PIERRE, the eldest son of Bérenger and Lucie (Abélard?) was born at Palais, near Nantes and the frontier of Brittany, in 1079. His knightly father, having in his youth been a student, was anxious to give his family, and especially his favorite Pierre, a liberal education. The boy was accordingly sent to school, under a teacher who at that time was making his mark in the world, — Roscellin, the reputed father of Nominalism. As the whole import and tragedy of his life may be traced back to this man’s teaching, and the relation which it bore to the thought of the time, we must pause to consider these.
In the early centuries of our era, the two fundamental articles of the Gentile-Christian creed, the Trinity and the Incarnation, neither of them Jewish, were formulated in terms of Platonic philosophy, of which the distinctive tenet is, that the real and eternal is the universal, not the individual. On this assumption it was possible to say that the same real substance could exist in three, or indeed in any number of persons. In the case of God, the dogma-builders were careful to say, essence is one with existence, and therefore in Him the individuals are as real as the universal. Platonism, having lent the formula for the Trinity, became the favorite philosophy of many of the Church fathers, and so introduced into Christian thought and life the Platonic dualism, that sharp distinction between the temporal and the eternal which belittles the practical life and glorifies the contemplative.
This distinction, as aggravated by Neo-Platonism, further affected Eastern Christianity in the sixth century, and Western Christianity in the ninth, chiefly through the writings of (the pseudo-) Dionysius Areopagita, and gave rise to Christian mysticism. It was then erected into a rule of conduct through the efforts of Pope Gregory VII., who strove to subject practical and civil life entirely to the control of 18 ecclesiastics and monks, standing for contemplative, supernatural life. The latter included all purely mental work, which more and more tended to concentrate itself upon religion and confine itself to the clergy. In this way it came to be considered an utter disgrace for any man engaged in mental work to take any part in the institutions of civil life, and particularly to marry. He might indeed enter into illicit relations, and rear a family of “nephews” and “nieces,” without losing prestige; but to marry was to commit suicide. Such was the condition of things in the days of Abélard.
But while Platonism, with its real universals, was celebrating its ascetic, unearthly triumphs in the West, Aristotelianism, which maintains that the individual is the real, was making its way in the East. Banished as heresy beyond the limits of the Catholic Church, in the fifth and sixth centuries, in the persons of Nestorius and others, it took refuge in Syria, where it flourished for many years in the schools of Edessa and Nisibis, the foremost of the time. From these it found its way among the Arabs, and even to the illiterate Muhammad, who gave it (1) theoretic theological expression in the cxii. surah of the Koran: “He is One God, God the Eternal; He neither begets nor is begotten; and to Him there is no peer,” in which both the fundamental dogmas of Christianity are denied, and that too on the ground of revelation; (2) practical expression, by forbidding asceticism and monasticism, and encouraging a robust, though somewhat coarse, natural life. Islâm, indeed, was an attempt to rehabilitate the human.
In Abélard’s time Arab Aristotelianism, with its consequences for thought and life, was filtering into Europe and forcing Christian thinkers to defend the bases of their faith. Since these, so far as defensible at all, depended upon the Platonic doctrine of universals, and this could be maintained only by dialectic, this science became extremely popular, — indeed, almost the rage. Little of the real Aristotle was at that time known in the West; but in Porphyry’s Introduction to Aristotle’s Logic was a famous passage, in which all the difficulties with regard to universals were stated without being solved. Over this the intellectual battles of the first age of Scholasticism were fought. The more clerical and mystic thinkers, like Anselm and Bernard, of course, sided with Plato; but the more worldly, robust thinkers inclined to accept Aristotle, not seeing that his doctrine is fatal to the Trinity.
Prominent among these was a Breton, Roscellin, the early instructor of Abélard. From him the brilliant, fearless boy learnt two terrible lessons: (1) that universals, instead of being real substances, external and superior to individual things, are mere names (hence Nominalism) for common qualities of things as recognized by the human mind; (2) that since universals are the tools and criteria of 19 thought, the human mind, in which alone these exist, is the judge of all truth, — a lesson which leads directly to pure rationalism, and indeed to the rehabilitation of the human as against the superhuman. No wonder that Roscellin came into conflict with the church authorities, and had to flee to England. Abélard afterwards modified his nominalism and behaved somewhat unhandsomely to him, but never escaped from the influence of his teaching. Abélard was a rationalist and an asserter of the human. Accordingly, when, definitely adopting the vocation of the scholar, he went to Paris to study dialectic under the then famous William of Champeaux, a declared Platonist, or realist as the designation then was, he gave his teacher infinite trouble by his subtle objections, and not seldom got the better of him.
