophy. Its gentle, sunny flanks offered ideal situations for
schools, and the students were breaking away more and more from
the vicinity of the cloister and the subordination it expressed.
A new town was rapidly forming at its foot, by the river, and on
the northern slope; a picturesque confusion of schools, chapels,
brothels, taverns, and hospices. It was the cradle of the famed Latin
Quarter—_very_ Latin in those days, when the taverns swung out their
Latin signs, ‘taverna de grangia,’ ‘ad turbotum,’ ‘apud duos cygnos,’
and so forth, and the songs that came from the latticed, vine-clothed
arbours were half French, half Celtic-Latin.

Abélard did not open a private school on ‘the hill.’ He delivered
his assault on ‘the island’ from the abbey of St. Genevieve at the
summit, the site now occupied by the Pantheon. There is nothing in
the least remarkable in the abbey opening its gates to one who was
obviously bent on assailing the great ecclesiastical school, and who
was already regarded as the parent of a new and freer generation of
students. The secular canons had little deference for authority and
little love of asceticism at that period. St. Norbert had fruitlessly
tried to reform them, and had been forced to embody his ideal in a
new order. Cardinal Jacques de Vitry, the classical censor of the
twelfth century, makes bitter comment on their hawks and horses,
their jesters and singing-girls, and their warmer than spiritual
affection for their sisters in religion, the ‘canonesses.’ It was
natural enough that an abbey of secular canons should welcome the
witty and brilliant young noble—and the wealth that accompanied him.

We have little information about the abbey at that precise date, but
history has much to say of its affairs some thirty or forty years
afterwards, and thus affords a retrospective light. In the year
1146 Innocent the Second paid a visit to Paris. The relics of St.
Genevieve were one of the treasures of the city, and thither his
holiness went with his retinue, and King Louis and his followers.
In the crush that was caused in the abbey church, the servants of
the canons quarrelled with those of the court, and one of them was
unlucky enough to bring his staff down with some force on the
royal pate. That was a death-blow to the gay life of the abbey.
Paris, through the abbot of St. Denis, who was also the first royal
councillor, quickly obtained royal and papal assent to the eviction
of the canons, and they were soon summarily turned out on the high
road. They did not yield without a struggle, it is true. Many a night
afterwards, when the canons regular who replaced them were in the
midst of their solemn midnight chant, the evicted broke in the doors
of the church, and made such turmoil inside, that the chanters could
not hear each other across the choir. And when they did eventually
depart for less rigorous surroundings, they thoughtfully took
with them a good deal of the gold from Genevieve’s tomb and other
ecclesiastical treasures, which were not reclaimed until after many

To this abbey of St. Genevieve, then, the militant master led his
followers, and he began at once to withdraw the students from Notre
Dame, as he candidly tells us. If Bishop Galo and his chapter found
their cloistral school deserted, they might be induced to consider
Abélard’s gifts and influence. So the war went on merrily between the
two camps. The masters fulminated against each other; the students
ran from school to school, and argued it out on the bridge and in
the taverns, and brought questions to their logical conclusion in
the Pré-aux-clercs.[9] There was certainly, as we saw previously,
ample room for litigation in the problems of mediæval dialectics.
John of Salisbury studied dialectics under Abélard at St. Genevieve
(though not in the abbey) at a later date, and he tells us that when
he returned to Paris twelve years afterwards he found his dialectical
friends just where he had left them. ‘They had not added the
smallest proposition,’ he says contemptuously. Little John preferred
‘philology,’ as they called classical studies in his day.

  [9] Until a comparatively recent date ‘aller sur le Pré’ meant,
  in the language of the Latin Quarter, to settle an affair of

We get a curious insight into the school-life of the period in the
_Life of Saint Goswin_. Goswin of Douai—whom we shall meet again once
or twice—was studying in the school of Master Joscelin the Red, down
the hill. He was a youthful saint of the regulation pattern: had
borne the aureole from his cradle. About this time he is described as
brimming over with precocious zeal for righteousness, and astounded
at the impunity with which Abélard poured out his novelties. Why did
not some one silence ‘this dog who barked at the truth’? Already, the
authors of the saint’s life—two monks of the twelfth century—say,
‘Abélard’s hand was against every man, and every man’s hand against
him,’ yet no one seemed inclined ‘to thrash him with the stick of
truth.’ The young saint could not understand it. He went to Master
Joscelin at length, and declared that he was going to do the work
of the Lord himself. Joscelin is reported to have endeavoured to
dissuade him with a feeling description of Abélard’s rhetorical
power; we do not know, however, that Joscelin was void of all sense
of humour. In any case the saintly youngster of ‘modest stature’ with
the ‘blue-grey eyes and light air’ had a good measure of courage. It
will be interesting, perhaps, to read the issue in the serio-comic
language of the times.

‘With a few companions he ascended the hill of St. Genevieve,
prepared, like David, to wage single conflict with the Goliath who
sat there thundering forth strange novelties of opinion to his
followers and ridiculing the sound doctrine of the wise.

‘When he arrived at the battlefield—that is, when he entered the
school—he found the master giving his lecture and instilling his
novelties into his hearers. But as soon as he began to speak, the
master cast an angry look at him; knowing himself to be a warrior
from his youth, and noticing that the scholar was beginning to feel
nervous, he despised him in his heart. The youth was, indeed, fair
and handsome of appearance, but slender of body and short of stature.
And when the proud one was urged to reply, he said: “Hold thy peace,
and disturb not the course of my lecture.”’

The story runs, however, that Abélard’s students represented to him
that the youth was of greater importance than he seemed to be, and
persuaded him to take up the glove. ‘Very well,’ said Abélard, and
it is not improbable, ‘let him say what he has to say.’ It was, of
course, unfortunate for Goliath, as the young champion of orthodoxy,
aided by the Holy Spirit, completely crushed him in the midst of his
own pupils.

‘The strong man thus bound by him who had entered his house, the
victor, who had secured the Protean-changing monster with the
unfailing cord of truth, descended the hill. When they had come to
the spot where their companions awaited them in the distant schools
[_i.e._ when they had got to a safe distance from Abélard’s pupils],
they burst forth in pæans of joy and triumph: humbled was the tower
of pride, downcast was the wall of contumacy, fallen was he that had
scoffed at Israel, broken was the anvil of the smiter,’ etc. etc.

The course of events does not seem to have been much influenced by
this breaking of the ‘anvil.’ Joscelin was soon compelled to seek
fresh pastures; he also found ultimate consolation in a bishopric,
and a share in the condemnation of Abélard. The commentator of
Priscian must then have received the full force of Abélard’s keen
dialectical skill and mordant satire. His students began to fall
away to the rival camp in large numbers. William was informed in his
distant solitude, and he returned (‘impudenter,’ says Abélard) in
haste to St. Victor’s. He opened his old school in the priory, and
for a time Paris rang more loudly than ever with the dialectical
battle. But William’s intervention proved fatal to his cause. The
substitute had kept a handful of students about him, Abélard says,
but even they disappeared when William returned. The poor Priscianist
could think of nothing better than to develop ‘a call to the monastic
life,’ and he obeyed it with admirable alacrity. However, just as
Abélard was about to enter on the last stage of the conflict, he was
recalled to Pallet by his mother.

The eleventh century had witnessed a strong revival of the monastic
spirit. When men came at length to feel the breath of an ideal in
their souls, the sight of the fearful disorder of the age stimulated
them to the sternest sacrifices. They believed that he who said,
‘If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to
the poor,’ was God, that he meant what he said, and that he spoke
the message to all the ages. So there uprose a number of fervent
preachers, whose voices thrilled with a strange passion, and they
burned the Christ-message into the souls of men and women. In
Brittany and Normandy Robert of Arbrissel and two or three others
had been at work years before St. Bernard began his apostolate.
They had broken up thousands of homes—usually those which were
helping most to sweeten the life of the world—and sent husband and
wife to spend their days apart in monasteries and nunneries. The
modern world speaks of the harshness of it; in their thoughts it
was only a salutary separation for a time, making wholly certain
their speedy reunion in a not too ethereal heaven. In the great
abbey of Fontevraud, founded by Robert of Arbrissel in the year
1100, there were nearly four thousand nuns, a large proportion of
whom were married women. Even in their own day the monastic orators
were strongly opposed on account of their appalling dissolution of
domestic ties. Roscelin attacked Robert of Arbrissel very warmly
on the ground that he received wives into his monasteries against
the will of their husbands, and in defiance of the command of the
Bishop of Angers to release them: he boldly repeats the charge in a
letter to the Bishop of Paris in 1121. Not only sober thinkers and
honest husbands would resent the zeal of the Apostle of Brittany; the
courtly, and the ecclesiastical and monastic, gallants of the time
would be equally angry with him. We have another curious objection
in some of the writers of the period. Answering the question why men
were called to the monastic life so many centuries before women,
they crudely affirm that the greater frailty of the women had made
them less competent to meet the moral dangers of the cenobitic life.
Thus from one cause or other a number of calumnies, still found in
the chronicles, were in circulation about Robert of Arbrissel.[10]
It would be interesting to know what half-truths there were at the
root of these charges; there may have been such, in those days, quite
consistently with perfect religious sincerity. In the martyrologies
of some of the monastic orders, there are women mentioned with high
praise who disguised themselves as men, and lived for years in
monasteries. It is noteworthy that mediæval folk worked none of those
miracles at the tomb of Robert of Arbrissel that they wrought at the
tombs of St. Bernard and St. Norbert. He is not a canonised saint.

  [10] As a mere illustration of the times—no one would think
  of taking it seriously—we may quote the passage referring to
  him in Dubois’s _Historia Ecclesiæ Parisiensis_ (also found
  in Lobineau). A monk and bishop, Gaufridus Vindoniencensis,
  writes to remonstrate with Robert for ‘inventing a new kind of
  martyrdom’ ... ‘inter feminas et cum ipsis noctu frequenter
  cubare. Hinc tibi videris, ut asseris, Domini Salvatoris digne
  bajulare crucem, cum extinguere conaris male accensum carnis
  ardorem.’ Later he complains of Robert’s partiality, treating
  some nuns with unusual sweetness and others with excessive
  acrimony; and amongst the punishments inflicted on the latter he
  mentions the penance of ‘stripping.’

However, in spite of both responsible and irresponsible opposition,
Robert of Arbrissel, Vitalis the Norman, and other nervous orators,
had caused an extensive movement from the hearth to the cloister
throughout Brittany and Normandy, such as St. Bernard inaugurated in
France later on. Home after home—_château_ or _chaumière_—was left
to the children, and they who had sworn companionship in life and
death cheerfully parted in the pathetic trust of a reunion. Abélard’s
father was touched by the sacred fire, and entered a monastery. His
wife had to follow his example. Whatever truth there was in the words
of Roscelin, the Church certainly commanded that the arrangement
should be mutual, unless the lady were of an age or a piety beyond
suspicion, as St. Francis puts it in his ‘Rule.’ Lucia had agreed to
take the veil after her husband’s departure. This was the news that
withheld the hand of ‘the smiter’ on the point of dealing a decisive
blow, and he hastened down to Brittany to bid farewell to his ‘most
dear mother.’ Not only in this expression, but in the fact of his
making the journey at all in the circumstances, we have evidence of
a profound affection. Since he had long ago abdicated his rights of
primogeniture, there cannot have been an element of business in the
visit to Pallet.

He was not long absent from Paris. The news reached him in Brittany
that the prior had at length discovered a dignified retreat
from the field. Soon after Abélard’s departure the bishopric of
Châlons-sur-Marne became vacant, and William was nominated for the
see. He bade a fond farewell to Paris and to dialectics. From that
date his ability was devoted to the safe extravagances of mystic
theology, under the safe tutorship of St. Bernard.[11] He had left
his pupil Gilduin to replace him at St. Victor, and the school
quickly assumed a purely theological character; but the luckless
chair of Notre Dame he entrusted to the care of Providence.

  [11] It will interest many, however, to learn (from the pages
  of Du Boulai’s _Historia Universitatis Parisiensis_) that he is
  charged by the querulous Gaufridus Vindoniencensis with teaching
  that only the gravest sins were matter for obligatory confession.
  These particularly grave transgressions are heresy, schism,
  paganism, and Judaism—all non-ethical matters!

Abélard now formed a resolution which has given rise to much
speculation. Instead of stepping at once into the chair of the
cloistral school, which he admits was offered to him, he goes off
to some distance from Paris for the purpose of studying theology.
It is the general opinion of students of his life that his main
object in doing so was to make more secure his progress towards the
higher ecclesiastical dignities. That he had such ambition, and was
not content with the mere chair and chancellorship of the cloistral
school, is quite clear. In his clouded and embittered age he is
said, on the high authority of Peter of Cluny, to have discovered
even that final virtue of humility. There are those who prefer him
in the days of his frank, buoyant pride and ambition. If he had been
otherwise in the days of the integrity of his nature, he would have
been an intolerable prig. He was the ablest thinker and speaker
in France. He was observant enough to perceive it, and so little
artificial as to acknowledge it, and act in accordance. Yet there
was probably more than the counsel of ambition in his resolution.
From the episode of Goswin’s visit to St. Genevieve it is clear that
whispers of faith, theology, and heresy were already breaking upon
the freedom of his dialectical speculations. He must have recalled
the fate of Scotus Erigena, of Bérenger, of Roscelin, and other
philosophic thinkers. Philosophic thought was subtly linked with
ecclesiastical dogma. He who contemplated a life of speculation and
teaching could not afford to be ignorant of the ecclesiastical claims
on and limitations of his sphere. Such thoughts can scarcely have
been unknown to him during the preceding year or two, and it seems
just and reasonable to trace the issue of them in his resolution.
He himself merely says: ‘I returned chiefly for the purpose of
studying divinity.’ Hausrath quotes a passage from his _Introductio
ad theologiam_ with the intention of making Abélard ascribe his
resolution to the suggestion of his admirers. On careful examination
the passage seems to refer to his purpose of writing on theology, not
to his initial purpose of studying it.

Abélard would naturally look about for the first theological teacher
in France. There were, in point of fact, few theological chairs at
that time, but there was at least one French theologian who had
a high reputation throughout Christendom. Pupil of St. Anselm of
Canterbury at Bec, canon and dean of the town where he taught, Anselm
of Laon counted so many brilliant scholars amongst his followers that
he has been entitled the ‘doctor of doctors.’ William of Champeaux,
William of Canterbury, and a large number of distinguished masters,
sat at his feet. His _scholia_ to the Vulgate were in use in the
schools for centuries. He and his brother Raoul had made Laon a
most important focus of theological activity for more countries
than France. England was well represented there. John of Salisbury
frequently has occasion to illustrate the fame and magnitude of the
cathedral school.

Anselm had been teaching for forty years when Abélard, _aetat._
thirty-four, appeared amidst the crowd of his hearers. We can
well conceive the fluttering of wings that must have occurred,
but Laon was not Paris, and Anselm was not the man to enter upon
an argumentative conflict with the shrewd-tongued adventurer. Two
incidents of contemporary life at Laon, in which Anselm figured, will
be the best means of illustrating the character of the theologian.
Abbot Guibertus, of that period, has left us a delightful work
‘_De vita sua_,’ from which we learn much about Laon and Anselm.
The treasure of the cathedral was entrusted, it seems, to seven
guardians—four clerics and three laymen. One of these guardians, a
Canon Anselm, was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He purloined a good
deal of the treasure; and when the goldsmith, his accomplice, was
detected, and turned king’s evidence, Anselm denied the story,
challenged the goldsmith to the usual duel, and won.[12] The canon
was encouraged, and shortly set up as an expert burglar. One dark,
stormy night he went with his ‘ladders and machines’ to a tower in
which much treasure was kept, and ‘cracked’ it. There was dreadful
ado in the city next day; most horrible of all, the burglar had
stolen a golden dove which contained some of the hair and some of
the milk of the Virgin Mary. In the uncertainty the sapient Master
Anselm (no relation, apparently, of Canon Anselm Beessus, the burglar
and cathedral treasurer) was invited to speak. His advice largely
reveals the man. Those were the days, it must be remembered, when the
defects of the detective service were compensated by a willingness
and activity of the higher powers which are denied to this sceptical
age. When their slender police resources were exhausted, the accused
was handed over to a priest, to be prepared, by prayer and a sober
diet of bread, herbs, salt, and water, for the public ordeal. On the
fourth day priests and people repaired to the church, and when the
mass was over, and the vested priests had prostrated themselves in
the sanctuary, the accused purged himself of the charge or proved
his guilt by carrying or walking on a nine foot bar of heated iron,
plunging his arms ‘for an ell and a half’ into boiling water, or
being bodily immersed in a huge tank, cold, and carefully blessed and

  [12] When Anselm’s guilt was ultimately proved, people were
  somewhat troubled as to the ill-success of their Providential
  detective service, until they heard that the goldsmith, in
  accusing the canon, had broken faith with him.

These are familiar facts. The difficulty at Laon was that there was
no accused to operate on. The Solomon Laudunensis was therefore
called into judgment, and his proposal certainly smacks of the
thoroughness of the systematic theologian. A baby was to be taken
from each parish of the town, and tried by the ordeal of immersion.
When the guilty parish had been thus discovered, each family in it
was to purge itself by sending an infant representative to the tank.
When the guilt had been thus fastened on a certain house, all its
inmates were to be put to the ordeal.[13]

  [13] Luckily the citizen-parents were wiser than their Solomon
  for once. They proposed that the process should commence with
  the seven treasurers. In spite of preliminary experiments in
  private the canon was convicted. But the reader must go to the
  pious Geoffroy’s narrative (_Migne_, vol. 156, col. 1011) to
  read how the burglar was tortured, how he obtained release for a
  time by trickery, and how, being unable to sleep at night for a
  miraculous dove, he finally confessed and restored.

We see Anselm in a very different light in an incident that occurred
a year or two before Abélard’s arrival. Through the influence of the
King of England and the perennial power of gold a wholly unworthy
bishop had been thrust upon the people of Laon. Illiterate, worldly,
and much addicted to military society, he was extremely distasteful
to Anselm and the theologians. The crisis came when the English king,
Henry I., tried to levy a tax on the people of Laon. The bishop
supported his patron; Anselm and others sternly opposed the tax in
the name of the people. Feeling ran so high that the bishop was at
length brutally murdered by some of the townsfolk, and the cathedral
was burned to the ground. Anselm immediately, and almost alone,
went forth to denounce the frenzied mob, and had the unfortunate
prelate—left for the dogs to devour before his house—quietly buried.

Such was the man whom Abélard chose as his next, and last, ‘teacher.’
In the circumstances revealed in the above anecdotes it would have
been decidedly dangerous to attack Anselm in the manner that had
succeeded so well at Notre Dame. There is, however, no just reason
for thinking that Abélard had formed an intention of that kind. No
doubt, it is impossible to conceive Abélard in the attitude of one
who seriously expected instruction from a master. Yet it would be
unjust to assume that he approached the class-room of the venerable,
authoritative theologian in the same spirit in which he had
approached William of Champeaux’s lectures on rhetoric. We do not
find it recorded that he made any attempt to assail directly the high
position of the old man. It was sufficient for the purpose we may
ascribe to him that he should be able to state in later years that he
had frequented the lectures of Anselm of Laon.

With whatever frame of mind the critic came to Laon, he was not long
in discovering the defects of Anselm’s teaching. Anselm had one
gift, a good memory, and its fruit, patristic erudition. The fame
that was borne over seas and mountains was founded mainly on the
marvellous wealth of patristic opinion which he applied to every text
of Scripture. There was no individuality, no life, in his work. To
Abélard the mnemonic feat was a mechanical matter; and indeed, he
probably cared little at that time how St. Ambrose or St. Cyril may
have interpreted this or that text. Little as he would be disposed to
trust the fame of masters after his experience, he tells us that he
was disappointed. He found the ‘fig-tree to be without fruit,’ fair
and promising as it had seemed. The lamp, that was said to illumine
theological Christendom, ‘merely filled the house with smoke, not
light.’ He found, in the words of his favourite Lucan,

                          ‘magni nominis umbra,
    Qualis frugifero quercus sublimis in agro’:

and he determined ‘not to remain in this idleness under its shade
very long.’ With his usual heedlessness he frankly expressed his
estimate of the master to his fellow pupils.

One day when they were joking together at the end of the lecture,
and the students were twitting him with his neglect of the class,
he quietly dropped a bomb to the effect that he thought masters of
theology were superfluous. With the text and the ordinary glosses
any man of fair intelligence could study theology for himself. He
was contemptuously invited to give a practical illustration of his
theory. Abélard took the sneer seriously, and promised to lecture
on any book of Scripture they cared to choose. Continuing the joke,
they chose the curious piece of Oriental work that has the title
of Ezechiel. Once more Abélard took them seriously, asked for the
text and gloss, and invited them to attend his first lecture, on the
most abstruse of the prophets, on the following day. Most of them
persisted in treating the matter as a joke, but a few appeared at
the appointed spot (in Anselm’s own territory) on the following day.
They listened in deep surprise to a profound lecture on the prophet
from the new and self-consecrated ‘theologus.’ The next day there
was a larger audience; the lecture was equally astonishing. In fine,
Abélard was soon in full sail as a theological lector of the first
rank, and a leakage was noticed in Anselm’s lecture hall.

Abélard’s theological success at Laon was brief, if brilliant. Two
of the leading scholars, Alberic of Rheims and Lotulphe of Novare,
urged Anselm to suppress the new movement at once. Seven years
later we shall meet Alberic and Lotulphe playing an important part
in the tragedy of Abélard’s life; later still Alberic is found in
intimacy with St. Bernard. The episode of Laon must not be forgotten.
Probably Anselm needed little urging, with the fate of William of
Champeaux fresh in his ears. At all events he gave willing audience
to the suggestion that a young master, without due theological
training, might at any moment bring the disgrace of heresy on the
famous school. He ‘had the impudence to suppress me,’ Abélard has
the impudence to say. The students are said to have been much
angered by Anselm’s interference, but there was no St. Genevieve at
Laon—happily, perhaps,—and Abélard presently departed for Paris,
leaving the field to the inglorious ‘Pompey the Great.’



A new age began for Paris and for learning, when Peter Abélard
accepted the chair of the episcopal school. It would be a difficult
task to measure the influence he had in hastening the foundation of
the university—as difficult as to estimate the enduring effect of his
teaching on Catholic theology. There were other streams flowing into
the life of the period, and they would have expanded and deepened
it, independently of the activity of the one brilliant teacher.
The work of a group of less gifted, though highly gifted, teachers
had started a current of mental life which would have continued
and broadened without the aid of Abélard. Life was entering upon a
swifter course in all its reaches. Moreover, the slender rill of
Greek thought, which formed the inspiration of the eleventh century,
was beginning to increase. Through Alexandria, through Arabia,
through Spain, the broad stream of the wisdom of the Greeks had been
slowly travelling with the centuries. In the twelfth century it was
crossing the Pyrenees, and stealing into the jealous schools of
Europe. The homeless Jew was bringing the strong, swift, noble spirit
of the ‘infidel Moor’ into a hideous world, that was blind with
self-complacency. The higher works of Aristotle (the early Middle
Ages had only his logic), the words of Plato, and so many others,
were drifting into France. Christian scholars were even beginning to
think of going to see with their own eyes this boasted civilisation
of the infidel.

Yet it is clear that Abélard stands for a mighty force in the story
of development. At the end of the eleventh century Paris was an
island; at the end of the twelfth century it was a city of two
hundred thousand souls, walled, paved, with several fine buildings
and a fair organisation. At the end of the eleventh century the
schools of Paris, scattered here and there, counted a few hundred
pupils, chiefly French; at the end of the twelfth century the
University of Paris must have numbered not far short of ten thousand
scholars. Let us see how much of this was effected by Abélard.

The pupil who had left Paris when both William and Abélard
disappeared in 1113 would find a marvellous change on returning to it
about 1116 or 1117. He would find the lecture hall and the cloister
and the quadrangle, under the shadow of the great cathedral, filled
with as motley a crowd of youths and men as any scene in France
could show. Little groups of French and Norman and Breton nobles
chattered together in their bright silks and fur-tipped mantles,
and with slender swords dangling from embroidered belts; ‘shaven
in front like thieves, and growing luxuriant, curly tresses at the
back like harlots,’ growls Jacques de Vitry, who saw them, vying
with each other in the length and crookedness of their turned-up
shoes.[14] Anglo-Saxons looked on, in long fur-lined cloaks, tight
breeches, and leathern hose swathed with bands of many coloured
cloth. Stern-faced northerners, Poles, and Germans, in fur caps and
coloured girdles and clumsy shoes, or with feet roughly tied up in
the bark of trees, waited impatiently for the announcement of ‘Li
Mestre.’ Pale-faced southerners had braved the Alps and the Pyrenees
under the fascination of ‘the wizard.’ Shaven and sandalled monks,
black-habited clerics, black canons, secular and regular, black in
face too, some of them, heresy-hunters from the neighbouring abbey of
St. Victor, mingled with the crowd of young and old, grave and gay,
beggars and nobles, sleek citizens and bronzed peasants.

  [14] The Count of Anjou had just invented them to hide the
  enormity of his bunions. Flattering courtiers found them
  excellent. The English king’s jester had exaggerated the
  turned-up points, and the nobles were driving the practice to
  death, as is the aristocratic wont.

Crevier and other writers say that Abélard had attracted five
thousand students to Paris. Sceptics smile, and talk of Chinese
genealogies. Mr. Rashdall, however, has made a careful study of the
point, and he concludes that there were certainly five thousand, and
possibly seven thousand, students at Paris in the early scholastic
age, before the multiplication of important centres. He points
out that the fabulous figures which are sometimes given—Wycliffe
says that at one time there were sixty thousand students at
Oxford, Juvenal de Ursinis gives twenty thousand at Paris in the
fifteenth century, Italian historians speak of fifteen thousand at
Bologna—always refer to a date beyond the writer’s experience, and
frequently betray a touch of the _laudator temporis acti_. It is,
at all events, safe to affirm that Abélard’s students were counted
by thousands, if they had not ‘come to surpass the number of the
laity’ [ordinary citizens], as an old writer declares. Philippe
Auguste had to direct a huge expansion of the city before the close
of the century. There is nothing in the commercial or political
development of Paris to explain the magnitude of this expansion. It
was a consequence of a vast influx of students from all quarters of
the globe, and the fame of Master Abélard had determined the course
of the stream.

One condition reacted on another. A notable gathering of students
attracted Jews and merchants in greater numbers. They, in turn,
created innumerable ‘wants’ amongst the ‘undisciplined horde.’ The
luxuries and entertainments of youth began to multiply. The schools
of Paris began to look fair in the eyes of a second world—a world of
youths and men who had not felt disposed to walk hundreds of miles
and endure a rude life out of academic affection. The ‘dancers of
Orleans,’ the ‘tennis-players of Poitiers,’ the ‘lovers of Turin,’
came to fraternise with the ‘dirty fellows of Paris.’ Over mountains
and over seas the mingled reputation of the city and the school was
carried, and a remarkable stream set in from Germany, Switzerland,
Italy (even from proud Rome), Spain, and England; even ‘distant
Brittany sent you its animals to be instructed,’ wrote Prior Fulques
to Abélard (a Breton) a year or two afterwards.

At five or six o’clock each morning the great cathedral bell would
ring out the summons to work. From the neighbouring houses of the
canons, from the cottages of the townsfolk, from the taverns, and
hospices, and boarding-houses, the stream of the industrious would
pour into the enclosure beside the cathedral. The master’s beadle,
who levied a precarious tax on the mob, would strew the floor of the
lecture-hall with hay or straw, according to the season, bring the
Master’s text-book, with the notes of the lecture between lines or on
the margin, to the solitary desk, and then retire to secure silence
in the adjoining street. Sitting on their haunches in the hay, the
right knee raised to serve as a desk for the waxed tablets, the
scholars would take notes during the long hours of lecture (about six
or seven), then hurry home—if they were industrious—to commit them to
parchment while the light lasted.

The lectures over, the stream would flow back over the Little
Bridge, filling the taverns and hospices, and pouring out over
the great playing meadow, that stretched from the island to the
present Champ de Mars. All the games of Europe were exhibited
on that international playground: running, jumping, wrestling,
hurling, fishing and swimming in the Seine, tossing and thumping
the inflated ball—a game on which some minor poet of the day has
left us an enthusiastic lyric—and especially the great game of war,
in its earlier and less civilised form. The nations were not yet
systematically grouped, and long and frequent were the dangerous
conflicts. The undergraduate mind, though degrees had not yet
been invented, had drawn up an estimate, pithy, pointed, and not
flattering, of each nationality. The English were, it is sad to
find, ‘cowardly and drunken,’—to the ‘Anglophobes’; the French were
‘proud and effeminate’; the Normans ‘charlatans and boasters,’
the Burgundians ‘brutal and stupid’; the Bretons ‘fickle and
extravagant’; the Flemings ‘blood-thirsty, thievish, and incendiary’;
the Germans ‘choleric, gluttonous, and dirty’; the Lombards
‘covetous, malicious, and no fighters’; the Romans ‘seditious,
violent, and slanderous.’ Once those war-cries were raised, peaceable
folk hied them to their homes and hovels, and the governor summoned
his guards and archers.

The centre of this huge and novel concourse was the master of the
cathedral school. After long years of conventual life Heloise draws a
remarkable picture of the attitude of Paris towards its idol. Women
ran to their doors and windows to gaze at him, as he passed from
his house on St. Genevieve to the school. ‘Who was there that did
not hasten to observe when you went abroad, and did not follow you
with strained neck and staring eyes as you passed along? What wife,
what virgin, did not burn? What queen or noble dame did not envy my
fortune?’ And we shall presently read of a wonderful outburst of
grief when the news of the outrage done to Abélard flies through the
city. ‘No man was ever more loved—and more hated,’ says the sober

It is not difficult to understand the charm of Abélard’s teaching.
Three qualities are assigned to it by the writers of the period, some
of whom studied at his feet: clearness, richness in imagery, and
lightness of touch are said to have been the chief characteristics
of his teaching. Clearness is, indeed, a quality of his written
works, though they do not, naturally, convey an impression of his
oral power. His splendid gifts and versatility, supported by a
rich voice, a charming personality, a ready and sympathetic use of
human literature, and a freedom from excessive piety, gave him an
immeasurable advantage over all the teachers of the day. Beside most
of them, he was as a butterfly to an elephant. A most industrious
study of the few works of Aristotle and of the Roman classics that
were available, a retentive memory, an ease in manipulating his
knowledge, a clear, penetrating mind, with a corresponding clearness
of expression, a ready and productive fancy, a great knowledge of
men, a warmer interest in things human than in things divine, a
laughing contempt for authority, a handsome presence, and a musical
delivery—these were his gifts. His only defects were defects of
character, and the circumstances of his life had not yet revealed
them even to himself.

Even the monkish writers of the _Life of St. Goswin_, whose attitude
towards his person is clear, grant him ‘a sublime eloquence.’ The
epitaphs that men raised over him, the judgments of episcopal Otto
von Freising and John of Salisbury, the diplomatic letter of Prior
Fulques, the references of all the chroniclers of the time, I
refrain from quoting. We learn his power best from his open enemies.
‘Wizard,’ ‘rhinoceros,’ ‘smiter,’ ‘friend of the devil,’ ‘giant,’
‘Titan,’ ‘Prometheus,’ and ‘Proteus,’ are a few of their compliments
to his ability: the mellifluous St. Bernard alone would provide a
rich vocabulary of flattering encomiums of that character: ‘Goliath,’
‘Herod,’ ‘Leviathan,’ ‘bee,’ ‘serpent,’ ‘dragon,’ ‘hydra,’ ‘Absalom,’
are some of his epithets. When, later, we find St. Bernard, the first
orator and firmest power in France, shrink nervously from an oral
encounter with him, and resort to measures which would be branded as
dishonourable in any other man, we shall more faithfully conceive the
charm of Abélard’s person and the fascination of his lectures.

Yet no careful student of his genius will accept the mediæval
estimate which made him the ‘Socrates of Gaul,’ the peer of Plato
and of Aristotle. He had wonderful penetration and a rare felicity
of oral expression, but he was far removed from the altitude of
Socrates and Plato and the breadth of Aristotle. He had no ‘system’
of thought, philosophical or theological; and into the physical and
social world he never entered. His ideas—and some of them were
leagues beyond his intellectual surroundings—came to him piecemeal.
Yet we shall see that in some of those which were most abhorrent to
Bernard—who was the Church for the time being—he did but anticipate
the judgment of mature humanity on certain ethical and intellectual
features of traditional lore. The thesis cannot be satisfactorily
established until a later stage.

When we proceed to examine the erudition which gave occasion to the
epitaph, ‘to him alone was made clear all that is knowable,’ we must
bear in mind the limitations of his world. When Aristotle lent his
mind to the construction of a world system, he had the speculations
of two centuries of Greek thinkers before him; when Thomas of Aquin
began to write, he had read the thoughts of three generations
of schoolmen after Abélard, and all the Arabic translations and
incorporations of Greek thought. At the beginning of the twelfth
century there was little to read beside the fathers. If we take
‘all that was knowable’ in this concrete and relative sense, the
high-sounding epitaph is not far above the truth.

His Latin is much better than that of the great majority of
his contemporaries. Judged by a perfect classical standard it
is defective; it admits some of the erroneous forms that are
characteristic of the age. But it is not without elegance, and it
excels in clearness and elasticity. It could not well be otherwise,
seeing his wide and familiar acquaintance with Latin literature. He
frequently quotes Lucan, Ovid, Horace, Vergil, and Cicero; students
of his writings usually add an acquaintance with Juvenal, Persius,
Statius, Suetonius, Valerius Maximus, Quintilian, and Priscian. It
was a frequent charge in the mouths of his enemies that he quoted
the lewdest books of Ovid in the course of his interpretation of
Scripture. The constant glance aside at the literature of human
passion and the happy flash of wit were not small elements in his
success. Those who came to him from other schools had heard little
but the wearisome iteration of Boetius, Cassiodorus, and Martianus
Capella. They found the new atmosphere refreshing and stimulating.

His command of Greek and Hebrew is a subject of endless dispute.
His pupil Heloise certainly had a knowledge of the two tongues, as
we shall see presently. She must have received her instruction from
Abélard. But it is clear that Abélard likes to approach a controversy
which turns on the interpretation of the original text of Scripture
through a third person, such as St. Jerome. He rarely approaches even
the easy Greek text of the New Testament directly, and he has no
immediate acquaintance with any Greek author. Aristotle he has read
in the Latin translation of Boetius, through whose mediation he has
also read Porphyry’s _Isagoge_. He was certainly familiar with the
_De Interpretatione_ and the _Categories_; Cousin grants him also
an acquaintance with the _Prior Analytics_; and Brucker and others
would add the _Sophistici Elenchi_ and the _Topics_. The physical
and metaphysical works of Aristotle were proscribed at Paris long
after the Jewish and Arabian translations had found a way into other
schools of France. The golden thoughts of Plato came to him through
the writings of the fathers; though there is said to have been a
translation of the _Timæus_ in France early in the twelfth century.

His knowledge of Hebrew must have been equally, or even more,
elementary. Only once does he clearly approach the Hebrew text
without patristic guidance; it is when, in answering one (the
thirty-sixth) of the famous ‘Problems of Heloise,’ he adduces the
authority of ‘a certain Hebrew,’ whom he ‘heard discussing the
point.’ In this we have a clear clue to the source of his Hebrew.
The Jews were very numerous in Paris in the twelfth century. When
Innocent the Second visited Paris in 1131, the Jews met him at St.
Denis, and offered him a valuable roll of the law. By the time of
Philippe Auguste they are said to have owned two-thirds of the
city: perceiving which, Philippe recollected, or was reminded,
that they were the murderers of Christ, and so he banished them
and retained their goods. Abélard indicates that they took part
in the intellectual life of Paris in his day; in Spain they were
distinguished in every branch of higher thought; and thus the
opportunity of learning Hebrew lay close at hand. One does not see
why Rémusat and others should deny him any acquaintance with it. His
knowledge, however, must have been elementary. He does not make an
impressive, though a novel, use of it in deriving the name of Heloise
(Helwide, or Helwise, or Louise) from Elohim, which he does, years
afterwards, in the sober solitude of his abbey and the coldness of
his mutilation.

Add an extensive acquaintance with Scripture and the fathers, and the
inventory is complete. Not difficult to be erudite in those days,
most people will reflect. Well, a phonogram may be erudite. The gifts
of Abélard were of a higher order than industry and memory, though
he possessed both. He takes his place in history, apart from the
ever-interesting drama and the deep pathos of his life, in virtue
of two distinctions. They are, firstly, an extraordinary ability in
imparting such knowledge as the poverty of the age afforded—the facts
of his career reveal it; and secondly, a mind of such marvellous
penetration that it conceived great truths which it has taken
humanity seven or eight centuries to see—this will appear as we
proceed. It was the former of these gifts that made him, in literal
truth, the centre of learned and learning Christendom, the idol of
several thousand eager scholars. Nor, finally, were these thousands
the ‘horde of barbarians’ that jealous Master Roscelin called them.
It has been estimated that a pope, nineteen cardinals, and more than
fifty bishops and archbishops, were at one time among his pupils.

We are now at, or near, the year 1118. In the thirty-ninth year of
his age, the twenty-third year of his scholastic activity, Abélard
has reached the highest academic position in Christendom. He who
loved so well, and so naturally, to be admired, found himself the
centre of a life that had not been seen since Greek sages poured out
wisdom in the painted colonnade, and the marble baths, and the shady
groves of Athens. His self-esteem was flattered; his love of rule and
of eminence was gratified. Poor as many of his pupils were, their
number brought him great wealth. His refinement had ample means of
solacing its desires. The petty vexations of the struggle were nobly
compensated. Before him lay a world of fairest promise into which
he, seemingly, had but to enter. Then there arose one of the forces
that shattered his life, beginning its embodiment in an idyll, ending
quickly in a lurid tragedy. It is the most difficult stage in the
story of Abélard. I approach it only in the spirit of the artist,
purposing neither to excuse nor to accuse, but only to trace, if I
may, the development of a soul.

Abélard’s life had until now been purely spiritual, almost wholly
intellectual. His defects were spiritual—conceit and ambition;
if, as men assure us, it is a defect to recognise that you have a
supra-normal talent, and to strive for the pre-eminence it entitles
you to. The idealist spirit in which he had turned away from the
comfort and quiet of the château had remained thus far the one fire
that consumed his energy. In the pretty theory of Plato, his highest
soul had silenced the lower, and reduced the lowest to the barest
requisite play of vegetative life. There are men who go through
life thus. The scientist would crudely—it is the fashion to say
‘crudely’—explain that the supra-normal activity of the upper part of
the nervous system made the action of the lower part infra-normal;
but let us keep on the spiritual plane. There are men whose soul is
so absorbed in study or in contemplation that love never reaches
their consciousness; or if it does, its appeal is faint, and quickly
rejected. The condition of such a life, highly prized as it is by
many, is constant intellectual strain.

Abélard had now arrived at a point when the mental strain began
instinctively to relax. Wealth would inevitably bring more sensuous
pleasure into his life. He was not one of the ‘purely intellectual’;
he had a warm imagination and artistic power. No immediate purpose
called for mental concentration. Sensuous enjoyment crept over the
area of his conscious life. During a large proportion of his time,
too, he was following with sympathy the quickening life of the
passionate creations of Ovid and Vergil and Lucan. The inner judge,
the sterner I, is indisposed to analyse, unless education, or faith,
or circumstance, has laid a duty of severer watchfulness upon it.
Blending with other and not alarming sensuous feelings, veiling
itself, and gently, subtly passing its sweet fire into the veins,
the coming of love is unperceived until it is already strong to
exert a numbing influence on the mind. Abélard awoke one day to a
consciousness that a large part of the new sweetness that pervaded
his life was due to the birth of a new power in his soul—a power as
elusive to recognition as it is imperious in its demands. Then is the
trial of the soul.

