Peter Abelard

Philosopher and theologian


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Abbesses, Christian, Abelard, Peter,--1079-1142, France, Biography, Fiction,


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Peter Abelard (Lt: Petrus Abaelardus or Abailard; Fr: Pierre Abelard) (April 21, 1079 - 1142) was a medieval French scholastic, theologian, and preeminent logician.

Abelard went (c.1100) to Paris to study under William of Champeaux at the school of Notre Dame and soon attacked the ultrarealist position of his master with such success that William was forced to modify his teaching. Abelard became master at Notre Dame but, when deprived of his place, set himself up (1112) at a school on Mont-Ste-Genevieve, just outside the city walls. Abelard's fame as a dialectician attracted great numbers of students to Paris. This part of his career was cut short by his romance with Heloise, the learned niece of Fulbert, canon of Notre Dame, who had hired Abelard as her tutor.

After Heloise bore a son, a secret marriage was held to appease her uncle. Fulbert's ill-treatment of Heloise led Abelard to remove her secretly to the convent at Argenteuil. Fulbert, who thought that Abelard planned to abandon her, had ruffians attack and emasculate him. Abelard sought refuge at Saint-Denis where he became a monk. In 1120 he left Saint-Denis to teach. At the instigation of his rivals, the Council of Soissons had his first theological work burned as heretical (1121). After a short imprisonment, he returned to Saint-Denis but fell out with the monks and built a hermitage near Troyes. To house the students who sought him out, he established a monastery, the Paraclete. When Abelard became abbot at Saint-Gildas-en-Rhuys, Brittany, he gave the Paraclete to Heloise, who became an abbess of a convent there.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux thought Abelard's influence dangerous and secured his condemnation by the Council of Sens (1140). Abelard appealed to the pope, who upheld the council. Abelard submitted and retired to Cluny. He was buried at the Paraclete, as was Heloise; their bodies were later moved to Père-Lachaise in Paris.

A theological Platonist, Abelard emphasized Aristotle's dialectic method. His belief that the methods of logic could be applied to the truths of faith was in opposition to the mysticism of St. Bernard. He also opposed the extreme views of William of Champeaux and Roscelin on the problems of universals. His own solution, in which universals are considered as entities existent only in thought but with a basis in particulars, is called moderate realism and to some extent anticipates the conceptualism of St. Thomas Aquinas.

Abelard's theological works include Sic et Non, consisting of scriptural and patristic passages arranged for and against various theological opinions, without any attempt to decide whether the affirmative or the negative opinion is correct or orthodox; Tractatus de Unitate et Trinitate Divina, which was condemned at the Council of Sens ; Theologia Christiana, a second and enlarged edition of the Tractatus"; Introductio in Theologiam (more correctly, Theologia); Dialogus inter Philosophum, Judaeum, et Christianum; Sententiae Petri Abaelardi, otherwise called Epitomi Theologiae Christianae, which is seemingly a compilation by Abelard's pupils and several exegetical works hymns, sequences, etc.

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