These victories, which made him disliked both by his teacher and fellow-pupils, went to increase his natural self-appreciation, and induced him, though a mere youth, to leave William and set up a rival school at Mélun. Here his splendid personality, his confidence, and his brilliant powers of reasoning and statement, drew to him a large number of admiring pupils, so that he was soon induced to move his school to Corbell, near Paris, where his impetuous dialectic found a wider field. Here he worked so hard that he fell ill, and was compelled to return home to his family. With them he remained for several years, devoting himself to study, — not only of dialectic, but plainly also of theology. Returning to Paris, he went to study rhetoric under his old enemy, William of Champeaux, who had meanwhile, to increase his prestige, taken holy orders, and had been made bishop of Châlons. The old feud was renewed, and Abélard, being now better armed than before, compelled his master openly to withdraw from his extreme realistic position with regard to universals, and assume one more nearly approaching that of Aristotle.
This victory greatly diminished the fame of William, and increased that of Abélard: so that when the former left his chair and appointed a successor, the latter gave way to Abélard and became his pupil (1113). This was too much for William, who removed his successor, and so forced Abélard to retire again to Mélun. Here he remained but a short time; for, William having on account of unpopularity removed his school from Paris Abélard returned thither and opened a school outside the city, on Mont Ste. Généviève. William, hearing this, returned to Paris, and tried to put him down, but in vain. Abélard was completely victorious.
After a time he returned once more to Palais, to see his mother, who was about to enter the cloister, as his father had done some time before. When this visit was over, instead of returning to Paris, to lecture on dialectic, he went to Laon to study theology under the then famous Anselm. Here, convinced of the showy superficiality of 20 Anselm, he once more got into difficulty, by undertaking to expound a chapter of Ezekiel without having studied it under any teacher. Though at first derided by his fellow-students, he succeeded so well as to draw a crowd of them to hear him, and so excited the envy of Anselm that the latter forbade him to teach in Laon. Abélard accordingly returned once more to Paris, convinced that he was fit to shine as a lecturer not only on dialectic, but also on theology. And his audiences thought so also; for his lectures on Ezekiel were very popular and drew crowds. He was now at the height of his fame (1118).
The result of all these triumphs over dialecticians and theologians was unfortunate. He not only felt himself the intellectual superior of any living man, which he probably was, but he also began to look down upon the current thought of his time as obsolete and unworthy, and to set at naught even current opinion. He was now on the verge of forty, and his life had so far been one of spotless purity; but now, under the influence of vanity, this too gave way. Having no further conquests to make in the intellectual world, he began to consider whether, with his great personal beauty, manly bearing, and confident address, he might not make conquests in the social world, and arrived at the conclusion that no woman could reject him or refuse him her favor.
It was just at this unfortunate juncture that he went to live in the house of a certain Canon Fulbert, of the cathedral, whose brilliant niece, Héloïse, had at the age of seventeen just returned from a convent at Argenteuil, where she had been at school. Fulbert, who was proud of her talents, and glad to get the price of Abélard’s board, took the latter into his house and intrusted him with the full care of Héloïse’s further education, telling him even to chastise her if necessary. So complete was Fulbert’s confidence in Abélard, that no restriction was put upon the companionship of teacher and pupil. The result was that Abélard and Héloïse, both equally inexperienced in matters of the heart, soon conceived for each other an overwhelming passion, comparable only to that of Faust and Gretchen. And the result in both cases was the same. Abélard, as a great scholar, could not think of marriage; and if he had, Héloïse would have refused to ruin his career by marrying him. So it came to pass that when their secret, never very carefully guarded, became no longer a secret, and threatened the safety of Héloïse, the only thing that her lover could do for her was to carry her off secretly to his home in Palais, and place her in charge of his sister. Here she remained until the birth of her child, which received the name of Astralabius, Abélard meanwhile continuing his work in Paris. And here all the nobility of his character comes out. Though Fulbert and 21 his friends were, naturally enough, furious at what they regarded as his utter treachery, and though they tried to murder him, he protected himself, and as soon as Héloïse was fit to travel, hastened to Palais, and insisted upon removing her to Paris and making her his lawful wife. Héloïse used every argument which her fertile mind could suggest to dissuade him from a step which she felt must be his ruin, at the same time expressing her entire willingness to stand in a less honored relation to him. But Abélard was inexorable. Taking her to Paris, he procured the consent of her relatives to the marriage (which they agreed to keep secret), and even their presence at the ceremony, which was performed one morning before daybreak, after the two had spent a night of vigils in the church.