Before quoting Abélard’s confession, with respect to this
transformation of his character, it is necessary, out of justice to
him, to anticipate a little, in indicating the circumstances of the
making of the confession. The long letter which Abélard entitled the
‘Story of my Calamities’ was written twelve or thirteen years after
these events. By that time he had not only endured a succession of
cruel persecutions, but his outlook on life and on self had been
entirely changed. Not only had the memory of the events faded
somewhat, but he had become colour-blind in an important sense.
A frightful mutilation had distorted his physical and psychic
nature. Partly from this cause, and partly under the stress of
other circumstances, he had become a Puritan of the Puritans, an
ascetical hermit. As is the wont of such, he manifests a tendency to
exaggerate the shadows cast by actions of his which he can no longer
understand; for nature has withdrawn her inspiration. On the point we
are considering he does not evince the smallest desire of concealment
or palliation, but rather the reverse. And, finally, the letter,
though written ostensibly for the solace of a friend in distress,
was clearly written for circulation, and for the conciliation of the
gentler of the Puritans, who knew his life well.

After speaking of the wealth and fame he had attained, he says:
‘But since prosperity ever puffs up the fool, and worldly ease
dissolves the vigour of the mind, and quickly enervates it by carnal
allurements; now that I thought myself to be the only philosopher
in the world, and feared no further menace to my position, whereas
I had hitherto lived most continently, I began to loose the rein
to passion. And the further I had advanced in philosophy and in
reading Holy Writ, so much the wider did I depart from philosophers
and divines by the uncleanness of my life. It is well known to thee
that philosophers and divines have ever been distinguished for this
virtue of continence. But, whilst I was thus wholly taken up with
pride and lust, the grace of God brought me a remedy, unwilling as I
was, for both maladies; for lust first, and then for pride. For lust,
by depriving me of its instrument; for pride—the pride which was
chiefly born of my knowledge of letters, according to the word of the
Apostle, ‘knowledge puffeth up’—by humbling me in the burning of the
book by which I set such store. And now I would have thee learn the
truth of both these stories, from the events themselves rather than
from rumour, in the order in which they befell. Since then I had ever
abhorred the uncleanness of harlots, and I had been withheld from the
company and intercourse of noble dames by the exactions of study, nor
had I more than a slight acquaintance with other women, evil fortune,
smiling on me, found an easier way to cast me down from the summit of
my prosperity; proud, as I was, and unmindful of divine favour, the
goodness of God humbled me, and won me to itself.’ And the penitent
passes on immediately to give the story of his relation to Heloise.

It is quite clear that all the vehement language with which he
scourges himself before humanity refers exclusively to his liaison
with Heloise. Searching about, as he does, for charges to heap upon
his dead self, he yet denies that he had intercourse with women of
any description before he knew the one woman whom he loved sincerely
throughout life. In a later letter to Heloise, not intended to
circulate abroad, he repeats the statement; recalling their embraces,
he says they were the more treasured ‘since we had never known the
like (_ista gaudia_) before.’ Moreover, he says a little later in
the ‘Story’ that up to the time of his liaison with Heloise he had
a ‘repute for chastity’ in the city; the events we have to follow
prove this to have been the case. Finally, let us carefully remember
that there would be no advantage in concealing any earlier disorder,
and that there is clear indication, even in the short passage I have
quoted, of a disposition rather to magnify faults than to attenuate.

I labour the point, because a writer who has introduced Abélard to
many of the present generation, and for whom and whose thoughts I
have otherwise a high regard, has somehow been led to lay here a very
damning indictment of Abélard. Mr. Cotter Morison was a follower of
the religion that worships the departed great, and should have a
special care to set in light the character of those whom the Church
has bruised in life, and slandered after death, under a false view
of the interest of humanity. Yet, in his _Life of St. Bernard_, he
has grossly added to the charge against Abélard, with the slenderest
of historical bases. It were almost an injustice to Kingsley to
say that Cotter Morison’s Abélard recalls the great novelist’s
pitiful Hypatia. The Positivist writer thus interprets this stage
in Abélard’s career. After saying that his passion broke out like
a volcano, and that he felt ‘a fierce, fiery thirst for pleasure,
sensual and animal,’ he goes on in this remarkable strain: ‘He drank
deeply, wildly. He then grew fastidious and particular. He required
some delicacy of romance, some flavour of emotion, to remove the
crudity of his lust. He seduced Heloise.’

Was ever a graver perversion in the historical construction of
character by an impartial writer? Stranger still, Mr. Cotter Morison
has already warned his readers that the ‘Story of my Calamities’
must be shorn of some penitential _exaggeration_, if we are to give
it historical credence. But Mr. Morison has witnesses. Prior Fulques,
in a letter to Abélard, reminded him that he squandered a fortune on
harlots. The assertion of this monk of Deuil, based, professedly,
on the reports of Abélard’s bitter enemies, the monks of St. Denis,
and made in a letter which is wholly politic, is held by Mr. Morison
to ‘more than counterbalance’ the solemn public affirmation of a
morbidly humble, self-accusing penitent. And this, after warning us
not to take Abélard’s self-accusation too literally! I shall examine
this letter of Prior Fulques’ more closely later. Not only does the
letter itself belong to, but the charge refers to, a later period,
and will be weighed then. There is nothing at this stage to oppose
to the quiet and indirect claim of Abélard, allowed by the action
of Fulbert, that his character was unsullied up to the date of his
liaison with Heloise.

Let us return to the accredited historical facts. Somewhere about the
year 1118 Abélard first felt the claims of love. He was wealthy and
prosperous, and living in comparative luxury. He had those gifts of
imagination which usually reveal an ardent temperament. Whether it
was Heloise who unwittingly kindled the preparing passion, or whether
Abélard yielded first to a vague, imperious craving, and sought one
whom he might love, we do not know. But we have his trustworthy
declaration that he detested the rampant harlotry, and knew no woman
until he felt the sweet caress of Heloise.

I have now to set out with care the story of that immortal love. But
nine readers out of ten are minded to pass judgment on the acts and
lives of those we recall from the dead. My function is to reconstruct
the story as faithfully as the recorded facts allow. Yet I would make
one more digression before doing so.

What standard of conduct shall be used in judging Abélard? There are
a thousand moral codes—that of the Hindu and that of the Christian,
that of the twelfth century and that of the _twentieth_. In the
twelfth century even the St. Bernards thought it just that a man
who could not see the truth of the Church’s claims should be burned
alive, and his soul tortured for all eternity; that a Being was
just and adorable who tortured a twelfth century babe for Adam’s
sin; that twelfth century Jews might be robbed because their remote
ancestors had put Christ to death; that the sanctity of justice
demanded, literally, an eye for an eye; and so forth. One may, of
course, choose whatever standard of conduct one likes to measure
Abélard’s, or anybody else’s, actions: Cardinal Newman, and such
writers, have a fancy for judging him by the perfected code of the
nineteenth. We cannot quarrel with them; though it is well to point
out that they are not measuring Abélard’s subjective guilt, nor
portraying his character, in so doing. And if any do elect to judge
Abélard by the moral code of the twelfth century, it must be noted
that this varied much, even on the point of sexual morality. St.
Bernard and his like saw an inherent moral evil in sexual union; they
thought the sanctity of the priestly character was incompatible with
it, and that virginity was, in itself, and by the mere abstinence
from sexual commerce, something holier than marriage. Apart from
this, no doubt—if it can be set apart in the question—good men were
agreed. But, as will appear presently, there were large bodies of
men, even clerks, who not only differed from them in practice, but
also in their deliberate moral judgment. We must approach closer
still. When we have to determine an individual conception of the law,
for the purpose of measuring real and personal guilt, we must have
a regard to the surrounding influences, the current thoughts and
prevailing habits, which may have impaired or obscured the feeling of
its validity in any respect. It is well, then, first to glance at the
morals of the time when one feels eager to measure Abélard’s guilt.

It was a period when the dark triumph of what is called materialism,
or animalism, was as yet relieved only by a sporadic gleam of
idealism. There was purity in places, but over the broad face of the
land passion knew little law. If the unlettered Greek had immoral
gods to encourage him, the mediæval had immoral pastors. The Church
was just endeavouring to enforce its unfortunate law of celibacy on
them. With a stroke of the pen it had converted thousands of honest
wives into concubines. The result was utter and sad demoralisation.
In thus converting the moral into the deeply immoral, the Church
could appeal to no element in the consciences of its servants; nor
even to its basic Scriptures. Writers of the time use hyperbolic
language in speaking of the prevalent vice, and the facts given in
the chronicles, and embodied in the modern collections of ancient
documents, fully sustain it. Speaking of the close of the eleventh
century, Dubois, in his _Historia Ecclesiæ Parisiensis_, says: ‘The
condition of the Church [in general] at that time was unhappy and
wretched ... nearly all the clergy were infected with the vice of
simony ... lust and shameful pleasure were openly rampant.’ It is
true that he excepts his ‘Church of Paris,’ but his own facts show
that it is only a piece of foolish loyalty. Cardinal Jacques de
Vitry, who studied at Paris towards the close of the century (it must
have been worse in Abélard’s time), gives a clearly overdrawn, yet
instructive, picture of its life in his _Historia Occidentalis_. ‘The
clergy,’ he says, probably meaning the scholars in general, of whom
the majority were clerics, ‘saw no sin in simple fornication. Common
harlots were to be seen dragging off clerics as they passed along
to their brothels. If they refused to go, opprobrious names were
called after them. School and brothel were under the same roof—the
school above, the brothel below.... And the more freely they spent
their money in vice, the more were they commended, and regarded
by almost everybody as fine, liberal fellows.’ The vice that has
ever haunted educational centres and institutes was flagrant and
general. It is a fact that the authorities had at length to prohibit
the canons to lodge students in their houses on the island. In the
country and in the other towns the same conditions were found. In
Father Denifle’s _Chartularium_ there is a document (No. V.) which
throws a curious light on the habits of the clergy. A priest of
Rheims was dancing in a tavern one Sunday, when some of the scholars
laughed at him. He pursued them to their school, took the place by
storm, half-murdered, and then (presumably recalling his sacerdotal
character) excommunicated them. At another time, Cardinal Jacques
tells us, the lady of a certain manor warned the priest of the
village to dismiss his concubine. He refused; whereupon the noble
dame had the woman brought to her, and ordained her ‘priestess,’
turning her out before the admiring villagers with a gaudy crown.
Another poor priest told his bishop, with many tears, that, if it
were a question of choosing between his church and his concubine, he
should have to abandon the church; the story runs that, finding his
income gone, the lady also departed. There is an equally dark lament
in Ordericus Vitalis, the Norman, who lived in Abélard’s day. The
letters and sermons of Abélard—Abélard the monk, of St. Bernard, and
of so many others, confirm the darkest features of the picture. Only
a few years previously the king had lived with the wife of one of his
nobles, in defiance of them all; and when a council, composed of one
hundred and twenty prelates, including two cardinals and a number of
bishops, met at Poitiers to censure him, the Duke of Aquitaine broke
in with his soldiers, and scattered them with the flat of his sword.
Indeed, an ancient writer, Hugo Flaviniacensis, declares there was a
feeling that Pope Paschal did not, for financial reasons, approve the
censure passed by his legates.

Considering the enormous prevalence of simony, one could hardly
expect to find the Church in a better condition. The writers of
the time make it clear that there was an appalling traffic in
bishoprics, abbeys, prebends, and all kinds of ecclesiastical goods
and dignities. We have already seen one tragic illustration of
the evil, and we shall meet many more. A few years previously the
king had nominated one of his favourites, Étienne de Garlande, for
the vacant bishopric of Beauvais; and this youth, ‘of no letters
and of unchaste life,’ at once took even major orders, and talked
of going to Rome ‘to buy the curia.’ But, as with regard to the
previous point, it is useless to give instances. Corruption was very
prevalent; and one cannot wonder at it in view of the reputation
which the papacy itself had, in spite of its occasional quashing of a
corrupt election. This point will be treated more fully in the sixth

The question of the deep and widespread corruption of the regular
clergy must also be deferred. In his fourth letter to Heloise,
Abélard complains that ‘almost all the monasteries of our day’ are
corrupt; Jacques de Vitry affirms that no nunneries, save those of
the Cistercians, were fit abodes for an honest woman in his day.[15]
It is not a little instructive to find Abbot Abélard, in his latest
and most ascetic period, telling his son (a monk), in the course
of a number of admirable moral maxims, that: ‘A humble harlot is
better than she who is chaste and proud,’ and that ‘Far worse is the
shrewd-tongued woman than a harlot.’

  [15] The condition of monasteries will be found treated more
  fully on p. 125; that of nunneries on p. 209.

Finally, mention must be made of the extreme violence of the
age. Several illustrations have been given in the course of the
narrative, and it will bring many more before the reader. They were
still the days of the _lex talionis_, the judicial duel, the ordeal,
and the truce of God. Murder was common in town and country. We
have seen the brutal murder of the Bishop of Laon in 1112; we find
the Bishop of Paris threatened by the relatives of his archdeacon,
and the Prior of St. Victor’s murdered by them, in 1133. But the
story will contain violence enough. As for ‘the undisciplined
student-hordes of the Middle Ages,’ see the appalling picture of
their life in Rashdall’s _Universities of Europe_. Our period is
pre-university—and worse: with the founding of the university came
some degree of control. Yet even then the documentary evidence
discloses a fearful condition of violence and lawlessness. In the
year 1197 we find the Bishop of Paris abolishing the ‘Feast of
Fools.’ On January 1st (and also on the feast of St. Stephen), it
seems, a carnival was held, during which the masquers had free run of
the cathedral and the churches, making them echo with ribald songs,
and profaning them with bloodshed and all kinds of excess. In 1218,
says Crevier, we find the ecclesiastical judges of Paris complaining
that the students break into the houses of the citizens, and carry
off their womenfolk. In 1200 we find a pitched battle between the
students of Paris and the governor and his guards, in which several
are killed; and the king condemns the unfortunate governor to be
tried by ordeal; to be hanged forthwith if it proves his guilt, and
to be imprisoned for life (in case Providence has made a mistake) if
it absolves him. After another of these battles, when the governor
has hanged several students, the king forces him and his council to
go in their shirts to the scaffold and kiss the bodies. In another
case, in 1228, the king sides with the governor, and the masters
close the university in disgust until the students are avenged.

But of story-telling there would be no end. And, indeed, there is
the danger of giving a false impression of scantiness of evidence
when one follows up a large assertion with a few incidents. It is,
however, clear from the quoted words of accredited historians, and
will be made clearer in the progress of the narrative, that simony,
unchastity, violence, cruelty, and usury were real and broad features
of the age of Abélard. The reader will not forget them, when he is
seeking to enter into the conscience of the famous master.



The great cemetery of Père Lachaise at Paris is a city of historic
tombs. Names of world-fame look down on you from the marble dwellings
of the dead, as you pass along its alleys and broad avenues. Paris
loves to wander there on Sundays; to scatter floral symbols of a
living memory on the youngest graves, and to hang wreaths of unfading
honour over the ashes of those who have fought for it and served it.
The memory of the dead soon fades, they say, yet you will see men and
women of Paris, on many a summer’s day, take flowers and wreaths in
solemn pity to lay on the tomb of a woman who was dust seven hundred
years ago. It is the grave of Heloise, and of her lover, Abélard.

It is scarcely necessary to say that in a serious endeavour to
depict the historical Heloise much myth and legend must be soberly
declined. Even historians have been seduced from their high duty in
writing her praise: witness the fond exaggeration of M. de Rémusat,
which would make her ‘the first of women.’ Yet it must be admitted
that impartial study brings us face to face with a very remarkable
personality. This will be easily accepted in the sequel, when we have
followed the course of her life to some extent—when, for instance,
we see the affection and the extraordinary respect with which she
inspires the famous abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable. It is
more difficult to recall her at the period of her fateful meeting
with Abélard. We have, however, the sober assurance of Peter the
Venerable that, even at this early date, she was ‘of great repute
throughout the entire kingdom’; and there is no reason whatever to
resent Abélard’s assertion that she was already distinguished for her

The mythic additions to the portraiture of Heloise refer almost
exclusively to her parentage and her beauty. Abélard introduces
her to us as the niece of a canon of the cathedral chapter, named
Fulbert. It is quite clear that Abélard considered her such
throughout life, and that it was the belief of Heloise herself; but
of her parentage neither of them speaks. In strict justice, the only
inference we may draw from this is that she lost her parents at an
early age. We should never have known the parentage of Abélard but
for his own autobiography. However, the tradition that has charged
itself with the romance of Abélard’s life found in this silence a
convenient pretext for weaving further romantic elements into the
story. There is a pretty collection of myths about Heloise’s birth,
most of them, of course, making her illegitimate. The issue of lawful
wedlock is ever too prosaic and ordinary for the romantic faculty—in
spite of facts. The favourite theory is that Heloise was the daughter
of Canon Fulbert; even Hausrath thinks Fulbert’s conduct points to
this relationship. Two other canons of Paris are severally awarded
the honour by various writers. On the other hand, it was inevitable
that she should be given a tinge of ‘noble’ blood, and this is traced
on the maternal side. Turlot makes the best effort—from the romantic
point of view—in describing her as the daughter of an abbess, who was
the mistress of a Montmorency, but who gave an air of respectability
to her family matters by passing for the mistress of Fulbert. From
the less interesting point of view of history, we can only say that
she lived with her uncle, Canon Fulbert, and we must admit that we do
not know whether she was illegitimate or an orphan. But the former
category was very much the larger one, even in those violent days.

It was also natural that tradition should endow her with a singular
beauty: an endowment which sober history is unable to confirm. She
must, it is true, have had a singular grace and charm of person. It
is impossible to think that her mental gifts alone attracted Abélard.
Moreover, in the course of the story, we shall meet several instances
of the exercise of such personal power. But we cannot claim for her
more than a moderate degree of beauty. ‘Not the least in beauty of
countenance,’ says Abélard, ‘she was supreme in her knowledge of
letters.’ The antithesis does not seem to be interpreted aright by
those writers who think it denies her any beauty. ‘Not the least’ is
a figure of rhetoric, well known to Abélard, which must by no means
be taken with Teutonic literalness.

But that ‘repute throughout the kingdom,’ which Peter the Venerable
grants her, was based on her precocious knowledge. It is generally
estimated that she was in her seventeenth or eighteenth year when
Abélard fell in love with her. She had spent her early years at the
Benedictine nunnery at Argenteuil, a few miles beyond St. Denis.
Her education was then continued by her uncle. Canon Fulbert has no
reputation for learning in the chronicles of the time; in fact, the
only information we have of him, from other sources than the story of
Abélard, is that he was the happy possessor of ‘a whole bone’ out of
the spine of St. Ebrulfus. However, it is indisputable that Heloise
had a reputation for letters even at that time. Both Abélard and
Peter of Cluny are explicit on the point; the latter says to her, in
one of his admiring letters, ‘in study you not only outstripped all
women, but there were few men whom you did not surpass.’ From this
it is clear that the learning of Heloise was not distinguished only
when compared with the general condition of the feminine mind. In
fact, although Abbot Peter speaks slightingly of womanly education in
general, this was a relatively bright period. We have already seen
the wife and daughters of Manegold teaching philosophy at Paris with
much distinction at the close of the eleventh century, and one cannot
go far in the chronicles of the time without meeting many instances
of a learned correspondence in Latin between prelates and women.

Nevertheless, the learning of Heloise cannot have been considerable,
absolutely speaking. Her opportunities were even more limited than
the erudition of her time. That she knew Hebrew is explicitly stated
by Abélard and Peter of Cluny, and also by Robert of Auxerre; but
she probably learned it (with Greek) from Abélard, and knew no more
than he. Her Latin is good; but it is impossible to discuss here
her famous _Letters_, which give us our sole direct insight into
her personality. Learned, critical, penetrative, she certainly was,
but Rémusat’s estimate is entirely inadmissible. Beside Aspasia or
Hypatia she would ‘pale her ineffectual fire.’

It is not difficult to understand how the two were brought together.
Both of high repute ‘in the whole kingdom,’ or, at all events, in
Paris, they could not long remain strangers. Abélard was soon ‘wholly
afire with love of the maid,’ he tells us, and sought an opportunity
of closer intercourse with her. Though Cotter Morison’s theory of
the sated sensualist looking round for a dainty morsel is utterly at
variance with Abélard’s narrative—the only account of these events
that we have—it is, nevertheless, clear that Abélard sought the
intimacy of Heloise for the purpose of gaining her love. He says so
repeatedly; and, though we have at times to moderate the stress of
his words, we cannot refuse to accept their substance. Mr. Poole
considers the idea of a deliberate seduction on the part of Abélard
‘incredible.’ It is strange that one who is so familiar with the
times should think this. ‘I thought it would be well to contract a
union of love with the maid,’ Abélard says. From the circumstance
that he had to approach Fulbert (who was, however, only too willing)
through the mediation of friends, it does not seem rash to infer that
he had had no personal intercourse with the canon and his niece. It
was through her fame and, perhaps, an occasional passing glance that
he had come to love her. He had, however, little diffidence about
the issue. Though between thirty-five and forty years of age, he
looked ‘young and handsome,’ he tells us; and we learn further from
Heloise that he had gifts ‘of writing poetry and of singing’ which
no female heart could resist. The ‘Socrates of Gaul’ set out on a

And one fine day the little world of Paris was smirking and
chattering over the startling news that Master Peter had gone
to live with Heloise and her uncle. The simple canon had been
delighted at the proposal to receive Abélard. Alleging the expense of
maintaining a separate house and the greater convenience of Fulbert’s
house for attending the school, Abélard had asked his hospitality in
consideration of a certain payment and the instruction of Heloise in
leisure hours. It may or may not be true that Fulbert was avaricious,
as Abélard affirms, but the honour of lodging the first master
in Christendom and the valuable advantage to his niece are quite
adequate to explain Fulbert’s eager acceptance. ‘Affection for his
niece and the repute of my chastity,’ says Abélard, blinded the canon
to the obvious danger, if not the explicit intention. The master was
at once established in the canon’s house. One reads with pity how the
uncle, blind, as only an erudite priest can be, to the rounded form
and quickened pulse, child-like, gave Abélard even power to beat his
niece, if she neglected her task.

A tradition, which seems to have but a precarious claim to credence,
points out the spot where the idyll of that love was lived. In
the earlier part of the present century there was a house at the
corner of the Rue des Chantres (on the island, facing the Hotel de
Ville), which bore an inscription claiming that ‘Heloise and Abélard,
the model of faithful spouses, dwelt in this house.’ If we accept
the vague legend, we can easily restore in imagination the little
cottage of Fulbert. It lay a few yards from the water’s edge, and
one could look out from its narrow windows over the gently sloping
garden of the bank and the fresh, sweet bosom of the river; the quays
were beyond—where the Hotel de Ville now stands—and further still
outspread the lovely panorama that encircled Paris.

In a very short time master and pupil were lovers. He did assuredly
fulfil his promise of teaching her. Most probably it was from him
that she learned what Greek and Hebrew she knew; for Abélard, in
later years, not only reminds her nuns that they ‘have a mother who
is conversant with these tongues,’ but adds also that ‘she alone has
attained this knowledge,’ amongst the women of her time. It is also
clear that he taught her dialectics, theology, and ethics. But it was
not long, he confesses, before there were ‘more kisses than theses,’
and ‘love was the inspirer of his tongue.’ He does not hesitate to
speak of having ‘corrupted’ or seduced her, but it is only prejudice
or ignorance that can accept this in the full severity and gravity of
the modern term. Heloise had been educated in a nunnery; but before
many years we find these nuns of Argenteuil turned on the street
for ‘the enormity of their lives.’ The charge must not be taken too
literally just yet, but it should make us hesitate to credit Heloise
with a rigorous moral education. She lived, too, in a world where,
as we saw, such liaisons were not considered sinful. It is far from
likely that she would oppose any scruple to Abélard’s desire. Indeed,
from the study of her references to their love, in the letters she
wrote long years afterwards—wrote as an abbess of high repute—one
feels disposed to think that Abélard would have had extreme
difficulty in pointing out to her the sinfulness of such a love. It
is with an effort, even after twenty years of chaste, conventual
life, that she accepts the ecclesiastical view of their conduct.
Abélard sinned; but let us, in justice, limit his sin at least to
its due objective proportion; its subjective magnitude I shall not
venture to examine.

In a few months the famed philosopher appeared in a new character,
as ‘the first of the troubadours,’ to use the words of Ampère. ‘À
mesure qu’on a plus d’esprit les passions sont plus grandes,’ said
Pascal. Of all false epigrams that is surely the falsest, but it
would be easily inspired by the transformation of Pierre Abélard. The
sober-living man of forty, whom all had thought either never to have
known or long since to have passed the fever of youth, was mastered
by a deep, tyrannical passion. The problems of dialectics were
forgotten, the alluring difficulties of Ezechiel unheeded. Day after
day the murmuring throng was dismissed untaught from the cloistral
school; whilst passers-by heard songs that were ardent with deep love
from the windows of the canon’s house. All Paris, even all France,
caught the echo, says Heloise, and ‘every street, every house,
resounded with my name.’ The strange ‘Story of love and learning,’
as an old ballad expressed it, was borne through the kingdom in
Abélard’s own impassioned words.[16]

  [16] Not a single one of Abélard’s songs has come down to us. A
  few songs are to be found which bear his name, but they are not
  genuine. It is an unfortunate loss, since the religious hymns
  of his later years convey no better impression of his true and
  unspoiled poetic faculty than the moonlight does of the rays of
  the sun.

Months ran on, and the purblind priest remained wholly unconscious
of what all Paris sang nightly in its taverns. At length the truth
was forced upon his mind, and he at once interrupted the love-story.
He drove Abélard from the house, and raised the usual futile barriers
to the torrent of passion. Whether the canon was really more earnest
than the majority of his order, and therefore sincerely shocked at
the thought of the liaison, or whether it had disturbed some other
project he had formed, it is impossible to say. Heloise herself,
in her sober maturity, affirms that any woman in France would have
thought her position more honourable than any marriage. However that
may be, Fulbert angrily forbade a continuance of the relation. Once
more Abélard must have felt the true alternative that honour placed
before him: either to crush his passion and return to the school, or
to marry Heloise and sacrifice the desire of further advancement in
ecclesiastical dignity.

Abélard was not a priest at that time. He was probably a canon of
Notre Dame, but there are very satisfactory reasons for holding
that he did not receive the priesthood until a much later date. In
the ‘Story’ he makes Heloise address him, about this time, as ‘a
cleric and canon,’ but he is nowhere spoken of as a priest. Had
he been a priest, the circumstance would have afforded Heloise one
of the most powerful objections to a marriage; in the curious and
lengthy catalogue of such objections which we shall find her raising
presently she does not mention the priesthood. But even if he were
a priest, it is not at all clear that he would have considered this
in itself an impediment to marriage. From the acts of the Council of
London (1102), the Council of Troyes (1107), the Council of Rheims
(1119), and others, we find that the decree of the Church against the
marriage of priests, and even bishops, was far from being universally
accepted. Indeed, we have specific reason for thinking that Abélard
did not recognise an impediment of that character. In a work which
bears the title _Sententiae Abaelardi_, we find the thesis, more or
less clearly stated, that the priest may marry. The work is certainly
not Abélard’s own composition, but the experts regard it as a careful
summary of his views by some master of the period.

Apart from the laxer view of love-relation which Abélard probably
shared, we can only find firm ground to interpret his reluctance to
marry in the fear of injuring his further ambition. Marriage was
fast becoming a fatal obstacle to advancement in the ecclesiastical
world; a lover—with wealth—was not a serious difficulty. Even this
point, however, cannot be pressed; it looks as though his ambition
had become as limp and powerless as all other feelings in the new
tyranny of love. Historians have been so eager to quarrel with
the man that they have, perhaps, not paid a just regard to the
fact that Heloise herself was violently opposed to marriage, and
conscientiously thought their earlier union more honourable. This
will appear presently.

Whatever struggle may have distracted Abélard after their separation,
he was soon forced to take practical measures. Heloise found means
to inform him—not with the conventional tears, but, he says, ‘with
the keenest joy’—that she was about to become a mother. Fate had cut
the ethical knot. He at once removed her from Fulbert’s house during
the night, and had her conveyed, in the disguise of a nun,[17] to his
home at Pallet. It is not clearly stated that Abélard accompanied
her, but, beside the intrinsic probability, there is a local
tradition that Abélard and Heloise spent many happy months together
at Pallet, and there is a phrase in the ‘Story’ which seems to
confirm it. However that may be, we find him in Paris again, after a
time, seeking a reconciliation with Fulbert.

  [17] This detail is found in Abélard’s second letter to Heloise.
  It is characteristic of Mr. Cotter Morison’s ‘sketch’ of Abélard
  that he should have missed it, and thought fit to deny it.
  Deutsch reads him a severe lesson on the duty of accuracy in his
  _Peter Abälard_.

Fulbert was by no means the quiet, passive recluse that one would
imagine from his earlier action, or inaction. The discovery of
Abélard’s treachery and the removal of his niece had enkindled
thoughts of wild and dark revenge. He feared, however, to attack
Abélard whilst Heloise remained at Pallet; it is a fearful commentary
on the times that Abélard should coolly remark that a retaliation on
the part of his own relatives was apprehended. Revenge was considered
a legitimate daughter of justice in those days. A compromise was at
length imagined by Abélard. He proposed to marry Heloise, if Fulbert
and his friends would agree to keep the marriage secret. In this we
have a still clearer revelation of the one serious flaw in Abélard’s
character—weakness. No doubt, if we had had an autobiography from
an unmaimed Abélard—an Abélard who identified himself with, and
endeavoured proudly to excuse, the lover of Heloise—we should be
reminded of many extenuating elements; the repugnance of Heloise, the
stupid anti-matrimonialism of the hierarchy, the current estimate
of an unconsecrated liaison, and so forth. Even as it is, Abélard
perceives no selfishness, no want of resolution, in his action. ‘Out
of compassion for his great anxiety,’ he says, he approached Fulbert
on the question of a private marriage. The canon consented, though
secretly retaining his intention of taking a bloody revenge, Abélard
thinks; and the master hastened once more to Brittany for his bride.

Abélard probably flattered himself that he had found an admirable
outlet from his narrow circumstances. Fulbert’s conscience would be
salved by the Church’s blessing on their love; the hierarchy would
have no matrimonial impediment to oppose to his advancement; Paris
would give an indulgent eye to what it would regard as an amiable
frailty, if not a grace of character. Unfortunately for his peace,
Heloise energetically repulsed the idea of marriage. The long passage
in which Abélard gives us her objections is not the least interesting
in the ‘Story.’

‘She asked,’ he writes, ‘what glory she would win from me, when she
had rendered me inglorious, and had humbled both me and her. How
great a punishment the world would inflict on her if she deprived
it of so resplendent a light: what curses, what loss to the Church,
what philosophic tears, would follow such a marriage. How outrageous,
how pitiful it was, that he whom nature had created for the common
blessing should be devoted to one woman, and plunged in so deep a
disgrace. Profoundly did she hate the thought of a marriage which
would prove so humiliating and so burdensome to me in every respect.’

Then follows an elaborate, rhetorical discourse on the disadvantages
of matrimony, with careful division and subdivision, arguments from
reason, from experience, from authority, and all the artifices of
rhetoric and dialectics. That the learned Heloise did urge many
of its curious points will scarcely be doubted, but as a careful
and ordered piece of pleading against matrimony it has an obvious
ulterior purpose. St. Paul is the first authority quoted; then follow
St. Jerome, Theophrastus, and Cicero. She (or he) then draws an
animated picture of the domestic felicity of a philosopher, reminding
him of servants and cradles, infant music and the chatter of nurses,
the pressing throng of the family and the helplessness of the little
ones. The example of monks, of Nazarites, and of philosophers is
impressively urged; and if he will not hesitate, as ‘a cleric and a
canon,’ to commit himself ‘irrevocably to domestic joy,’ at least
let him remember his dignity as a philosopher. The sad fate of the
married Socrates is adduced, together with the thunder and rain
incident. Finally, she is represented as saying that it is ‘sweeter
to her and more honourable to him that she should be his mistress
rather than his wife,’ and that she prefers to be united to him ‘by
love alone, not by the compulsion of the marriage vow.’

When the letter containing this curious passage reached Heloise,
nearly twenty years after the event, she, an abbess of high repute
for holiness, admitted its correctness, with the exception that ‘a
few arguments had been omitted in which she set love before matrimony
and freedom before compulsion.’ Holy abbess writing to holy abbot,
she calls God to witness that ‘if the name of wife is holier, the
name of friend, or, if he likes, mistress or concubine, is sweeter,’
and that she ‘would rather be his mistress than the queen of a
Cæsar.’ They who disregard these things in sitting in judgment on
that famous liaison are foredoomed to error.

But Abélard prevailed. ‘Weeping and sobbing vehemently,’ he says,
‘she brought her discourse to an end with these words: “One thing
alone remains for us now, we must exhibit in our common ruin a grief
as strong as the love that has gone before.”’ It is an artistic
termination to Abélard’s discourse, at all events.

Back to Paris once more, therefore, the two proceeded. Heloise had
a strong foreboding of evil to come from the side of Fulbert; she
did not trust his profession of conciliation. However, she left her
boy, whom, with a curious affectation, they had called Astrolabe
(the name of an astronomic apparatus), in the charge of Abélard’s
sister Denyse. They were married a few days after their arrival
at Paris. The vigil was spent, according to custom, in one of the
churches: they remained all night in prayer, and the ceremony took
place after an early Mass in the morning. Their arrival in Paris had
been kept secret, and only Fulbert and a few friends of both parties
were present at the marriage. Then they parted at the altar: the man
weakly proceeding to follow his poor ambition in the school, the
noble young wife making herself a sad sacrifice to his selfishness
and irresolution.

During the next few dreary months they saw each other rarely and in
secret. Abélard was a man of the type that waits for the compulsion
of events in a serious conflict of desires, or of desire and duty. He
could not lay aside his day-dream that somehow and some day the fates
would smooth out a path along which he could carry both his whole
ambition and his love. Events did decide for him once more. Fulbert,
it seems, broke his faith with Abélard and divulged the marriage.
But when people came to Heloise for confirmation, she did more than
‘lie with the sweetness of a Madonna,’ in Charles Reade’s approving
phrase; she denied on oath that she was the wife of Abélard. Fulbert
then began to ill-treat her (the circumstance may be commended to
the notice of those historians who think he had acted from pure
affection), and Abélard removed her secretly from her uncle’s house.

It was to the convent at Argenteuil that Abélard conveyed his wife
this time. One passes almost the very spot in entering modern Paris
by the western line, but the village lay at a much greater distance
from the ancient island-city, a few miles beyond St. Denis, going
down the river. It was a convent of Benedictine nuns, very familiar
to Heloise, who had received her early education there. In order to
conceal Heloise more effectually, he bade her put on the habit of the
nuns, with the exception of the veil, which was the distinguishing
mark of the professed religious. Here she remained for some months;
Abélard waiting upon events, as usual, and occasionally making a
secret visit to Argenteuil. According to Turlot, the abbess of
Argenteuil was the mother of Heloise. We know, at least, that
the nunnery was in a very lax condition, and that, beyond her
unconquerable presentiment of evil, Heloise would suffer little
restraint. Indeed, Abélard reminds her later, in his second letter to
her, that their conjugal relations continued whilst she was in the

How long this wretched situation continued it is impossible to
determine. It cannot have been many months, at the most, before
Fulbert discovered what had happened; it was probably a matter
of weeks. Yet this is the only period in which it is possible to
entertain the theory of Abélard’s licentiousness. We have already
seen that Cotter Morison’s notion of a licentious period before the
liaison with Heloise is quite indefensible. The tragic event which we
have presently to relate puts the latest term to the possibility of
such licence. Now, there are two documents on which Abélard’s critics
rely: a letter to him from Fulques, prior in the monastery of Deuil
near Paris, and a letter from his former teacher, Master Roscelin.
Prior Fulques, however, merely says he ‘has heard’ that Abélard was
reduced to poverty through ‘the greed and avarice of harlots’; and
Roscelin explicitly states that he heard his story from the monks
of St. Denis. Indeed, we may at once exclude Roscelin’s letter; not
merely because it was written in a most furious outburst of temper,
when a man would grasp any rumour, but also on the ground that his
story is absurd and impossible. He represents Abélard, when a monk at
St. Denis, later, returning to his monastery with the money earned by
his teaching, and marching off with it to pay a former mistress. We
shall see, in a later chapter, that Abélard did not begin to teach
until he had left St. Denis.

If, however, Roscelin’s story is too absurd to entertain in itself,
it is useful in casting some light on Fulques’s letter. Fulques was
writing to Abélard on behalf of the monks of St. Denis. He would be
well acquainted with their gossip, and would, therefore, probably
be referring to the story which Roscelin shows to be impossible in
giving it more fully. It is not unlikely that the story was really
a perverse account of Abélard’s visits to Heloise at Argenteuil.
In any case we are reduced to the gossip of a band of monks of
notorious character (_teste_ St. Bernard), of indirect and uncertain
information, and of bitter hostility to Abélard.

And this is all the evidence which can be found in support of the
calumny. On the strength of this monkish gossip we are asked to
believe that Abélard grossly deceived his young wife, and made an
attempt, as ridiculous (if the rumour contained truth) as it was
hypocritical, to deceive the readers of his heart-naked confession.
We are to suppose that ‘the abhorrence of harlots,’ of which he spoke
earlier, entirely disappeared when he found himself united by the
sacred bonds of both religion and love to a noble and devoted wife.
We are to suppose that his apparent detestation and condemnation
of his past conduct was a mere rhetorical artifice to conceal the
foulest and most extraordinary episode in his career from the people
amongst whom he had lived—an artifice, moreover, which would be
utterly inconsistent with his life and character at the time he wrote
the ‘Story.’ It is almost impossible to take such a notion seriously.

Once more, then, we are in a period of waiting for the direction of
events. It came this time in tragic accents that for ever cured the
unfortunate Breton of his listless trust in fate.

Fulbert learned at length that Heloise had been sent to Argenteuil,
and had taken the habit. The canon at once inferred that this was
a preliminary step to a dissolution of the marriage. He would be
unaware that it had been consummated, and would suppose that Abélard
intended to apply to Rome for a dispensation to relieve him of an
apparent embarrassment. He decided on a fearful revenge, which should
at least prevent Abélard from marrying another.

And one early morning, a little later, Paris was in a frenzy of
excitement. Canons, students, and citizens, thronged the streets, and
pressed towards Abélard’s house on St. Genevieve. ‘Almost the entire
city,’ says Fulques, went clamouring towards his house: ‘women wept
as though each one had lost her husband.’ Abélard had been brutally
mutilated during the night. Hirelings of Canon Fulbert had corrupted
his valet, and entered his room whilst he slept. They had perpetrated
an indescribable outrage, such as was not infrequently inflicted in
the quarrels of the Patareni and the Nicolaitæ. In that dark night
the sunshine disappeared for ever from the life of Pierre Abélard.
Henceforth we have to deal with a new man.

It is a pious theory of the autobiographist himself that this
mutilation led indirectly to his ‘conversion.’ There is undoubtedly
much truth in this notion of an indirect occasioning of better
thoughts and of an indirect influence being cast on his mind for
life. Yet we of the later date, holding a truer view of the unity of
human nature, and of the place that sex-influence occupies in its
life, can see that the ‘conversion’ was largely a direct, physical
process. We have, in a very literal sense, another man to deal with

As Abélard lay on the bed of sickness, the conversion gradually
worked onwards towards a critical decision. It is not clear that
the mutilation would prove of itself an impediment to scholastic
honour or ecclesiastical office, but the old life could not be faced
again by one with so little strength and so keen a sensibility. ‘I
pondered on the glory I had won and on the swift chance blow that had
obscured it, nay, wholly extinguished it: on the just judgment of
God by which I had been punished in the member that had sinned: on
the justice of treachery coming from him whom I had myself betrayed:
on the joy of my rivals at such a humiliation: on the endless sorrow
this wound would inflict on my family and my friends: on the speed
with which this deep disgrace would travel through the world. What
path was open to me now? How could I ever walk abroad again, to be
pointed at by every finger, ridiculed by every tongue, a monstrous
spectacle to all?... In such sorry plight as I was, the confusion of
shame rather than a devout conversion impelled me to seek refuge in
the monastery.’

To this natural ‘confusion of shame’ we must look for an explanation
of, not merely the folly, but the cruelty and selfishness, of
Abélard’s proposal. It involved the burial of Heloise in a nunnery.
No one could shrink more feelingly from the unnatural shade of the
cloister than did Heloise, as Abélard must have known, but in his
pain and despair he forgot the elementary dictates of love or of
honour. In any other circumstances the act would be deemed brutal.
Indeed, he wantonly increased the suffering of his young wife by
ordering her to take the vows first. Twenty years afterwards she
plaintively tells him the sorrow he gave her by such a command. ‘God
knows,’ she says, ‘I should not have hesitated, at your command, to
precede or to follow you to hell itself.’ She was ‘profoundly grieved
and ashamed’ at the distrust which seemed to be implied in his
direction. But hers was the love that ‘is stronger than death,’ and
she complied without a murmur, making of her sunny nature one more
victim on the altar of masculine selfishness.

Abélard has left us a dramatic picture of her taking the vows. It
shows clearly that the love which impelled her to such a sacrifice
was not the blind, child-like affection that is wholly merged in the
stronger loved one, but the deep, true love that sees the full extent
of the sacrifice demanded, and accepts it with wide-opened eyes.
At the last moment a little group of friends surrounded her in the
convent-chapel. The veil, blessed by the bishop, lay on the altar
before them, and they were endeavouring to dissuade her from going
forward to take it. She waved them aside—waved aside for the last
time the thought of her child and the vision of a sun-lit earth—and
took the fateful step towards the altar. Then, standing on the spot
where the young nun generally knelt for the final thanksgiving to
God, she recited with the tense fervour of a human prayer the words
of Cornelia in Lucan:

                  ‘O spouse most great,
    O thou whose bed my merit could not share!
    How hath an evil fortune worked this wrong
    On thy dear head? Why hapless did I wed,
    If this the fruit that my affection bore?
    Behold the penalty I now embrace
    For thy sweet sake!’

And, weeping and sobbing, she walked quickly up the steps of the
altar, and covered herself with the veil of the religious profession.



Abélard had now entered upon the series of blunders which were to
make his life a succession of catastrophes. A stronger man would have
retired to Pallet, and remained there until the discussion of his
outrage had abated somewhat; then boldly, and, most probably, with
complete success, have confronted the scholastic world once more,
with his wife for fitting companion, like Manegold of Alsace. In his
distraction and abnormal sense of humiliation, Abélard grasped the
plausible promise of the monastic life. In the second place, he, with
a peculiar blindness, chose the abbey of St. Denis for his home.

The abbey of St. Denis was not only one of the most famous
monasteries in Europe, but also a semi-religious, semi-secular
monarchical institution. It was the last monastery in the world to
provide that quiet seclusion which Abélard sought. It lay about six
miles from Paris, near one of the many bends of the Seine on its
journey to the sea. Dagobert was its royal founder; its church was
built over the alleged bones of the alleged St. Denis the Areopagite,
the patron of France; it was the burial-place of the royal house.
Over its altar hung the oriflamme of St. Denis, the palladium of
the country, which the king came to seek, with solemn rite and
procession, whenever the cry of ‘St. Denis for France’ rang through
the kingdom. Amongst its several hundred monks were the physicians
and the tutors of kings—Prince Louis of France was even then studying
in its school.

Rangeard, in his history of Brittany, says, that at the beginning of
the twelfth century there were more irregular than regular abbeys
in France. Abélard himself writes that ‘nearly all the monasteries’
of his time were worldly. The truth is that few monasteries, beside
those which had been very recently reformed, led a very edifying
life. Hence it is not surprising, when one regards the secular
associations of the place, to find that the Benedictine abbey of St.
Denis was in a very lax condition. Abélard soon discovered that,
as he says, it was an abbey ‘of very worldly and most disgraceful
life.’ The great rhetorician has a weakness for the use of
superlatives, but other witnesses are available. St. Bernard wrote of
it, in his famed, mellifluous manner, that it was certain the monks
gave to Cæsar the things that were Cæsar’s, but doubtful if they gave
to God the things that were God’s. A chronicler of the following
century, Guillaume de Nangis, writes that ‘the monks scarcely
exhibited even the appearance of religion.’

The abbey had not been reformed since 994, so that human nature had
had a considerable period in which to assert itself. The preceding
abbot, Ives I., was accused at Rome of having bought his dignity in a
flagrant manner. The actual abbot, Adam, is said by Abélard to have
been ‘as much worse in manner of life and more notorious than the
rest as he preceded them in dignity.’ It is certainly significant
that the Benedictine historian of the abbey, Dom Félibien, can find
nothing to put to the credit of Adam, in face of Abélard’s charge,
except a certain generosity to the poor. Nor have later apologists
for the angels, de Nangis, Duchesne, etc., been more successful.
Ecclesiastical history only finds consolation in the fact that Adam’s
successor was converted by Bernard in 1127, and at once set about
the reform of the abbey.

When Abélard donned the black tunic of the Benedictine monk in it,
probably in 1119, the royal abbey was at the height of its gay
career. St. Bernard himself gives a bright picture of its life in one
of his letters. He speaks of the soldiers who thronged its cloisters,
the jests and songs that echoed from its vaulted roofs, the women
who contributed to its gaiety occasionally. From frequent passages
in Abélard we learn that the monks often held high festival. It may
be noted that monastic authorities nearly always give occasion to
these festivities, for, even in the severest rules, one always finds
an egg, or some other unwonted luxury, admitted on ‘feast-days.’ It
is the consecration of a principle that no body of men and women
on earth can apply and appreciate better than monks and nuns. The
feasts of St. Denis rivalled those of any château in gay France.
The monks were skilful at mixing wine—it is a well-preserved
monastic tradition—their farmer-vassals supplied food of the best
in abundance, and they hired plenty of conjurors, singers, dancers,
jesters, etc., to aid the task of digestion.

Nor was the daily life too dull and burdensome. Royal councils were
frequently held at the abbey, and one does not need much acquaintance
with monastic life to appreciate that circumstance. Then there
was the school of the abbey, with its kingly and noble pupils—and
corresponding visitors: there was the continual stream of interesting
guests to this wealthiest and most famous of all abbeys: there was
the town of St. Denis, which was so intimately dependent on the
abbey. Above all, there were the country-houses, of which the abbey
had a large number, and from which it obtained a good deal of its
income. Some dying sinner would endeavour to corrupt the Supreme
Judge by handing over a farm or a château, with its cattle, and men
and women, and other commodities of value, to the monks of the great
abbey. These would be turned into snug little ‘cells’ or ‘priories,‘
and important sources of revenue. Sometimes, too, they had to be
fought for in the courts, if not by force of arms. Abélard complains
that ‘we [monks] compel our servants to fight duels for us’: he has
already complained of the frequent presentation to monasteries of
both man and maid servants. In 1111 we find some of the monks of St.
Denis, at the head of a small army, besieging the château of Puiset,
capturing its lieutenant, and casting him into a monastic prison. At
Toury Abbot Adam had his important dependence armed as a fortress,
and made a financial speculation in the opening of a public market.
Rangeard tells us, in addition, that many of the monks were expert in
canon law, and they travelled a good deal, journeying frequently to
Rome in connection with matrimonial and other suits.

But before Abélard turned his attention to the condition of the
abbey, he was long preoccupied with the thought of revenge. Revenge
was a branch virtue of justice in those days, and Abélard duly
demanded the punishment of _talio_. The valet, who had betrayed
him, and one of the mutilators, had been captured, and had lost
their eyes, in addition to suffering the same mutilation as they had
inflicted. But Abélard seems to have been painfully insistent on the
punishment of Fulbert. The matter belonged to the spiritual court,
since Abélard was a cleric, and Bishop Girbert does not seem to have
moved quickly enough for the new monk. Fulbert escaped from Paris,
and all his goods were confiscated, but this did not meet Abélard’s
(and the current) idea of justice. He began to talk of an appeal to

In these circumstances was written the famous letter of Prior
Fulques, to which we have referred more than once. It is a
characteristic piece of mediæval diplomacy. Fulques was the prior of
Deuil, in the valley of Montmorency, a dependency of the abbey of
St. Florent de Saumur. He was apparently requested by the abbot of
St. Denis to persuade Abélard to let the matter rest. At all events,
he begins his letter with a rhetorical description of Abélard’s
success as a teacher, depicting Britons and Italians and Spaniards
braving the terrors of the sea, the Alps, and the Pyrenees, under the
fascination of Abélard’s repute. Then, with a view to dissuading him
from the threatened appeal to Rome, he reminds him of his destitution
and of the notorious avarice of Rome. There is no reason why we
should hesitate to accept Fulques’s assertion that Abélard had no
wealth to offer the abbey when he entered it. If, as seems to be the
more correct proceeding, we follow the opinion that he spent the
interval between the first withdrawal of Heloise and the marriage
with her at Pallet, he cannot have earned much during the preceding
two or three years. He was hardly likely to be a provident and
economical person. Most of whatever money he earned, after he first
began to serve up stale dishes to his students in the absorption
of his passion, would probably pass into the coffers of Fulbert
or, later, of the nunnery at Argenteuil. There is no need whatever
to entertain theories of licentiousness from that ground. We have,
moreover, already sufficiently discussed that portion of Fulques’s

But the second part of the prior’s argument, the avarice of
Rome, requires a word of comment. It is characteristic of the
ecclesiastical historian that in Migne’s version of Fulques’s
letter the indictment of Abélard is given without comment, and the
indictment of Rome is unblushingly omitted. It might be retorted that
such historians as Deutsch and Hausrath insert the indictment against
Rome, and make a thousand apologies for inserting the charge against
Abélard. The retort would be entirely without sting, since a mass
of independent evidence sustains the one charge, whilst the other
is at variance with evidence. The passage omitted in Migne, which
refers to Abélard’s proposal to appeal to Rome, runs as follows. ‘O
pitiful and wholly useless proposal! Hast thou never heard of the
avarice and the impurity of Rome? Who is wealthy enough to satisfy
that devouring whirlpool of harlotry? Who would ever be able to fill
their avaricious purses? Thy resources are entirely insufficient for
a visit to the Roman Pontiff.... For all those who have approached
that see in our time without a weight of gold have lost their cause,
and have returned in confusion and disgrace.’

Let us, in justice, make some allowance for the exigency of diplomacy
and the purposes of rhetoric; the substance of the charge is
abundantly supported by other passages in Migne’s own columns. For
instance, Abbot Suger, in his _Vita Ludovici Grossi_, says of his
departure from Rome after a certain mission, ‘evading the avarice
of the Romans we took our leave.’ The same abbot speaks of their
astonishment at St. Denis when Paschal II. visited the abbey in 1106:
‘contrary to the custom of the Romans, he not only expressed no
affection for the gold, silver, and precious pearls of the monastery
(about which much fear had been entertained),’ but did not even
look at them. It may be noted, without prejudice, that Paschal was
seeking the sympathy and aid of France in his quarrel with Germany.
In the apology of Berengarius, which is also found in Migne, there is
mention of ‘a Roman who had learned to love gold, rather than God,
in the Roman curia.’ Bernard of Cluny, a more respectable witness,
tersely informs us that ‘Rome gives to every one who gives Rome all
he has.’ Matthew of Paris is equally uncomplimentary. We have spoken
already of the licentious young Étienne de Garlande and his proposal
of going to Rome to buy the curia’s consent to his installation in a
bishopric; also of the rumour that Pope Paschal disapproved, out of
avarice, the censure passed on the adulterous king. Duboulai, after
giving Fulques’s letter, is content to say that the pope feared too
great an interference with the officials of the curia on account of
the papal schism.

Whether the letter of the monastic diplomatist had any weight with
Abélard or no, it seems that he did desist from his plan, and
laid aside all thought of Fulbert. But the unfortunate monk soon
discovered the disastrous error he had made in seeking peace at
the abbey of St. Denis. There had, in fact, been a serious mistake
on both sides. The monks welcomed one whom they only knew as a
lively, witty, interesting associate, a master of renown, a poet and
musician of merit. A new attraction would accrue to their abbey,
a new distraction to their own life, by the admission of Abélard.
The diversion of the stream of scholars from Paris to St. Denis
would bring increased colour, animation, and wealth. The erudite
troubadour and brilliant scholar would be an excellent companion in
the refectory, when the silent meal was over, and the wine invited

They were rudely awakened to their error when Abélard began to lash
them with mordant irony for their ‘intolerable uncleanness.’ They
found that the love-inspired songster was dead. They had introduced a
kind of Bernard of Clairvaux, a man of wormwood valleys, into their
happy abbey: a morose, ascetic, sternly consistent monk, who poured
bitter scorn on the strong wines and pretty maids, the high festivals
and pleasant excursions, with which the brothers smoothed the rough
path to Paradise. And when the gay Latin Quarter transferred itself
to St. Denis, and clamoured for the brilliant master, Abélard utterly
refused to teach. Abbot Adam gently remonstrated with his ‘subject,’
pointing out that he ought now to do more willingly for the honour
of God and the sake of his brothers in religion what he had formerly
done out of worldly and selfish interest. Whereupon Abbot Adam was
urgently reminded of a few truths, nearly concerning himself and
‘the brothers,’ which, if not new to his conscience, were at least
novel to his ears.

So things dragged on for a while, but Adam was forced at length to
rid the monastery of the troublesome monk. Finding a pretext in
the importunity of the students, he sent Abélard down the country
to erect his chair in one of the dependencies of the abbey. These
country-houses have already been mentioned. Large estates were left
to the abbey in various parts of the country. Monks had to be sent
to these occasionally, to collect the revenue from the farmers and
millers, and, partly for their own convenience, partly so that
they might return something in spiritual service to the district,
they built ‘cells’ or ‘oratories’ on the estates. Frequently the
cell became a priory; not infrequently it rebelled against the
mother-house; nearly always, as is the experience of the monastic
orders at the present day, it was a source of relaxation and decay.

The precise locality of the ‘cell’ which was entrusted to Brother
Peter is matter of dispute, and the question need not delay us. It
was somewhere on the estates of Count Theobald of Champagne, and
therefore not very far from Paris. Here Abélard consented to resume
his public lectures, and ‘gathered his horde of barbarians about him’
once more, in the jealous phrase of Canon Roscelin.

Otto von Freising relates that Abélard had now become ‘more subtle
and more learned than ever.’ There is no reason to doubt that he
continued to advance in purely intellectual power, but it seems
inevitable that he must have lost much of the brightness and charm
of his earlier manner. Yet his power and his fascination were as
great as ever. Maisoncelle, or whatever village it was, was soon
transformed into the intellectual centre of France. It is said
by some historians that three thousand students descended upon
the village, like a bewildering swarm of locusts. Abélard says
the concourse was so great that ‘the district could find neither
hospitality nor food’ for the students. One need not evolve from
that an army of several thousand admirers, but it seems clear that
there was a second remarkable gathering of students from all parts
of Christendom. There was no teacher of ability to succeed him at
Paris; he was still the most eminent master in Europe. Even if he had
lost a little of the sparkle of his sunny years, no other master
had ever possessed it. Indeed, it is not audacious to think that the
renewal of his early success and the sweetness of life in lovely
Champagne may have in time quickened again such forces and graces of
his character as had not been physically eradicated. He began to see
a fresh potentiality of joy in life.

Unfortunately for Abélard, his perverse destiny had sent him down to
the neighbourhood of Rheims. It will be remembered that Anselm of
Laon was urged to suppress Abélard’s early theological efforts by
two of his fellow-pupils, Alberic of Rheims and Lotulphe of Novare.
Alberic appears to have been a man of ability, and he had been made
archdeacon of the cathedral, and head of the episcopal school, at
Rheims. He had associated Lotulphe with himself in the direction of
the schools, and they were teaching with great success when Abélard
appeared on the near horizon. Anselm of Laon and William of Champeaux
had gone, and the two friends were eager to earn the title of their
successors. The apparent extinction of Master Abélard had largely
increased their prestige, and had filled the school of Rheims.
Indeed, we gather from the details of a ‘town and gown’ fight which
occurred at Rheims about this time that the students had almost come
to outnumber the citizens.

Hence it is not surprising that Abélard’s newfound peace was soon
disturbed by rumours of the lodging of complaints against him in
high quarters. The Archbishop of Rheims, Ralph the Green, began to
be assailed with charges. In the first place, he was reminded, it
was uncanonical for a monk to give lectures, and take up a permanent
residence, outside his monastery; moreover, the said monk was most
unmonastically engaged in reading Aristotle, with a flavour of
Vergil, Ovid, and Lucan. Raoul le Vert probably knew enough about
St. Denis not to attempt to force Abélard to return to it. Then the
grumblers—‘chiefly those two early intriguers,’ says the victim—urged
that Abélard was teaching without a ‘respondent’; but the archbishop
still found the pretext inadequate. Then, at length, came the second
great cloud, the accusation of heresy.

The convert had now made theology his chief object of study. The
students who gathered about him in his village priory loudly
demanded a resumption of the lectures on dialectics and rhetoric,
but Abélard had really passed to a new and wholly religious outlook.
He complied with the request, only with a secret intention that, as
he states in the ‘Story,’ philosophy should be used as a bait in the
interest of divinity. The religious welfare of his followers now
seriously concerned him. It will be seen presently that he exercised
a strict control over their morals, and it was from the purest of
motives that he endeavoured, by a pious diplomacy, to direct their
thoughts to the study of Holy Writ. His rivals and enemies have
attempted to censure him for this casting of pearls before swine.
Certainly there were dangers accompanying the practice, but these
were not confined to Abélard’s school. We can easily conceive the
disadvantage of discussing the question, for instance, _utrum Maria
senserit dolorem vel delectationem in Christo concipiendo_? before a
crowd of twelfth century students. However, Abélard’s attitude was
wholly reverent, and his intention as pure as that of St. Anselm.

The one characteristic feature of Abélard’s theological work—the
feature which was constantly seized by his enemies, and which invests
him with so great an interest for the modern student—was his concern
to conciliate human reason. His predecessors had complacently
affirmed that reason had no title to respect in matters of faith.
They insulted it with such pious absurdities as ‘I believe in order
that I may understand’ and ‘Faith goeth before understanding.’
Abélard remained until his last hour constitutionally incapable
of adopting that attitude. He frequently attributes his obvious
concern to meet the questioning of reason to the desire of helping
his followers. This is partly a faithful interpretation of their
thoughts—for which, however, he himself was chiefly responsible—and
partly a subtle projection of his own frame of mind into his
hearers. The development of the reasoning faculty which was involved
in so keen a study of dialectics was bound to find expression in

Abélard seems already to have written two works of a very remarkable
character for his age. One of these is entitled _A Dialogue between
a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian_. It may have been founded
on the _Octavius_ of Minucius Felix; on the other hand it may be
classed with Lessing’s _Nathan_. It has been called ‘the most radical
expression of his rationalism,’ and it would certainly seem to
embody his attitude during the period of his highest prosperity. The
ultimate victory lies with the Christian, so far as the work goes
(it is unfinished), but incidentally it shows more than one bold
departure from traditional formulæ. Abélard’s reluctance to consign
all the heathen philosophers to Tartarus would be highly suspect
to his pious contemporaries. It is a matter of faith in the Roman
Catholic Church to-day that no man shall enter heaven who has not a
belief in a personal God, at least; many theologians add the narrower
qualification of a literal acceptance of the Trinity. But Abélard
tempered his audacity by proving that his favourite heathens _had_
this qualification of a knowledge of the Trinity, probably under the
inspiration of St Augustine.

The _Dialogue_ was not much assailed by his rivals; probably it
was not widely circulated. It is, however, an important monument
of Abélard’s genius. It anticipated not merely the rationalistic
attitude of modern theology, but also quite a number of the
modifications of traditional belief which modern rational and
ethical criticism has imposed. Abélard regards the ethical content
of Christianity, and finds that it is only the elaboration or the
reformation of the natural law, the true essence of religion. God has
given this essential gift in every conscience and in every religion;
there are no outcasts from the plan of salvation; the higher
excellence of the Christian religion lies in its clearer formulation
of the law of life. The popular notions of heaven and hell and
deity are travesties of true Christian teaching. God, as a purely
spiritual being, is the supreme good, and heaven is an approach to
Him by obedience; hell, isolation from Him. When we remember that
Abélard had before him only the works of the fathers and such recent
speculations as those of Anselm, we shall surely recognise the action
of a mind of the highest order in these debates.

The second work was not less remarkable. It was a collection of
sentences from the fathers on points of dogma. So far the compilation
would be an admirable one, but apart from the growing accusation that
Abélard was wanting in reverence for the authority of the fathers,
there was the suspicious circumstance that he had grouped these
eighteen hundred texts in contradictory columns. Thus one hundred and
fifty-eight questions are put by the compiler, relating to God, the
Trinity, the Redemption, the Sacraments, and so forth. The quotations
from the fathers are then arranged in two parallel columns, one
half giving an affirmative, and the rest a negative, answer to the
question. Such a work would be perfectly intelligible if it came from
the pen of a modern freethinker. Abélard’s _Sic et Non_ (Yes and No),
as the work came to be called, has borne many interpretations. Such
careful and impartial students of Abélard’s work as Deutsch pronounce
the critical element in it to be ‘constructive, not sceptical.’
Most probably it was the intention of the compiler to shatter the
excessive regard of his contemporaries for the words of the fathers,
and thus to open the way for independent speculation on the deposit
of revelation (to which he thought he had as much right as Jerome or
Augustine), by making a striking exhibition of their fallibility.

Neither of these works seems to have fallen into the hands of
Alberic. Twenty years afterwards we find a theologian complaining
of the difficulty of obtaining some of Abélard’s works, which had
been kept secret. He probably refers to one or both of these works.
However that may be, Abélard wrote a third book during his stay at
Maisoncelle, and on this the charge of heresy was fixed.

Wiser than the Church of those days, and anticipating the wisdom of
the modern Church of Rome, Abélard saw the great danger to the faith
itself of the Anselmian maxim, _Fides praecedit intellectum_. He
argued that, as the world had somehow outlived the age of miracles,
God must have intended rational evidence to take its place. In any
case, there was an increasingly large class of youths and men who
clamoured for ‘human and philosophic grounds,’ as he puts it, who
would lie to their consciences if they submitted to the current
pietism. Abélard believed he would render valuable service to the
Church if he could devise rational proofs, or at least analogies,
of its dogmas. It was in this frame of mind, not in a spirit of
destructive scepticism, that he raised the standard of rationalism.
He at once applied his force to the most preterrational of dogmas,
and wrote his famous _Treatise on the Unity and Trinity of God_.

A manuscript of the treatise was discovered by Stölzle a few years
ago. It is unnecessary to inflict on the reader an analysis of the
work. It is perfectly sincere and religious in intention, but, like
every book that has ever been penned on the subject of the Trinity,
it contains illustrations which can be proved to be heretical. We may
discuss the point further apropos of the Council of Soissons.



The swiftly multiplying charges seem to have impaired Abélard’s
health. He became much more sensitive to the accusation of heresy
than the mere injustice of it can explain. We have an evidence of
his morbid state at this period in a letter he wrote to the Bishop
of Paris. The letter must not be regarded as a normal indication of
the writer’s character, but, like the letter of Canon Roscelin which
it elicited, it is not a little instructive about the age in which
the writers lived. There are hypercritical writers who question the
correctness of attributing these letters to Abélard and Roscelin, but
the details they contain refer so clearly to the two masters that
any doubt about their origin is, as Deutsch says, ‘frivolous and of
no account’; he adds that we should be only too glad, for the sake
of the writers, if there were some firm ground for contesting their

A pupil of Abélard’s, coming down from Paris, brought him word
that Roscelin had lodged an accusation of heresy against him with
the bishop. As a monk of St. Denis, Abélard still belonged to
Bishop Girbert’s jurisdiction. Roscelin had himself been condemned
for heresy on the Trinity at Soissons in 1092, but his was an
accommodating rationalism; he was now an important member of the
chapter of St. Martin at Tours. Report stated that he had discovered
heresy in Abélard’s new work, and was awaiting the return of Girbert
to Paris in order to submit it to him. Abélard immediately grasped
the pen, and forwarded to Girbert a letter which is a sad exhibition
of ‘nerves.’ ‘I have heard,’ he says, after an ornate salutation of
the bishop and his clergy, ‘that that ever inflated and long-standing
enemy of the Catholic faith, whose manner of life and teaching are
notorious, and whose detestable heresy was proved by the fathers of
the Council of Soissons, and punished with exile, has vomited forth
many calumnies and threats against me, on account of the work I have
written, which was chiefly directed against his heresy.’ And so the
violent and exaggerated account of Roscelin’s misdeeds continues.
The practical point of the epistle is that Abélard requests the
bishop to appoint a place and time for him to meet Roscelin face
to face and defend his work. The whole letter is marred by nervous
passion of the most pitiful kind. It terminates with a ridiculous,
but characteristic, dialectical thrust at the nominalist: ‘in that
passage of Scripture where the Lord is said to have eaten a bit of
broiled fish, he [Roscelin] is compelled to say that Christ ate, not
a part of the reality, but a part of the term “broiled fish.”’

Roscelin replied directly to Abélard, besides writing to Girbert.
The letter is no less characteristic of the time, though probably an
equally unsafe indication of the character of the writer. ‘If,’ it
begins, in the gentle manner of the time, ‘you had tasted a little of
that sweetness of the Christian religion which you profess by your
habit, you would not, unmindful of your order and your profession,
and forgetful of the countless benefits you received from my teaching
from your childhood to youth, have so far indulged in words of
malice against me as to disturb the brethren’s peace with the sword
of the tongue, and to contemn our Saviour’s most salutary and easy
commands.’ He accepts, with an equally edifying humility, Abélard’s
fierce denunciation: ‘I see myself in your words as in a mirror. Yet
God is powerful to raise up out of the very stones,’ etc. But he
cannot long sustain the unnatural tone, and he suddenly collapses
into depths of mediæval Latin, which for filth and indecency rival
the lowest productions of Billingsgate. The venerable canon returns
again and again, in the course of his long letter, to Abélard’s
mutilation, and with the art of a Terence or a Plautus. As to the
proposed debate, he is only too eager for it. If Abélard attempts
to shirk it at the last moment, he ‘will follow him all over the
world.’ He finally dies away in an outburst of childish rage which
beats Abélard’s peroration. He will not continue any longer because
it occurs to him that Abélard is, by the strictest force of logic, a
nonentity. He is not a monk, for he is giving lessons; he is not a
cleric, for he has parted with the soutane; he is not a layman, for
he has the tonsure; he is not even the Peter he signs himself, for
Peter is a masculine name.

These were the two ablest thinkers of Christendom at the time.
Fortunately for both, the battle royal of the dialecticians did not
take place. Possibly Roscelin had not lodged the rumoured complaint
at all. In any case Girbert was spared a painful and pitiful scene.

A short time afterwards, however, Alberic and Lotulphe found an
excellent opportunity to take action. Some time in the year 1121
a papal legate, Conon, Bishop of Praeneste, came to Rheims. Conon
had been travelling in France for some years as papal legate, and
since it was the policy of Rome to conciliate France, in view of
the hostility of Germany, the legate had a general mission to make
himself as useful and obliging as possible. Archbishop Ralph, for his
part, would find it a convenient means of gratifying his teachers,
without incurring much personal responsibility. The outcome of their
conferences was, therefore, that Abélard received from the legate a
polite invitation to appear at a provincial synod, or council, which
was to be held at Soissons, and to bring with him his ‘celebrated
work on the Trinity.’ The simple monk was delighted at the apparent
opportunity of vindicating his orthodoxy. It was his first trial for

When the time drew near for what Abélard afterwards called ‘their
conventicle,’ he set out for Soissons with a small band of friends,
who were to witness the chastisement of Alberic and Lotulphe. But
those astute masters had not so naïve a view of the function of a
council. Like St. Bernard, with whom, indeed, they were already in
correspondence, they relied largely on that art of ecclesiastical
diplomacy which is the only visible embodiment of the Church’s
supernatural power. Moreover, they had the curious ecclesiastical
habit of deciding that an end—in this case, the condemnation of
Abélard—was desirable, and then piously disregarding the moral
quality of the means necessary to attain it. How far the two masters
had arranged all the conditions of the council we cannot say, but
these certainly favoured their plans.

Soissons, to begin with, was excellently suited for the holding
of a council which was to condemn, rather than investigate. Its
inhabitants would remember the sentence passed on Roscelin for a
like offence. In fact Longueval says, in his _Histoire de l’Église
Gallicane_, that the people of Soissons were religious fanatics as a
body, and had of their own impulse burned, or ‘lynched,’ a man who
was suspected of Manichæism, only a few years previously. Alberic and
Lotulphe had taken care to revive this pious instinct, by spreading
amongst the people the information that ‘the foreign monk,’ ‘the
eunuch of St. Denis,’ who was coming to the town to be tried, had
openly taught the error of tri-theism. The consequence was that when
the Benedictine monk appeared in the streets with his few admirers,
he had a narrow escape of being stoned to death by the excited
citizens. It was a rude shock to his dream of a great dialectical

On one point, however, Abélard’s simple honesty hit upon a correct
measure. He went straight to Bishop Conon with his work, and
submitted it for the legate’s perusal and personal judgment. The
politician was embarrassed. He knew nothing whatever about theology,
and would lose his way immediately in Abélard’s subtle analogies.
However, he bade Abélard take the book to the archbishop and the two
masters. They in turn fumbled it in silence, Abélard says, and at
length told him that judgment would be passed on it at the end of the

Meantime Abélard had succeeded in correcting, to some extent, the
inspired prejudice of the townsfolk. Every day he spoke and disputed
in the streets and churches, before the council sat, and he tells us
that he seemed to make an impression on his hearers. Alberic, in
fact, came one day with a number of his pupils for the purpose of
modifying his rival’s success; though he hurriedly retreated when
it was shown that his specially prepared difficulty had no force.
Premising ‘a few polite phrases,’ he pointed out that Abélard had
denied that God generated himself in the Trinity; for this statement,
he carefully explained, he did not ask reasons, but an authority.
Abélard promptly turned over the page, and pointed to a quotation
from St. Augustine. It was a swift and complete victory. But Abélard
must needs improve on it by accusing his accuser of heresy, and
Alberic departed ‘like one demented with rage.’ Priests and people
were now openly asking whether the council had discovered the error
to lie with itself rather than with Abélard. They came to the last
day of the council.

Before the formal opening of the last session, the legate invited
the chief actors in the comedy (except Abélard) to a private
discussion of the situation. Conon’s position and attitude were
purely political. He cared little about their dialectical subtleties;
was, in fact, quite incompetent to decide questions of personality,
modality, and all the rest. Still it was mainly a minor political
situation he had to deal with, and he shows an eagerness to get
through it with as little moral damage as possible. Ralph the Green,
president of the council, knew no more than Conon about theology;
he also regarded it as a political dilemma, and the prestige of
his school would gain by the extinction of Abélard. Ralph had nine
suffragan bishops, but only one of these is proved to have taken part
in the ‘conventicle.’ It was Lisiard de Crespy, Bishop of Soissons,
who would support his metropolitan. Joscelin, an earlier rival of
Abélard, was teaching in Soissons at that time, and would most
probably accompany his bishop. Abbot Adam of St. Denis was present;
so were Alberic and Lotulphe. One man of a more worthy type sat with
them, an awkward and embarrassing spokesman of truth and justice,
Geoffroi, Bishop of Chartres, one of the most influential and most
honourable members of the French episcopacy.

Conon at once shrewdly introduced the formal question, what heresy
had been discovered in Abélard’s book? After his ill-success in
the street-discussion, Alberic seems to have hesitated to quote
any definite passage in the work. Indeed, we not only have two
contradictory charges given, but the texts which seem to have
been used in this council to prove the charge of tri-theism were
quoted by the Council of Sens in 1141 in proof of an accusation of
Sabellianism. Otto von Freising says that Abélard held the three
divine persons to be modifications of one essence (the Anselmists
claiming that the three were _realities_); Abélard himself says he
was accused of tri-theism. Every ‘analogy’ that has been found in
the natural world for the dogma of the Trinity, from the shamrock
of St. Patrick to the triangle of Père Lacordaire, exposes its
discoverer to one or other of those charges—for an obvious reason.
After the death of Dr. Dale I remember seeing a passage quoted by
one of his panegyrists in illustration of his singularly sound and
clear presentation of dogma: it was much more Sabellian than anything
Abélard ever wrote.

However, the explicit demand of the legate for a specimen of
Abélard’s heresy was embarrassing. Nothing could be discovered in
the book to which Abélard could not have assigned a parallel in
the fathers. And when Alberic began to extort heresy by ingenious
interpretation Geoffroi de Lèves reminded them of the elementary
rules of justice. In the formal proceedings of a trial for heresy no
one was condemned unheard. If they were to anticipate the trial by
an informal decision, the requirement of justice was equally urgent.
They must give the accused an opportunity of defending himself. That
was the one course which Alberic dreaded most of all, and he so
well urged the magical power of Abélard’s tongue that the bishop’s
proposal was rejected. Geoffroi then complained of the smallness of
the council, and the injustice of leaving so grave and delicate a
decision to a few prelates. Let Abélard be given into the care of
his abbot, who should take him back to St. Denis and have him judged
by an assembly of expert theologians. The legate liked the idea. The
Rheims people regarded it, for the moment, as an effective removal of
Abélard from their neighbourhood. The proposal was agreed to, and the
legate then proceeded to say the Mass of the Holy Ghost.

Meantime Archbishop Ralph informed Abélard of the decision.
Unsatisfactory as the delay was, he must have been grateful for an
escape from the power of Rheims. He turned indifferently from the
further session of the council. Unfortunately another conference was
even then taking place between Alberic, Ralph, and Conon; and Abélard
was presently summoned to bring his book before the council.

Alberic and Lotulphe were, on reflection, dissatisfied with the
result. Their influence would have no weight in a trial at Paris,
and their ambition required the sacrifice of the famous master. They
therefore went to the archbishop with a complaint that people would
take it to be a confession of incompetency if he allowed the case
to go before another court. The three approached the legate again,
and now reminded him that Abélard’s work was published without
episcopal permission, and could justly be condemned on that ground.
As ignorant of canon law as he was of theology, and seeing the
apparent friendlessness of Abélard, and therefore the security of a
condemnation, Conon agreed to their proposal.

Abélard had long looked forward to the hour of his appearance
before the Council. It was to be an hour of supreme triumph. The
papal legate and the archbishop in their resplendent robes in the
sanctuary; the circle of bishops and abbots and canons; the crowd
of priests, theologians, masters, and clerics; the solemn pulpit
of the cathedral church, from which he should make his highest
effort of dialectics and oratory; the scattered rivals, and the
triumphant return to his pupils. He had rehearsed it daily for a
month or more. But the sad, heart-rending reality of his appearance!
He was brought in, condemned. He stood in the midst of the thronged
cathedral, with the brand of heresy on his brow, he, the intellectual
and moral master of them all. A fire was kindled there before the
Council. There was no need for Geoffrey of Chartres to come, the
tears coursing down his cheeks, to tell him his book was judged and
condemned. Quietly, but with a fierce accusation of God Himself in
his broken heart, as he afterwards said, he cast his treasured work
in the flames.

Even in that awful moment the spirit of comedy must needs assert
its mocking presence; or is it only part of the tragedy? Whilst the
yellow parchment crackled in the flames, some one who stood by the
legate muttered that one passage in it said that God the Father
alone was omnipotent. Soulless politician as he was, the ignorant
legate fastened on the charge as a confirmation of the justice of his
sentence. ‘I could scarcely believe that even a child would fall
into such an error,’ said the brute, with an affectation of academic
dignity. ‘And yet,’ a sarcastic voice fell on his ear, quoting the
Athanasian Creed, ‘and yet there are not Three omnipotent, but One.’
The bold speaker was Tirric, the Breton scholastic, who, as we
have seen, probably instructed Abélard in mathematics. His bishop
immediately began to censure him for his neat exhibition of the
legate’s ignorance, but the teacher was determined to express his
disgust at the proceedings. ‘You have condemned a child of Israel,’
he cried, lashing the ‘conventicle’ with the scornful words of
Daniel, ‘without inquiry or certainty. Return ye to the judgment
seat, and judge the judges.’

The archbishop then stepped forward to put an end to the confusion.
‘It is well,’ he said, making a tardy concession to conscience,
‘that the brother have an opportunity of defending his faith before
us all.’ Abélard gladly prepared to do so, but Alberic and Lotulphe
once more opposed the idea. No further discussion was needed, they
urged. The council had finished its work; Abélard’s errors had been
detected and corrected. If it were advisable to have a profession of
faith from Brother Peter, let him recite the Athanasian Creed. And
lest Abélard should object that he did not know the Creed by heart,
they produced a copy of it. The politic prelates were easily induced
to take their view. In point of fact the archbishop’s proposal was a
bare compliance with the canons. Abélard’s book had been condemned
on the ground that it had been issued without authorisation; nothing
had been determined as to the legitimacy of its contents. The canons
still demanded that he should be heard before he was sent out into
the world with an insidious stigma of heresy.

But charity and justice had no part in that pitiful conventicle.
Archbishop and legate thought it politic to follow the ruling of
Alberic to the end, and the parchment was handed to Abélard. And
priest and prelate, monk and abbot, shamelessly stood around, whilst
the greatest genius of the age, devoted to religion in every gift of
his soul, as each one knew, faltered out the familiar symbol. ‘Good
Jesus, where wert thou?’ Abélard asks, long years afterwards. There
are many who ask it to-day.

So ended the holy Council of Soissons, Provincial Synod of the
arch-diocese of Rheims, held under the ægis of a papal legate, in
the year of grace 1121. Its _acta_ are not found in Richard, or
Labbé, or Hefele: they ‘have not been preserved.’ There is an earlier
ecclesiastical council that earned the title of the _latrocinium_
(‘rogues’ council’), and we must not plagiarise. Ingenious and
audacious as the apologetic historian is, he has not attempted
to defend the Council of Soissons. But his condemnation of it is
mildness itself compared with his condemnation of Abélard.

For a crowning humiliation Abélard was consigned by the council to a
large monastery near Soissons, which served as jail or penitentiary
for that ecclesiastical province. The abbot of this monastery,
Geoffrey of the Stag’s-neck, had assisted at the council, and
Dom Gervaise would have it that he had secured Abélard for his
own purposes. He thinks the abbot was looking to the great legal
advantage, in the frequent event of a lawsuit, of having such an
orator as Abélard in his monastery. It is a possibility, like
many other details in Gervaise’s _Life of Abélard_. In forbidding
his return either to Maisoncelle or to St. Denis, and definitely
consigning him to the abbey of St. Médard, the council was once
more treating him as a legally convicted heretic. As far as it was
concerned, it was filling the chalice of the poor monk’s bitterness.
It is a mere accident that Geoffrey was a man of some culture, and
was so far influenced by the hideous spectacle he had witnessed as to
receive Brother Peter with sympathy and some honour.



The abbey of St. Médard, to which Abélard accompanied his friendly
jailer, was a very large monastery on the right bank of the Aisne,
just outside Soissons. At that time it had a community of about
four hundred monks. It derived a considerable revenue from its two
hundred and twenty farms, yet it bore so high a repute for regular
discipline that it had become a general ‘reformatory school’ for
the district. ‘To it were sent the ignorant to be instructed, the
depraved to be corrected, the obstinate to be tamed,’ says a work of
the time; though it is not clear how Herr Hausrath infers from this
that the abbey also served the purpose of monastic asylum. For this
character of penitentiary the place was chosen for the confinement
of Abélard. Thither he retired to meditate on the joy and the wisdom
of ‘conversion.’ ‘God! How furiously did I accuse Thee!’ he says of
those days. The earlier wound had been preceded, he admits, by his
sin; this far deeper and more painful wound had been brought upon him
by his ‘love of our faith.’