After the marriage, they parted and for some time saw little of each other. When Héloïse’s relatives divulged the secret, and she was taxed with being Abélard’s lawful wife, she “anathematized and swore that it was absolutely false.” As the facts were too patent, however, Abélard removed her from Paris, and placed her in the convent at Argenteuil, where she had been educated. Here she assumed the garb of a novice. Her relatives, thinking that he must have done this in order to rid himself of her, furiously vowed vengeance, which they took in the meanest and most brutal form of personal violence.* It was not a time of fine sensibilities, justice, or mercy; but even the public of those days was horrified, and gave expression to its horror. Abélard, overwhelmed with shame, despair, and remorse, could now think of nothing better than to abandon the world. Without any vocation, as he well knew, he assumed the monkish habit and retired to the monastery of St. Denis, while Héloïse, by his order, took the veil at Argenteuil. Her devotion and heroism on this occasion Abélard has described in touching terms. Thus supernaturalism had done its worst for these two strong, impetuous human souls.
If Abélard had entered the cloister in the hope of finding peace, he soon discovered his mistake. The dissolute life of the monks utterly disgusted him, while the clergy stormed him with petitions to continue his lectures. Yielding to these, he was soon again surrounded by crowds of students — so great that the monks at St. Denis were glad to get rid of him. He accordingly retired to a lonely cell, to which he was followed by more admirers than could find shelter or food. As the schools of Paris were thereby emptied, his rivals did everything in their power to put a stop to his teaching, declaring that as a monk he ought not to teach profane science, nor as a layman in theology sacred science. In order to legitimize his claim to teach the latter, he now wrote a theological treatise, regarding which he says: —22
Here we have Abélard’s central position, exactly the opposite to that of his realist contemporary, Anselm of Canterbury, whose principle was “Credo ut intelligam” (I believe, that I may understand). We must not suppose, however, that Abélard, with his rationalism, dreamed of undermining Christian dogma. Very far from it! He believed it to be rational, and though he could prove it so. No wonder that the book gave offense, in an age when faith and ecstasy were placed above reason. Indeed, his rivals could have wished for nothing better than this book, which gave them a weapon to use against him. Led on by two old enemies, Alberich and Lotulf, they caused an ecclesiastical council to be called at Soissons, to pass judgment upon the book (1121). This judgment was a foregone conclusion, the trial being the merest farce, in which the pursuers were the judges, the Papal legate allowing his better reason to be overruled by their passion. Abélard was condemned to burn his book in public, and to read the Athanasian Creed as his confession of faith (which he did in tears,) and then to be confined permanently in the monastery of St. Médard as a dangerous heretic.
His enemies seemed to have triumphed and to have silenced him forever. Soon after, however, the Papal legate, ashamed of the part he had taken in the transaction, restored him to liberty and allowed him to return to his own monastery at St. Denis. Here once more his rationalistic, critical spirit brought him into trouble with the bigoted, licentious monks. Having maintained, on the authority of Beda, that Dionysius, the patron saint of the monastery, was bishop of Corinth and not of Athens, he raised such a storm that he was forced to flee, and took refuge on a neighboring estate, whose proprietor, Count Thibauld, was friendly to him. Here he was cordially received by the monks of Troyes, and allowed to occupy a retreat belonging to them.
After some time, and with difficulty, he obtained leave from the abbot of St. Denis to live where he chose, on condition of not joining any other order. Being now practically free man, he retired to a lonely spot near Nogent-sur-Seine, on the banks of the Ardusson. There, having received a gift of a piece of land, he established 23 himself along with a friendly cleric, building a small oratory of clay and reeds to the Holy Trinity. No sooner, however, was his place of retreat known than he was followed into the wilderness by hosts of students of all ranks, who lived in tents, slept on the ground, and underwent every kind of hardship, in order to listen to him (1123). These supplied his wants, and built a chapel, which he dedicated to the “Paraclete.” — a name at which his enemies, furious over his success, were greatly scandalized, but which ever after designated the whole establishment.
So incessant and unrelenting were the persecutions he suffered from those enemies, and so deep his indignation at their baseness, that for some time he seriously thought of escaping beyond the bounds of Christendom, and seeking refuge among the Muslim. but just then (1125) he was offered an important position, the abbotship of the monastery of St. Gildas-de-Rhuys, in Lower Brittany, on the lonely, inhospitable shore of the Atlantic. Eager for rest and a position promising influence, Abélard accepted the offer and left the Paraclete, not knowing what he was doing.