Whether Abbot Geoffrey thought Abélard an acquisition or no, there
was one man in authority at St. Médard who rejoiced with a holy joy
at his advent. This was no other than Abélard’s earlier acquaintance,
St. Goswin. The zealous student had become a monastic reformer, and
had recently been appointed Prior[18] of St. Médard. In the recently
reformed abbey, with a daily arrival of ‘obstinate monks to be
trained,’ and a convenient and well-appointed ascetical armoury or
whipping-room, the young saint was in a congenial element. Great was
his interest when ‘Pope Innocent,’[19] as his biographers say, ‘sent
Abélard to be confined in the abbey, and, like an untamed rhinoceros,
to be caught in the bonds of discipline.’ Abélard was not long in the
abbey before the tamer approached this special task that Providence
had set him. We can imagine Abélard’s feelings when the obtuse monk
took him aside, and exhorted him ‘not to think it a misfortune or an
injury that he had been sent there; he was not so much confined in a
prison, as protected from the storms of the world.’ He had only to
live piously, and set a good example, and all would be well. Abélard
was in no mood to see the humour of the situation. He peevishly
retorted that ‘there were a good many who talked about piety and did
not know what piety was.’ Then the prior, say his biographers, saw
that it was not a case for leniency, but for drastic measures. ‘Quite
true,’ he replied, ‘there are many who talk about piety, and do not
know what it is. But if we find you saying or doing anything that is
not pious, we shall show you that we know how to treat its contrary,
at all events.’ The saint prevailed once more—in the biography: ‘the
rhinoceros was cowed, and became very quiet, more patient under
discipline, more fearful of the lash, and of a saner and less raving

  [18] A prior is the second in command in an abbey, or the head of
  a priory; a priory was a small branch monastery, in those days,
  though it may now, as with the Dominicans, be a chief house.

  [19] This is erroneous; Calixtus II. filled the papal chair at
  the time.

Fortunately, the boorish saint had a cultured abbot, one at least who
did not hold genius to be a diabolical gift, and whose judgment of
character was not wholly vitiated by the crude mystic and monastic
ideal of the good people of the period. The abbot seems to have
saved Abélard from the zeal of the prior, and possibly he found
companionable souls amongst the four hundred monks of the great
abbey, some of whom were nobles by birth. We know, at all events,
that in the later period he looked back on the few months spent at
St. Médard with a kindly feeling.

His imprisonment did not last long. When the proceedings of the
council were made known throughout the kingdom, there was a strong
outburst of indignation. It must not be supposed that the Council
of Soissons illustrates or embodies the spirit of the period or the
spirit of the Church; this feature we shall more nearly find in the
Council of Sens, in 1141. The conventicle had, in truth, revealed
some of the evils of the time: the danger of the Church’s excessively
political attitude and administration, the brutality of the spirit
it engendered with regard to heresy, the fatal predominance of dogma
over ethic. But, in the main, the conventicle exhibits the hideous
triumph of a few perverse individuals, who availed themselves of all
that was crude and ill-advised in the machinery of the Church. When,
therefore, such men as Tirric, and Geoffrey of Chartres, and Geoffrey
of the Stag’s-neck, spread their story abroad, there were few who did
not sympathise with Abélard. The persecutors soon found it necessary
to defend themselves; there was a chaos of mutual incriminations.
Even Alberic and Lotulphe tried to cast the blame on others. The
legate found it expedient to attribute the whole proceeding openly to
‘French malice.’ He had been ‘compelled for a time to humour their
spleen,’ as Abélard puts it, but he presently revoked the order of
confinement in St. Médard, and gave Abélard permission to return to
St. Denis.

It was a question of Scylla or Charybdis, of Prior Goswin or Abbot
Adam. The legate seems to have acted in good faith in granting the
permission—perhaps we should say in good policy, for he again acted
out of discreet regard for circumstances; but when we find Abélard
availing himself of what was no more than a permission to return
to St. Denis we have a sufficient indication of the quality of his
experience at St. Médard. He does indeed remark that the monks of the
reformed abbey had been friendly towards him, though this is inspired
by an obvious comparison with his later experience at St. Denis. But
St. Médard was a prison; that sufficed to turn the scale. A removal
from the penitentiary would be equivalent, in the eyes of France, to
a revocation of the censure passed on him. So with a heart that was
hopelessly drear, not knowing whether to smile or weep, he went back,
poor sport of the gods as he was, to the royal abbey.

For a few months Brother Peter struggled bravely with the hard task
the fates had set him. He was probably wise enough to refrain from
inveighing, in season and out of season, against the ‘intolerable
uncleanness’ of Adam and his monks. Possibly he nursed a hope—or was
nursed by a hope—of having another ‘cell’ entrusted to his charge. In
spite of the irregularity of the abbey, formal religious exercises
were extensively practised. All day and night the chant of the
breviary was heard in the monastic chapel. There was also a large
and busy _scriptorium_; the _archivium_ of the ancient abbey was a
treasury of interesting old documents; and there was a relatively
good library. It was in the latter that Brother Peter found his next
adventure, and one that threatened to be the most serious of all.

Seeing the present futility of his theological plans, he had turned
to the study of history. There was a copy of Bede’s _History of
the Apostles_ in the library, and he says that he one day, ‘by
chance,’ came upon the passage in which Bede deals with St. Denis.
The Anglo-Saxon historian would not admit the French tradition about
St. Denis. He granted the existence of a St. Denis, but said that
he had been Bishop of Corinth, not of Athens. The legend about the
martyrdom of Denis the Areopagite, with his companions Rusticus and
Eleutherius, at Paris in the first century, is now almost universally
rejected by Roman Catholic historians, not to mention others. It is,
however, still enshrined with honour in that interesting compendium
of myths of the Christian era, the Roman breviary, and is read with
religious solemnity by every priest and every monastic choir in the
Catholic world on the annual festival.

However, the abbey of St. Denis, the monastery that owed all
its wealth and repute to its possession of the bones of ‘the
Areopagite,’ was the last place in the world in which to commence
a rationalistic attack on the legend. With his usual want of tact
and foresight Brother Peter showed the passage in Bede to some of
his fellow-monks, ‘in joke,’ he says; he might as well have cut the
abbot’s throat, or destroyed the wine-cellar ‘in joke.’ There was a
violent commotion. Heresy about the Trinity was bad, but heresy about
the idol of the royal abbey was more touching. It is not quite clear
that Abélard came to the opinion of modern religious historians, that
the St. Denis of Paris was a much later personage than the Areopagite
of the Acts of the Apostles, but he seems to hold that opinion. In
any case, the monks felt that to be the substance of his discovery,
and held it to be an attack on the glory of the abbey. Venerable
Bede was, they bluntly replied, a liar. One of their former abbots,
Hilduin, had made a journey to Greece for the special purpose of
verifying the story.

When the monks flew to Abbot Adam with the story of Brother Peter’s
latest outbreak, Adam saw in it an opportunity of terrifying the
rebel into submission, if not of effectually silencing him. He called
a chapter of the brethren. One’s pen almost tires of describing
the cruel scenes to which those harsh days lent themselves. The
vindictive abbot perched on his high chair, prior and elder brethren
sitting beside him; the hundreds of black-robed, shaven monks lining
the room; on his knees in the centre the pale, nervous figure of the
Socrates of Gaul. With a mock solemnity, Abbot Adam delivers himself
of the sentence. Brother Peter has crowned his misdeeds, in his pride
of mind, with an attack, not merely on the abbey that sheltered
him, but on the honour and the safety of France. The matter is too
serious to be punished by even the most severe methods at the command
of the abbey. Brother Peter is to be handed over to the king, as a
traitor to the honour of the country. The poor monk, now thoroughly
alarmed, abjectly implores the abbot to deal with him in the usual
way. Let him be scourged—anything to escape the uncertain temper of
King Louis. No, the abbey must be rid of him. He is taken away into
confinement, with an injunction that he be carefully watched until it
is convenient to send him to Paris.

There were, however, some of the monks who were disgusted at the
savage proceeding. A few days afterwards he was assisted to escape
from the monastic dungeon during the night, and, ‘in utter despair,’
he fled from the abbey, with a few of his former pupils. It was, in
truth, a desperate move. As a deserter from the abbey, the canons
required that two stalwart brothers should be sent in pursuit of him,
and that he be reimprisoned. As a fugitive from the king’s justice,
to which he had been publicly destined, he was exposed to even
harsher treatment. However, he made his way into Champagne once more,
and threw himself on the mercy of his friends.

One of the friends whom he had attached to himself during his stay at
Maisoncelle was prior of St. Ayoul, near the gates of Provins. It was
a priory belonging to the monks of Troyes, and both Hatton, Bishop of
Troyes, and Theobald, Count of Champagne, were in sympathy with the
fugitive. The prior, therefore, received Abélard into his convent,
to afford at least time for reflection. His condition, however, was
wholly uncanonical, and the prior, as well as the abbot of St. Peter
of Troyes, urged him to secure some regularity for his absence from
St. Denis, so that they might lawfully shelter him at St. Ayoul.
Abélard summoned what diplomatic faculty he had, and wrote to St.

‘Peter, monk by profession and sinner by his deeds, to his
dearly beloved father, Adam, and to his most dear brethren and
fellow-monks,’ was the inscription of the epistle. Brother Peter, it
must be remembered, was fighting almost for life; and he was not of
the heroic stuff of his friend and pupil, Arnold of Brescia. There
are critics who think he descended lower than this concession to
might, that he deliberately denied his conviction for the purpose
of conciliating Adam. Others, such as Poole, Deutsch, and Hausrath,
think the letter does not support so grave a censure. The point of
the letter is certainly to convey the impression that Bede had erred,
and that Abélard had no wish to urge his authority against the belief
of the monks. In point of fact, Bede is at variance with Eusebius
and Jerome, and it is not impossible that Abélard came sincerely to
modify the first impression he had received from Bede’s words; in the
circumstances, and in the then state of the question, this would not
be unreasonable. At the same time a careful perusal of the letter
gives one the impression that it is artistic and diplomatic; that
Abélard has learned tact, rather than unlearned history. It reads
like an effort to say something conciliatory about St. Denis, without
doing serious violence to the writer’s conscience. Perhaps the abbot
of St. Peter’s could have thrown some light on its composition.

Shortly afterwards Abbot Adam came to visit Count Theobald, and
Abélard’s friends made a direct effort to conciliate him. The prior
of St. Ayoul and Abélard hurried to the count’s castle, and begged
him to prevail upon his guest to release Abélard from his obedience.
The count tried to persuade Adam to do so, but without success.
Adam seemed determined, not so much to rid his happy convent of a
malcontent, as to crush Abélard. He found plenty of pious garbs to
cover his vindictiveness with. At first he deprecated the idea that
it was a matter for his personal decision. Then, after a consultation
with the monks who accompanied him, he gravely declared that it was
inconsistent with the honour of the abbey to release Abélard; ‘the
brethren had said that, whereas Abélard’s choice of their abbey had
greatly redounded to its glory, his flight from it had covered them
with shame.’ He threatened both Abélard and the prior of St. Ayoul
with the usual canonical penalties, unless the deserter returned
forthwith to obedience.

Adam’s departure, after this fulmination, left Abélard and his
friends sadly perplexed. The abbot had the full force of canon law
on his side, and he was evidently determined to exact his pound of
flesh. However, whilst they were busy framing desperate resolves,
they received information of the sudden death of Abbot Adam. He died
a few days after leaving Champagne, on the 19th of February 1122. The
event brought relief from the immediate pressure. Some time would
elapse before it would be necessary to resume the matter with Adam’s
successor, and there was room for hope that the new abbot would not
feel the same personal vindictiveness.

The monk who was chosen by the Benedictines of St. Denis to succeed
Adam was one of the most remarkable characters of that curious age.
Scholar, soldier, and politician, he had an enormous influence on
the life of France during the early decades of the twelfth century.
Nature intended him for a minister and a great soldier: chance made
him a monk; worldly brothers made him an abbot, and St. Bernard
completed the anomaly by ‘converting’ him in 1127. At the time we
are speaking of he was the more active and prominent of two men whom
Bernard called ‘the two calamities of the Church of France.’ He was
born of poor parents, near one of the priories or dependencies of
St. Denis. His talent was noticed by the monks, and his ‘vocation’
followed as a matter of course. He was studying in the monastic
school when King Philip brought his son Louis to St. Denis, and the
abbot sent for him, and made him companion to the royal pupil. He
thus obtained a strong influence over the less gifted prince, and
when Louis came to the throne in 1108, Suger became the first royal
councillor. Being only a deacon in orders, there was nothing to
prevent him heading the troops, directing a campaign, or giving his
whole time to the affairs of the kingdom. He had proved so useful
a minister that, when some of the monks of St. Denis came in great
trepidation to tell the king they had chosen him for abbot, they
were angrily thrust into prison. Suger himself was in Rome at the
time, discharging a mission from the king, and he tells us, in his
autobiography, of the perplexity the dilemma caused him. However,
before he reached France, the king had concluded that an abbot could
be as useful as a prior in an accommodating age. In the sequel, St.
Denis became more royal, and less abbatial than ever—until 1127. St.
Bernard complained that it seemed to have become the ‘war office’
and the ‘ministry of justice’ of the kingdom.

Abélard now seems to have been taken in hand by a more astute
admirer, Burchard, Bishop of Meaux. They went to Paris together, and
apparently did a little successful diplomacy before the arrival and
consecration of Suger. The newly created abbot (he had been ordained
priest the day before his consecration) refused to undo the sentence
of his predecessor. He was bound by the decision of the abbey, he
said; in other words, there was still a strong vindictive feeling
against Abélard in the abbey, which it was not politic to ignore. It
is quite impossible that Suger himself took the matter seriously.

But before Suger’s arrival Abélard and his companions had made
friends at court. Whether through his pupils, many of whom were
nobles, or through his family, is unknown, but Abélard for the
second time found influence at court when ecclesiastical favour was
denied. One of the leading councillors was Étienne de Garlande,
the royal seneschal, and means were found to interest him in the
case of the unfortunate monk. We have already seen that Stephen
had ecclesiastical ambition in his earlier years, and had become
a deacon and a canon of Étampes. But when his patron, King Philip,
submitted to the Church and to a better ideal of life, Stephen
concluded that the path to ecclesiastical dignities would be less
smooth and easy for the ‘illiterate and unchaste,’ and he turned to
secular ambition. At the time of the events we are reviewing he and
Suger were the virtual rulers of France; from the ecclesiastical
point of view he was the man whom St. Bernard associated with Suger
as ‘a calamity of the Church.’

‘Through the mediation of certain friends’ Abélard had enlisted the
interest of this powerful personage, and the court was soon known
to favour his suit. There are many speculations as to the motive of
the king and his councillors in intervening in the monastic quarrel.
Recent German historians see in the incident an illustration of a
profound policy on the part of the royal council. They think the king
was then endeavouring to strengthen his authority by patronising
the common people in opposition to the tyrannical and troublesome
nobility. Following out a parallel policy with regard to the Church,
whose nobles were equally tyrannical and troublesome, Stephen and
Suger would naturally befriend the lower clergy in opposition to
the prelates. Hence the royal intervention on behalf of the monk of
St. Denis is associated with the intervention on the side of the
peasantry a few years before.

The theory is ingenious, but hardly necessary. Abélard says that the
court interfered because it did not desire any change in the free
life of the royal abbey, and consequently preferred to keep him out
of it. That is also ingenious, and complimentary to Abélard. But
it is not a little doubtful whether anybody credited him with the
smallest influence at St. Denis. We shall probably not be far from
the truth if we suppose a court intrigue on the monk’s behalf which
his friends did not think it necessary to communicate fully to him.
Geoffrey of Chartres and other friends of his were French nobles.
Many of his pupils had that golden key which would at any time give
access to Étienne de Garlande.

In any case Stephen and Suger had a private discussion of the matter,
and the two politicians soon found a way out of the difficulty.
Abélard received an order to appear before the king and his council.
The comedy—though it was no comedy for Abélard—probably took place
at St. Denis. Louis the Fat presided, in robes of solemn purple,
with ermine border. Étienne de Garlande and the other councillors
glittered at his side. Abbot Suger and his council were there to
defend the ‘honour’ of the abbey; and Brother Peter, worn with
anxiety and suffering, came to make a plea for liberty. Louis bids
the abbot declare what solution of the difficulty his chapter has
discovered. Suger gravely explains that the honour of their abbey
does not permit them to allow the fugitive monk to join any other
monastery. So much to save the face of the abbey. Yet there is a
middle course possible, the abbot graciously continues: Brother Peter
may be permitted to live a regular life in the character of a hermit.
Brother Peter expresses his satisfaction at the decision—it was
precisely the arrangement he desired—and departs from the abbey with
his friends, a free man once more, never again, he thinks, to fall
into the power of monk or prelate.



The scene of the next act in Abélard’s dramatic career is a bright,
restful valley in the heart of Champagne. It is the summer of 1122,
and the limpid Arduzon rolls through enchantingly in its course
towards the Seine. In the meadow beside it are two huts and a small
oratory, rudely fashioned from the branches of trees and reeds from
the river, and daubed over with mud. No other sign of human presence
can be seen. Abélard and one companion are the only human beings to
be found for miles. And even all thought of the cities of men and the
sordid passions they shelter is arrested by the great forests of oak
and beech which hem in the narrow horizon and guard the restfulness
of the valley.

By the terms of Suger’s decision Abélard could neither lodge with
secular friends nor enter any cell, priory, or abbey. Probably this
coercion into leading an eremitical life was unnecessary. The
experience of the last three years had made a hermitage of his heart;
nothing would be more welcome to him than this quiet valley. It was a
spot he had noticed in earlier years. In his ancient chronicle Robert
of Auxerre says that Abélard had lived there before; Mr. Poole thinks
it was to the same part of Champagne that he resorted on the three
occasions of his going to the province of Count Theobald. That would
at least have to be understood in a very loose sense. On the two
former occasions he had found a home prepared, a cell and a priory,
respectively; he had now to build a hut with his own hands. It was a
deserted spot he had chosen, he tells us; and Heloise adds, in one of
her letters, that before Abélard’s coming it had been the haunt of
robbers and the home of foxes and wild boars, like the neighbouring
forest of Fontainebleau.

Abélard must have seen this quiet side-valley in passing along the
Seine on the road to Paris. It was some twelve miles from Troyes,
where he had a number of friends; and when he expressed a desire to
retire to it with his companion, they obtained for him the gift of
the meadow through which the Arduzon ran. Bishop Hatton gave them
permission to build an oratory, and they put together a kind of mud
hut—‘in honour of the Blessed Trinity’! Here the heavy heart began
once more to dream of peace. Men had tortured him with a caricature
of the divine justice when his aim and purpose had been of the
purest. He had left their ignorant meddlesomeness and their ugly
passions far away beyond the forests. Alone with God and with nature
in her fairest mood, he seemed to have escaped securely from an age
that could not, or would not, understand his high ideal.

So for some time no sound was heard in the valley but the song of the
birds and the grave talk of the two hermits and the frequent chant in
the frail temple of the Trinity. But Abélard’s evil genius was never
far from him; it almost seems as if it only retired just frequently
enough and long enough to let his heart regain its full power of
suffering. The unpractical scholar had overlooked a material point,
the question of sustenance. Beech-nuts and beech-leaves and roots and
the water of the river become monotonous. Abélard began to cast about
for some source of revenue. ‘To dig I was not able, to beg I was
ashamed,’ he says, in the familiar words. There was only one thing he
could do—teach.

Probably he began by giving quiet lessons to the sons of his
neighbours. He had only to let his intention be known in Troyes, and
he would have as many pupils as he desired. But he soon found that,
as was inevitable, he had released a torrent. The words in which he
describes this third confluence of his streams of ‘barbarians’ do
not give us the impression that he struggled against his fate. With
all his genius he remained a Breton—short of memory and light of
heart. The gladdening climate of mid-France and the brightness and
beauty of the valley of the Seine quickened his old hopes and powers.
The word ran through the kingdoms of Gaul, and across the sea and
over the southern hills, that Abélard was lecturing once more. And
many hundreds, probably thousands, of youths gathered their scant
treasures, and turned their faces towards the distant solitude of

Then was witnessed a scene that is quite unique in the annals of
education. Many centuries before, the deserts of Egypt had seen a
vast crowd of men pour out from the cities, and rush eagerly into
their thankless solitude. That was under the fresh-born influence of
a new religious story, the only force thought competent to inspire
so great an abdication. The twelfth century saw another great stream
of men pouring eagerly into a solitude where there was no luxury but
the rude beauty of nature. Week by week the paths that led into the
valley by the Arduzon discharged their hundreds of pilgrims. The
rough justice of nature offered no advantage to wealth. Rich and
poor, noble and peasant, young and old, they raised their mud-cabins
or their moss-covered earth-works, each with his own hand. Hundreds
of these rude dwellings dotted the meadow and sheltered in the wood.
A bundle of straw was the only bed to be found in them. Their tables
were primitive mounds of fresh turf; the only food a kind of coarse
peasant-bread, with roots and herbs and a draught of sweet water from
the river. The meats and wines and pretty maids and soft beds of the
cities were left far away over the hills. For the great magician had
extended his wand once more, and the fascination of his lectures was
as irresistible as ever.

They had built a new oratory, in wood and stone, for the loved
master; and each morning, as the full blaze of the sun fell upon the
strangely scarred face of the valley, they arose from the hay and
straw, splashed or dipped in the running river, and trooped to the
spot where Abélard fished for their souls with the charming bait of
his philosophy. Then when the master tired of reading Scripture,
and of his pathetic task of finding analogies of the infinite in
the finite, they relaxed to such games and merriment as youth never
leaves behind.

Discipline, however, was strict. There is a song, composed at the
time by one of the pupils, which affords an instructive glimpse of
the life of the strange colony. Some one seems to have informed
Abélard of a group of students who were addicted to the familiar
vice. He at once banished them from the colony, threatening to
abandon the lectures unless they retired to Quincey. The poet of the
group was an English youth, named Hilary, who had come to France a
little before. Amongst his _Versus et ludi_, edited by Champollion,
we find his poetic complaint of the falseness of the charge and
the cruelty of their expulsion. It is a simple, vigorous, rhymed
verse in Latin, with a French refrain. It is obviously intended to
be sung in chorus, and it thus indirectly illustrates one of the
probable recreations of the youths who were thus thrown upon their
own resources. Many another of Hilary’s rough songs must have rung
through the valley at nightfall. Perhaps Abélard recovered his old
gift, and contributed to the harmless gaiety of the colony. Seared
and scarred as he was, there was nothing sombre or sour about his
piety, save in the moments of actual persecution. With all his keen
and living faith and his sense of remorse, he remains a Breton, a
child of the sun-light, sensitive to the gladdening force of the
world. Not until his last year did he accept the ascetic view of
pleasures which were non-ethical. Watchful over the faith and morals
of the colony, he would make no effort to moderate the loud song with
which they responded to the warm breath of nature.

The happiness of his little world surged in the heart of the master
for a time, but nature gave him a capacity for, and a taste of,
manifold happiness, only that he might suffer the more. ‘I had one
enemy—echo,’ he says in his autobiography. He was soon made uneasily
conscious that the echo of his teaching and the echo of the glad life
of the colony had reached Clairvaux.

The first definite complaint that reached his ears referred to the
dedication of his oratory. Though formally dedicated to the Trinity,
it was especially devoted to the Holy Spirit, in the character of
Paraclete (Comforter); indeed both it and the later nunnery were
known familiarly as ‘the Paraclete.’ Some captious critics had, it
appears, raised a question whether it was lawful to dedicate a chapel
to one isolated member of the Trinity. The question was absurd, for
the Church frequently offers worship to the Holy Spirit, without
mentioning the Father and the Son. The cautious Abélard, however,
defends his dedication at great length. A second attack was made
under the pretext of questioning the propriety of an image of the
Trinity which was found in the oratory. Some sculptor in the colony
had endeavoured to give an ingenious representation of the Trinity
in stone. He had carved three equal figures from one block of stone,
and had cut on them inscriptions appropriate to each Person of the
Trinity.[20] Such devices were common in the Church, common in
all Trinitarian religions, in fact. But Abélard was credited with
intentions and interpretations in everything he did. Neither of
these incidents proved serious, however. It was not until Abélard
heard that Alberic and Lotulphe were inciting ‘the new apostles’ to
assail him that he became seriously alarmed. The new apostles were
Bernard of Clairvaux and Norbert of Prémontré.

  [20] The statue was preserved in a neighbouring church until the
  eighteenth century. It was destroyed at the Revolution.

Not many leagues from the merry valley on the Arduzon was another
vale that had been peopled by men from the cities. It was a dark,
depressing valley, into which the sun rarely struggled. The Valley of
Wormwood men called it, for it was in the heart of a wild, sombre,
chilly forest. The men who buried themselves in it were fugitives,
not merely from the hot breath of the cities and the ugly deeds of
their fellows, but even from the gentler inspiration of nature, even
from its purest thrills. They had had a vision of a golden city, and
believed it was to be entered by the path of self-torture. The narrow
windows of their monastery let in but little of the scanty light of
the valley. With coarse bread and herbs, and a few hours’ sleep on
boxes of dried leaves, they made a grudging concession to the law of
living. But a joke was a sacrilege in the Valley of Wormwood, and a
song a piece of supreme folly. The only sound that told the ravens
and the owls of the presence of man was the weird, minor chant for
hours together, that did not even seem to break the silence of the
sombre spot. By day, the white-robed, solemn shades went about their
work in silence. The Great Father had made the pilgrimage to heaven
so arduous a task that they dare not talk by the wayside.

Foremost among them was a frail, tense, absorbed, dominant little
man. The face was white and worn with suffering, the form enfeebled
with disease and exacting nervous exaltation; but there was a light
of supreme strength and of joy in the penetrating eyes. He was a man
who saw the golden city with so near, so living a vision, that he was
wholly impatient of the trivial pleasures of earth: a man formed in
the mould of world-conquerors and world-politicians, in whose mind
accident had substituted a supernatural for a natural ideal: a man of
such intensity and absorption of thought that he was almost incapable
of admitting a doubt as to the correctness of his own judgment and
purpose and the folly of all that was opposed to it: a man in whom
an altruistic ethic might transform, or disguise, but could never
suppress, the demand of the entire nature for self-assertion. This
was Bernard of Clairvaux, who had founded the monastery in the
deepest poverty ten years before. He was soon to be the most powerful
man in Christendom. And he held that, if the instinct of reasoning
and the impulse of love did indeed come from God and not from the
devil, they were of those whimsical gifts, such as the deity of the
Middle Ages often gave, which were given with a trust they would be

The other new apostle was St. Norbert, the founder of the
Premonstratensian canons. He had fruitlessly endeavoured to reform
the existing order of canons, and had then withdrawn to form a kind
of monastery of canons at Prémontré, not far from Laon, where he
occasionally visited Anselm. His disciples entered zealously into
the task of policeing the country. No disorder in faith or morals
escaped their notice; and although Norbert was far behind Bernard
in political ability, the man who incurred his pious wrath was in
an unenviable position. He had influence with the prelates of the
Church, on account of his reforms and the sanctity of his life; he
had a profound influence over the common people, not only through
his stirring sermons, but also through the miracles he wrought.
Abélard frequently bases his rationalistic work on the fact, which
he always assumes to be uncontroverted, that the age of miracles
is over. Norbert, on the contrary, let it be distinctly understood
that he was a thaumaturgus of large practice. Abélard ridiculed his
pretensions, and the stories told of him. Even in his later sermons
we find him scornfully ‘exposing’ the miracles of Norbert and his
companions. They used to slip medicaments unobserved into the food of
the sick, he says, and accept the glory of the miracle if the fever
was cured. They even attempted to raise the dead to life; and when
the corpse retained its hideous rigidity after they had lain long
hours in prayer in the sanctuary, they would turn round on the simple
folk in the church and upbraid them for the littleness of their
faith. This poor trickery was the chief source of the power of the
Premonstratensian canons over the people. Abélard could not repose
and ridicule it with impunity.

These were the new apostles—‘pseudo-apostles’ Heloise calls them—whom
Alberic and Lotulphe now incited to take up the task which they
themselves dared pursue no longer. And so, says Abélard, ‘they heaped
shameless calumnies on me at every opportunity, and for some time
brought much discredit upon me in the eyes of certain ecclesiastical
as well as secular dignitaries.’ We shall find that, when Abélard
stands before the ecclesiastical tribunal a second time, many of
his earlier friends have deserted him, and have fallen under the
wide-reaching influence of St. Bernard.

But it is strenuously denied by prejudiced admirers of St. Bernard
that he had anything to do with Abélard at this period. Father
Hefele, for instance, thinks that Abélard is guilty of some
chronological confusion in the passage quoted above; looking back on
the events of his life, he has unconsciously transferred the later
activity of Bernard to the earlier date, not clearly separating it
in time from the work of Alberic and Norbert. Unfortunately, the
‘Story of my Calamities’ was written _before_ Bernard commenced his
open campaign against Abélard. We shall see later that this is beyond
dispute. There is, then, no question of confusion.

Mr. Cotter Morison says it is ‘not far short of impossible’ that
Bernard showed any active hostility to Abélard at that time, and he
thinks the charge springs merely from an over-excited imagination.
Mr. Morison is scarcely happier here than in his earlier passage.
It must be understood that this reluctance to admit the correctness
of Abélard’s complaint is inspired by a passage in one of Bernard’s
letters. In writing to William of St. Thierry (ep. cccxxvii. in
_Migne_), fifteen years afterwards, he excuses his inaction with
regard to Abélard (whose heresies William has put before him) on the
ground that he ‘was ignorant of most, indeed nearly all, of these
things.’ This is interpreted to mean that he knew little or nothing
about Abélard until 1141, and the Abélardists generally give a more
or less polite intimation that it is—what Mr. Poole explicitly calls
another statement of Bernard’s—a lie. Cotter Morison, however,
interprets ‘these things’ to mean ‘the special details of Abélard’s
heresy,’ and it is therefore the more strange that he should join
the Bernardists in straining the historical evidence. Yet he is
probably nearer to the truth than the others in his interpretation of
Bernard’s words. Even modern writers are too apt at times to follow
the practice of the Church, in judging a statement or an action, and
put it into one or other of their rigid objective categories. In
such cases as this we need a very careful psychological analysis,
and are prone to be misled by the Church’s objective moral boxes
or classifications. Most probably Bernard wrote in that convenient
vagueness of mind which sometimes helps even a saint out of a
difficulty, especially where the honour of the Church is involved,
and which is accompanied by just a suspicion of ethical discomfort.

In reality, we may, with all sobriety, reverse Mr. Morison’s
statement, and say it is ‘not far short of impossible’ that Bernard
was ignorant of, or indifferent to, Abélard’s activity at that time.
Ten years previously, when Bernard led his little band of white-robed
monks to their wretched barn in the Vale of Bitterness, he went to
Châlons to be consecrated by William of Champeaux. William conceived
a very strong affection for the young abbot, and he shortly after
nursed him through a long and severe illness. So great was their
intimacy and so frequent their intercourse that people said Châlons
and Clairvaux had changed places. This began only twelve months
after William had been driven from Paris, in intense anger, by the
heretical upstart, Peter Abélard. Again, Alberic was another of
Bernard’s intimate friends. A year or two before Abélard founded
the Paraclete—that is to say, about the time of the Council of
Soissons—we find Bernard ‘imploring’ (so even Duchesne puts it)
the Pope to appoint Alberic to the vacant see of Châlons after the
death of William. He failed to obtain it, but afterwards secured for
him the archbishopric of Bourges. Anselm of Laon was also a friend
of Bernard’s. Moreover, Clairvaux was only about forty miles from
Troyes, where Abélard’s latest feat was the supreme topic.

It is thus quite impossible for any but a prejudiced apologist to
question Bernard’s interest in the life of the Paraclete and its
founder. Even were he not the heresy-hunter and universal reformer
that he notoriously was, we should be compelled to think that he
had heard all the worst charges against Abélard over and over
again before 1124. To conceive Bernard as entombed in his abbey,
indifferent to everything in this world except the grave, is the
reverse of the truth. Bernard had a very profound belief in what
some theologians call ‘the law of secondary causes’—God does not
do directly what he may accomplish by means of human instruments.
Prayer was necessary; but so were vigilance, diplomacy, much running
to and fro, and a vast correspondence. He watched the Church of God
with the fiery zeal of a St. Paul. He knew everything and everybody:
smote archbishops and kings as freely as his own monks: hunted down
every heretic that appeared in France in his day: played even a large
part in the politics of Rome. And we are to suppose that such a man
was ignorant of the presence of the gay, rationalistic colony a few
leagues away from his abbey, and of the unique character and profound
importance to the Church of that vast concourse of youths; or that
he refrained from examining the teaching of this man who had an
unprecedented influence over the youth of France, or from using the
fulness of his power against him when he found that his teaching was
the reverse of all he held sacred and salutary.

We may take Abélard’s statement literally. Bernard and Norbert were
doing the work of his rivals, and were doing it effectively. They
who had supported him at Soissons or afterwards were being poisoned
against him. Count Theobald and Geoffrey of Chartres are probably
two whom he had in mind. He feels that the net is being drawn close
about him through the calumnies of these ubiquitous monks and canons.
The peace of the valley is broken; he becomes morbidly sensitive
and timorous. Whenever he hears that some synod or conventicle has
been summoned he trembles with anxiety and expectation of another
Soissons. The awful torture of that hour before the council comes
back to him, and mingles with the thought of the power of his new
enemies. He must fly from France.

Away to the south, over the Pyrenees, was a land where the poor monk
would have found peace, justice, and honour. Spain was just then
affording ‘glory to God in heaven, and peace to men of good-will on
earth’: it had been snatched from the dominion of Christianity for a
century or two. So tolerant and beneficent was the reign of the Moors
that even the Jews, crushed, as they were, by seven centuries of
persecution, developed their finest powers under it. They were found
in the front rank of every art and science; in every field where, not
cunning and astuteness, but talent of the highest order and industry,
were needed to command success. The Moors had happily degenerated
from the fierce proselytism of their religious prophet—whilst the
Christians had proportionately enlarged on that of theirs—and their
human character was asserting the high natural ideal which it always
does when it breaks away from the confining bonds of a narrow dogma.

It was towards this land that Abélard turned his thoughts. It seemed
useless for him to exchange one Christian land for another. A few
years before, a small group of French monks had created a centre of
education in a humble barn on the banks of the Cam; but was England
more tolerant than France? He remembered Roscelin’s experience. There
were famous schools in Italy; but some of his most brilliant pupils
at the Paraclete, such as Arnold of Brescia, had little good to say
of Italy. The evil lay in Christianity itself—in that intolerance
which its high claim naturally engendered.

One does not like to accept too easily this romantic proposal to find
refuge under the protection of the crescent, yet Abélard’s words
compel us to do so. ‘God knows,’ he says, ‘that at times I fell
into so deep a despair that I proposed to go forth from Christendom
and betake me to the heathens ... to live a Christian life amid the
enemies of Christ.’ Possibly he would have done so, if he had had a
better knowledge of Spain at that time. The Arabs of Spain were no
enemies of Christ. Only a most perverse idea of their state could
make an able thinker and teacher thus regard a life amongst them as
a matter of ultimate and desperate resort. Had they but conquered
Europe, materially or morally, half the problems that still harass
it—or ought to do—would have been solved long ago. It is pathetic
to find Abélard speculating whether the hatred of the Christians
for him will not make his path easier to the favour of the Arabs,
by producing in them an impression that he had been unfaithful
to Christian dogma. The caliphs could keep a watchful eye on the
thoughts of professed Mohammedan philosophers, but they cared little
about the theories of others. Abélard, with his pronounced tendency
to concentrate on natural-religious and ethical truths, would have
found an honoured place in Spain; and he would quickly have buried
his dogmas there.

Abélard was spared the trial of so desperate and dreadful a
secession. Far away on the coast of Brittany an abbot died in 1125,
and Abélard’s evil genius put it into the hearts of the monks to
offer the vacant dignity to the famous teacher. They sent some of
their number to see him at the Paraclete. It seemed a providential
outlet from his intolerable position. There were abbeys and abbeys,
it was true, but his Breton optimism and trust in fate closed that
avenue of speculation. Conon, Duke of Brittany, had agreed to his
installation. Suger made no opposition; he probably saw the net that
was being drawn about him in France. Abélard turned sadly away from
the vale of the Paraclete and the devoted colony, and faced the mists
of the west and of the future. ‘I came not to bring peace into the
world but the sword.’



Abélard had, of course, committed another serious blunder in
accepting the proffered ‘dignity.’ There was an error on both
sides, as there had been in his first fatal assumption of the cowl;
though on this occasion the pressure behind him was greater, the
alternative less clear, and the prospect at least uncertain. It will
be remembered that Abélard probably studied at Locmenach in his
early years. This was a branch monastery of the ancient abbey of St.
Gildas at Rhuys, on the coast; and it is not impossible that some
recollection of the monks of Locmenach entered into his decision to
become abbot of St. Gildas. There were probably few abbeys in France
at the time which were sufficiently moral and earnest in their life
to offer a congenial home to this man who is held up to the blushes
of the ages as a sinner, and of whom the Church only speaks in the
low and solemn tone that befits a great scandal. If Abélard’s first
and chief misfortune is that he was a Christian, his second is that
he was a monk.

The abbey of St. Gildas had reached the last stage of monastic
decay. The monks did not accept presents of pretty maid-servants,
nor receive fine lady visitors in their abbey, like the monks of St.
Denis; nor were they eager to have a nunnery of sisters in religion
close at hand, like the cloistered canons. Theirs was not a case for
the application of the words of Erasmus: ‘Vocantur “patres”—et saepe
sunt.’ Each monk had a respectable wife and family on the monastic
estate. The outlying farms and cottages were colonised with the women
and the little monklings; there was no cemetery of infant bones at
or near St. Gildas. Their monasticism consisted in the discharge of
their formal religious exercises in church and choir—the chant of the
Mass and of the breviary. And when the monk had done his day’s work
of seven or eight hours’ chanting, he would retire, like every other
Christian, to the bosom of his family. The half-civilised Celtic
population of the district were quite content with this version of
their duty, and did not refuse them the customary sustenance.

Abélard’s horror on discovering this state of things was equalled by
the surprise of the monks when they discovered his Quixotic ideas of
monastic life. They only knew Abélard as the amorous troubadour, the
teacher who attracted crowds of gay and wealthy scholars wherever he
went, the object of the bitter hostility of the monastic reformers
whom they detested. It was the Bernardist or Norbertian Abélard whom
they had chosen for their abbot. Surprise quickly turned to disgust
when the new abbot lectured them in chapter—as a sexless ascetic
could so well do—on the beauty of continence and the Rule of St.
Benedict. They were rough, ignorant, violent men, and they soon made
it clear that reform was hopelessly out of the question.

The very locality proved an affliction. He had exchanged the gentle
beauty and the mild climate of the valley of the Seine for a wild,
bleak, storm-swept sea-shore. The abbey was built on a small
promontory that ran out into the Bay of Biscay, a few leagues to the
south of Vannes. It was perched on the edge of the steep granite
cliffs, and Abélard’s very pen seems to shudder as he writes of the
constant roar of the waves at the foot of the rocks and the sweep of
the ocean winds. Behind them stretched a long series of sand-hills.
They occupied a scarcely gracious interval between desolation and
desolation. For Abélard was not of the temperament to appreciate the
grandeur of an ever-restless ocean or to assimilate the strength that
is borne on its winds. He was sadly troubled. Here he had fled, he
says, to the very end of the earth, the storm-tossed ocean barring
his further retreat, yet he finds the world no less repulsive and

In the character of abbot, Abélard was at liberty to seek what
consolation he could outside his abbey. He soon found that there
was none to be had in the vicinity of Rhuys. ‘The whole barbarous
population of the land was similarly lawless and undisciplined,’
he says; that seems to include such other monks and priests as the
locality contained. Even their language was unintelligible to him,
he complains; for, although he was a Breton, his ear would only
be accustomed to Latin and to Romance French, which would differ
considerably from the Celtic Bas-Breton. Whether the lord of the
district was equally wild—as seems most probable—or no, the way to
his château was barred by another difficulty. He was considered the
bitter enemy of the abbey, for he had ‘annexed’ the lands that
belonged by right to the monks. Moreover he exacted a heavy tribute
from them. They were frequently without food, and wandered about
stealing all they could lay their hands on for the support of their
wives and families. They violently urged Abélard to fight for their
rights and find food for them, instead of giving them his ethereal
discourses. And the abbot succeeded just far enough to embitter the
usurper against him, without obtaining much for his lawless monks. He
found himself in a new dilemma. If he remained in the abbey he was
assailed all day by the hungry clamour and the brutal violence of his
‘subjects’; if he went abroad the tyrannical lord threatened to have
him done to death by his armed retainers.

For three or four years Abélard sustained this miserable existence
almost without alleviation. In 1129, however, an event occurred
which, evil as it looked at the moment, proved a source of
considerable happiness to him for some years.

Abbot Suger, the cowled warrior and statesman, had become monastic
reformer after his conversion. The circumstance proved more lucrative
to St. Denis than would be thought. In his _De rebus a se gestis_,
Suger writes at great length of the additional possessions he
secured for the abbey, and amongst these is enumerated the nunnery
of St. Mary at Argenteuil. He was not only a rigid disciplinarian,
but he had an unusual acquaintance with ancient records. Many of
his early years at St. Denis had been spent in the _archivium_, in
diligent scrutiny of deeds and documents relating to the earlier
history of the abbey. One day when he was absorbed in this study
he hit upon a document from which it seemed possible to prove that
the convent of the Benedictine nuns at Argenteuil, two or three
miles away, belonged to the monks of St. Denis. It was a complicated
question, the nuns dating their possession from the time of
Charlemagne. But when Suger became abbot of St. Denis himself, and
eager to employ his political ability and influence in the service of
the abbey, he recollected, along with others, the document relating
to the nunnery. When, moreover, he had been converted, he was able
to see the licentiousness of the nuns of Argenteuil, and make it a
pretext for asserting the rights of his abbey.

In 1127, he states in his Life, he obtained from Honorius II. a bull
which was supposed to legalise his seizure of the convent: ‘both in
justice to ourselves and on account of the enormity of life of the
nuns who were established there, he restored the place to us with its
dependencies, so that the religious life might be re-instituted in
it.’ In his _Vita Ludovici Grossi_ he also lays stress on the ‘foul
enormity’ of life in the nunnery.

How far we may accept the strong language of the enterprising abbot
it would be difficult to say. Honorius, who would be flattered by the
request to pronounce on the domestics difficulties of the Church of
France, would certainly not be over-exacting in the matter of proof.
Still, he sent a legate, the Bishop of Albano, and directed him to
hold an inquiry into the affair, together with the Archbishop of
Rheims and the Bishops of Paris, Chartres, and Soissons. The name of
Geoffrey of Chartres is a guarantee that the inquiry was more than a
mere cloak to cover the sanctioning of a questionable act. Although,
we must remember, Suger does not quote their words in the above
passage, they must have decided that his charge was substantially
founded. The nuns were turned out of their convent a few months

The asserted corruption of the nunnery is quite in accord with what
we know of the period from other sources. We have already quoted
Jacques de Vitry’s observation that none of the convents of the time,
except those of the Cistercians (his own order), were fit places for
an honest woman; and he describes the ‘thousand tricks and wicked
artifices’ by which respectable dames were sometimes induced to enter
them. The same Vandyke-like painter of the morals of the twelfth
century elsewhere passes a comprehensive sentence on the convents of
canonesses. Nor was this the first Parisian nunnery to be suppressed
in the twelfth century. There was until 1107 a convent of Benedictine
nuns on the island, on the site of the present Rue Calende. It was
close to the royal palace; and the relations of the nuns to the
nobles of the court had become so notorious that Bishop Galo had
to intervene and put the good sisters on the street. One has only
to read Abélard’s sermon on ‘Susannah’ (delivered to an exemplary
community of nuns) to realise the condition of the average nunnery at
that time.

Heloise was prioress of the convent of Argenteuil. This is, indeed,
the only circumstance that need make us hesitate to accept Suger’s
words at their literal value. The Heloise of those writers who have
but touched the love-romance of the famous couple, without entering
into a deeper study of their characters, is pitifully inadequate. She
had all the passion that poetic or decadent admirer has ever given
her; she had that freer, because narrower, view of the love-relation,
which only regarded her own particular and exceptional case, and did
not extend to the thousand cases on which the broad law of matrimony
is based; and she retained her ardent love and her particularist
view throughout long years of conventual life. We may examine this
more directly in the next chapter. For the moment it reveals, when
it is taken in conjunction with that integrity and altitude of life
which none can hesitate to assign her, a strength and elevation of
character which are frequently obscured by the mere admirers of her
passion. We know nothing whatever of the eight or nine miserable
years of her life at Argenteuil; but as soon as she does emerge into
the light of history (in 1130) she is found to be of an elevated and
commanding character. She was prior, not abbess, at Argenteuil. When
she became abbess, her community became a centre of light in France.

Still, Heloise shared the fate of her sisters, if she had not shared
their sin; in fact, we may see a protest against their life in her
refusal to follow them to a new home. Suger had been directed to find
a nunnery which would receive the evicted sisters, and most of them
had gone to St. Mary of Footel. Heloise had not accompanied them,
and she was still without a canonical home in 1129, when the news of
these events reached the distant abbey of St. Gildas.

The finest and supreme test of love is to purge it of the last subtle
admixture of sexual feeling and then measure its strength. As a rule
this is wholly impracticable—Mr. W. Platt has a remarkable paper on
the subject in his _Women, Love, and Life_—but in the case of Abélard
the test was applied in supreme rigour, and with a satisfactory
issue. There was indeed another consideration impelling Abélard,
when he sought out his nun-wife. The desertion of the Paraclete had
cost him many a heavy thought. The little estate was still his legal
property, but it was insufficient to support a priest and companion
at the oratory. He would assuage both anxieties by installing Heloise
and such companions as she chose in his old home. But the course
of the story will reveal more clearly the deep affection he had
for Heloise. It was faithfulness to the views he held since his
conversion, faithfulness to the ideal of the best men of the time,
as well as a dread of the ever ready tongue of the calumniator, that
separated him so long and so sternly from her.

In 1129, therefore, the year in which the plague ravaged Paris,
Abélard revisited the quiet valley of the Arduzon. Thither he invited
Heloise and some of her companions, to whom he made over the legal
possession of the estate. Poor Heloise must have been disappointed.
The ardour which she reveals in her letters was evidently met by a
great restraint and formality on his side. He was severely correct
in the necessary intercourse with his ‘sisters in religion.’ Later
events showed that, ridiculous as it may well seem, he had good
reason for this deference to detractors. However, Heloise soon won
universal regard and affection in Champagne. ‘The bishops came to
love her as a daughter,’ says Abélard, ‘the abbots as a sister,
and the laity as a mother.’ They lived in deep poverty and some
anxiety at first, but nobles and prelates soon added generously
to the resources of the new foundation. Noble dames, too, brought
rich dowries with them in coming to ask for the veil in Heloise’s
respected community. The priory grew rapidly in importance and good

In 1131 Abélard sought a further favour for the new foundation, in
having Heloise raised to the dignity of abbess. Innocent II. was
making a journey through France, and lavishing favours (when they
cost him nothing) generously and gratuitously on all sides, behaving
in a manner that departed widely from papal traditions. It was
the second year of the great papal schism, and, Anacletus having
bought or otherwise secured Rome, through his family, the Pierleoni,
Innocent was making a successful bid for France, where exception
was taken to Pierleone’s Jewish strain. Passing from Chartres to
Liége, on his way to meet Lothair of Saxony, Innocent spent a day or
two at the Benedictine abbey of Morigni. Abélard joined the crowd
of prelates who assembled there to do homage to the pope, and he
obtained the promise of a bull (which was duly sent), conferring the
dignity of abbess on Heloise, and securing to her and her successors
the full canonical rights of their abbey. Abélard seems to have
been received with distinction by the papal court. The chronicle of
Morigni mentions the presence of the Abbot of St. Gildas, and adds:
‘the most distinguished teacher and master in the schools, to whom
lovers of learning flocked from almost the whole of Christendom.’
Later, too, Abélard boasts (so says Bernard) of his friends amongst
the Roman cardinals; it must have been during the stay of the papal
court at Morigni that he met them. Another noteworthy personage whom
Abélard met there was St. Bernard. We have no details about this
first meeting of the two great antagonists, but their names occur
side by side in the chronicle as those of the most eminent teacher
and the most distinguished preacher in France.

In the increasing bitterness of life at St. Gildas Abélard now
naturally sought consolation in the new abbey of the Paraclete. His
relation to Heloise personally remained marked by a reserve which
hurt her, but his visits to the abbey became more frequent and
prolonged. It appears that this loosened the tongues of some foolish
people, and Abélard took up the accusation, or insinuation, with
his usual gravity. His apology is often described as ‘ridiculous’
and ‘painful’; and one certainly cannot take very seriously his
dissertation on Origen’s misdeed and the Oriental custom of
eunuch-guardians. More interesting is the second part, in which he
urges many precedents of the familiarity of saintly men with women.
His favourite saint, Jerome, afforded a conspicuous illustration;
and others were not wanting. It is too early in the history of
theology to find the example of Christ adduced. A modern apologist
could greatly extend the list, beginning with Francis of Assisi (and
Clare) and ending with Francis de Sales (and Madame de Chantal).
Perhaps Abélard’s own case is the clearest proof that even masked
sexual feeling may be entirely absent from such attachments. Those
who care to analyse them will probably find the greater refinement,
gentleness, sympathy, and admiration of women to be quite adequate to
explain such saintly intimacies, without any subtle research into the
psychology of sex. However, the complaint seems to have moderated the
abbot’s fervour for a time; and indeed events soon became absorbingly
interesting at St. Gildas.

The frequent journeys to Champagne increased the bitterness of his
monks. Then he had a serious accident, nearly breaking his neck in
a fall from his horse. When he recovered, he found that his monks
had entered upon a most dangerous stage of conspiracy. The accident
seems to have suggested an idea to them, and they determined to rid
themselves of an abbot who was worse than useless. They even put
poison in the wine which he was to use in the Mass one morning,
but he discovered the fact in time. On another occasion he had
an adventure which may have suggested an important incident in
M. Zola’s _Rome_. He had gone to Nantes to visit the count in an
illness, and was staying with his brother Dagobert, who was a canon
in the cathedral. When the time came for the abbot and his monastic
companion to sup, Abélard had, providentially, lost his appetite—or
suspected something. The monk supped—and died. As Abélard’s servant
disappeared after the meal, it was natural to suppose that he had
been paid by the ferocious monks to poison their abbot. ‘How many
times did they try to do away with me by poison!’ he exclaimed. But
he lived apart from them, and succeeded in frustrating the attempt.
Then they hired robbers to apply their professional skill to the
task. Whenever the monks heard that he was going anywhere, they
planted a few cut-throats on the route.

Abélard had no great love for this Dionysiac existence, and he
resolved to make a bold effort at reform. He summoned the monks in
solemn chapter, and hurled the sentence of excommunication at the
leaders of the revolt. It sat more lightly on their shoulders than
the abbot anticipated, and he proceeded to call in the help of a
papal legate. The Duke of Brittany and several neighbouring bishops
were invited to the function, and the sentence of excommunication
and expulsion from the abbey was repeated with impressive ceremony.
The chief rebels were thus restricted to following the abbot’s
movements without—in company, apparently, of the hired assassins
of the monks and the equally dangerous servants of the lord of the
manor—and Abélard devoted his attention to reforming the remainder of
the community. But the old abbey was past redemption. ‘The remaining
monks began to talk, not of poison, but of cutting my throat,’ he
says. The circle of knives was drawing closer upon him, within and
without, and he saw that it would be impossible to guard his life
much longer. He gave up the struggle, and fled from the abbey. There
is a local tradition which tells of a secret flight by night through
a subterranean passage leading down to the sea. Abélard at least
intimates there was little dignity in his retirement, when he says:
‘under the guidance of a certain noble of the district I succeeded,
with great difficulty, in escaping from the abbey.’

Where Abélard found refuge from his murderous ‘sons,’ and where
he spent the next three or four years, it is difficult to say. He
probably moved from place to place, generally remaining in the
neighbourhood of Rhuys, but occasionally journeying to Champagne
or accepting an invitation to preach at some special festival. The
‘certain noble’—an uncertain one, as the phrase usually implies—would
be likely to give him immediate hospitality; and the Count of Nantes
was friendly, and would find Abélard a graceful addition at his
board. Then there was the family château at Pallet, and the house
of his brother Dagobert at Nantes. We seem to find Abélard’s boy,
Astrolabe, under the care of this brother later on. Abélard would at
all events see much of him, and assist in educating him, either at
Pallet or Nantes. The son had, apparently, not inherited the gifts of
his parents. An obscure mention of his death in a later _necrologium_
merely indicates the close of a correct but ordinary ecclesiastical

But though Abélard lacked neither wealth, nor honour, nor home, he
speaks of his condition as a very pitiable one. Deutsch has hazarded
the conjecture that the monks of St. Gildas really desired an abbot
who would be generally absent. It seems rather that they wanted
an abbot who would share their comfortable theory of life and at
the same time have influence to enrich the abbey, discontinue the
paying of tribute, and induce a higher authority to restrain their
tyrannical neighbours. They were therefore naturally inflamed when
Abélard deserted the immediate concerns of the abbey, yet remained
near enough to secure his revenue out of its income. He retained his
title (we find no successor appointed until after his death), and as
he speaks of wealth, we must suppose that he somehow continued to
obtain his income. The Count of Nantes would probably support his
cause as long as he remained in Brittany. But, at the same time,
this detained him in the constant danger of assassination. Wherever
he went, he apprehended bribery and corruption, poison and poniards.
‘My misery grew with my wealth,’ he says, and ‘I find no place where
I may rest or live.’ His classical reading promptly suggests the
parallel of Damocles.

It was in these circumstances that Abélard wrote the famous letter
which he entitled the ‘Story of my Calamities.’ The passage I have
just quoted occurs in its closing paragraph. It is an invaluable
document for the purpose of the great master’s biography. Without
it, the life of Abélard would occupy only a score of pages. His
contemporaries had numbers of monastic followers and admirers who
were eager to write their deeds in letters of gold. The little band
of friends who stood around Abélard in his final struggle were
scattered, cowed, or murdered, by triumphant Bernardism. At the
mention of Bernard’s name Christendom crossed itself and raised its
eyes to the clouds: at the mention of the ‘Peripatetic of Pallet’ it
closed its pious lips, forgetful, or ignorant, of the twenty years
of profound sorrow for the one grave delinquency of his life. If
the sins of youth are to leave an indelible stain, one is forced to
recall that Augustine had been a greater sinner, and that the Canon
of the Church contains the names of converted prostitutes, such as
Mary of Magdala and Mary Magdalene of Pazzi. It may be thought by
some Catholics that, in the uncertainty of human judgment, there is
a providential criterion given in the working of miracles; but, once
more, even the fifth century only credited St. Augustine with two
miracles. And if intention to serve the Church be all-important,
Abélard has won high merit; or if effective service to the Church,
then is his merit the greater, for the thirteenth century, in its
construction of that theology and philosophy which the Church even
now deems sufficient for the needs of the world, utterly rejected
Bernardism, and borrowed its foundation from Pierre Abélard.

As a piece of literature the ‘Story’ lies under the disadvantage of
being written in degenerate Latin. With all his classical reading,
Abélard has not escaped the use of forms which gravely offend the
classical taste. Perhaps John of Salisbury is superior to him in
this respect; there have certainly been later theologians, such
as Petavius, who have far surpassed him. But, apart from this
limitation in form, it is as high above the many biographies and
autobiographies of his contemporaries as he himself was above most
of their writers. Abbot Suger’s autobiography is a piece of vulgar
and crude self-advertisement beside it. It has not the mere chance
immortality which honours such works as that of Suger, and which is
wholly due to the zeal of the modern collector of ancient documents;
it has the germ of immortality within it—the same soul that lives in
the _Confessions_ of Augustine: those who understand that soul will
not add the _Confession_ of Rousseau. And the confession of Abélard
has this singular feature: it is written by a man to whom the former
sinful self is dead in a way which was impossible to Augustine. That
feature implies both advantages and disadvantages, but it at least
gives a unique value and interest to the document.

We have throughout relied on and quoted this autobiography, so that
an analysis of its contents would be superfluous. There remains,
however, the interesting question of Abélard’s motive for writing
it. It is ostensibly written as a letter, addressed to a friend who
is in trouble, and merely intended to give him some consolation by a
comparison of the sorrows of Abélard. No one will seriously question
that this is only a rhetorical artifice. Probably it reached such
a friend, but it was obviously written for ‘publication.’ In its
sincere acknowledgment of whatever fault lay on his conscience, only
striving to excuse where the intention was clearly good, that is, in
the matter of his theological opinions, the letter must be regarded
as a conciliatory document. Not only its elaborate construction, but
its care in explaining how guiltless he was in the making of most
of his enemies—Anselm, Alberic, Norbert, Bernard, and the monks of
St. Denis and St. Gildas—impel us to think that it was intended for
circulation in France. In a few years we shall find him in Paris once
more. Deutsch believes that the ‘Story’ was written and circulated to
prepare the way for his return, and this seems very probable. From
‘the ends of the earth’ his thoughts and hopes were being redirected
towards Paris; it had availed him nothing to fly from it. But there
were calumnious versions abroad of every step in his eventful life,
and even Bernard sneered at his experience at St. Gildas. He would
make an effort to regain the affection of some of his old friends, or
to create new admirers.

Whatever may have been the aim of Abélard in writing his ‘Story,’
it had one immediate consequence of the first literary importance.
Great of itself, it evoked a correspondence which is unique in the
literature of the world. It fell into the hands of Abbess Heloise,
and led to the writing of her famous _Letters_.



The true interest of the correspondence between the abbot husband
and the abbess wife, which resulted from the publication of the
‘Story of my Calamities,’ needs to be pointed out afresh at the
beginning of the twentieth century. It has been obscured through
the eagerness of historians to indicate parallels and the tendency
of poets and romancers to isolate features which appeal to them.
During the eighteenth century the famous letters were made familiar
to English readers by a number of translations from the French or
from the original Latin. Even then there was a tendency to read
them apart from the lives of the writers, or at least without an
adequate preliminary study of their characters and their fortunes.
Those translations are read no longer. Apart from the limited number
of readers who have appreciated the excellent French versions of
Madame Guizot and M. Gréard, an idea is formed of the letters and
their writers from a few ardent fragments, which are misleading in
their isolation, and from the transference of the names ‘Abélard’
and ‘Heloise’ to more recent characters of history or romance. The
letters must be read anew in the light of our augmented knowledge and
of the juster psychological analysis which it has made possible.

There are those whose sole knowledge of Heloise is derived from the
reading of Pope’s well-known poem, which is taken to be a metrical
exposition of her first letter. With such an impression, and a few
broad outlines of the life of the lovers, one is well prepared to
accept the assertion of a parallel with the _Portuguese Letters_
and other of the _lettres amoureuses_ which were so dear to the
eighteenth century. Probably few who compare Pope with the original,
or indeed read him without comparison, will agree with Hallam that
he has put ‘the sentiments of a coarse and abandoned woman into
her mouth.’ Johnson found ‘no crudeness of sense, no asperity of
language’ in Pope’s poem. Yet no one who has carefully read the
original will fail to perceive that Pope has given a greatly
distorted version of it. French versifiers found it ‘un amusement
littéraire et galant,’ as has been said of Bussy-Rabutin’s version,
to isolate the element of passion in the finer soul of Heloise, and
thus present her as a twelfth-century Marianne Alcoforado. Pope has
yielded somewhat to the same spirit. He does indeed introduce the
intellectual judgment and the complex ethical feeling of Heloise
in his poem, but he alters the proportions of the psychic elements
in her letter, and prepares the way for a false estimate. Pope’s
_Heloise_ is framed in the eighteenth century as naturally as the
real _Heloise_ is in the twelfth. Still, it must be remembered that
Pope did not write from the original Latin letters. He evidently used
some of the so-called ‘translations,’ but really paraphrases, of his

  [21] Mr. Leslie Stephen has kindly drawn my attention to Elwin’s
  theory (Pope’s Works) that he followed the translation of J.
  Hughes, author of the _Siege of Damascus_. Hughes’s ‘translation’
  was little more faithful than the current French versions; it is
  largely a work of imagination. Careful comparison does seem to
  show that Pope used this version, but he seems also to have used
  some of the very misleading French paraphrases. Elwin himself
  thinks Pope did not look at the original Latin.

The charge must also be laid, though with less insistence, against
the parallels which some writers have discovered, or invented, for
Heloise. The most famous are the _Portuguese Letters_, a series of
singularly ardent love-letters from a Portuguese nun to a French
noble. The correspondents are said to have been Marianne Alcoforado
and M. de Chamilly—to look at whom, said St. Simon, you would never
have thought him the soul of the _Portuguese Letters_. He was
neither talented nor handsome, and his liaison with the nun seems to
have been no more than the usual temporary incident in a soldier’s
life. When he returned to France she wrote the letters which are so
frequently associated with those of Heloise. It is an unworthy and
a superficial comparison. There is a ground for comparison in the
condition of the writer and in the free and vivid expression of a
consuming love, but they are separated by profound differences. The
Portuguese nun has nothing but her love; her life is being consumed
in one flame of passion. Heloise is never so wholly lost in her
passion; she can regard it objectively. Even were Abélard other
than he was at the time, no one who knows Heloise could conceive
her, after her vows, to say, ‘if it were possible for me to get out
of this miserable cloister, I should not wait in Portugal for the
fulfilment of your promise,’ or imagine her, under any conditions,
to talk lightheartedly to her lover of ‘the languid pleasures your
French mistresses give you,’ and remind him that he only sought
in her ‘un plaisir grossier.’ There is not a word, in any of the
_Portuguese Letters_, of God, of religious vows, of any thought or
feeling above the plane of sense, of any appreciation of the literal
sacrilege of her position, of anything but a wilful abandonment to a
violent passion.

There are the same defects, though they are less obtrusive, in the
parallel which Rousseau claimed in giving the title of the _Nouvelle
Heloïse_ to his Savoyard letters. The accidental resemblance of the
religious costume is wanting here, but, on the other hand, there is
a greater show of character. Rousseau has confused the Heloise of
1117 and the abbess of the letters. From another point of view, one
would like to know what Bussy-Rabutin or Colardeau would have thought
of the _Nouvelle Heloïse_ as the expression of an absorbing passion.
Rousseau, who held that the _Portuguese Letters_ had been written by
a man, was of the singular opinion that no woman could describe, or
even feel, love. The letters of his Julie are pale fires beside the
first and second letters of Heloise.[22]

  [22] I hardly like to speak of the feeble creation of Robert
  Buchanan in such a company, but his ‘New Abélard’ is a further
  illustration. His pitiful Mr. Bradley has no earthly resemblance
  to Abélard, except in a most superficial sense. It is grotesque
  to compare him to Abélard for his ‘heresy’; and to say that he
  recalls Abélard in his weakness (to the extent of bigamously
  marrying and blasting the life of a noble woman) is deeply
  unjust. Abélard was not a cad.

In direct opposition to the writers who find parallels for the
correspondence of abbess and abbot we have a few critics who deny or
doubt the authenticity of the letters. It is significant that the
recent and critical German biographers of Abélard do not even mention
these doubts. They have, in truth, the slenderest of foundations.
Lalanne, who has endeavoured to spread this heresy in faithful
France, can say little more than that he cannot reconcile the tone
of the letters with the age and condition of the writers; he also
says that Abélard would be hardly likely to preserve such letters
had he received them from his wife. Orelli has tried to sow similar
doubts in the apparently more promising soil of German culture, but
with no greater success. If it seems incredible that Heloise should
have penned the letters which bear her name, how shall we qualify
the supposition that there lived, some time within the following
century, a genius capable of creating them, yet utterly unknown to
his contemporaries? If they are the work of some admirer of Abélard,
as Orelli thinks, they reveal a higher literary competency than
Rousseau shows in his _Nouvelle Heloïse_. We are asked to reject
a wonder in the name of a greater wonder. Moreover, an admirer of
Abélard would not have written the letters which bear his name in a
style that has won for him anything but the admiration of posterity.
And it is quite impossible to admit one series of the letters without
the other.

Setting apart the letters of Abélard, which it is idle to question
in themselves, it must be admitted that there are features in the
letters of Heloise which are startling to the modern mind. These are
the features on which her romantic admirers have concentrated; they
will appear in due course. But when one evades the pressure of modern
associations, and considers the correspondence in its twelfth-century
setting, there is no inherent improbability in it. Rather the
reverse. As to the publication of letters in which husband and wife
had written the most sacred confidences, we need not suppose, as M.
Gréard does, that Heloise ever intended such a result, or built
up her notes into letters for that purpose. Nothing compels us to
think that they were brought together until years after the writers
had been laid in a common tomb. There are obvious interpolations,
it is true, but we shall only increase the difficulty—nay, we shall
create a difficulty—if we look upon the most extraordinary passages
in the letters as coming from any other source than the heart of an
impassioned lover.

As regards what a logician would call the external difficulty—that
we cannot trace the letters further back than the middle of the
thirteenth century—it need not discompose us. The conditions which
make a negative argument of that character valid are not present
here. Abélard had been condemned and his party scattered. There are
no writers to whom we should look for allusions to the letters before
Guillaume de Lorris and Jehan le Meung manifestly introduce them in
the _Roman de la Rose_. Indeed this circumstance, and the fact that
the oldest manuscript we have dates from one hundred years after the
death of Heloise, incline one to think that she wished the treasure
to be preserved in a reverent privacy.

To give any large proportion of the letters here would be
impossible, yet we must give such extracts from them as may serve
in the task of reconstructing character. It was an age when the
practice, if not the art, of letter-writing greatly flourished.
St. Bernard’s letters form a portly and a remarkable volume. The
chroniclers of the time have preserved an immense number of the Latin
epistles which busy couriers bore over the land. One is prepared,
therefore, to find much formality, much attention to the rules and
the conventional graces of the epistolary art, even in the letters of
Heloise. The strong, impetuous spirit does at times break forth, in
splendid violence, from its self-imposed restraint, but we have, on
the whole, something very unlike the utter and unthinking outpouring
of an ebullient passion which is found in the letters of the
Portuguese nun. Arguments are rounded with quotations from classic
writers; dialectical forms are introduced here and there; a care for
literary manner and construction of the Latin periods is manifested.
Bayle says her Latin is ‘too frequently pedantic and subtile.’ It is,
at all events, much superior to the average Latinity of the time,
though, as in the case of Abélard, the characteristic defects of this
are not entirely avoided.

Some day, then, after his ‘Story’ had gone forth on its peaceful
mission into France, Abélard received a folded parchment in the once
familiar hand.

‘To her lord, yea father: to her spouse, yea brother: from his
servant, yea daughter—his wife, his sister: to Abélard from Heloise.’

So ran the superscription, a curious effort to breathe life into a
formality of the day. Chance has brought to their abbey, she says,
a copy of the letter he has recently sent forth. The story of his
saddened life and of the dangers that yet multiply about him has
affected them so deeply that they are filled with anxiety for him.
‘In hourly anguish do our trembling hearts and heaving breasts await
the dread rumour of thy death. By Him who still extends to thee an
uncertain protection we implore thee to inform us, His servants and
thine, by frequent letter, of the course of the storms in which
thou art still tossed; so that thou mayst let us at least, who have
remained true to thee, share thy sorrow or thy joy. And if the storm
shall have abated somewhat, so much the more speedily do thou send
us an epistle which will bring so much joy to us.’ She invokes the
authority of Seneca on the epistolary duties of friends, and she
has a holier claim than that of friend, a stronger one than that of
wife. ‘At thy command I would change, not merely my costume, but my
very soul, so entirely art thou the sole possessor of my body and
my spirit. Never, God is my witness, never have I sought anything
in thee but thyself: I have sought thee, not thy gifts. I have not
looked to the marriage bond or dowry: I have not even yearned to
satisfy my own will and pleasure, but thine, as thou well knowest.
The name of wife may be the holier and more approved, but the name
of friend—nay, mistress or concubine, if thou wilt suffer it—has
always been the sweeter to me. For in thus humbling myself for
thee, I should win greater favour from thee, and do less injury to
thy greatness. This thou hast thyself not wholly forgotten, in the
aforesaid letter thou hast written for the consolation of a friend.
Therein also thou hast related some of the arguments with which I
essayed to turn thee from the thought of our unhappy wedlock, though
thou hast omitted many in which I set forth the advantage of love
over matrimony, freedom over bondage. God is my witness that if
Augustus, the emperor of the whole world, were to honour me with the
thought of wedlock, and yield me the empire of the universe, I should
deem it more precious and more honourable to be thy mistress than to
be the queen of a Cæsar.’

She claims no merit for her devotion. Abélard’s greatness more than
justifies her seeming extravagance. ‘Who,’ she asks, going back to
his golden age, ‘who did not hasten forth to look as thou didst walk
abroad, or did not follow thee with outstretched neck and staring
eyes? What wife, what maid, did not yearn for thee? What queen or
noble dame was there who did not envy my fortune?’

Yet she would ask this measure of gratitude from him, that he write
to her at times. He had never known refusal from her. ‘It was not
religious fervour that drew me to the rigour of the conventual life,
but thy command. How fruitlessly have I obeyed, if this gives me no
title to thy gratitude!... When thou didst hasten to dedicate thyself
to God I followed thee—nay, I went before thee. For, as if mindful of
the looking back of Lot’s wife, thou didst devote me to God before
thyself, by the sacred habit and vows of the monastery. Indeed it was
in this sole circumstance that I had the sorrow and the shame of
noting thy lack of confidence in me. God knows that I should not have
hesitated a moment to go before or to follow thee to the very gates
of hell, hadst thou commanded it. My soul was not my own but thine.’

Let him, therefore, make this small return of a letter to relieve
her anxiety. ‘In earlier days, when thou didst seek worldly pleasure
with me, thy letters were frequent enough; thy songs put the name of
Heloise on every lip. Every street, every house in the city, echoed
with my name. How juster would it be to lead me now to God than thou
then didst to pleasure! Think then, I beseech thee, how much thou
owest me. With this brief conclusion I terminate my long letter.
Farewell, beloved.’

It is small wonder that the epistle placed Abélard in some
perplexity. True, the devoted Heloise had spoken throughout in the
past tense. But the ardour and the violence of her phrases betrayed
a present depth of emotion which he must regard with some dismay.
He had trusted that time and discipline would subdue the flame he
had enkindled, and here it was indirectly revealed to live still in
wondrous strength. He could not refuse to write, nor indeed would
such a neglect profit anything; but he would send her a long letter
of spiritual direction, and endeavour to divert her meditations.

‘To Heloise, his sister in Christ, from Abélard, her brother in Him,’
was the characteristic opening of his reply. If he has not written to
her since her conversion, he says, it is not from neglect nor want of
affection, but from the thought that she needed neither counsel nor
consolation. She had been prioress at Argenteuil, the consoler and
instructor of others. Yet, ‘if it seems otherwise to thy humility,’
he will certainly write her on any point she may suggest. She has
spoken of prayer, and so he diverges into a long dissertation on the
excellence of prayer, which fills nearly the whole of his pages. On
one or two occasions only does he approach that colloquy of soul to
soul, for which Heloise yearned so ardently. ‘We ourselves are united
not only by the sanctity of our oath, but also by the identity of our
religious profession. I will pass over your holy community, in which
the prayers of so many virgins and widows ever mount up to God, and
speak of thee thyself, whose holiness hath much favour with God, I
doubt not, and remind thee what thou owest me, particularly in this
grievous peril of mine. Do thou remember, then, in thy prayers him
who is so specially thine own.’ And when at length he nears the end
of his edifying treatise, he once more bares the heart that still
beats within him. If, he says, they hear before long that he has
fallen a victim to the plots of his enemies, or has by some other
chance laid down his burden of sorrow, he trusts they will have his
body brought to rest in their home, his own dear Paraclete, ‘for
there is no safer and more blessed spot for the rest of a sorrowing

The long letter is, on the whole, prudent and formal to a degree. Yet
it is not true that Abélard had nothing but coldness and prudence
to return to his wife’s devotion. It is quite obvious what Abélard
would conceive to be his duty in replying to Heloise. For her sake
and for his, for her happiness and his repute, he must moderate the
threatening fire. But that he had a true affection and sympathy for
her is made clear by the occasional failure of his pious resolution.
‘Sister, who wert once dear to me in the world and art now most dear
in Christ,’ he once exclaims parenthetically; and at other moments he
calls her ‘dearest sister,’ and even ‘beloved.’ When we remember the
gulf that now separated them, besides his obvious duty to guide her,
we shall accept the contrast of their letters without using harsh
words of the distracted abbot. But the pathos and the humanity of his
closing paragraph defeated his purpose, and the whole soul of the
abbess flames forth in her reply.

It opens with a calm and somewhat artificial quarrel with the
superscription of his letter, but soon breaks out into strong
reproach for his talk of death. ‘How hast thou been able to frame
such thoughts, dearest?’ she asks; ‘how hast thou found words to
convey them?’ ‘Spare me, beloved,’ she says again: ‘talk not of death
until the dread angel comes near.’ Moreover, she and her nuns would
be too distracted with grief to pray over his corpse. Seneca and
Lucan are quoted to support her. Indeed she soon lapses into words
which the theologian would call blasphemous. She turns her face to
the heavens with that old, old cry, Where is Thy boasted justice?
They were untouched in the days of their sinful joy, but smitten with
a thousand sorrows as soon as their bed had the sacramental blessing.
‘Oh, if I dared but call God cruel to me! Oh, most wretched of all
creatures that I am!’ Women have ever been the ruin of men—Adam,
Solomon, Samson, Job—she runs through the long category of man’s
sneaking accusations.

She wishes she could make satisfaction to God for her sin, but, ‘if
I must confess the true infirmity of my wretched soul, how can I
appease Him, when I am always accusing Him of the deepest cruelty
for this affliction?’ There is yet a further depth that she must
lay bare to her father confessor and her spouse. How can there be
question of penance ‘when the mind still retains the thought of
sinning, and is inflamed again with the old longing? So sweet did I
find the pleasures of our loving days, that I cannot bring myself to
reject them, nor banish them from my memory. Wheresoever I go they
thrust themselves upon my vision, and enkindle the old desire. Even
when I sleep they torment me with their fancied joy. Even during the
Mass, when our prayer should be purest, the dreadful vision of those
pleasures so haunts my soul that I am rather taken up with them than
with prayer. I ought to be lamenting what I have done; I am rather
lamenting what I miss. Not only our actions, but the places and the
times are so bound up with the thought of thee in my mind, that night
and day I am repeating all with thee in spirit. The movement of
body reveals my thoughts at times; they are betrayed in unguarded
speech. Oh, woe is me!... Not knowing my hypocrisy, people call me
“chaste.” They deem bodily integrity a virtue, whereas virtue resides
in the mind, not the body.’ Moreover, virtue should be practised out
of love for God, whereas ‘God knows that in every part of my life I
have more dread of offending thee than Him; I have a greater desire
to please thee than Him.’ Let him not deceive himself with trust in
_her_ prayers, but rather help her to overcome herself. And the poor
woman, the nobility of her soul hidden from her and crushed under the
appalling ethical ignorance and perverse ordering of her times, ends
with a plaintive hope that she may yet, in spite of all, find some
corner in heaven that will save her from the abyss.

We have here the passages which have made Heloise an heroine in
erotic circles for so many centuries. On these words, isolated
from their context of religious horror and self-accusation,
have Bussy-Rabutin, and Pope, and the rest, erected their gaudy
structures; on them is grounded the parallel with Marianne
Alcoforado, and Rousseau’s Julie, and so many other women who have
meditated sin. Bayle has carried his Pyrrhonism so far as to doubt
that ‘bodily integrity’ which she claims for herself with so little
boasting; Chateaubriand, with broader and truer judgment, finds in
the letter the mirroring of the soul of a good woman.

There can be little doubt that the optimism of Chateaubriand has
for once come nearer to the truth than the cynicism of Bayle. The
decadent admirers of Heloise forget three circumstances which should
have diminished their equivocal adoration: the letter is from a
wife to her husband, from a penitent to her spiritual guide—women
say such things every day in the confessional, even in this very
sensitive age—from a thoughtful woman to a man whom she knew to be
dead to every breath of sensual love. There is no parallel to such a

Further, it is now obvious that the romancists have done injustice to
the soul of Heloise in their isolation of her impassioned phrases.
She objectifies her love: she is not wholly merged in it. She never
loses sight of its true position in her actual life. It is an evil,
a temptation, a torment—she would be free from it. Yet she is too
rational a thinker to turn to the easy theory of an outward tempter.
It is part of herself, a true outgrowth of the nature God has given
her; and between the voice of nature and the voice of conscience,
complicated by the influence of conventual tradition and written law,
her soul is rent with a terrific struggle. A modern confessor with a
knowledge of physiology—there are a few such—could have led her into
paths of peace without difficulty. There was no sin in her.

It is impossible to say that Abélard sails faultlessly through these
troubled waters, but his answer to her on this point is true and
sound in substance. ‘God grant that it be so in thy soul as thou hast
written,’ he says in his next letter. It is true that he is chiefly
regarding her humility, and that he does not shed the kindly light of
human wisdom on her soul which an earlier Abélard would have done;
yet we can imagine what St. Bernard or Robert d’Arbrissel would
have answered to such an outpouring. However, apart from the happy
moderation of this reply, Abélard’s third letter only increases our
sympathy with this woman who wanders in the desert of the twelfth
century of the Christian era. The wild cry of the suffering heart has
startled him. He becomes painfully ingenious in defending Providence
and the monastic or Buddhistic view of life. As to his death, why
should she be moved so strongly? ‘If thou hadst any trust in the
divine mercy towards me, the more grievous the afflictions of this
life seem to thee the more wouldst thou desire to see me freed from
them! Thou knowest of a certainty that whoever will deliver me from
this life will deliver me from a heavy penalty. What I may incur
hereafter I know not, but there is no uncertainty as to that which I
escape.’ And again, when he comes to her accusations of Providence:
if she would follow him to ‘the home of Vulcan,’ why cannot she
follow him quietly to heaven? As to her saying that God spared them
in their guilt and smote them in their wedded innocence, he denies
the latter point. They were not innocent. Did they not have conjugal
relations in the holy nunnery of the Virgin at Argenteuil?[23] Did
he not profanely dress her in the habit of a nun when he took her
secretly to Pallet? Flushed with the success of his apology for
Providence, the unlucky abbot goes from bathos to bathos. There
was not merely justice but love in the divine ruling. They had
merited punishment, but had, ‘on the contrary,’ been rescued from
the ‘vile and obscene pleasures’ of matrimony, from the ‘mud and
mire,’ and so forth. His mutilation was a skilful operation on the
part of Providence ‘to remove the root of all vice and sordidness
from him, and make him fitter for the service of the altar.’ ‘I had
deserved death, and I have received life. Do thou, then, unite with
me in thanksgiving, my inseparable companion, who hast shared both
my sin and my reward.’ How fortunate it was that they married! ‘For
if thou hadst not been joined to me in matrimony, it might easily
have happened that thou wouldst have remained in the world’—the one
thing that would have saved her from utter desolation. ‘Oh, how dread
a loss, how lamentable an evil it had been, if in the seeking of
carnal pleasure thou hadst borne a few children in pain to the world,
whereas thou now bearest so great a progeny with joy to heaven.’
Again the ‘mud and mire,’ and the thanksgiving. He even lends his
pen, in his spiritual ecstasy, to the writing of this fearful calumny
against himself: ‘Christ is thy true lover, not I; all that I sought
in thee was the satisfaction of my miserable pleasure.’ Her passions
are, like the artificially stimulated ones of the deacons in Gibbon
and of Robert d’Arbrissel, a means of martyrdom. He had been spared
all this, she had plaintively written; on the contrary, he urges, she
will win more merit and reward than he.