His position at St. Gildas was little less than slow martyrdom. The country was wild, the inhabitants were half barbarous, speaking a language unintelligible to him; the monks were violent, unruly, and dissolute, openly living with concubines; the lands of the monastery were subjected to intolerable burdens by the neighboring lord, leaving the monks in poverty and discontent. Instead of finding a home of God-fearing men, eager for enlightenment, he found a nest of greed and corruption. His attempts to introduce discipline, or even decency, among his “sons,” only stirred up rebellion and placed his life in danger. Many times he was menaced with the sword, many times with poison. In spite of all that, he clung to his office, and labored to do his duty. Meanwhile the jealous abbot of St. Denis succeeded in establishing a claim to the lands of the convent at Argenteuil, — of which Héloïse, long since famous not only for learning but also for saintliness, was now the head, — and she and her nuns were violently evicted and cast on the world. Hearing of this with indignation, Abélard at once offered the homeless sisters the deserted Paraclete and all its belongings. The offer was thankfully accepted, and Héloïse with her family removed there to spend the remainder of her life. It does not appear that Abélard and Héloïse ever saw each other at this time, although he used every means in his power to provide for her safety and comfort. This was in 1129. Two years later the Paraclete was confirmed to Héloïse by a Papal bull. It remained a convent, and a famous one, for over six hundred years.
After this Abélard paid several visits to the convent, which he justly regarded as his foundation, in order to arrange a rule of life 24 for its inmates, and to encourage them in their vocation. Although on these occasions he saw nothing of Héloïse, he did not escape the malignant suspicions of the world, nor of his own flock, which now became more unruly than ever, — so much so that he was compelled to live outside the monastery. Excommunication was tried in vain, and even the efforts of a Papal legate failed to restore order. For Abélard there was nothing but “fear within and conflict without.” It was at this time, about 1132, that he wrote his famous ‘Historia Calamitatum,’ from which most of the above account of his life has been taken. In 1134, after nine years of painful struggle, he definitely left St. Gildas, without, however, resigning the abbotship. For the next two years he seems to have led a retired life, revising his old works and composing new ones.
Meanwhile, by some chance, his ‘History of Calamities’ fell into the hands of Héloïse at the Paraclete, was devoured with breathless interest, and rekindled the flame that seemed to have smoldered in her bosom for thirteen long years. Overcome with compassion for her husband, for such he really was, she at once wrote to him a letter which reveals the first healthy human heart-beat that had found expression in Christendom for a thousand years. Thus began a correspondence which, for genuine tragic pathos and human interest, has no equal in the world’s literature. In Abélard, the scholarly monk has completely replaced the man; in Héloïse, the saintly nun is but a veil assumed in loving obedience to him, to conceal the deep-hearted, faithful, devoted flesh-and-blood woman. And such a woman! It may well be doubted if, for all that constitutes genuine womanhood, she ever had an equal. If there is salvation in love, Héloïse is in the heaven of heavens. She does not try to express her love in poems, as Mrs. Browning did; but their simple, straightforward expression of a love that would share Francesca’s fate with her lover, rather than go to heaven without him, yields, and has yielded, matter for a hundred poems. She looks forward to no salvation; for her chief love is for him. Domino specialiter, sua singulariter: “As a member of the species woman I am the Lord’s, as Héloïse I am yours” — nominalism with a vengeance!
But to return to Abélard. Permanent quiet in obscurity was plainly impossible for him; and so in 1136 we find him back at Ste. Généviève, lecturing to crowds of enthusiastic students. He probably thought that during the long years of exile, the envy and hatred of his enemies had died out; but he soon discovered that he was greatly mistaken. He was too marked a character, and the tendency of his thought too dangerous, for that. Besides, he emptied the schools of his rivals, and adopted no conciliatory tone toward them. The natural result followed. In the year 1140, his enemies, headed 25 by St. Bernard, who had long regarded him with suspicion, raised a cry of heresy against him, as subjecting everything to reason. Bernard, who was nothing if not a fanatic, and who managed to give vent to all his passions by placing them in the service of his God, at once denounced him to the Pope, to cardinals, and to bishops, in passionate letters, full of rhetoric, demanding his condemnation as a perverter of the bases of the faith.