  [23] The one from which the nuns had been driven ‘on account of
  the enormity of their life.’

I have given a full summary of the long epistle, because its
psychological interest is great. We have seen the gradual
transformation of Abélard—the steps in his ‘conversion’—from chapter
to chapter. This letter marks the deepest stage of his lapse into
Bernardism.[24] It offers an almost unprecedented contrast to
the Abélard of 1115. And this is the man, I may be pardoned for
repeating, who is held up by ecclesiastical writers (even such as
Newman) to the blushes of the ages. Perhaps the age is not far off
that will sincerely blush over him—not for his personal defects.

  [24] At a later date one of the censures passed by the doctors
  of the Sorbonne on this classic sinner of the twelfth century is
  that he finds a shade of sin in legitimate conjugal relations.

Heloise was silenced. Whether the pious dissertation had really
influenced her, or the proud utterance of her plaint had relieved
her, or she closed in upon her heart after such a reply, it would be
difficult to say. Her next letter is calm, erudite, dialectical. ‘To
her lord as to species, her beloved in person’ is the quaint heading
of the epistle. She will try to keep her pen within due bounds in
future, but he knows the saying about ‘the fulness of the heart.’
Nevertheless, ‘just as a nail is driven out by a new one, so it is
with thoughts.’ He must help her to dwell on other things. She and
her nuns beg him to write a new rule for them and a history of the
monastic life. There are points in the Rule of St. Benedict which are
peculiarly masculine; she discusses them in early mediæval style. She
would like her nuns to be permitted to eat meat and drink wine. There
is less danger in giving wine to women; and she naïvely quotes (from
Macrobius) Aristotle’s crude speculation on the subject. Then follows
a long dissertation on wine, temperance, and intemperance, bristling
with proofs and weighty authorities. Briefly, she quarrels with the
ascetic view of life. She happily avoids the hard sayings in which
Christ urges it on every page of the Gospels, and voices the eternal
compromise of human nature. Who may become Abélard’s successor as
their spiritual guide, she does not know. Let him appoint a rule of
life for them, which will guard them from unwise interference, and
let it concede a little in the way of soft clothing, meat, wine, and
other suspected commodities.

Abélard complies willingly, quite entering into the spirit of
the nail theory. ‘I will make a brief and succinct reply to thy
affectionate request, dear sister,’ he begins, at the head of a
very long and very curious sketch of the history of monasticism.
It is a brilliant proof of Abélard’s erudition, relatively to his
opportunities, but at the same time an illustration of the power of
constructing most adequate ‘explanations’ without any reference to
the real agencies at work.

In a later letter Abélard drew up the rule of life which had been
asked. It follows the usual principles and tendencies of such
documents. It offers, however, no little psychological interest in
connection with the modifications which the abbess has desired.
The dialectician feels a logical reluctance to compromise, and the
fervent monk cannot willingly write down half measures. Yet the human
element in him has a sneaking sympathy with the plea of the abbess,
and, with much explanation and a fond acceptance of Aristotelic
theories, the compromise is effected. To the manuscript of this
letter a later hand has added a smaller and more practical rule.
This is generally attributed to Heloise herself, and is certainly
the work of some early abbess of the Paraclete. It supplements
Abélard’s scheme of principles and general directions by a table of
regulations—as to beds, food, dress, visitors, scandals, etc.—of a
more detailed character.

The closing letter of the famous series is one addressed by Abélard
to ‘the virgins of the Paraclete’ on the subject of ‘the study
of letters.’ It is from this epistle that we learn—as we do also
from a letter of Venerable Peter of Cluny—of Heloise’s linguistic
acquirements. The nuns are urged to undertake the study of the
Scriptural tongues, Latin, Greek, and Hebrew, and are reminded that
they have ‘a mother who is versed in these three languages.’ There
is reason to think that neither master nor pupil knew much Greek or

This is followed shortly by a number of hymns and sermons. Heloise
had asked him to write some hymns for liturgical use, so as to avoid
a wearisome repetition and to dispense with some inappropriate ones.
He sent ninety-three, but they are of little literary and poetic
value. The source of his old-time poetic faculty is dried up. A
sequence for the Feast of the Annunciation, which is attributed to
him, won praise from, of all people, Luther. But the number of hymns
and songs ‘attributed’ to Abélard is large. The sermons, of which
thirty-four are to be found in the collection of his works, are not
distinguished in their order. The abbot was not an eloquent preacher.
But they are carefully written, erudite compositions, which were
delivered at St. Gildas, or the Paraclete, or by special invitation.
Some of them have much intrinsic interest or value—those on Susannah
and John the Baptist, for instance, in connection with monastic
affairs, and that on St. Peter in connection with his rigid loyalty
to Rome.

A more interesting appendix to the correspondence is found in the
forty-two ‘Problems of Heloise,’ with the replies of Abélard. Under
the pretext of following out his direction, but probably with a
greater anxiety to prolong the intercourse, Heloise sent to him a
list of difficulties she had encountered in reading Scripture. The
daughters of Charlemagne had responded to Alcuin’s exhortations with
a similar list. The little treatise is not unworthy of analysis from
the historico-theological point of view, but such a task cannot be
undertaken here. The problems are, on the whole, those which have
presented themselves to every thoughtful man and woman who has
approached the Bible with the strictly orthodox view; the answers
are, generally speaking, the theological artifices which served that
purpose down to the middle of the wayward nineteenth century.

With this mild outbreak of rationalism Heloise passes out of the
pages of history, save for a brief reintroduction in Abélard’s
closing year. The interest and the force of her personality have
been undoubtedly exaggerated by some of the chief biographers of
Abélard, but she was assuredly an able, remarkable, and singularly
graceful and interesting woman. Cousin once suddenly asked in the
middle of a discourse: ‘Who is the woman whose love it would have
been sweetest to have shared?’ Many names were suggested, though
there must have been a strong anticipation that he would name Mme. de
Longueville, for he laboured at that very time under his posthumous
infatuation for the sister of Condé. But he answered, Heloise,
‘that noble creature who loved like a St. Theresa, wrote sometimes
like Seneca, and who must have been irresistibly charming, since
she charmed St. Bernard himself.’ It was a fine phrase to deliver
impromptu, but an uncritical estimate. It is a characteristic paradox
to say that she loved like a St. Theresa, and an exaggeration to say
that she ever wrote like Seneca. As to her charming St. Bernard—the
‘pseudo-apostle,’ as she ungraciously calls him,—they who read the
one brief letter he wrote her will have a new idea of a charmed man.
Yet with her remarkable ability, her forceful and exalted character
in the most devitalising circumstances, and her self-realisation, she
would probably have written her name in the annals of France without
the assistance of Abélard. It must be remembered that she had a very
singular reputation, for her age, before she met Abélard. She might
have been a St. Theresa to Peter of Cluny, or, as is more probable, a
Montmorency in the political chronicle of France.



The literary and personal activity described in the preceding
chapter, together with the elaboration of a new ‘theology,’ of which
we shall read presently, brings the story of Abélard’s life down to
1135 or 1136. His movements during the three or four years after his
flight from St. Gildas are very obscure. St. Bernard seems to speak
of his presence in Paris at one time, though the passages can, and
perhaps should, be explained away. Heloise speaks of his visits to
the Paraclete. On the whole he probably remained in Brittany, at
Nantes or Pallet, and devoted his time to literary work. But in 1136
we find him in Paris once more. Whether the monks succeeded in making
Brittany too insecure for him, or the count failed to guarantee his
income, or a natural disgust with the situation and longing for the
intellectual arena impelled him to return, we cannot say. It is only
known that in 1136 he was once more quickening the scholastic life of
Europe from the familiar slope of St. Genevieve.

So swift and eventful has been the career of the great teacher that
one realises with difficulty that he is now almost an old man, a
man in his fifty-seventh or fifty-eighth year. It is twenty years
since the grim termination of his early Parisian activity, and a new
generation fills the schools. The ideas with which he first startled
and conquered the intellectual world have been made familiar. The
vigour, the freshness, the charming pertinacity of youth have
departed. Yet there is no master in Christendom, young or old, that
can restrain the flood of ‘barbarians’ when ‘Li mestre’ reappears
at Paris. John of Salisbury was amongst the crowd. It is from his
_Metalogicus_ that we first learn of Abélard’s return to the arena,
and the renewal of his old triumph. St. Bernard fully confirms the
story, after his fashion. Indeed, in one sense Abélard’s triumph was
greater than ever, for he gathered a notable group of followers about
him on St. Genevieve. There was Arnold of Brescia, the scourge of the
Italian clergy, the ‘gad-fly’ of the hierarchy. There was Gilbert de
la Porée, a dreaded dialectician and rationalistic theologian. There
was Hyacinth, the young deacon and noble from Rome, afterwards a
power in the sacred college. There was Bérenger, the caustic critic,
who gave Bernard many an unpleasant quarter of an hour. There were
future bishops and theologians in remarkable numbers.

However, we have no information of a definite character until five
years afterwards. In fact John of Salisbury complicates the situation
by stating that Abélard withdrew shortly after 1136. Deutsch thinks
that Abélard left Paris for a few years; Hausrath, on the contrary,
conjectures that he merely changed the locality of his school. John
of Salisbury would, in that case, have followed his lectures in the
cloistral school in 1136, and would have remained faithful to the
abbey, following Abélard’s successor, a Master Alberic, when Abélard
was, for some unknown reason, constrained to move his chair to the
chapel of St. Hilary, also on the slope of St. Genevieve. According
to the _Historia Pontificalis_ it was at St. Hilary that Bernard
visited him in 1141. It is an ingenious way of keeping Abélard
in Paris during the five years, as most historians would prefer
to do. Its weak point is the supposition that John of Salisbury
would continue to attend at the abbey of St. Genevieve with Abélard
teaching a few yards away.

The difficulty may be gladly left to the chronologist. The first
great fact in Abélard’s career after his return to Paris is that St.
Bernard begins to take an active interest in his teaching in the
spring of 1141. Ten short weeks afterwards the prestige of the great
teacher was shattered beyond recall, and he set out upon his pathetic
journey to the tomb. It was a tense, a titanic struggle, on the side
of Bernard.

According to the religious story-books the episode is very clear and
highly honourable to Bernard. Abbot Abélard had rewritten, with what
he thought to be emendations, the theological treatise which had been
burnt at Soissons. Under the title of the _Theologia Christiana_,
this rationalistic exposition and defence of the dogmas of the faith,
especially of the Trinity, had ‘crossed the seas and leaped over the
Alps,’ in Bernard’s vivid phraseology. With it travelled also an
_Introductio ad theologiam_, which was written soon after it, and his
_Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans_, of earlier date. The books
we have previously mentioned, the _Sic et Non_, and the _Ethics_
or _Know Thyself_, had a more limited and secluded circulation.
The theological work which has the title of _Epitome Theologiae
Christianae_ or _Sententiae Petri Abaelardi_ is considered by most
experts to be a collection of his opinions drawn up by some other
masters for scholastic use.[25]

  [25] It is quite beside the writer’s purpose, and probably the
  reader’s pleasure, to give an analysis of these works. I shall
  presently treat the specific points that have relation to his
  condemnation, and I add a supplementary chapter on his teaching
  in general. Deutsch may be read by the curious, and Herr Hausrath
  gives a useful shorter analysis.

The story runs that these works chanced to intrude on the pious
meditations of a mystic theologian of the name of William of St.
Thierry. William was very nearly a saint, and the new theology
shocked him inexpressibly. He had been abbot of St. Thierry at
Rheims, but had been elevated from the Benedictine level to the
Cistercian under Bernard’s influence, and was peacefully composing a
commentary on the highly mystical ‘Song of Songs,’ in the Cistercian
monastery at Signy, when Abélard’s heresies reached him.[26] In his
horror he selected thirteen definite heretical statements from the
books, and sent them, with the treatises, to his pious and powerful
friend, Bernard of Clairvaux, with a pressing request to examine
them and take action. Bernard replied that a cursory perusal of the
books seemed to justify his follower’s zeal. He would put the matter
aside until after Holy Week, then talk it over with William. In the
meantime William must bear patiently with his inactivity, since
he ‘had hitherto known little or nothing of these things.’ Easter
over, and the conference having presumably taken place, Bernard was
convinced of Abélard’s errors. Faithful to Christ’s direction, he
went up to Paris, and personally reproved his erring brother, without
witnesses. Bernard’s biographer (and secretary-monk) assures that
Abélard promised to amend his ways. The amendment not taking place,
Bernard paid him a second brotherly visit, and, as he refused to
comply, Bernard followed out the evangelical direction of reproving
him before others. He attacked him in the presence of his students,
warning the latter that they must burn his heretical writings
forthwith. It is one of the scenes in Abélard’s career which it
would have been interesting to have witnessed.

  [26] A good idea of the man, and of the rapidly growing school he
  belonged to, will be formed from the opening sentence of one of
  his treatises: ‘Rotting in the lake of misery and in the mire of
  filth, and stuck in the mud of the abyss that has no substance,
  and from the depths of my grief, I cry out to Thee, O Lord.’ He
  was in the midst of a similar Bernardesque composition when he
  received Abélard’s works.

However, we must defer for a moment the continuation of the
Bernardist version of the encounter, and examine the course of events
more critically.

The theory that St. Bernard had not occupied himself with the errors
of Abélard until William of St. Thierry drew his attention to them
is a very poor and foolish composition. We could as well imagine
that Newman knew ‘little or nothing’ of Dr. Arnold’s views in the
early thirties. Bernard and Abélard had been for many years the
supreme representatives of the new ‘High’ and ‘Broad’ movements of
the twelfth century; and Bernard had a far more intense dread of
rationalism than Newman. Scarcely an event of moderate importance
occurred in Church, school, or state, in France at least, that
escaped the eye of the abbot of Clairvaux in those days. He
was ‘acting-Pope’ to the Church of Christ, and he felt all the
responsibility. And, amongst the multitudinous cares of his office,
none gave him greater concern than the purity of the faith and the
purification of the disquieting scholastic activity of the day.

We have seen in a former chapter how largely antithetic his position
was to that of Abélard, and that he was a man who could not doubt
for a moment the truth of his own conception of religion. There was
the same marked antithesis at the very bases of their theological
conceptions, in the mental soil in which those conceptions took
root. Bernard was more authoritative than Anselm of Laon, more
mystic than Anselm of Canterbury. He had gone further than Anselm
on the theory that ‘faith precedes reason’; Abélard had gone beyond
Roscelin with the inverse proposition. Perhaps Bernard’s commentary
on the ‘Song of Songs’ furnishes the best illustration of his frame
of mind and his outlook. Towards the close of his life he devoted
himself to long and profound meditation on that beautiful piece of
Oriental literature. We must not forget, of course, that the Church
is largely responsible for his extravagance on this point. It has
indeed taken the civilisation of the West more than two thousand
years to discover that its glowing verses are inspired only by the
rounded limbs and sweet breath of a beautiful woman; and its most
erotic passages are still solemnly applied to the Mother of Christ on
her annual festivals. But Bernard revelled in its ‘mystic’ phrases.
Day by day, for more than a year, he gathered his monks about him in
the _auditorium_ at Clairvaux, and expounded to them the profound
spiritual meanings of the ‘Song.’ Eighty-three long sermons barely
exhausted the first two chapters. In the end he devoted three lengthy
discourses, on successive days, to the elucidation of the words: ‘In
my bed at night I have longed for him whom my soul loveth.’

This mystic and unreasoning attitude brought him into fundamental
antagonism with Abélard. To him faith was the soul’s first duty;
reason might think itself fortunate if there were crumbs of knowledge
in the accepted writings which it could digest. To reason, to ask
a question, was honestly incomprehensible and abhorrent to him. He
insisted that the rationalist told God he would not accept what he
could not understand; whereas the rationalist was prevented by his
own logic from questioning the veracity of the Infinite, and merely
insisted that, in a world of hallucination and false pretence, it
were well to make sure that the proposition in question really did
come from God. Bernard thought reasoning about the Trinity implied
irreverence or incredulity; Abélard felt it to be a high service to
divine truth, in preparing it for minds which were not blessed with
the mystic sense. Bernard believed Christ died purely and crudely
to make amends to the Father; Abélard thought this would impute
vindictiveness to God. And so on through a long list of dogmatic
points which were of unspeakable importance in the eyes of the
twelfth century.

A conflict was inevitable. In Bernard’s thought Abélard was employing
an extraordinary ability to the grave prejudice of the honour of
God, the safety of the Church, and the supreme interest of humanity.
Bernard would have deserted his principles and his clear subjective
duty if he had remained silent. If he had ‘a quick ear’ to catch
‘the distant thunder roll of free inquiry,’ as Cotter Morison says,
and no one questions, he must have turned his zealous attention to
Abélard long ago, as we have already seen. But the rationalist had
been rendered powerless in Brittany for some years. Now that he was
teaching with great effectiveness at Paris once more, Bernard could
not but take action.

However, it is a task of extreme difficulty for an impartial
student to trace with confidence the early stages of that memorable
conflict. We have seen the Bernardist version; the version of some
of the recent biographers of Abélard is very different. Deutsch
and Hausrath, able and critical scholars, believe that the letter
from William of St. Thierry had been written, wholly or in part,
by Bernard himself; that Bernard’s reply was part of a comedy of
intrigue; that a timid and treacherous conventicle of the Cistercian
monks, including Bernard, had deliberately drawn up in advance
this equivocal plan of campaign. Now, if the Catholic enthusiast
is incapable of dealing quite impartially with such a problem,
it is equally certain that the heretic has a similar disturbing
element in his natural predilection for picking holes in the coats
of the canonised. The evidence must be examined very carefully.
The presumption is that a man of the exalted idealism and stern
self-discipline of St. Bernard would not lend himself to such
manœuvres. Yet these things are not inconsistent with the dignity
of canonisation; moreover, the object was a great and holy one—and
Bernard had a mortal dread of the dialectician.

In the first place, then, it is impossible to credit Bernard with the
whole of the letter which bears the name of William of St. Thierry.
Much of it is by no means Bernardesque in style and manner; and
there are passages which it is quite impossible, on moral grounds,
to conceive as having been written by Bernard himself. At the same
time much of it does certainly seem to have been written by Bernard.
There are few better judges of such a point than Deutsch. The
contention that William would not have dared to address such a demand
simultaneously to Bernard and Geoffrey without instructions is more

On the other hand, the letter seems in many respects to support the
idea of a diplomatic arrangement. It is addressed to Bernard and to
Geoffrey of Chartres, and opens as follows: ‘God knows that I am
filled with confusion, my lords and fathers, when I am constrained
to address you, insignificant as I am, on a matter of grave urgency,
since you and others whose duty it is to speak remain silent.’ After
a little of this strain he recounts how he ‘lately chanced to read a
certain work’ of the dreadful heretic he has named—the _Theology of
Peter Abélard_. From it he selects thirteen heretical propositions
(we shall meet them later), which he submits to their judgment. If
they also condemn, he calls for prompt and effective action. ‘God
knows that I too have loved him’ [Abélard], he says, ‘and would
remain in charity with him, but in such a cause as this I know no
friend or acquaintance.’ Finally, he says: ‘There are, I am told,
other works of his, the _Sic et Non_ and the _Scito te Ipsum_, and
others ... but I am told that they shun the light, and cannot be

Without straining an impressionist argument, it may be at once
pointed out that the letter betrays itself. Several of the
propositions in the list are not found in either of Abélard’s
theologies; they are taken from the works which William affirms he
has never seen. An intrigue is revealed; some other person, not at
Signy, has had an important share in the epistle, if not in the
actual writing of it. Again, as Neander says in his _Life of St.
Bernard_, the passage about his affection cannot be taken seriously;
he had been passionately devoted to Bernard for some years. The
letter is evidently written for use or publication, and reveals a
curious piece of acting.

Bernard’s reply is also clearly ‘part of the comedy,’ as Hausrath
says. Bernard is much addicted to _tutoyer_ his friends, even his
lady friends.[27] His previous letters to William, written before
he was a ‘son of religion’ and a devoted follower, are written in
that familiar style. But in this brief note ‘thou’ and ‘thine’ become
‘you’ and ‘your.’ ‘I consider your action both just and necessary.
The book itself, betraying the mouth of those that speak iniquity,
proves that it was not idle.... But since I am not accustomed, as
you know well, to trust my own judgment, especially in matters of
such moment,’ it must wait a little. He will see William about it
after Easter. ‘In the meantime be not impatient of my silence and
forbearance in these matters; most of them, indeed nearly all of
them, were not known to me before (cum horum plurima et pene omnia
hucusque nescierim).’

  [27] Witness his genial letter to our English Matilda.

The letter is almost incomprehensible, coming from such a man. _He_
take the first discovery of so influential a heretic so calmly; _he_
not trust his own judgment in such matters! Save for the literary
form, which is unmistakable, the letter is wholly out of place in the
bulky volume of Bernard’s correspondence. It is part of the play;
and its brevity and vagueness seem to indicate an unwillingness or
ethical discomfort on the part of the writer.

The closing sentence in it has given trouble even to Bernard’s
biographers, and must disconcert every admirer of the great
uplifter of the twelfth century. Cotter Morison says ‘he must refer
to the special details’ of Abélard’s teaching. It is impossible to
acquit the words of the charge of evasiveness and a half-conscious
inaccuracy, even if they be so interpreted. We have already given
the general considerations which compel us to think Bernard made
himself fully acquainted with Abélard’s opinions. We have already
discussed the probability of his share in the driving of Abélard into
Brittany. Other indications are not wanting. In 1132 Bernard was
sent on a papal mission into Burgundy; his companion was Joscelin,
Abélard’s early rival. Bernard attacks with some spirit the errors
of an unnamed master in his _Treatise on Baptism_; these errors are
the opinions of Abélard. On one occasion, indeed, they had a direct
controversy. Bernard had visited the Paraclete, and had criticised
the way in which the nuns, following Abélard’s direction, recited the
Lord’s Prayer. Abélard had inserted ‘supersubstantial’ for ‘daily.’
Heloise duly reported the criticism, and Abélard flew to arms. The
letter was characteristic. A sweet and genial prelude, a crushing
argumentative onslaught, and an ironical inversion of the charge.
‘But let each do as he pleases,’ the rhetorician concluded; ‘I do
not wish to persuade any man to follow me in this. He may change the
words of Christ as he likes.’

However, we need not strain detailed indications. It is impossible
to think that Bernard was unacquainted with ‘novelties’ that the
echo of a great name had borne to the ends of the earth.[28] When
we have seen the whole story of Bernard’s share in the struggle, it
will be easier to understand this letter. It is puerile to think
that we detract anything from the moral and spiritual greatness of
St. Bernard in admitting an occasional approach to the common level
of humanity. And there was present in strength that delusive ideal
which has led so many good men into fields that were foreign to their
native grandeur—the good of the Church.

  [28] _Fas est et ab hoste doceri._ The Benedictine defenders of
  Bernard (in _Migne_) say, in another connection: ‘Was there a
  single cardinal or cleric in Rome who was unacquainted with his

There is no record of a conference with William of St. Thierry
after Easter. The pupil has played his part, and he now vanishes
completely from the theatre. But from the subsequent report which
was sent to the pope, and from the _Life of St. Bernard_, written
by his admiring secretary, we learn that Bernard visited Abélard in
private, and admonished him of his errors. The scene is unfortunately
left to the imagination; though the report we have mentioned speaks
of a ‘friendly and familiar admonition.’ Bernard’s biographer would
have us believe that Abélard was quite subdued—the ‘rhinoceros’ was
tamed again—by Bernard’s brotherly address, and promised to retract
his errors. It is possible that Abélard put him off with amiable
generalities, but quite incredible that he made any such promise. We
need not speculate, with Hausrath, on the probability of interference
from his more ardent students. The episcopal report to the pope
does not mention any broken promise. It could have used such a
circumstance with great effect.

Then followed Bernard’s second visit and warning. It would be
difficult to say which dreaded the other more in these curious
interviews, but Bernard had convinced himself of his duty to
crush Abélard, and he was following out a very correct and
excellently-devised scheme. The Gospel required a twofold personal
correction of an erring brother, before he was denounced to the
synagogue. The second one was to have witnesses. Bernard therefore
boldly admonished Abélard in the presence of his students, and bade
them burn the works of their master. It is a thousand pities we have
no Abélardist record of these proceedings.

If Abélard said little during the conferences, he must have known
that he was rapidly approaching another, perhaps a supreme, crisis
in his life. He knew his Gospel, and he knew Bernard. The next step
was the denunciation to the synagogue. He had had an experience of
such denunciation, and he would certainly not expect a less insidious
attack from the abbot of Clairvaux, who had avoided his dialectical
skill so long. He determined to checkmate the Cistercians. Very
shortly afterwards Bernard was dismayed to receive a letter from the
Archbishop of Sens, in which he was invited to meet the redoubtable
dialectician at Sens in a few weeks’ time, and discuss the right
and wrong of their quarrel before the whole spiritual and temporal
nobility of France.

It was now a question of dialectics and rhetoric versus diplomacy;
though indeed we must credit Abélard—or his ‘esquire,’ as Bernard
calls Arnold of Brescia—with a fine diplomatic move in claiming the
discussion. There are several reasons for thinking that the Bishop
of Paris was in Rome at the time, or the discussion should have
been sought at Notre Dame. The next _instantia_ was the Archbishop
of Sens, and Abélard continued to assail that prelate until he was
forced to accept the petition. Not improbably it appealed to the
sporting instinct of old ‘Henry the Boar,’ a man of noble extraction,
and of extremely worldly life before he fell under the influence of
the ubiquitous Bernard. The quarrel of the two great luminaries of
France was now notorious. He could not well refuse to open the lists
for a superb trial by combat.

But Bernard had an entirely different theory of the condemnation of a
heretic. He trusted to his personal influence and immense epistolary
power. Abélard’s works were available, and were sufficient for the
grounding of a condemnation, he said. He was not merely impatient of
the implied doubt of the infallibility of his judgment; he shrank
nervously from the thought of such an encounter. He did not conceal
for a moment his dread of Abélard’s power. ‘I am a boy beside him,’
he pleaded, ‘and he is a warrior from his youth.’ On the other hand,
if it became a question of a diplomatic struggle for a condemnation
of the books at Rome, the positions would be exactly reversed. He
refused to enter the lists with Abélard.

In the meantime the day which the Archbishop of Sens had appointed
was rapidly approaching. It was the Octave of, or eighth day
after, Pentecost. On the Sunday after Whitsunday, now dedicated
to the Trinity, there was to be a brilliant religious function in
the cathedral at Sens. It was customary to expose the relics to
veneration on that day, and as Sens, the metropolitan church of
Paris[29] and other important towns, had a very valuable collection
of relics, the ceremony attracted a notable gathering of lords,
spiritual and temporal. Louis VII. was to be there, with the usual
escort of French nobles: the curiously compounded monarch had a
profound veneration for relics, and something like a passion for
the ceremonies that accompanied their translation, veneration, and
so forth. All the suffragans of the archbishop would be present,
with a number of other bishops, and abbots, clerics, and masters
innumerable. Quite apart from the duel between the greatest thinker
and the greatest orator in Europe, there would be a very important
and weighty gathering at the cathedral on that day. Abélard willingly
assented. Bernard is fond of repeating in his later letters that
Abélard set to work ‘to summon his friends and followers from all
parts.’ We shall see that the only noteworthy supporters of Abélard
at Sens were pupils or masters from Paris, which lay at a convenient
distance. Bernard was shortly to lose his serenity in a sea of

  [29] The see of Paris was not elevated into an archbishopric
  until a much later date.

There is a minor quarrel as to whether Bernard reversed his decision,
and intimated his acceptance to the archbishop before the day
arrived. Father Hefele thinks he did so. It is, however, clear that,
in his letter to the pope afterwards, Bernard wishes to convey the
impression that he held out until the last moment, and only yielded
to the entreaties of his friends in actually presenting himself.

We shall refer to this letter to Pope Innocent shortly, but it is
worth while to notice now the edifying picture he draws of his
own preparation in contrast with that of ‘the dragon.’ Abélard
is represented as feverishly whipping up his supporters, whilst
Bernard refuses to hear of such an encounter, not only on account
of Abélard’s world-famed skill in debate, but also because he thinks
it improper to discuss sacred things in this fashion. But friends
represent that the Church will suffer, and the enemies of Christ
triumph. Wearily and ‘without preparation’—trusting wholly in the
divine promise of inspiration—he presents himself on the appointed
day before ‘Goliath.’

In point of historical fact there is no reason for thinking that
Abélard made any effort to gather supporters. The few we read of
accompanied him from Paris. He had scarcely a single friend in the
ranks of his ‘judges.’ On the other hand we _do_ know that Bernard
himself sent out a strong and imperious ‘whip’ to his episcopal
supporters. There is a brief letter, contained in the _Migne_
collection, which was despatched to all the French bishops on whom
Bernard could rely for sympathy and support. They have heard, he
says, of his summons to appear at Sens on the Octave of Pentecost.
‘If the cause were a personal one,’ he goes on, ‘the child of
your holiness could perhaps not undeservedly look to your support
[patrocinium]. But it is your cause, and more than yours; and so I
admonish you the more confidently and entreat you the more earnestly
to prove yourselves friends in this necessity—friends, I should say,
not of me, but of Christ.’ And he goes on to prejudge the case in
the mind of the official judges with his rhetorical denunciation of
Abélard’s heresies. ‘Be not surprised,’ he concludes, ‘that I summon
you so suddenly and with so brief a notice; this is another ruse
of our cunning adversary, so that he might meet us unprepared and

The consequence of the sending of this whip will be apparent when we
come to examine the composition of the gathering at Sens. It marks
the beginning of a period of most remarkable intrigue. The idyllic
picture of the poor abbot making his way at the last moment to the
assembly with a sublime trust in Providence and the righteousness of
his cause must be regarded again at the close of the next chapter.

Whether Bernard formally accepted the summons or not, therefore,
authentic information was conveyed to both sides that the debate
would take place. It will be readily imagined how profoundly stirred
the kingdom of France would be over such an expectation. The bare
qualities of the antagonists put the discussion leagues above any
remembered or contemporary event in the scholastic world; the object
of the debate—the validity of the new thought that was rapidly
infecting the schools—was a matter of most material concern. Deutsch
has a theory of the conflict which seems to be only notable as an
illustration of the profundity of the Teutonic mind. He opines
there may have been a political struggle underlying the academic
demonstration. Louis was just beginning his struggle with Rome over
the vexed question of investitures, and it is conceivable that the
Abélardists leaned to the side of the king, in opposition to Bernard
and the ‘ultramontanes.’ It is conceivable, but not at all probable.
Abélard’s sermon on St. Peter indicates a really ultramontane
sentiment; moreover, he has ever kept aloof from the political side
of life. His follower, Arnold of Brescia, would be likely enough
to fall in with any such regal design. Arnold was a young Luther,
of premature birth. Born in Italy at the beginning of the twelfth
century, he had travelled to France, and studied under Abélard, at an
early age. He returned to Italy, and assumed the monastic habit. An
enthusiastic idealist and a man of proportionate energy and audacity,
he soon entered upon a fiery crusade against the sins of the monks,
the clergy, and the hierarchy. He was driven from Italy in 1139, then
from Switzerland, and he had just taken refuge in Paris when Bernard
started his campaign. Since one of his most prominent theories was
that the higher clergy should be stripped of all temporal privileges
and possessions, his place is easily determined on the question
of investitures. However, it is most unlikely that he should have
dragged Abélard into these semi-political and dangerous questions.
And although Bernard most sedulously urges the association of the
hated Arnold with Abélard in his letters to Rome, he never mentions
a suspicion of such a coalition as Deutsch suggests; nor, in fine,
does the conduct of the secular arm give the least countenance to the

The conflict was inevitable, without the concurrence of any political
intrigue. Abélard and Bernard were the natural representatives of
schools which could no longer lie down in peace in the fold of the
Church. Abélard foresaw disaster to the Church in the coming age
of restless inquiry unless its truths could be formulated in his
intellectual manner. Bernard was honestly convinced that Abélard was
‘preparing the way for Anti-Christ.’ And it followed as a further
consequence that Bernard should wish to avoid the discussion to which
Abélard looked for salvation from the menace of the mystical school.

It will appear presently that Bernard was less concerned with the
details of Abélard’s teaching than with his spirit. He, however,
dwells on them for controversial purposes, and they are certainly
full of interest for the modern mind. The point will be more fully
developed in a supplementary chapter. For the moment a brief glance
at them will be instructive enough. They differ a little in Bernard’s
letter from the list given by William of St. Thierry, but one cannot
even glance at them without noticing how remarkably this thinker
of the twelfth century anticipated the judgment of the nineteenth
century. His theses, like the theses of the advanced theology of
these latter days, indicate two tendencies—an intellectual tendency
to the more rational presentment of dogma, and an ethical tendency to
the greater moralisation of ancient dogma.

We have already seen a good illustration of this anticipation of
modern tendencies in Abélard’s treatment of the traditional doctrines
of heaven and hell respectively, and we shall see more later on.
Of the fourteen specific points (thirteen in William’s letter)
contained in the present indictment, we may pass over most of those
which refer to the Trinity as without interest. Abélard’s phrases
were new, but he cordially rejected the Arianism, Nestorianism, and
so forth, with which Bernard insisted on crediting him. In the ninth
proposition, that the species of bread and wine remain in the air
after transubstantiation, and that adventurous mice only eat the
species, not the Body of Christ, Abélard enunciated an opinion which
has been widely adopted by modern Catholic theologians. In his second
proposition, that the Holy Ghost was the Platonic _anima mundi_,
Abélard was merely trying to save Plato from the damnation of the

On the ethical side, Abélard’s theses (in their context in his works)
are truly remarkable. Thus the third, ‘That God can only do those
things which He actually does, and in the way and at the time that
He does them,’ and the seventh, ‘That God is not bound to prevent
evil,’ are obviously indications of an ethical attempt to save the
sanctity of the Infinite in view of the triumph of evil. ‘That Christ
did not become Man for the purpose of saving us from the yoke of
the devil’ is an early formulation of the familiar modern conception
of the Incarnation. ‘That God does not do more for the elect, before
they accept his grace, than for the damned,’ and ‘That we have
shared the punishment but not the guilt of Adam,’ are further clear
anticipations of the refined theology of modern times. ‘No man can
sin before he exists,’ said Abélard, to Bernard’s mighty indignation.
‘That God alone remits sin’ is heretical to the modern Catholic, but
the dogma was not completely born until the following century;[30]
‘that evil thoughts, and even pleasure, are not of themselves
sinful, but only the consent given to them,’ and ‘that the Jews who
crucified Christ in ignorance did not sin, that acts which are done
in ignorance cannot be sinful,’ express the universal opinion of even
modern Catholic theologians, in the sense in which Abélard held them.

  [30] And the thesis is rejected in Abélard’s _Apology_.

And ‘these,’ wrote Bernard, with fine contempt, to his friend, Pope
Innocent, ‘are the chief errors of the theology, or rather the
stultilogy, of Peter Abélard.’



On the 4th of June 1141, the cathedral at Sens was filled with one
of the strangest throngs that ever gathered within its venerable
walls. Church and state and the schools had brought their highest
representatives and their motley thousands to witness the thrilling
conflict of the two first thinkers and orators of France. On the
previous day the magnificent ceremony of the veneration of the
relics had taken place. At that ceremony the abbot of Clairvaux had
discoursed of the meaning and potency of their act. And when the
vast crowds of gentle and simple folk had quickened and sobbed and
enthused at his burning words, he had ventured to ask their prayers
for the conversion of an unbeliever, whom he did not name.

Now, on the Monday morning, the great concourse had streamed into the
cathedral once more, an intense eagerness flashing from the eyes of
the majority. The red Mass of the Holy Spirit had been chanted by the
clerics, and the clouds of incense still clung about the columns and
the vaulted roof of the church. King Louis sat expectant, and stupid,
on the royal throne; the Count de Nevers and a brilliant group of
nobles and knights standing beside and behind him. Opposite them
another gaily apparelled group presented Henry, Archbishop of Sens,
with five of his suffragan bishops; beside him sat Samson, Archbishop
of Rheims, with three suffragans. Mitred abbots added to the
splendour with their flash of jewels. Shaven monks, with the white
wool of Cîteaux or the black tunic of St. Benedict, mingled with the
throng of canons, clerics, scholastics, wandering masters, ragged,
cosmopolitan students, and citizens of Sens and Paris in their gay
holiday attire.

It was, at first sight, just such an assembly as Abélard had dreamed
of when he threw down the gauntlet to the Cistercian. But he must
have looked far from happy as he stood in the midst of his small
band of followers. As he passed into the cathedral, he had noticed
Gilbert de la Porée in the crowd, the brilliant master who was to be
Bernard’s next victim, and he whispered smilingly the line of Horace:

    ‘It is thy affair when thy neighbour’s house is on fire.’

With Abélard were the impetuous young master, Bérenger of Poitiers;
the stern, ascetic, scornful young Italian, Arnold of Brescia,
flashing into the eyes of the prelates the defiance that brought him
to the stake fourteen years afterwards; and the young Roman noble,
Hyacinth, who afterwards became cardinal.

Beside these, and a host of admiring nonentities, Abélard almost
looked in vain for a friendly face amidst the pressing throng. The
truth was that, as Rémusat says, ‘if Bernard had not prepared for
debate, he had made every preparation for the verdict.’ The whole
cathedral was with him. After his discourse of the preceding day,
and the rumours that had preceded it, the priest-ridden citizens of
Sens were prepared to stone the heretic, as the people of Soissons
had threatened to do. The students would be divided, according to
their schools. The monks longed to see the downfall of their critic.
The king—the man who was to bear to his grave ‘the curse of Europe
and the blessing of St. Bernard’—was not likely to hesitate. The
Count de Nevers was a pious, credulous noble, who afterwards became
a Cistercian monk. Otto of Freising says Count Theobald of Champagne
was present, though the report does not mention him; in any case he
had fallen largely under Bernard’s influence since his sister had
gone down in the _White Ship_ in 1120. The clergy of Sens were with
Bernard; their motto was: ‘The church of Sens knows no novelties.’ Of
the judges proper, Geoffrey, Bishop of Chartres, was almost the only
one who could be termed neutral; and even he had now become greatly
amenable to Bernard’s influence. Archbishop Henry was completely in
the hands of Bernard, his converter, who scolded him at times as
if he were a boy. Archbishop Samson of Rheims owed his pallium to
Bernard, in the teeth of the king’s opposition; he was deprived of
it some years afterwards. Hugo of Mâcon, the aged Bishop of Auxerre,
was a relative of Bernard’s and a fellow-monk at Cîteaux. Joscelin of
Vieri, Bishop of Soissons, was the former teacher of Goswin, and the
associate of Bernard on a papal mission a few years before. Geoffrey,
Bishop of Châlons, Abélard’s former friend at St. Médard, had since
been helped to a bishopric by Bernard. Hatto, Bishop of Troyes, had
been won to Bernard. Alvise, Bishop of Arras, is said to have been a
brother of Abbot Suger and friend of Goswin. Of the only two other
bishops present, Helias of Orleans and Manasses of Meaux, we have no

In such an assembly the nerve of the boldest speaker might well fail.
Bernard had preached during the Mass on the importance of the true
faith. Then when the critical moment came, he mounted the pulpit
with a copy of the writings of Abélard, and the dense crowd, totally
ignorant, most probably, of previous events, which were known only
to the intimate friends of each combatant, held its breath for the
opening of the struggle. The frail, worn, nervous figure in the
flowing, white tunic began to read the indictment, but suddenly
Abélard stepped forth before the astonished judges, and, crying out:
‘I will not be judged thus like a criminal; I appeal to Rome,’ turned
his back on them and strode out of the cathedral.