At that time a great ecclesiastical council was about to assemble at Sens; and Abélard, feeling certain that his writings contained nothing which he could not show to be strictly orthodox, demanded that he should be allowed to explain and dialectically defend his position, in open dispute, before it. But this was above all things what his enemies dreaded. They felt that nothing was safe before his brilliant dialectic. Bernard even refused to enter the lists with him; and preferred to draw up a list of his heresies, in the form of sentences sundered from their context in his works, — some of them, indeed, from works which he never wrote, — and to call upon the council to condemn them. (These theses may be found in Denzinger’s ‘Enchiridion Symbolorum et Definitionum,’ pp. 109 seq.) Abélard, clearly understanding the scheme, feeling its unfairness, and knowing the effect of Bernard’s lachrymose pulpit rhetoric upon sympathetic ecclesiastics who believed in his power to work miracles, appeared before the council, only to appeal from its authority to Rome. The council, though somewhat disconcerted by this, proceeded to condemn the disputed theses, and sent a notice of its action to the Pope. Fearing that Abélard, who had friends in Rome, might proceed thither and obtain a reversal of the verdict, Bernard set every agency at work to obtain a confirmation of it before his victim could reach the Eternal City. And he succeeded.
The result was for a time kept secret from Abélard, who, now over sixty years old, set out on his painful journey. Stopping on his way at the famous, hospitable Abbey of Cluny, he was most kindly entertained by its noble abbot, who well deserved the name of Peter the Venerable. Here, apparently, he learned that he had been condemned and excommunicated; for he went no further. Peter offered the weary man an asylum in his house, which was gladly accepted; settled down to a life of humiliation, meditation, study, and prayer. Soon afterward Bernard made advances toward reconciliation, which Abélard accepted; whereupon his excommunication was removed. Then the once proud Abélard, shattered in body and broken in spirit, had nothing more to do but to prepare for another life. And the end was not far off. he died at St. Marcel, on the 21st of April, 1142, at the age of sixty-three. His generous host, in a letter to Héloïse, 26 gives a touching account of his closing days, which were mostly spent in a retreat provided for him on the banks of the Sâone. There he read, wrote, dictated, and prayed, in the only quiet days which his life ever knew.
The body of Abélard was placed in a monolith coffin and buried in the chapel of the monastery of St. Marcel; but Peter the Venerable twenty-two years afterward allowed it to be secretly removed, and carried to the Paraclete, where Abélard had wished to lie. When Héloïse, world-famous for learning, virtue, and saintliness, passed away, and her body was laid beside his, he opened his arms and clasped her in close embrace. So says the legend, and who would not believe it? The united remains of the immortal lovers, after many vicissitudes, found at last (let us hope), in 1817, a permanent resting place, in the Parisian cemetery of Père Lachaise, having been placed together in Abélard’s monolith coffin. “In death they were not divided.”
Abélard’s character may be summed up in a few words. He was one of the most brilliant and variously gifted men that ever lived, a sincere lover of truth and champion of freedom. But unfortunately, his extraordinary personal beauty and charm of manner made him the object of so much attention and adulation that he soon became unable to live without seeing himself mirrored in the admiration and love of others. Hence his restlessness, irritability, craving for publicity, fondness for dialectic triumph, and inability to live in fruitful obscurity; hence, too, his intrigue with Héloïse, his continual struggles and disappointments, his final humiliation and tragic end. Not having conquered the world, he cannot claim the crown of the martyr.
Abélard’s works were collected by Cousin, and published in three 4to volumes (Paris, 1836, 1849, 1859). They included, besides the correspondence with Héloïse, and a number of sermons, hymns, answers to questions, etc., written for her, the following: — (1) ‘Sic et Non,’ a collection of (often contradictory) statements of the Fathers concerning the chief dogmas of religions, (2) ‘Dialectic,’ (3) ‘On Genera and Species,’ (4) Glosses to Porphyry’s ‘Introduction,’ Aristotle’s ‘Categories and Interpretation,’ and Boethius’s ‘Topics,’ (5) ‘Introduction to Theology,’ (6) ‘Christian Theology,’ (7) ‘Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans,’ (9) ‘Abstract of Christian Theology,’ (10) ‘Ethics, or Know Thyself,’ (11) ‘Dialogue between a Philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian,’ (12) ‘On the Intellects,’ (12) ‘On the Hexameron,’ with a few short and unimportant fragments and tracts. None of Abélard’s numerous poems in the vernacular, in which he celebrated his love for Héloïse, which he sang ravishingly (for he was a famous singer), and which at once became widely popular, seem 27 to have come down to us; but we have a somewhat lengthy poem of considerable merit (though of doubtful authenticity), addressed to his son Astralabius, who grew to manhood, became a cleric, and died, it seems, as abbot of Hauterive In Switzerland, in 1162.