Chroniclers have left to our imagination the confusion that followed,
and we may leave it to that of the reader. Although the bishops
afterwards made a show of disputing it, the appeal was quite
canonical, and was admitted at Rome. But it was a course which had
not entered into the thoughts of the most astute of them, and which
completely upset their plans. They could not now touch the person
of Abélard. Bernard, indeed, did not deprive the great audience of
the discourse he had ‘not prepared,’ although it was now quite safe
from contradiction. We have it, some say, in his later letter to the
pope, a most vehement denunciation and often perversion of Abélard’s
teaching. He gained an easy victory, as far as Sens was concerned.
The next day the prelates met together, condemned Abélard’s teaching
as heretical, and forwarded a report, submitting his person and his
works, to Rome.

The question why Abélard behaved in so extraordinary a manner has had
many answers. The answer of the godly, given by Bernard’s monkish
biographer, is of the transcendental order. Brother Geoffrey relates
that Abélard confessed to his intimate friends that he mysteriously
lost the use and control of his mind when Bernard began. Bishop
Otto of Freising says that he feared ‘a rising of the people.’ He
would be more likely to provoke one by thus affronting their great
cathedral and prelates. The true interpretation is that the assembly
was a play, covering an unworthy intrigue, and he had been secretly
informed of it. The bishops had drawn up their verdict, over their
cups, on the preceding day.

Desperate efforts are made, of course, to destroy an interpretation
which does not leave the discredit on Abélard, but it has now been
based on incontrovertible evidence. In the first place the bishops
ingenuously confess it themselves in their eagerness to evade
a different accusation. In order to influence the judgment, or
rather the decision, of the pope, they told him that they had found
Abélard’s teaching to be heretical. How, then, were they to reconcile
this with the notice of Abélard’s appeal to Rome? ‘We had,’ they say
in their report, ‘already condemned him on the day before he appealed
to you.’ It matters little who wrote this report—whether Bernard[31]
or Henry’s secretary—because it was signed by the bishops. They
reveal their secret conclave of the Sunday evening. Henry was
particularly anxious to justify them, at all costs, on the charge of
disregarding the appeal, because he had been suspended by Innocent
for that offence a few years previously.

  [31] It is singular that Mr. Poole, who credits Bernard with
  writing the report, should speak of the words as a deliberate
  ‘lie of excuse,’ especially as he adopts the witness of Bérenger
  to a previous condemnation. We are not only compelled by
  independent evidence to take them as correct, but one imputes a
  lesser sin to Bernard (from the Catholic point of view) in doing

Again, in the _Historia Pontificalis_, attributed to John of
Salisbury, there is an account of Bernard’s attempt to secure the
condemnation of that other brilliant dialectician, Gilbert de la
Porée, in 1148. It is expressly stated that Bernard called the chief
personages together the night before the synod, and was leading them
to pronounce on Gilbert’s ‘errors,’ when an archdeacon of Châlons
spoiled his strategy. Further, the writer goes on to say that the
cardinals—there were a number present for the synod—were greatly
incensed with Bernard, and ‘said that Abbot Bernard had beaten Master
Abélard by a similar stratagem.’ It is not unlikely that they learned
the story from Hyacinth, the young Roman.

The classical witness to this over-night conclave is Abélard’s
pupil, Bérenger of Poitiers. Unfortunately, his narrative is marred
by obvious exaggerations and a careless, heated temper. It occurs
in an apology for Abélard, or an ‘open letter’ to Bernard, which
he wrote some months afterwards. After reminding Bernard of some
of the frivolities of his early youth, and much sarcastic comment
on his actual reputation, he gives what purports to be a detailed
description of the secret meeting. No one who reads it will take
it literally. Yet when, in later years, he was run down, like
Gilbert and Arnold, by the relentless sleuthhound, he made a partial
retractation. What he has written as to the person of ‘the man of
God’ must, he says, be taken as a joke. But a few lines previously
he has appealed to this very narrative in justification of his
abuse of Bernard: ‘Let the learned read my “Apology,” and they may
justly censure me if I have unduly blamed him [Bernard].’ It is
not impossible that Bérenger merely retracts such remarks as that
about Bernard’s juvenile ‘cantiunculas.’ In any case, we may justly
transcribe a portion of the narrative, after these qualifications.

‘At length, when the dinner was over, Peter’s work was brought in,
and some one was directed to read it aloud. This fellow, animated
with a hatred of Peter, and well watered with the juice of the grape,
read in a much louder voice than he had been asked to do. After a
time you would have seen them knock their feet together, laugh, and
crack jokes; you would think they were honouring Bacchus rather than
Christ. And all the time the cups are going, the wine is being
praised, the episcopal throats are being moistened. The juice of the
lethal drink had already buried their hearts.... Then, when anything
unusually subtle and divine was read out, anything the episcopal ears
were not accustomed to, they hardened their hearts and ground their
teeth against Peter. “Shall we let this monster live?” they cried....
The heat of the wine at length relaxed the eyes of all in slumber.
The reader continues amidst their snoring. One leans on his elbow in
order to sleep. Another gets a soft cushion. Another slumbers with
his head resting on his knees. So when the reader came to anything
particularly thorny in Peter, he shouted in the deaf ears of the
pontiffs: “Do you condemn?” And some of them just waking up at the
last syllable, would mutter: “We condemn.”’

It is not difficult to take off the due and considerable discount
from the youthful extravagance of Master Bérenger. Bernard’s
followers (in the _Histoire littéraire de la France_) say he had ‘too
noble a soul and too elevated a sentiment to stoop to the refutation
of such a work.’ He has never, at all events, essayed to rebut the
charge of procuring a verdict against Abélard on the day before the
synod. Even in our own days it is a familiar source of merriment
in ecclesiastical and monastic circles to see a group of prelates
fervently following the red Mass of the Holy Ghost as a preliminary
to a discussion of points which they have notoriously settled over
their cups the night before. Such a meeting of the bishops on the
Sunday would be inevitable. Bernard would inevitably be present, and
Abélard infallibly excluded. In any case, the evidence is too precise
and substantial to be rejected. Indeed, the story fully harmonises
with our knowledge of Bernard’s earlier and subsequent conduct. It
is not ours to inquire minutely how far Bernard was consistent with
himself and his lofty ideals in acting thus.

Bernard was defeated for the moment by the unexpected appeal from
the verdict of the unjust judges. But he knew well that Abélard had
avoided Scylla only to plunge into Charybdis. Abélard’s knowledge
of the curia was restricted to a few days’ acquaintance with it in
a holiday mood at Morigni. Arnold of Brescia probably urged his
own acquaintance with it in vain. Moreover many years had elapsed
since his name was inscribed by the side of that of Bernard in the
chronicle of Morigni. Bernard, the secluded contemplative, knew the
curia well. He hastened home, told his secretary to prepare for a
journey across the Alps, and sat down to write a batch of extremely
clever epistles. The battle was fought and won before Abélard had
covered many leagues in the direction of Italy.

The first document that Bernard seems to have written is the report
upon the synod which was sent to Innocent II. in the name of the
Archbishop of Rheims and his suffragans. Hausrath, who is the least
restrained by considerations of Bernard’s official sanctity of
all Abélard’s apologists, and others, hold that both the reports
of the proceedings, that of Samson and that of Henry (for the two
archbishops, with their respective suffragans, reported separately
to the pope), were written by Bernard. It is at least clear that the
Rheims report was drawn up by him. Mr. Poole says this is admitted
even by Father Hefele. Bernard’s style is indeed unmistakable.

In this official document, therefore, the pope is informed, not so
much that a dispute about Abélard’s orthodoxy is referred to his
court, as that ‘Peter Abélard is endeavouring to destroy the merit
of faith, in that he professes himself able to comprehend by his
human reason the whole being of God.’ From this gross calumny[32]
the writer passes on to assure the pope that Abélard ‘is a great
man in his own eyes, ever disputing about the faith to its undoing,
walking in things that are far above him, a searcher into the divine
majesty, a framer of heresies.’ He goes on to recount that Abélard’s
book had been condemned and burnt once before, at Soissons, ‘because
of the iniquity that was found in it’; whereas every scholar in
France knew that it was condemned on the sole ground that it had
been issued without authorisation. ‘Cursed be he who has rebuilt the
walls of Jericho,’ fulminates the abbot of Clairvaux. Finally, he
represents Abélard as boasting of his influence at Rome. ‘This is
the boast of the man,’ he says, ‘that his book can find wherein to
rest its head in the Roman curia. This gives strength and assurance
to his frenzy.’ The sole object of his appeal is ‘to secure a longer
immunity for his iniquity. You must needs apply a swift remedy to
this source of contagion.’ And the monstrous epistle closes with a
trust that Innocent will do his part, and that swiftly, as they had
done theirs. Thus was the pope introduced, in a handwriting he had
so many reasons to respect, to Abélard’s appeal for consideration.

  [32] Abélard explicitly and very emphatically rebukes such
  pretension in the very books which Bernard is supposed to have

The second report, which is signed by Archbishop Henry and his
suffragans, and which may not have been drawn up by Bernard, is
more free from diplomatic turnings, but also gravely unjust to the
appellant. It gives the pope a lengthy account of the order of events
since the receipt of the letter of William of St. Thierry. From it
we have quoted the words in which the bishops themselves confess
the secret conclave on the Sunday. The bishops were affronted, it
says, by Abélard’s appeal, which was ‘hardly canonical,’ but they
were content with an examination of his doctrines (consisting of
Bernard’s vehement harangue) and found them to be ‘most manifestly
heretical.’ They therefore ‘unanimously demand the condemnation of
Abélard.’ To put the point quite explicitly, the pope is clearly to
understand that the Church of France has already dealt with Abélard.
It is not quite so insidious as the report which Bernard wrote, and
to which—sad sign of the growing quality of the Church—even Geoffrey
of Chartres lent his venerable name.

Bernard’s official task seemed to be at an end with the despatch of
the report. His profound and generous trust in the Holy Spirit would
lead one to expect a complete withdrawal from the quarrel into which
he had been so unwillingly forced. But Bernard’s conception of the
activity of the Holy Spirit, though equal in theoretical altitude,
was very different in practice from that of a Francis of Assisi. We
have amongst his works no less than three epistles that he wrote at
the time to Pope Innocent in his own name. One of them consists of
a few prefatory remarks to the list of Abélard’s errors. The two
others are of a much more personal and interesting character. It is
difficult to say whether, and if so, why, the two letters were sent
to the pope, but it is not necessary to determine this. Both were
certainly written by Bernard for the purpose.

The first letter is addressed ‘to his most loving father and lord,
Innocent, Sovereign Pontiff by the grace of God, from Brother
Bernard, called the abbot of Clairvaux.’ From the first line he aims
at determining the case in the pope’s mind. ‘It is necessary that
there be scandals amongst us—necessary, but assuredly not welcome.’
Hence have the saints ever longed to be taken from this troubled
world. Bernard is equally tired of life. He knows not whether it
be expedient that he die, yet ‘the scandals and troubles’ about him
are pressing his departure. ‘Fool that I was to promise myself rest
if ever the Leonine trouble[33] was quelled and peace was restored
to the Church. That trouble is over, yet I have not found peace.
I had forgotten that I still lingered in the vale of tears.’ His
sorrow and his tears have been renewed. ‘We have escaped the lion
[Pierleone], only to meet the dragon [Abélard], who, in his insidious
way, is perhaps not less dangerous than the lion roaring in high
places. Did I say insidious? Would indeed that his poisoned pages did
lurk in the library, and were not read openly in the streets. His
books fly in all directions; whereas they, in their iniquity, once
shunned the light, they now emerge into it, thinking the light to be
darkness.... A new gospel is being made for the nations, a new faith
is put before them.’ After Pierleone it is useful to remind Innocent
of his second great _bête noire_. ‘The Goliath [Abélard] stalks along
in his greatness, girt about with that noble panoply of his, and
preceded by his weapon-bearer, Arnold of Brescia. Scale is joined
to scale, so closely that not a breath can get between.[34] For the
French bee [Abeille-ard] has hummed its call to the Italian bee; and
they have conspired together against the Lord and his anointed.’ He
must even deny them the merit of their notoriously ascetic lives:
‘Bearing the semblance of piety in their food and clothing, but void
of its virtue, they deceive many by transforming themselves into
angels of light—whereas they are devils.’ The pope must not be misled
by rumours of Abélard’s present fervour of life; he is ‘outwardly a
Baptist, but inwardly a Herod,’ Bernard assures him. Then follows
a passage we have already quoted. He tells the pope the edifying
story of the archbishop’s summons, his refusal, the entreaties of
his friends, the gathering of Abélard’s supporters, and his final
resolve to go: ‘Yielding to the counsel of my friends, I presented
myself at the appointed time and place, unprepared and unequipped,
save that I had in mind the monition: “Take ye no thought what and
how ye shall speak.”’ Then ‘when his books had begun to be read [he
does not say by whom], he would not listen, but went out, appealing
from the judges he had chosen. These things I tell thee in my own
defence, lest thou mayst think I have been too impetuous or bold in
the matter. But thou, O successor of Peter, thou shalt decide whether
he who has assailed the faith of Peter should find refuge in the see
of Peter.’ In other words, do not allow Abélard to come to Rome, but
condemn him unheard, on my word. He ends with a final diplomatic
_argumentum ad invidiam_. ‘Hyacinth has done me much injury, but I
have thought well to suffer it, seeing that he did not spare you
and your court when he was at Rome, as my friend, and indeed yours,
Nicholas, will explain more fully by word of mouth.’

  [33] The reference is to the anti-pope, a Pierleone. It is a
  subtle reminder of what Pope Innocent owes to Bernard.

  [34] Recalling some of the zoology of the Old Testament.

The second letter runs so largely on the same lines that it is
thought by some to have been sent to the pope instead of the
preceding, in which the reference to Hyacinth and the curia may have
been impolitic. ‘Weeping has the spouse of Christ wept in the night,’
it begins, ‘and tears are upon her cheeks; there is none to console
her out of all her friends. And in the delaying of the spouse, to
thee, my lord, is committed the care of the Shunammite in this land
of her pilgrimage.’ Abélard is a ‘domestic enemy,’ an Absalom, a
Judas. There is the same play upon the lion and the dragon, and upon
the scaly monster formed of Abélard and Arnold. ‘They have become
corrupt and abominable in their aims, and from the ferment of their
corruptions they pervert the faith of the simple, disturb the order
of morals, and defile the chastity of the Church.’ Moreover Abélard
‘boasts that he has opened the founts of knowledge to the cardinals
and priests of the Roman curia, and that he has lodged his books and
his opinions in the hands and hearts of the Romans; and he adduces
as patrons of his error those who should judge and condemn him.’ He
concludes with an apostrophe to Abélard, which was well calculated to
expel the last lingering doubt from the mind of the pope. ‘With what
thoughts, what conscience, canst thou have recourse to the defender
of the faith—thou, its persecutor? With what eyes, what brow, wilt
thou meet the gaze of the friend of the Spouse—thou, the violator
of His bride? Oh, if the care of the brethren did not detain me! If
bodily infirmity did not prevent it! How I should love to see the
friend of the Spouse defending the bride in His absence!’

The third letter, a kind of preface to Bernard’s list of errors
and commentary thereon, is of the same unworthy temper, tortuous,
diplomatic, misleading, and vituperative. It is not apparent on what
ground Hausrath says this commentary represents Bernard’s speech at
Sens; if it does so, we have another curious commentary on Bernard’s
affirmation that he went to the synod unprepared. However that may
be, the letter is a singular composition, when we remember that it
accompanied an appeal to a higher court, to which the case had been
reserved. It opens with a declaration that ‘the see of Peter’ is the
due and natural tribunal to which to refer ‘all scandals that arise
in the Kingdom of God’; a declaration which is hardly consistent with
the assurance, when it is necessary to defend their condemnation of
Abélard, that his appeal ‘seems to us wonderful.’ Then follows the
familiar caricature. ‘We have here in France an old master who has
just turned theologian, who has played with the art of rhetoric from
his earliest years and now raves about the Holy Scriptures [Abélard
had been teaching Scripture and theology for the last twenty-six
years]. He is endeavouring to resuscitate doctrines that were
condemned and buried long ago, and to these he adds new errors of his
own. A man who, in his inquiries into all there is in heaven above or
earth below, is ignorant of nothing save the word “I do not know.”
He lifts his eyes to the heavens, and peers into the hidden things
of God, then returns to us with discourse of things that man is not
permitted to discuss.’ This last sentence, considered as a charge by
Bernard of Clairvaux against others, is amusing. Bernard spent half
his time in searching the hidden things of God, and the other half in
discoursing of them. But Abélard conceived them otherwise than he.

Thus was the supreme judge instructed in his part, whilst the foolish
Abélard lingered idly in Paris, not improbably, as Bernard says,
boasting of his friends at the curia. It was very possible that he
had friends at Rome. Deutsch suspects the existence of a faction in
the sacred college, which was opposed to Innocent and the Chancellor
Haymerick, and would be favourable to Abélard. Bernard was not the
man to leave a single risk unchallenged—or to the care of the Holy

In the first place, therefore, he wrote a circular letter ‘to all my
lords and fathers, the venerable bishops and cardinals of the curia,
from the child of their holiness.’ His secretary was to deliver a
copy to each. ‘None will doubt,’ he says, ‘that it is your especial
duty to remove all scandals from the kingdom of God.’ The Roman
Church is the tribunal of the world: ‘to it we do well to refer,
not questions, but attacks on the faith and dishonour of Christ:
contumely and contempt of the fathers: present scandals and future
dangers. The faith of the simple is derided, the hidden things of God
are dragged forth, questions of the most sublime mysteries are rashly
debated, insults are offered to the fathers.’ They will see this by
the report. ‘And if you think there is just ground for my agitation,
be ye also moved’—and moved to take action. ‘Let him who has raised
himself to the heavens be crushed down to hell; he has sinned in
public, let him be punished in public.’ It is the fulmination of the
prophet of the age on the duty of the curia.

Then came eight private letters to cardinals of his acquaintance, an
interesting study in ecclesiastical diplomacy. To the chancellor of
the curia, Haymerick, he speaks chiefly of Abélard’s boast of friends
at court. He transcribes the passage from his letter to Innocent;
and he adds the earlier allusion to the Roman deacon, Hyacinth, who
was evidently a thorn in the side of the officials of the curia. To
Guido of Castello, afterwards Celestine II., who was known to be a
friend of Abélard, he writes in an entirely new strain. ‘I should
do you wrong,’ he begins, ‘if I thought you so loved any man as to
embrace his errors also in your affection.’ Such a love would be
animal, earthly, diabolical. Others may say what they like of Guido,
but Bernard is a man who ‘never judges anybody without proof,’ and
he will not believe it. He passes to a mild complaint that ‘Master
Peter introduces profane novelties in his books’; still ‘it is not
I that accuse him before the Father, but his own book.’ But he
cannot refrain from putting just a little _venenum in cauda_: ‘It is
expedient for you and for the Church that silence be imposed on him
whose mouth is full of curses and bitterness and guile.’

Cardinal Ivo, on the other hand, belongs to the loyal group. ‘Master
Peter Abélard,’ he is told, ‘a prelate without dependency, observes
no order and is restrained by no order.... He is a Herod in his soul,
a Baptist in outward appearance.’ However, that is not my business,
says the diplomatist, ‘every man shall bear his own burden.’ Bernard
is concerned about his heresies, and his boast that he will be
protected by a certain faction in the curia. Ivo must do his duty
‘in freeing the Church from the lips of the wicked.’ A young unnamed
cardinal is appealed to for support. ‘Let no man despise thy youth,’
begins the man who calls Abélard a ‘slippery serpent’; ‘not grey hair
but a sober mind is what God looks to.’ Another cardinal, who had
a custom of rising when any person entered his room, is playfully
approached with a reminder of this: ‘If thou art indeed a son of the
Church,’ the note ends, ‘defend the womb that has borne thee and the
breasts that have suckled thee.’ Guido of Pisa receives a similar
appeal: ‘If thou art a son of the Church, if thou knowest the breast
of thy mother, desert her not in her peril.’ The letter to another
Cardinal Guido is particularly vicious and unworthy. ‘I cannot but
write you,’ it begins, ‘of the dishonour to Christ, the trials
and sorrows of the Church, the misery of the helpless, and groans
of the poor.’ What is the matter? This: ‘We have here in France a
monk who observes no rule, a prelate without care, an abbot without
discipline, one Peter Abélard, who disputes with boys and busies
himself with women.’ There is a nasty ambiguity in the last phrase.
Again, ‘We have escaped the roar of the lion [Pierleone] only to hear
the hissing of the dragon Peter.... If the mouth of the wicked be
not closed, may He who alone regards our works consider and condemn.’
A similar letter is addressed to Cardinal Stephen of Praeneste. ‘I
freely write to you, whom I know to be a friend of the spouse, of the
trials and sorrows of the spouse of Christ.’ Abélard is ‘an enemy
of Christ,’ as is proved, not only by his works, but by ‘his life
and actions.’ He has ‘sallied forth from his den like a slippery
serpent’; he is ‘a hydra,’ growing seven new heads where one has been
cut off. He ‘misleads the simple,’ and finally ‘boasts that he has
inoculated the Roman curia with the poison of his novelty.’

A ninth letter is addressed to an abbot who was in Rome at the time,
and who is drawn into the intrigue with many holy threats. ‘If any
man is for the Lord let him take his place. The truth is in danger.
Peter Abélard has gone forth to prepare the way for Anti-Christ....
May God consider and condemn, if the mouth of the wicked be not
closed forthwith.’

These letters were handed over, for personal delivery, to Bernard’s
monk-secretary, Nicholas; in many of them it is expressly stated
that the bearer will enlarge upon the text more freely by word of
mouth. We know enough about this monk to be assured of the more than
fidelity with which he accomplished his task. Enjoying the full
confidence of Bernard at that time, a very able and well-informed
monk, Nicholas de Montier-Ramey was a thorough scoundrel, as Bernard
learned to his cost a few years afterwards. He had to be convicted
of forging Bernard’s seal and hand for felonious purposes before the
keen scent of the abbot discovered his utter unscrupulousness.

With Abélard lingering at Paris in his light-hearted way, the
violence and energy of Bernard swept away whatever support he might
have counted on at Rome. Throughout the curia Bernard had scattered
his caricature of Abélard: a lawless monk, an abbot who neglected his
abbey, a man of immoral life, an associate of the recognised enemies
of the papacy, already condemned for heresy, a reviver of Arius and
Nestorius and Pelagius, a teacher without reverence, a disturber of
the faith of the simple. The pope did not hesitate a moment; the
letters sent to him are masterpieces of diplomatic correspondence.
The waverers in the curia were most skilfully worked. In mere secular
matters such an attempt to corrupt the judges would be fiercely
resented. Bernard lived in a transcendental region, that Hegelian
land in which contradictions disappear.

It was on the 4th of June that Abélard appealed to Rome. There
were no Alpine tunnels in those days, and the journey from Paris
to Rome was a most formidable one. Yet Bernard’s nervous energy
had infused such spirit into the work, and he had chosen so able a
messenger, that the whole case was ended in less than seven weeks.
There cannot have been a moment’s hesitation at Rome. On the 16th
of July the faithful of Rome gathered about the door of St. Peter’s
for the solemn reading of the decree of excommunication. The pope
was there, surrounded by his cardinals, and it was announced, with
the usual impressive flourishes, that Abélard’s works were condemned
to the flames and his person to be imprisoned by the ecclesiastical
authorities. Rome has not been a model of the humane use of power,
but she has rarely condemned a man unheard. On the sole authority
of Bernard the decree recognised in Abélard’s ‘pernicious doctrine’
the already condemned errors of the early heresiarchs. Arnold of
Brescia, who had not been officially indicted, was included in the
condemnation. It was Bernard’s skilful use of his association
with Abélard which chiefly impelled the pope. Innocent replies
to Bernard’s appeal by sending back to him the decree of the
condemnation of his antagonist, with a private note to the effect
that it must not be published until after it has been read at an
approaching synod.



It was well for Bernard’s cause that he succeeded in obtaining the
decree without delay. He had carefully represented that the whole
of France supported him in his demand. It does seem as if some of
Abélard’s friends were puzzled for a time by his appeal, but before
long there came a reaction in his favour, just as had happened
after his condemnation at Soissons. Bernard himself may have been
perfectly self-justified in his determined effort to prevent Abélard
from having a fair chance of defending himself, but there are two
ways of regarding his conduct.[35] Abélard’s followers naturally
adopted the view which was less flattering to Bernard’s reputation,
and they seem to have had some success in enforcing it. In a letter
of Bernard’s to a certain cardinal we find him defending himself
against the charge of ‘having obtained the decree by improper means
[_subripere_] from the pope.’

  [35] I abstain from commenting on St. Bernard’s conduct, or
  making the ethical and psychological analysis of it, which is so
  imperfectly done by his biographers at this period, because they
  do not fully state the facts, or not in their natural order. It
  would be a fascinating task, but one beside the purpose of the
  present work and not discreet for the present writer. I have let
  Bernard speak for himself.

One of the chief instruments in the agitation on the Abélardist
side was the apology of Bérenger of Poitiers, which we have quoted
previously. Violent and coarse as it was, it was known to have a
foundation of fact; and, in the growing unpopularity of Bernard, it
had a wide circulation. It was not answered, as the Benedictines
say; yet we may gather from Bérenger’s qualified withdrawal of it,
when he is hard pressed, that it gave Bernard and the Cistercians a
good deal of annoyance. Arnold of Brescia was, meanwhile, repeating
his fulminations at Paris against the whole hierarchical system.
He had taken Abélard’s late chair in the chapel of St. Hilary on
the slope of St. Genevieve, and was sustaining the school until the
master should return from Rome in triumph. But Arnold had no hope of
any good being done at Rome, and rather preached rebellion against
the whole of the bejewelled prelates. Sternly ascetic in his life
and ideals—St. Bernard scoffingly applies to him the evangelical
description of the Baptist: ‘He ate not, neither did he drink’—he was
ever contrasting the luxurious life of the pastors of the Church with
the simple ideal of early Christianity. He had not such success in
France as elsewhere, and Bernard secured his expulsion a few years
later. But the same stern denunciation was on his noble lips when the
savage flames sealed them for ever, under the shadow of St. Peter’s,
in 1155.

Abélard himself seems to have taken matters with a fatal coolness,
whilst his adversary was moving heaven and earth to destroy him. He
allowed a month or two to elapse before he turned in the direction
of Rome.[36] Secure in the consciousness of the integrity of his
cause and his own power of pleading, and presuming too much of Rome’s
proud boast that it ‘condemned no man unheard,’ he saw no occasion
for hurry. Late in the summer he set out upon his long journey. It
was his purpose to travel through Burgundy and Lyons, and to cross
the Alps by the pass which was soon to bear the name of his energetic
enemy. After the fashion of all travellers of the time he rested at
night in the monastery nearest to the spot where he was overtaken.
Thus it came to pass that, when he arrived in the neighbourhood of
Mâcon, he sought hospitality of the great and venerable Benedictine
abbey at Cluny.

  [36] He did, however, write an ‘apology’ or defence, but only a
  few fragments of it survive.

Peter the Venerable, abbot of Cluny, was the second monk in France at
that time. A few degrees lower in the scale of neural intensity than
his canonised rival, he far surpassed him in the less exalted virtues
of kindliness, humanity, and moderation. ‘The rule of St. Benedict,’
he once wrote to Bernard, ‘is dependent on the sublime general law
of charity’; that was not the route to the honour of canonisation.
He belonged by birth to the illustrious family of the Montboissiers
of Auvergne, and was a man of culture, fine and equable temper, high
principle, gentle and humane feeling, and much practical wisdom. He
had had more than one controversy with the abbot of Clairvaux, and
his influence was understood to counterbalance that of Bernard at
times in the affairs of the Church and the kingdom.

It was, therefore, one of the few fortunate accidents of his career
that brought Abélard to Cluny at that time. Abbot Peter knew that
Bernard had actually in his possession the papal decree which
ordered the imprisonment of Abélard and the burning of his books.
He had a deep sympathy for the ageing master who was seeking a new
triumph in Rome under such peculiarly sad circumstances. Peter knew
well how little the question of heresy really counted for in the
matter. It was a question of Church politics; and he decided to use
his influence for the purpose of securing a tranquil close for the
embittered and calumniated life. Abélard was beginning to feel the
exactions of his journey, and remained some days at the abbey. The
abbot, as he afterwards informs the pope, spoke with him about his
purpose, and at length informed him that the blow had already fallen.
It was the last and decisive blow. The proud head never again raised
itself in defiance of the potent ignorance, the crafty passion, and
the hypocrisy that made up the world about him. He was too much
enfeebled, too much dispirited, even to repeat the blasphemy of his
earlier experience: ‘Good Jesus, where art thou?’ For the first and
last time he bowed to the mystery of the triumph of evil.

Abbot Peter then undertook the task of averting the consequence
of Bernard’s triumph, and found little difficulty in directing
the fallen man. It was imperative, in the first place, to effect
some form of reconciliation between the great antagonists, so as
to disarm the hostility of Bernard. We shortly find Raynard, the
abbot of Cîteaux, at Cluny, and Abélard accompanies him back to
his abbey. Peter has obtained from him a formal promise to correct
anything in his works that may be ‘offensive to pious ears,’ and
on this basis Bernard is invited to a reconciliation at Cîteaux. A
few days afterwards Abélard returns to Cluny with the laconic reply
that they ‘had had a peaceful encounter,’ as the abbot informs the
pope, to whom he immediately writes for permission to receive Abélard
into their community at Cluny, adding, with a calm contempt of the
accusation of heresy, that ‘Brother Peter’s knowledge’ will be useful
to the brethren. The abbot of Cluny had claims upon the pope’s
consideration. Although the anti-pope, Anacletus, had been a monk
of Cluny, Peter had been the first to meet Innocent when he came to
France for support. In pointed terms he begged that Abélard ‘might
not be driven away or troubled by the importunity of any persons.’
His request was granted; and thus the broken spirit was spared that
‘public humiliation’ in France that Bernard had demanded.

The basis of reconciliation with Bernard was probably a second and
shorter apology which Abélard wrote at Cluny. It was convenient to
regard this at the time as a retractation. In reality it is for the
most part a sharp rejection of Bernard’s formulation of his theses
and a new enunciation of them in more orthodox phraseology. His frame
of mind appears in the introductory note.

‘There is a familiar proverb that “Nothing is said so well that it
cannot be perverted,” and, as St. Jerome says, “He who writes many
books invites many judges.” I also have written a few things—though
little in comparison with others—and have not succeeded in escaping
censure; albeit in those things for which I am so gravely charged I
am conscious of no fault, nor should I obstinately defend it, if I
were. It may be that I have erred in my writings, but I call God to
witness and to judge in my soul that I have written nothing through
wickedness or pride of those things for which I am chiefly blamed.’

Then, warmly denying Bernard’s charge that he has ever taught a
secret doctrine, he passes to a detailed profession of faith on
the lines of Bernard’s list of errors. With regard to the Trinity
he denies all the heresies ascribed to him; this he could do with
perfect justice. On the other points he makes distinctions, adds
explanations and qualifications, and even sometimes accepts Bernard’s
thesis without remark, though one can generally see a reserve in the
background. Thus, on the question of sin committed in ignorance, he
makes the familiar modern distinction between culpable and inculpable
ignorance: he admits that we have inherited Adam’s sin, but adds
‘because his sin is the source and cause of all our sins.’ On the
question of the prevention of evil by God, he merely says, ‘Yes, He
often does’; and so forth. The only sentence which looks like a real
retractation is that in which he grants ‘the power of the keys’ to
all the clergy. In this he clearly dissociates himself from Arnold
of Brescia, and perplexes his friends. But his earlier teaching on
the point is by no means so clear and categorical as that of Arnold.
There is nothing either very commendable or very condemnable about
the document. It probably represents a grudging concession to the
abbot of Cluny’s friendly pressure and counsel to withdraw from
what was really only a heated quarrel with as little friction as
possible. That Abélard was not in the penitent mood some writers
discover in the letter is clear from the peroration. ‘My friend [!]
has concluded his list of errors with the remark: “They are found
partly in Master Peter’s book of theology, partly in his _Sentences_,
and partly in his _Scito te Ipsum_.” But I have never written a book
of _Sentences_, and therefore the remark is due to the same malice or
ignorance as the errors themselves.’

However, the document had a sufficient air of retractation about it
to allow Bernard to withdraw. In substance and spirit it was, as its
name indicated, an apology, not a retractation. In fact Bernard’s
zealous secretary and an unknown abbot attacked the apology, but
Abélard made no reply, and the discussion slowly died away. Bernard
had won a political triumph, and he showed a becoming willingness
to rest content with empty assurances. Abélard’s personal force was
dead; little eagerness was shown to pursue the seminal truths he had
left behind, and which were once thought so abhorrent and pernicious.
Later Benedictines virtually admit the justice of this. Mabillon
says: ‘We do not regard Abélard as a heretic; it is sufficient for
the defence of Bernard to admit that he erred in certain things.’
And the historian Noël Alexandre also says, ‘He must not be regarded
as a heretic.’ Indeed, Bernard was strongly condemned at the time
by English and German writers. Otto of Freising reproves his action
in the cases of both Abélard and Gilbert, and attributes it to
defects of character. John of Salisbury severely criticises him in
the _Historia Pontificalis_; and Walter Map, another English writer,
voices the same widespread feeling.

Another document that Abélard sent out from Cluny forms the last
page of his intercourse with Heloise. If he had wearily turned away
from the strange drama of life, his affection for her survives the
disillusion in all its force. There is a welcome tenderness in
his thought of her amidst the crushing desolation that has fallen
upon him. _She_ shall not be hurt by any unwilling impression of
persistent calumny. He writes to her a most affectionate letter,
and in the sanctuary of their love makes a solemn profession of the
purity of his faith.

‘My sister Heloise, once dear to me in the world, and now most dear
in Christ, logic has brought the enmity of men upon me. For there
are certain perverse calumniators, whose wisdom leads to perdition,
that say I take pre-eminence in logic but fail egregiously in the
interpretation of Paul; commending my ability, they would deny me the
purity of Christian faith.... I would not rank as a philosopher if it
implied any error in faith; I would not be an Aristotle if it kept me
away from Christ. For no other name is given to me under heaven in
which I may find salvation. I adore Christ, sitting at the right hand
of the Father.’ Then follows a brief confession of faith on the chief
points of Christian belief—the Trinity, the Incarnation, baptism,
penance, and the resurrection. ‘And that all anxiety and doubt may be
excluded from thy heart,’ he concludes, ‘do thou hold this concerning
me, I have grounded my conscience on that rock on which Christ has
built His Church.’

It was Abélard’s farewell to her who had shared so much of the joy
and the bitterness of his life. But what a different man it recalls
through the mists of time from the ‘dragon’ of Bernard’s letters! One
contrast at least we cannot fail to note between the saint and the
sinner. We have seen Bernard’s treatment of Abélard; in this private
letter, evidently intended for no eye but that of his wife, we have
the sole recorded utterance of Abélard on the man who, for so little
reason, shattered the triumph and the peace of his closing years.

For if there is a seeming peace about the few months of life that
still remained to the great teacher, it is the peace of the grave—the
heavy peace that shrouds a dead ambition and a broken spirit, not the
glad peace that adorns requited labour and successful love. Abélard
enters upon a third stage of his existence, and the shadow of the
tomb is on it. He becomes a monk; he centres all his thought on the
religious exercises that, like the turns of the prayer wheel, write
the long catalogue of merit in heaven.

In the abbey of Cluny, under the administration of Peter the
Venerable, he found all that his soul desired in its final stage.
The vast monastery had a community of four hundred and sixty monks.
Older than its rival, Cîteaux, possessed of great wealth and one of
the finest churches in France, it was eagerly sought by monastic
aspirants. When Innocent II. came to France for support, Cluny sent
sixty horses and mules to meet him, and entertained him and all his
followers for eleven days. At an earlier date it had lodged pope,
king, and emperor, with all their followers, without displacing
a single monk. Yet with all its wealth and magnitude the abbey
maintained a strict observance of the rule of St. Benedict. Peter
was too cultured and humanistic[37] for the Cistercians, who often
criticised the half-heartedness of his community. In point of fact a
strict order and discipline were maintained in the abbey, and Abélard
entered fervently into its life. From their beds of straw the monks
would rise at midnight and proceed to the church, where they would
chant their long, dirge-like matins, and remain in meditation until
dawn. Work, study, and prayer filled up the long hours; and at night
they would cast themselves down, just as they were, on the bags of
straw, to rise again on the morrow for the same task. Such monks—they
are rare now, though far from extinct—must be men of one idea—heaven.
To that stage had Abélard sunk.

  [37] Amongst other humane modifications we may note that he
  raised the age of admission to the abbey to twenty-one.

Years afterwards the brothers used to point out to visitors—for
Abélard had left a repute for sanctity behind him—a great lime-tree
under which he used to sit and read between exercises. Peter had
gone so far as to make him prior of the studies of the brethren,
so lightly did he hold the charge of heresy. The abbot has given
us, in a later letter to Heloise, an enthusiastic picture, drawn
from the purely Buddhist point of view, of Abélard’s closing days.
With a vague allusion to this letter certain ecclesiastical writers
represent Abélard as a sinner up to the time of the Council of Sens,
and a convert and penitent in the brief subsequent period. In point
of fact there was little change in the soul of the fallen man, beyond
a weary resignation of his hope of cleansing the Church, involving,
as this did, a more constant preoccupation with the world to come.
The abbot says, in support of his declaration, that Abélard had
cast a radiance on their abbey, that ‘not a moment passed but he
was either praying or reading or writing or composing’; and again:
‘If I mistake not I never saw his equal in lowliness of habit and
conduct, so much so that Germain did not seem more humble nor Martin
poorer than he to those who were of good discernment.’ The ‘good
discernment’ reminds us that we must not take at too literal a value
this letter of comfort to the widowed abbess. Abélard had been an
ascetic and a devout man since his frightful experience at Paris
twenty-five years previously. With the fading of his interest in the
things of earth, and in his sure consciousness of approaching death,
his prayers would assuredly be longer and his indifference to comfort
and honour more pronounced.

But we have a clear indication that there was no change in his
thoughts, even in that last year, with regard to the great work of
his life and the temper of his opponents. During the quiet months of
teaching at Cluny, a certain ‘Dagobert and his nephew’ asked him for
a copy of his dialectical treatise, one of his earliest writings. It
is impossible to say whether this Dagobert was his brother at Nantes
(where Astrolabe also seems to have lived) or a monastic ‘Brother
Dagobert.’ Most probably it was the former, because he speaks of the
effort it costs him, ill and weary of writing as he is, to respond
to their ‘affection.’ He does not copy, but rewrites his dialectics,
so that we have in the work his last attitude on his studies and his
struggles. It is entirely unchanged. Jealousy, hatred, and ignorance
are the sole sources of the hostility to his work. They say he
should have confined himself to dialectics (as Otto von Freising said
later); but he points out that his enemies quarrelled even with his
exclusive attention to dialectics, firstly because it had no direct
relation to faith, and secondly because it was indirectly destructive
of faith. He has still the old enthusiasm for reason and for the
deepening and widening of our natural knowledge. Both knowledge and
faith come from God, and cannot contradict each other. It was the
last gleam of the dying light, but it was wholly unchanged in its

With the approach of spring the abbot sent the doomed man to a more
friendly and familiar climate. Cluny had a priory outside the town
of Chalon-sur-Saône, not far from the bank of the river. It was one
of the most pleasant situations in Burgundy, in the mild valley of
the Seine, which Abélard had learned to love. But the last struggle
had exhausted his strength, and the disease, variously described as a
fever and a disease of the skin, met with little resistance. He died
on the 21st of April 1142, in the sixty-third year of his age.