Of Abélard’s philosophy, little need be added to what has been already said. It is, on the whole, the philosophy of the Middle Age, with this difference: that he insists upon making theology rational, and thus may truly be called the founder of modern rationalism, and the initiator of the struggle against the tyrannic authority of blind faith. To have been so is his crowning merit, and is one that can hardly be overestimated. At the same time it must be borne in mine that he was a loyal son of the Church, and never dreamed of opposing or undermining her. His greatest originality is in ’Ethics,’ in which, by placing the essence of morality in the intent and not in the action, he anticipated Kant and much modern speculation. Here he did admirable work. Abélard founded no school, strictly speaking; nevertheless, he determined the method and aim of Scholasticism, and exercised a boundless influence, which is not dead. Descartes and Kant are his children. Among his immediate disciples were a pope, twenty-nine cardinals, and more than fifty bishops. His two greatest pupils were Peter the Lombard, bishop of Paris, and author of the ’Sentences,’ the theological text-book of the schools for hundreds of years; and Arnold of Brescia, one of the noblest champions of human liberty, though condemned and banished by the second Council of the Lateran.
The best biography of Abélard is that by Charles de Rémusat (2 vols., 8vo, Paris, 1845). See also, in English, Wight’s ‘Abelard and Eloise’ (New York, 1853).
HÉLOÏSE TO ABÉLARD
A LETTER of yours sent to a friend, best beloved, to console him in affliction, was lately, almost by a chance, put into my hands. Seeing the superscription, guess how eagerly I seized it! I had lost the reality; I hoped to draw some comfort from this faint image of you. But alas! — for I well remember — every line was written with gall and wormwood.
How you retold our sorrowful history, and dwelt on your incessant afflictions! Well did you fulfill that promise to your friend, 28 that, in comparison with your own, his misfortunes should seem but as trifles. You recalled the persecutions of your masters, the cruelty of my uncle, and the fierce hostility of your fellow-pupils, Albericus of Rheims, and Lotulphus of Lombardy — how through their plottings that glorious book your Theology was burned, and you confined and disgraced — you went on to the machinations of the Abbot of St. Denys and of your false brethren of the convent, and the calumnies of those wretches, Norbert and Bernard, who envy and hate you. It was even, you say, imputed to you as an offense to have given the name of Paraclete, contrary to the common practice, to the Oratory you had founded.
The persecutions of that cruel tyrant of St. Gildas, and of those execrable monks, — monks out of greed only, whom notwithstanding you call your children, — which still harass you, close the miserable history. Nobody could read or hear these things and not be moved to tears. What then must they mean to me?
We all despair of your life, and our trembling hearts dread to hear the tidings of your murder. For Christ’s sake, who has thus far protected you, — write to us, as to His handmaids and yours, every circumstance of your present dangers. I and my sisters alone remain of all who were your friends. Let us be sharers of your joys and sorrows. Sympathy brings some relief, and a load laid on many shoulders is lighter. And write the more surely, if your letters may be messengers of joy. Whatever message they bring, at least they will show that you remember us. You can write to comfort your friend: while you soothe his wounds, you inflame mine. Heal, I pray you, those you yourself have made, you who bustle about to cure those for which you are not responsible. You cultivate a vineyard you did not plant, which grows nothing. Give heed to what you owe your own. You who spend so much on the obstinate, consider what you owe the obedient. You who lavish pains on your enemies, reflect on what you owe your daughters. And, counting nothing else, think how you are bound to me! What you owe to all devoted women, pay to he who is most devoted.
You know better than I how many treatises the holy fathers of the Church have written for our instruction; how they have labored to inform, to advise, and to console us. Is my ignorance to suggest knowledge to the learned Abélard? Long ago, indeed, your neglect astonished me. Neither religion, nor love of me, nor the example of the holy fathers, moved you to try to fix my 29 struggling soul. Never, even when long grief had worn me down, did you come to see me, or send me one line of comfort, — me, to whom you were bound by marriage, and who clasp you about with a measureless love! And for the sake of this love have I no right to even a thought of yours?
You well know, dearest, how much I lost in losing you, and that the manner of it put me to double torture. You only can comfort me. By you I was wounded, and by you I must be healed. And it is only you on whom the debt rests. I have obeyed the last tittle of your commands; and if you bade me, I would sacrifice my soul.
To please you my love gave up the only thing in the universe it valued — the hope of your presence — and that forever. The instant I received your commands I quitted the habit of the world, and denied all the wishes of my nature. I meant to give up, for your sake, whatever I had once a right to call my own.
God knows it was always you, and you only that I thought of. I looked for no dowry, no alliance of marriage. And if the name of wife is holier and more exalted, the name of friend always remained sweeter to me, or if you would not be angry, a meaner title; since the more I gave up, the less should I injure your present renown, and the more deserve your love.
Nor had you yourself forgotten this in that letter which I recall. You are ready enough to set forth some of the reasons which I used to you, to persuade you not to fetter your freedom, but you pass over most of the pleas I made to withhold you from our ill-fated wedlock. I call God to witness that if Augustus, ruler of the world, should think me worthy the honor marriage, and settle the whole globe on me to rule forever, it would seem dearer and prouder to me to called your mistress than his empress.
Not because a man is rich or powerful is he better: riches and power may come from luck, constancy is from virtue. I hold that woman base who weds a rich man rather than a poor one, and takes a husband for her own gain. Whoever marries with such a motive — why, she will follow his prosperity rather than the man, and be willing to sell herself to a richer suitor.
That happiness which others imagine, best beloved, I experienced. Other women might think their husbands perfect, and be happy in the idea, but I knew that you were so and the universe knew the same. What philosopher, what king, could rival your 30 fame? What village, city, kingdom, was not on fire to see you? When you appeared in public, who did not run to behold you? Wives and maidens alike recognized your beauty and grace. Queens envied Héloïse her Abélard.
Two gifts you had to lead captive the proudest soul, your voice that made all your teaching a delight, and your singing, which was like no other. Do you forget those tender songs you wrote for me, which all the world caught up and sang, — but not like you, — those songs that kept your name ever floating in the air, and made me known through many lands, the envy and the scorn of women?
What gifts of mind, what gifts of person glorified you! Oh, my loss! Who would change places with me now!
And you know, Abélard, that though I am the great cause of your misfortune, I am most innocent. For a consequence is no part of a crime. Justice weighs not the thing done, but the intention. And how pure was my intention toward you, you alone can judge. Judge me! I will submit.
But how happens it, tell me, that since my profession of the life which you alone determined, I have been so neglected and so forgotten that you will neither see me nor write to me? Make me understand it, if you can, or I must tell you what everybody says: that it was not a pure love like mine that held your heart, and that your coarser feeling vanished with absence and ill-report. Would that to me alone this seemed so, best beloved, and not all the world! Would that I could hear others excuse you, or devise excuses myself!
The things I ask ought to seem very small and easy to you. While I starve for you, do, now and then, by words, bring back your presence to me! How can you be generous in deeds if you are so avaricious in words? I have done everything for your sake. It was not religion that dragged me, a young girl, so fond of life, so ardent, to the harshness of the convent, but only your command. If I deserve nothing from you, how vain is my labor! God will not recompense me, for whose love I have done nothing.
When you resolved to take the vows, I followed, — rather, I ran before. You had the image of Lot’s wife before your eyes; you feared I might look back, and therefore you deeded me to God by the sacred vestments and irrevocable vows before you took them yourself. For this, I own, I grieved, bitterly ashamed that I could depend on you so little, when I would lead or follow 31 you straight to perdition. For my soul is always with you and no longer mine own. And if it is not with you in these last wretched years, it is nowhere. Do receive it kindly. Oh, if only you had returned favor for favor, even a little for the much, words for things! Would, beloved, that your affection would not take my tenderness and obedience always for granted; that it might be more anxious! But just because I have poured out all I have and am, you give me nothing. Remember, oh, remember how much you owe!
There was a time when people doubted whether I had given you all my heart, asking nothing. But the end shows how I began. I have denied myself a life which promised at least peace and work in the world, only to obey your hard exactions. I have kept back nothing for myself, except the comfort of pleasing you. How hard and cruel are you then, when I ask so little and that little is so easy for you to give!
In the name of God, to whom you are dedicate, send me some lines of consolation. Help me to learn obedience! When you wooed me because earthly love was beautiful, you sent me letter after letter. With your divine singing every street and house echoed my name! How much more ought you now to persuade to God her whom then you turned from Him! Heed what I ask; think what you owe. I have written a long letter, but the ending shall be short. Farewell, darling!