How deeply he had impressed the monks of St. Marcellus during his
brief stay with them becomes apparent in the later history, which
recalls the last chapter in the lives of some of the most popular
saints. It will be remembered that Abélard had, in one of his letters
to Heloise, asked that his body might be buried at the Paraclete,
‘for he knew no place that was safer or more salutary for a sorrowing
soul.’ Heloise informed the abbot of Cluny of the request, and he
promised to see it fulfilled. But he found that the monks of St.
Marcellus were violently opposed to the idea of robbing them of the
poor body that had been hunted from end to end of France whilst the
great mind yet dwelt in it. There have often been such quarrels,
sometimes leading to bloodshed, over the bodies of the saints.
However, the abbot found a means to steal the body from the monastery
chapel in the month of November, and had it conveyed secretly, under
his personal conduct, to the Paraclete.

We have a letter which was written by the abbot about this time to
Heloise. I have already quoted the portion in which he consoles her
with a picture of the edifying life and death of her husband. The
first part of the letter is even more interesting in its testimony to
the gifts and character of the abbess herself. Peter the Venerable
was, it will be remembered, a noble of high origin, an abbot of great
and honourable repute, a man of culture and sober judgment.

‘For in truth,’ he says, after an allusion to some gifts—probably
altar-work—that she had sent him, ‘my affection for thee is not of
recent growth, but of long standing. I had hardly passed the bounds
of youth, hardly come to man’s estate, when the repute, if not yet
of thy religious fervour, at least of thy becoming and praiseworthy
studies, reached my ears. I remember hearing at that time of a
woman who, though still involved in the toils of the world, devoted
herself to letters and to the pursuit of wisdom, which is a rare
occurrence.... In that pursuit thou hast not only excelled amongst
women, but there are few men whom thou hast not surpassed.’ He passes
to the consideration of her religious ‘vocation,’ in which, of
course, he discovers a rich blessing. ‘These things, dearest sister
in the Lord,’ he concludes, ‘I say by way of exhortation, not of
flattery.’ Then, after much theological and spiritual discussion, he
says: ‘It would be grateful to me to hold long converse with thee
on these matters, because I not only take pleasure in thy renowned
erudition, but I am even more attracted by that piety of which so
many speak to me. Would that thou didst dwell at Cluny!’

This is the one woman (and wife, to boot) to whom Bernard could have
referred in justification of his equivocal remark to a stranger
that Abélard ‘busied himself with women.’ We have, however, little
further record of the life of the unfortunate Heloise. Shortly
after the body of her husband has been buried in the crypt of their
convent-chapel, we find her applying to Peter of Cluny for a written
copy of the absolution of Abélard. The abbot sent it; and for long
years the ashes of the great master were guarded from profanation by
this pitiful certificate of his orthodoxy. In the same letter Heloise
thanks the abbot for a promise that the abbey of Cluny will chant
the most solemn rites of the Church when her own death is announced
to them; she also asks Peter’s favourable influence on behalf of
Astrolabe, her son, who has entered the service of the Church.

Heloise survived her husband by twenty-one years. There is a pretty
legend in the Chronicle of the Church of Tours that the tomb of
Abélard was opened at her death and her remains laid in it, and that
the arms of the dead man opened wide to receive her whose embrace the
hard world had denied him in life. It seems to have been at a later
date that their ashes were really commingled. At the Revolution the
Paraclete was secularised, and the remains of husband and wife began
a series of removals in their great sarcophagus. In 1817 they found a
fitting rest in Père Lachaise.



If the inquirer into the influence of the famous dialectician could
content himself with merely turning from the study of Abélard’s
opinions to the towering structure of modern Catholic theology, he
would be tempted to exclaim, in the words of a familiar epitaph,
‘Si monumentum quaeris, circumspice.’ Abélard’s most characteristic
principles are now amongst the accepted foundations of dogmatic
theology; most, or, at all events, a large number, of the conclusions
that brought such wrath about him in the twelfth century are now
calmly taught in the schools of Rome and Louvain and Freiburg.
Bernardism has been almost banished from the courts of the temple.
The modern theologian could not face the modern world with the
thoughts of the saint whose bones are treasured in a thousand
jewelled reliquaries; he must speak the thoughts of the heretic, who
lies by the side of his beloved, amidst the soldiers and statesmen,
the actresses and courtesans, of Paris. The great political
organisation that once found it expedient to patronise Bernardism has
now taken the spirit of Abélard into the very heart of its official

There are few in England who will read such an assertion without
a feeling of perplexity, if not incredulity. Far and wide over
the realm of theology has the spirit of Abélard breathed; and
ever-widening spheres of Evangelicalism, Deism, Pantheism, and
Agnosticism mark its growth. But it is understood that Rome has
resisted the spirit of rationalism, and to-day, as ever, bids human
reason bow in submission before the veiled mysteries of ‘the deposit
of revelation.’

Yet the assertion involves no strain or ingenuity of interpretation
of Catholic theology. The notion that Rome rebukes the imperious
claims of reason is one of a number of strangely-enduring fallacies
concerning that Church. The truth of our thesis can be swiftly and
clearly established. The one essential source of the antagonism of
St. Bernard and Abélard was the question of the relations of faith
and reason. ‘Faith precedes intellect,’ said the Cistercian; ‘Reason
precedes faith,’ said the Benedictine. All other quarrels were
secondary and were cognate to their profound and irreconcilable
opposition on this point. M. Guizot adds a second fundamental
opposition on the ethical side. This, however, was certainly of a
secondary importance. Few historians hesitate to regard the famous
struggle as being in the main a dispute over the rights and duties of

Turn then from the pontificate of Innocent II. to that of Pius IX.
and of Leo XIII. Towards the close of the last century, Huet, Bishop
of Avranches, began to meet rationalistic attacks with a belittlement
of human reason. The idea found favour with a class of apologists.
De Bonald, Bonetty, Bautain, and others in France, and the Louvain
theologians in Belgium, came entirely to repudiate the interference
of reason with regard to higher truths, saying that their acceptance
was solely a matter of faith and tradition. Well, the Church of Rome
(to which all belonged) descended upon the new sect with a remarkable
severity. Phrases that were purely Bernardist in form and substance
were rigorously condemned. The French ‘Traditionalists’ were
forced to subscribe to (amongst others) the following significant
proposition: ‘The use of reason precedes faith, and leads up to
it, with the aid of revelation and grace.’ It was the principle
which Abélard’s whole life was spent in vindicating. The Louvain
men wriggled for many months under the heel of Rome. They were not
suffered to rest until they had cast away the last diluted element of
their theory.

The episode offers a very striking exhibition of the entire change of
front of Rome with regard to ‘the rights of reason.’ There are many
other official utterances in the same sense. An important provincial
council, held at Cologne in 1860, and fully authorised, discussed the
question at length. ‘We have no faith,’ it enacted, ‘until we have
seen with our reason that God is worthy of credence and that He has
spoken to us’; and again, ‘The firmness of faith ... requires that
he who believes must have a preliminary _rational certitude_ of the
existence of God and the fact of a revelation having come from Him,
and he must have no prudent doubt on the matter.’ In the Encyclical
of 1846 even Pius IX. insisted on the same principle: ‘Human reason,
to avoid the danger of deception and error, must diligently search
out the fact of a divine revelation, and must attain a _certainty_
that the message comes from God, so that, as the Apostle most wisely
ordains, it may offer Him a “reasonable service.”’ The Vatican
Council of 1870 was equally explicit. The modern Catholic theologian,
in his treatise on faith, invariably defines it as an intellectual
act, an acceptance of truths after a satisfactory rational inquiry
into the authority that urges them. It is official Catholic teaching
that faith is impossible without a previous rational certitude.
Moreover, the theologian admits that every part and particle of the
dogmatic system must meet the criticism of reason. In the positive
sense it is indispensable that reason prove the existence of God,
the authority of God, and the divinity of the Scriptures. In the
negative sense, no single dogma must contain an assertion which is
clearly opposed to a proved fact or to a clear pronouncement of human
reason or the human conscience. These are not the speculations of
advanced theologians, but the current teaching in the Roman schools
and manuals[38] of dogmatic theology.

  [38] One of the most widely-used of these manuals at present
  is that of the learned Jesuit, Father Hurter. On p. 472 of the
  first volume one finds the Bernardist notions of faith sternly
  rejected, and variously attributed to ‘Protestants,’ ‘Pietists,’
  and ‘Kantists.’

Thus has history vindicated the heretic. The multiplication of
churches has made the Bernardist notion of faith wholly untenable
and unserviceable to Rome. Reason precedes faith; reason must lead
men to faith, and make faith acceptable to men. That is the gospel
that now falls on the dead ear of the great master.

And when we pass from this fundamental principle or attitude to a
consideration of special points of dogma we again meet with many
a triumph. We have already seen how Abélard’s ‘novelties’ may be
traced to a twofold criticism—ethical and intellectual—of the form in
which Christian dogmas were accepted in his day. Without explicitly
formulating it, Abélard proceeded on the principle which is now
complacently laid down by the Catholic theologian, and was accepted
by the Christian world at large a century or half a century ago:
the principle that what is offered to us as revealed truth must be
tested by the declarations of the mind and of the conscience. The
intellectual criticism led him to alter the terms of the dogmas of
the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Eucharist, and others; the ethical
criticism led him to modify the current theories of original sin, the
atonement, penance, and so forth.

Now, even if we confine our attention to Roman theology, we find
a large adoption of Abélard’s singularly prophetic conclusions.
As to the Trinity, it is now a universal and accepted practice to
illustrate it by analogies derived from purely natural phenomena,
which are always heretical if taken literally. One of the proudest
achievements of St. Thomas and the schoolmen was the construction
of an elaborate analogical conception of the Trinity. On the
equally important question of Scripture Abélard’s innovation proved
prophetic. In that age of the doctrine of verbal inspiration he
drew attention to the human element in the Bible. Even the Catholic
Bible is no longer a monochrome. Abélard’s speculation about the
‘accidents’ in the Eucharist—that they are based on the substance of
the air—is now widely and freely accepted by theologians. His moral
principles relating to sins done in ignorance and to ‘suggestion,
delectation, and consent’—both of which were condemned, at Bernard’s
demand—are recognised to be absolutely sound by the modern casuist.
His notion of heaven is the current esoteric doctrine in Rome to-day;
his theory of hell is widely held, in spite of a recent official
censure; his pleading for Plato and his fellow-heathens would be
seconded by the average Catholic theologian of to-day.

It is hardly necessary to point out how entirely the non-Roman
theology of the nineteenth century has accepted Abélard’s spirit
and conclusions. The broadest feature of the history of theology
during the century has been the resumption and the development of the
modifying process which was started by Abélard eight centuries ago.
The world at large has taken up his speculations on the Incarnation,
the atonement, original sin, responsibility, inspiration, confession,
hell and heaven, and so many other points, and given them that
development from which the dutiful son of the Church inconsistently
shrank.[39] A curious and striking proof of this may be taken from
Tholuck’s dissertation on ‘Abélard and Aquinas as interpreters of
Scripture.’ The distinguished German theologian, who is the author
of a well-known commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, says that
when he read Abélard’s commentary on that Epistle, in preparing his
own work, he seriously hesitated whether it would not suffice to
republish the forgotten work of Abélard instead of writing a new one.
When one recollects what an epitome of theology such a commentary
must be, one can appreciate not only the great homage it involves to
the genius of the man whom Bernard scornfully calls a ‘dabbler in
theology,’ but the extent to which Abélard anticipated the mature
judgment of theological science.

  [39] A typical illustration of the perplexity and inconsistency
  which resulted from the conflict of Abélard’s critical moral
  sense with apparently fixed dogmas is seen in his treatment of
  original sin in the _Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans_.
  He finds two meanings for the word sin—guilt and punishment; and
  he strains his conscience to the point of admitting that we may
  inherit Adam’s sin in the latter sense. Then comes the question
  of unbaptized children—whom Bernard calmly consigned to Hades—and
  he has to produce the extraordinary theory that the Divine Will
  is the standard of morality, and so cannot act unjustly. But
  his conscience asserts itself, and he goes on to say that their
  punishment will only be a negative one—the denial of the sight
  of God—and will only be inflicted on those children who, in the
  divine prescience, would have been wicked had they lived!

It seems, however, a superfluous task to point out the acceptance of
Abélard’s spirit, method, and results by theology in general. The
more interesting and important question is the acceptance of his
ideas by the Church of Rome. That we have abundantly established, and
we may now proceed to inquire whether, and to what extent, Abélard
had a direct influence in the abandonment of the mystic attitude and
the adoption of one which may be fairly entitled ‘rationalistic.’

Here we have a much more difficult problem to deal with. It may at
once be frankly avowed that there is little evidence of a direct
transition of Abélard’s ideas into the accepted scheme of theology.
Some of the most careful and patient biographers of Abélard, as a
theologian, say that we cannot claim for him any direct influence on
the course of theological development. Deutsch points out that his
works must have become rare, and the few copies secretly preserved,
after their condemnation by the pope; certainly few manuscripts of
them have survived. He had formed no theological school (as distinct
from philosophical), or the beginning of one must have been crushed
at Sens. His Roman pupils and admirers were probably not men who
would cultivate loyalty under unfavourable circumstances. The
schoolmen of the following century only know Abélard from passages in
Hugh of St. Victor and others of his enemies. The first to reproduce
what Deutsch takes to be the characteristic spirit or method of
Abélard is Roger Bacon; it is extremely doubtful if he had any
acquaintance whatever with Abélard. The world was prepared to receive
the ideas of Abélard with some respect in the thirteenth century, but
it had then a task which was too absorbing to allow a search for the
manuscripts of ‘a certain Abélard,’ as one later theologian put it.
The Arabians and Jews had reintroduced Aristotle into Europe. He had
come to stay; and the schoolmen were engrossed in the work of fitting
him with garments of Christian theology.

On the other hand there are historians, such as Reuter, who grant
Abélard a large measure of direct influence on the development of
theology. It is pointed out that a very large proportion of the
masters of the next generation had studied under Abélard. Reuter
instances Bernard Sylvester of Chartres and William of Conches, as
well as Gilbert de la Porée. Clearer instances of direct influence
are found in the case of Master Roland of Bologna (afterwards to
ascend the papal throne under the name of Alexander III.) and Master
Omnebene of the same city. It is, in any case, quite clear that
Abélard was pre-eminently a teacher of teachers. On the other hand
it would be incorrect to lay too much stress on the condemnation by
Pope Innocent. All the world knew that Bernard had prudently kept
the unexecuted Bull in his pocket, and that Abélard was teaching
theology at Cluny, with the pope’s approval, a few months after the

It is best to distinguish once more between the spirit or method of
Abélard and his particular critical conclusions. His conclusions,
his suggestions for the reconstruction of certain dogmas, were
lost to theological science. The cruder notions of the earlier
age and of Bernard continued to be regarded as _the_ truth for
many centuries. Even the masters, such as Roland of Bologna, who
did found their theology more conspicuously on that of Abélard,
prudently deviated from his opinions where they were ‘offensive to
pious ears.’ His treatment of the Trinity is, perhaps, an exception.
Not that Abélard’s favourite analogies—that of the seal and its
impression, and so forth—were retained, but he had set an example
in the rationalistic or naturalistic illustration of the mystery
which persisted in the schools. All the great schoolmen of the
following century accepted the Abélardist notion of a rationalistic
illustration and defence of the Trinity. They constructed an
elaborately meaningless analogy of it, and invented a ‘virtual’
distinction—a mental distinction which might be taken to be objective
for apologetic purposes—between the essence and the personalities.
But Abélard’s penetrating and reconstructive criticisms of the
current dogmas of original sin, the Incarnation, responsibility,
reward and punishment, inspiration, omnipotence, etc., degenerated
into, at the most, obscure heresies—sank back into the well of truth
until long after a rebellious monk had broken the bonds which held
the intellect of Europe.

It was far otherwise with the spirit of Abélard, the fundamental
principle or maxim on which all else depended. The thirteenth
century cordially accepted that principle, and applied itself to the
rationalisation of theology. It wholly abandoned the mysticism of
Bernard and the school of St. Victor. The Cistercian had summed up
Abélard’s misdeeds thus in his letter to the pope: ‘He peers into
the heavens and searches the hidden things of God, then, returning
to us, he holds discourse on ineffable things of which a man may
not speak.’ In the very sense in which this was said of Abélard, it
may be urged as a chief characteristic of the saintly schoolmen of
the thirteenth century. Even St. Bonaventure was no mystic in the
anti-rational sense of Bernard; simply, he applied to theology the
reason of Plato instead of the reason of Aristotle. Archbishop Roger
Vaughan, in his _Life of St. Thomas_, says that the schoolmen owed
the ‘_probatur ratione_’ in their _loci theologici_ to Abélard. That
is already a most striking vindication of Abélard’s characteristic
teaching as to the function of reason, for we know how important
the ‘proofs from reason’ were in the scheme of Aquinas and Scotus.
But they really owe far more than this to Abélard. If they have
deserted the dreamy, rambling, fruitless, and fantastic speculation
of the mystic school for a methodical and syllogistic inquiry
concerning each point of faith, it is largely due to the example of
Abélard. The schoolmen notoriously followed Peter the Lombard. From
the _Sentences_ of Peter the Lombard to the _Sic et Non_ of Peter
Abélard—through such works as the _Sentences_ of Roland and Omnebene
of Bologna and the so-called _Sentences of Peter Abélard_—is a short
and easy journey. No doubt we must not lose sight of that other
event which so powerfully influenced the theology of the thirteenth
century: the invasion of the Arab and Jew philosophers. Theirs is the
only influence of which the schoolmen show any consciousness in their
elaborate fortification of dogma to meet the criticism of reason and
conscience—except for the avowed influence of the Lombard; and along
that line we may trace the direct influence of Abélard.

In the circumstances it makes little difference to the prestige
of Abélard whether we succeed in proving a direct influence or no.
There are few who will think less of him because he was beaten by
St. Bernard in diplomatic manipulation of the political force of the
Church. The times were not ripe for the acceptance of his particular
criticisms, and the mystic school was the natural expression of this
conservatism. We may even doubt if Deutsch is correct in saying that
the thirteenth century was prepared to receive them, but that its
attention was diverted to Spain. Renan has said that they who study
the thirteenth century closely are astonished that Protestantism did
not arise three hundred years earlier. That is the point of view of
a logician. The Reformation was not in reality, though it seems such
in theory to the student of the history of ideas, an intellectual
development. No doubt it could not have succeeded without this
development to appeal to, but it was a moral and political revolt.
How little the world was prepared for such a revolt at the end of
the thirteenth century may be gathered from a study of the life of
that other rebellious monk, William Occam. This success the Anselms
and Bernards achieved: they spread, with a moral renovation, a
spirit of docility and loyalty to the Church. The subtlety and
intellectual activity they could not arrest came to be used up in an
effort to restate the older dogmas in terms which should be at once
conservative and acceptable to the new rational demand.

It is equally difficult and more interesting to determine how far
Abélard himself was created by predecessors. Nowadays no thought is
revolutionary; but some notions are more rapid in their evolution
than others. To what extent Abélard’s ideas were thus borrowed
from previous thinkers it is not easy to determine with precision.
He was far from being the first rationalist of the Middle Ages.
Scotus Erigena and Bérenger (of anti-sacramental fame) were well
remembered in his day. He himself studied under a rationalistic
master—Jean Roscelin, canon of Compiègne,—in his early years. We do
not know with certainty at what age he studied under Roscelin, and
cannot, therefore, determine how great an influence the older master
exercised over him. But there can be little doubt that Abélard must
be credited with a very large force of original genius. At the most,
the attitude of his mind towards dogma was determined by outward
influences, concurring with his own temperament and character
of mind. It is more than probable that this attitude would have
been adopted by him even had there been no predisposing influence
whatever. His rationalism flows spontaneously and irresistibly from
his type of mind and character. In the development of the rationalist
principle we see the exclusive action of his own intelligence.
To most of us in this generation such dogmatic reconstruction as
Abélard urged seems obvious enough; yet one needs little imagination
to appreciate the mental power or, rather, penetration, which was
necessary to realise its necessity in the twelfth century.

One is tempted at times to speculate on the probable development of
Abélard’s thoughts if that great shadow had not fallen on his life
at so early a period. There are two Abélards. The older theologian,
who is ever watchful to arrest his thoughts when they approach
clear, fundamental dogmas, is not the natural development of the
freethinking author of the _Sic et Non_. With the conversion to the
ascetic ideal had come a greater awe in approaching truths which
were implicitly accepted as divine. Yet we may well doubt if Abélard
would ever have advanced much beyond his actual limits. Starting
from the world of ideas in which he lived, he would have needed an
exceptional strength to proceed to any very defiant and revolutionary
conclusions. He was not of the stuff of martyrs, of Scotus Erigena,
or Arnold of Brescia. He had no particle of the political ability of
Luther. But such as he is, gifted with a penetrating mind, and led by
a humanist ideal that touched few of his contemporaries, pathetically
irresolute and failing because the fates had made him the hero of
a great drama and ironically denied him the hero’s strength, he
deserves at least to be drawn forth from the too deep shadow of a
crude and unsympathetic tradition.


  Abélard, origin of name, 11.

  Aboilar, 11.

  Adam, Abbot of St. Denis, 126, 129, 134, 154, 168, 170, 174, 175.

  Adam of the Little Bridge, 38.

  Alberic of Rheims, 62, 137, 150, 153, 154, 156, 157, 159, 167,
    189, 195.

  Alvise, Bishop of Arras, 285.

  _Anima mundi_ and the Holy Ghost, 279.

  Anselm Beessus, Canon of Laon, 56.

  —— of Laon, 55, 57, 58, 137, 196.

  —— St., 13, 27, 55.

  Antagonism of Abélard and St. Bernard, 260, 261, 277, 330.

  Anti-pope, the, 213, 314.

  Apology of Abélard, 315.

  Appeal to Rome, 285-87.

  Arabic, study of, 15.

  Argenteuil, nunnery of, 100, 105, 115, 207.

  Aristotle, 25, 65, 73, 76.

  Arnold of Brescia, 199, 254, 270, 276, 283, 291, 296, 307, 310,

  Asceticism, Heloise on, 247.

  Astrolabe, son of Abélard, 114, 218, 323, 327.

  Attempts on Abélard’s life, 216, 217.

  Aventinus, 8.

  Bacon, Roger, and Abélard, 338.

  Bajolard, 11.

  Baldwin, monk, 15.

  Bayle on Heloise, 232, 242.

  Bec, 13.

  Bede, Venerable, on St. Denis, 169, 173.

  Benedictines, the, 13.

  Bérenger, father of Abélard, 5, 52.

  —— of Poitiers, 54, 344.

  —— pupil of Abélard, 132, 255, 283, 288-90, 310.

  Bernard of Chartres, 14.

  —— of Clairvaux, St., 16, 30, 37, 49, 51, 53, 62, 73, 126, 151,
    176, 189, 190, 193, 195-96, 214, 257, 259-78, 281, 283-310,
    314-18, 320.

  —— of Cluny (quoted), 133.

  Bible, Abélard’s opinion concerning, 335.

  Boetius, 25, 76.

  Breviary, Roman, the, 169.

  Brittany, people of, 205.

  Buchanan’s (Robert) _New Abailard_, 229.

  Burchard, Bishop of Meaux, 177.

  Burglary, a mediæval, 57.

  Burning of Abélard’s works, 158, 307.

  Bussy-Rabutin on Heloise, 228.

  Calixtus, Pope, 164.

  Calumniation of Abélard, 85, 116, 292-305.

  Cambridge, founding of University of, 199.

  Canonesses, 43.

  Canons, regular, 35.

  —— secular, 43.

  Cathedral of Paris, 20, 22.

  Celibacy, law of, 89, 108.

  Cells, 128, 135.

  Cemetery of Père Lachaise, 96, 328.

  Century of iron, the, 1.

  Challenge of Bernard, 270.

  Charlemagne, 13.

  Chartres, 14, 15.

  Chateaubriand on Heloise, 242.

  Church, service to, of Abélard, 221.

  Cistercians, the, 35, 209, 263, 321.

  Clairvaux, abbey of, 189, 196.

  Cluny, abbey of, 13, 312, 320.

  Colardeau on Heloise, 228.

  Cologne, Council of, on reason, 332.

  _Commentary on Epistle to the Romans_, Abélard’s, 256, 336.

  Compayré (quoted), 30.

  Conceptualism, 29.

  Condemnation of Abélard, first, 157.

  —— —— second, 286.

  —— —— at Rome, 307.

  Confession, Abélard’s opinion concerning, 280, 316.

  —— Champeaux’s opinion concerning, 53.

  —— of Abélard, 81.

  —— —— Augustine, and Rousseau compared, 222.

  Conon, Bishop of Praeneste, 150, 152-60, 167.

  —— Duke of Brittany, 201, 217.

  Conversion of Abélard, 120.

  Corbeil, 31.

  Corruption of monasteries, 93, 125, 203, 216.

  —— of nunneries, 208, 209.

  —— of the clergy, 34, 89, 90, 92.

  Cotter Morison on Abélard, 85, 101, 109, 116, 193, 267.

  Cousin (quoted), 24, 76.

  —— on Heloise, 251.

  Crevier (quoted), 67, 94.

  Crusades, the, 2.

  Dagobert, brother of Abélard, 216, 218, 323.

  Dark Ages, the, 6.

  Death of Abélard, 324.

  Denis, St., controversy about, 169, 173.

  Denyse, sister of Abélard, 114.

  Deutsch (quoted), 8, 37, 109, 131, 143, 146, 173, 223, 255, 263,
    276, 338.

  Development of Abélard’s ideas, 345.

  _Dialectics_ of Abélard, 323.

  —— study of, 12, 14, 16, 24, 31.

  _Dialogue_, the, of Abélard, 140.

  Dubois on the corruption of the clergy, 90.

  Duboulai (quoted), 133.

  End of the world, 1.

  Episcopal Schools, 14.

  Eremetical life of Abélard, 181.

  Ethical opinions of Abélard, 279.

  _Ethics_, the, of Abélard, 257.

  Étienne de Garlande, 92, 133, 177, 179, 180.

  Eucharist, opinion of Abélard concerning, 279, 335.

  Eudes of Orleans, 14.

  Evil, Abélard’s opinion concerning, 279, 316.

  Expulsion of canons, 44.

  —— of monks, 217.

  —— of nuns, 208, 209.

  Ezechiel, Abélard’s lectures on, 62.

  Faith, Abélard’s opinions on, 144, 261, 330.

  Feast of Fools, 94.

  Flight from St. Denis, 172.

  —— from St. Gildas, 217.

  Fontevraud, abbey of, 50.

  Fulbert, Canon, 97, 98, 100, 102, 107, 110, 114, 119, 129.

  Fulques, Prior, 69, 72, 86, 117, 119, 130.

  Galo, Bishop of Paris, 44, 50, 209.

  Galton, Mr. (quoted), 28.

  Games of Students, 70.

  Gaufridus Vindoniencensis, 51, 53.

  Genera and species, question of, 25.

  Geoffrey, Bishop of Chartres, 154, 156, 158, 167, 179, 197, 208,
    264, 284, 294.

  —— of the Stag’s Neck, 161, 164, 167, 284.

  Gervaise, Dom. (quoted), 34, 161.

  Gilbert de la Porée, 254, 282, 288.

  Gilbert, Bishop of Paris, 129, 146.

  Goswin, St., 45, 164, 167.

  Grammar, study of, 14, 15.

  Gréard’s translation of the _Letters_, 225, 230.

  Great Bridge, the, 18.

  Greek, Abélard’s knowledge of, 75.

  —— Heloise’s knowledge of, 101, 249.

  —— thought, influence on mediæval, 64.

  Guido of Castello, 302.

  Guizot, Mme. (quoted), 8, 225.

  Hallam (quoted), 225.

  Hatton, Bishop of Troyes, 172, 183, 285.

  Hausrath (quoted), 55, 71, 98, 131, 163, 173, 255, 263, 265.

  Haymerick, Roman Chancellor, 301, 302.

  Hebrew, Abélard’s knowledge of, 76.

  —— Heloise’s knowledge of, 101, 249.

  —— study of, 15.

  Hefele, Father (quoted), 193, 273.

  Helias, Bishop of Orleans, 285.

  Heloise, 71, 75, 77, 84, 87, 96-116, 121-23, 209-13, 221, 224-52,
    267, 318, 325-28.

  —— home of, 104.

  Henry the Boar, Archbishop of Sens, 270, 282, 284, 292.

  Hilary, pupil of Abélard, 186.

  Hoel, Duke of Brittany, 5.

  Honorius, Pope, 207.

  Hugo, Bishop of Auxerre, 284.

  Hyacinth, pupil of Abélard, 255, 283, 288, 298, 302.

  Hymns of Abélard, 249.

  Incarnation, Abélard’s opinion concerning, 279.

  Influence of Abélard, 329.

  Innocent II., Pope, 43, 77, 213, 292-301, 307, 320.

  Intolerance of Christian nations, 199.

  _Introductio ad theologiam_, the, of Abélard, 256.

  Investitures, question of, 276.

  Ivo, Bishop of Chartres, 14.

  —— Cardinal, 303.

  Jacques de Vitry, Cardinal, 43, 66, 90, 91, 93, 209.

  Jews, the, 6, 21, 42, 65, 68, 77, 342.

  John of Salisbury, 14, 26, 45, 55, 72, 254, 318.

  Johnson (quoted), 225.

  Joscelin the Red, 41, 45, 46, 48, 154, 267, 284.

  _Know Thyself_, Abélard’s, 257.

  Lalanne on the _Letters_, 229.

  Lanfranc, 13.

  Laon, 56.

  Latin Quarter, the, 42, 45.

  Latinity of Abélard, 74, 221.

  —— of Heloise, 101, 232.

  Learning of Abélard, 74.

  —— of Heloise, 100, 104.

  —— of women in twelfth century, 100.

  Letter of Abélard to Abbot Adam, 172.

  —— —— to St. Bernard, 267.

  —— —— to Roscelin, 147.

  —— of St. Bernard to French bishops, 274.

  —— —— to St. Thierry, 194, 266.

  —— of Peter the Venerable to Heloise, 322, 325.

  —— of Roscelin to Abélard, 148.

  —— of St. Thierry to Bernard, 258, 263-65.

  Letters of Abélard and Heloise, 224-49, 318.

  —— —— —— authenticity of, 229.

  —— of St. Bernard to the Pope, 292-99.

  —— —— to the Roman cardinals, 301-305.

  Letter-writing in the twelfth century, 232.

  Lex talionis, 94, 129.

  Liaison of Abélard and Heloise, 84, 102-19.

  Licence to teach, when necessary, 30, 39.

  Licentiousness of Abélard, alleged, 85, 116, 131.

  Lisiard de Crespy, 154.

  Little Bridge, the, 19.

  Locmenach, 9, 202.

  Lotulphe of Novare, 62, 137, 150, 154, 167, 189.

  Louis, King, 21, 43, 171, 176, 180, 272, 276, 282.

  Lucan (quoted), 123.

  Lucia, Abélard’s mother, 5, 49, 52.

  Mabillon on Abélard’s orthodoxy, 318.

  Maisoncelle, 136.

  Manasses, Bishop of Meaux, 285.

  Manegold of Alsace, 21.

  Map, Walter, on St. Bernard, 318.

  Marianne Alcoforado and Heloise, 227, 241.

  Marriage of Abélard and Heloise, 111, 114.

  Married priests, 91, 203.

  Mathematics, not studied by Abélard, 12, 16.

  Melun, 30, 39.

  Metellus, Hugo, 11.

  Miracles exposed by Abélard, 192.

  Monasteries, 2, 93, 125, 203, 216.

  Monastic festivals, 127.

  —— life, history of, by Abélard, 248.

  —— rule, by Abélard and Heloise, 246.

  —— spirit, the, 49.

  Moors, the, 198.

  Moral classification, 195.

  —— codes, divergence of, 87.

  Morals of the twelfth century, 89.

  Moriacum, 9.

  Morigni, abbey of, 213.

  Muratori (quoted), 22.

  Music, Abélard’s knowledge of, 15.

  Mutilation of Abélard, 120.

  Nations at Paris, 67, 69, 70, 130.

  Neander (quoted), 265.

  Nevers, Count de, 282, 284.

  Newman, Cardinal, on Abélard, 88, 246.

  Nicholas de Montier-Ramey, St. Bernard’s Secretary, 305, 317.

  Nobles of France and the King, 178.

  Noël Alexandre on Abélard, 318.

  Nogent-sur-Seine, 181.

  Nominalism, 27.

  Norbert, St., 43, 189, 191.

  Notre Dame, cathedral of, 20, 22.

  —— —— cloistral school of, 22, 36, 38, 41, 53, 64, 66.

  Number of Abélard’s pupils, 67, 136, 184.

  Nunneries, 50, 51, 208.

  Occam, William, 343.

  Omnebene of Bologna, 339.

  Ordeal, the, 57, 95.

  Orelli on the _Letters_, 229.

  Original sin, Abélard’s view of, 280, 316.

  Otto von Freising (quoted), 8, 72, 136, 155, 286, 318.

  Palace school, the, 13.

  Pallet, 4.

  Papal court in France, 213.

  —— schism, 213, 296.

  Paraclete, the, 183, 188, 211, 214, 267, 328.

  Parentage of Abélard, 5.

  —— of Heloise, 97.

  Paris, 18, 65, 68.

  Paschal, Pope, 92, 132.

  Peter the Eater, 38.

  —— the Lombard, 342.

  —— the Venerable, 97, 99, 312, 321, 325, 326.

  Philip, King, death of, 38.

  —— —— palace of, 20.

  Philippe Auguste, 68, 77.

  Pius IX. on reason, 332.

  Plato, 65, 73, 76, 80.

  Poetry of Abélard, 102, 106, 187.

  Poison, attempts on life of Abélard by, 216.

  Poole, Mr. (quoted), 10, 12, 102, 173, 182, 194, 287.

  Pope’s _Heloise_, 225, 226, 241.

  Porphyry, 24, 25.

  _Portuguese Letters_, the, 225, 227, 228.

  Pré-aux-clercs, the, 45, 70.

  Predecessors of Abélard, 344.

  Predestination, Abélard’s opinion on, 280.

  Prémontré, 191.

  Premonstratensians, the, 191, 192.

  Priest, Abélard as a, 107.

  Priories, 128, 135.

  Priscian, mediæval study of, 15, 41.

  _Problems of Heloise_, the, 250.

  Profession, religious, of Heloise, 122.

  Pupils of Abélard, 78, 254.

  Quadrivium, the, 14.

  Quarrel over Abélard’s body, 325.

  Ralph of Laon, 55.

  —— the Green, 138, 150, 154.

  Rashdall (quoted), 13, 67, 94.

  Rationalism of Abélard, 140, 144, 259, 261, 324, 330, 334, 341,

  Raynard, Abbot of Cîteaux, 314.

  Realism, 27, 29.

  Reason and faith, 140, 144, 261, 324, 330.

  Reconciliation of Abélard and St. Bernard, 314.

  Reformation, the, 341, 343.

  Rémusat (quoted), 32, 77, 97.

  Reuter on Abélard, 339.

  Rhetoric, study of, 14, 36.

  Rhuys, 204.

  Robert of Arbrissel, 37, 49, 50, 51.

  —— of Melun, 38.

  Roland of Bologna, 339, 342.

  _Roman de la Rose_, the, 231.

  Rome, Abélard’s respect for, 276.

  —— avarice and corruption of, 131.

  Rome and reason, 330-33.

  Roscelin, Jean, 7, 9, 27, 32, 41, 50, 117, 147, 344.

  Rousseau and Abélard, 222.

  Rousseau’s _Nouvelle Heloïse_, 228, 230, 241.

  Rousselot, 23, 26.

  Sabellianism, charge of, 155.

  Samson, Archbishop of Rheims, 282, 284, 292.

  Saracens, the, in Spain, 65, 198, 342.

  Scholastic philosophy, the, 25.

  Scholasticus, 22.

  School life, 69.

  Schoolmen and Abélard, the, 338, 340, 341, 342.

  Schools of France, the, 13.

  —— Paris, the, 21, 65, 68.

  Scotus Erigena, 344, 346.

  —— J. Duns, 342.

  Sens, 270, 272, 283.

  —— Council of, 155, 166, 270, 272, 281-86.

  _Sententiae Abaelardi_, the, 108, 257, 317, 342.

  Sermons of Abélard, 250.

  Sexual ideas in twelfth century, 88.

  _Sic et Non_, the, 143, 342.

  Simony, prevalence of, 92.

  Sins committed in ignorance, Abélard’s opinion on, 280, 316, 335.

  Soissons, 151.

  —— Council of, 153, 166.

  _Song of Songs_ in Middle Ages, 257, 260.

  St. Denis, abbey of, 13, 15, 21, 124-29, 133, 167, 168.

  —— Genevieve, abbey of, 18, 21, 42, 43.

  —— Germain of Auxerre, abbey of, 21.

  —— Germain of the Meadow, abbey of, 21.

  —— Gildas, abbey of, 9, 202-6.

  —— Martin in the Fields, abbey of, 21.

  —— Médard, abbey of, 161, 163.

  —— Hilary, church of, 255.

  —— Genevieve, hill of, 18, 41, 254.

  —— Landry, port of, 19.

  —— Ayoul, priory of, 172.

  —— Marcellus, priory of, 324.

  St. Victor, priory of, 21, 33.

  —— —— school of, 36, 48, 53, 67, 341.

  Stephen of Praeneste, Card., 305.

  _Story of my calamities_, the, 81, 193, 220.

  Students’ life, 69, 90, 94, 185.

  Suger, Abbot, 21, 44, 132, 175, 177, 180, 201, 206.

  Teaching of Abélard, 71.

  Theobald of Champagne, Count, 135, 172, 174, 197, 284.

  _Theologia Christiana_, the, 256.

  Theological opinions of Abélard, 278-80, 329, 336.

  Theology, teaching of, 55, 61, 139.

  Tholuck on Abélard as theologian, 336.

  Thomas of Aquin, St., 74, 335, 342.

  Tirricus, Master, 10, 12, 14, 32, 159.

  Tournai, 14.

  Traditionalism, 331.

  Travelling in the twelfth century, 6.

  _Treatise on Baptism_, the, of St. Bernard, 267.

  Trinity, Abélard’s works on the, 144, 279, 340.

  —— statue of, at the Paraclete, 188.

  Tri-theism, charge of, 152, 155, 188, 316.

  Trivium, the, 14.

  Turlot (quoted), 98.

  Universals, problem of, 25, 38.

  University of Paris, 64, 65.

  Vatican Council, the, on reason, 333.

  Vaughan, Roger, on Abélard, 26, 341.

  Violence of the twelfth century, 93, 110.

  Vitalis the Norman, 51.

  Weakness of Abélard, 109.

  William of Canterbury, 55.

  —— of Champeaux, 22, 23, 27, 33, 36, 48, 52, 55, 137, 195.

  —— of Dijon, 14.

  —— of St. Thierry, 194, 257.

  Women and saints, 215.

  —— disguised as monks, 51.

  —— school for, 21, 42, 100.

  Works of Abélard, 140, 256, 264.

  Printed by T. and A. CONSTABLE, (late) Printers to Her Majesty
  at the Edinburgh University Press

      *      *      *      *      *      *

Transcriber’s note:

  * Obvious printer errors have been silently corrected.

  * Original spelling was kept, but variant spellings were made
    consistent when a predominant usage was found.

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