ABÉLARD’S ANSWER TO HÉLOÏSE
To Héloïse, his best beloved Sister in Christ,
Abélard, her Brother in Him:
IF, SINCE we resigned the world I have not written to you, it was because of the high opinion I have ever entertained of your wisdom and prudence. How could I think that she stood in need of help on whom Heaven had showered its best gifts? You were able, I knew, by example as by word, to instruct the ignorant, to comfort the timid, to kindle the lukewarm.
When prioress of Argenteuil, you practiced all these duties; and if you give the same attention to your daughters that you then gave to your sisters, it is enough. All my exhortations would be needless. But if, in your humility, you think otherwise, and if my words can avail you anything, tell me on what subjects you would have me write, and as God shall direct me I will instruct 32 you. I thank God that the constant dangers to which I am exposed rouse your sympathies. Thus may I hope, under the divine protection of your prayers, to see Satan bruised under my feet.
Therefore I hasten to send you the form of prayer you beseech of me — you, my sister, once dear to me in the world, but now far dearer in Christ. Offer to God a constant sacrifice of prayer. Urge him to pardon our great and manifold sins, and to avert the dangers which threaten me. We know how powerful before God and his saints are the prayers of the faithful, but chiefly of faithful women for their friends, and of wives for their husbands. The Apostle admonishes us to pray without ceasing. . . But I will not insist on the supplications of your sisterhood, day and night devoted to the service of their Maker; to you only do I turn. I well know how powerful your intercession may be, I pray you, exert it in this my need. In your prayers, then, ever remember who, in a special sense, is yours. Urge your entreaties, for it is just that you should be heard. An equitable judge cannot refuse it.
In former days, you remember, best beloved, how fervently you recommended me to the care of Providence. Often in the day you uttered a special petition. Removed now from the Paraclete, and surrounded by perils how much greater my need! Convince me of the sincerity of your regard, I entreat you, I implore you.
[The Prayer:] “O God, who by Thy servant didst here assemble Thy handmaids in Thy Holy Name, grant, we beseech Thee, that he be protected from all adversity, and be returned safe to us, Thy handmaids.”
If Heaven permit my enemies to destroy me, or if I perish by accident, see that my body is conveyed to the Paraclete. There, my daughters, or rather my sisters in Christ, seeing my tomb, will not cease to implore Heaven for me. No resting-places is so safe, for the grieving soul, forsaken in the wilderness of its sins, none so full of hope as that which is dedicated to the Paraclete — that is, the Comforter.
Where could a Christian find a more peaceful grave than in the society of holy women, consecrated by God? They, as the Gospel tells us, would not leave their divine Master; they embalmed His body with precious spices; they followed Him to the tomb, and there they held their vigil. In return, it was to them that the angel of the resurrection appeared for their consolation.33
Finally, let me entreat you that the solicitude you now too strongly feel for my life you will extend to the repose of my soul. Carry into my grave the love you showed me when alive; that is, never forget to pray Heaven for me.
Long life, farewell! Long life, farewell, to your sisters also! Remember me, but let it be in Christ!
Translated for the ‘World’s Best Literature.’
THE VESPER HYMN OF ABÉLARD
OH, WHAT shall be, oh, when shall be that holy Sabbath day,
Which heavenly care shall ever keep and celebrate alway,
When rest is found for weary limbs, when labor hath
When everything forevermore is joyful in the Lord?
The true Jerusalem above, the holy town, is there,
Whose duties are so full of joy, whose joy so free from care;
Where disappointment cometh not to check the longing heart,
And where the heart, in ecstasy, hath gained her better part.
O glorious King, O happy state, O palace of the blest!
O sacred place and holy joy, and perfect, heavenly rest!
To thee aspire thy citizens in glory’s bright array,
And what they fell and what they know they strive in vain to say.
For while we wait and long for home, it shall be ours to raise
Our songs and chants and vows and prayers in that dear coun-
And from these Babylonian streams to lift our weary eyes,
And view that city that we love descending from the skies.
There, there, secure from every ill, in freedom we shall sing
The songs of Zion, hindered here by days of suffering,
And unto Thee, our gracious Lord, our praises shall confess
That all our sorrow hath been good, and Thou by pain canst bless.
There Sabbath day to Sabbath day sheds on a ceaseless light,
Eternal pleasure of the saints who keep that Sabbath bright;
Nor shall the chant ineffable decline, nor ever cease.
Which we with all the angels sing in that sweet realm of peace.
Translation of Dr. Samuel W. Duffield.