Historia Calamitatum
by Peter Abelard
Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse

As soon as his successor had been named, I went to him, accompanied by the Bishop of Meaux, to try if I might win from him the permission I had vainly sought of his predecessor. At first he would not give his assent, but finally, through the intervention of certain friends of mine, I secured the right to appeal to the king and his council, and in this way I at last obtained what I sought. The royal seneschal, Stephen, having summoned the abbot and his subordinates that they might state their case, asked them why they wanted to keep me against my will. He pointed out that this might easily bring them into evil repute, and certainly could do them no good, seeing that their way of living was utterly incompatible with mine. I knew it to be the opinion of the royal council that the irregularities in the conduct of this abbey would tend to bring it more and more under the control of the king, making it increasingly useful and likewise profitable to him, and for this reason I had good hope of easily winning the support of the king and those about him.

Thus, indeed, did it come to pass. But in order that the monastery might not be shorn of any of the glory which it had enjoyed by reason of my sojourn there, they granted me permission to betake myself to any solitary place I might choose, provided only I did not put myself under the rule of any other abbey. This was agreed upon and confirmed on both sides in the presence of the king and his councellors. Forthwith I sought out a lonely spot known to me of old in the region of Troyes, and there, on a bit of land which had been given to me, and with the approval of the bishop of the district, I built with reeds and stalks my first oratory in the name of the Holy Trinity. And there concealed, with but one comrade, a certain cleric, I was able to sing over and over again to the Lord: "Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness" (Ps. IV, 7).



No sooner had scholars learned of my retreat than they began to flock thither from all sides, leaving their towns and castles to dwell in the wilderness. In place of their spacious houses they built themselves huts; instead of dainty fare they lived on the herbs of the field and coarse bread; their soft beds they exchanged for heaps of straw and rushes, and their tables were piles of turf. In very truth you may well believe that they were like those philosophers of old of whom Jerome tells us in his second book against Jovinianus.

"Through the senses," says Jerome, "as through so many windows, do vices win entrance to the soul. The metropolis and citadel of the mind cannot be taken unless the army of the foe has first rushed in through the gates. If any one delights in the games of the circus, in the contests of athletes, in the versatility of actors, in the beauty of women, in the glitter of gems and raiment, or in aught else like to these, then the freedom of his soul is made captive through the windows of his eyes, and thus is fulfilled the prophecy: 'For death is come up into our windows' (Jer. ix, 21). And then, when the wedges of doubt have, as it were, been driven into the citadels of our minds through these gateways, where will be its liberty? where its fortitude? where its thought of God? Most of all does the sense of touch paint for itself the pictures of past raptures, compelling the soul to dwell fondly upon remembered iniquities, and so to practice in imagination those things which reality denies to it.

"Heeding such counsel, therefore, many among the philosophers forsook the thronging ways of the cities and the pleasant gardens of the countryside, with their well-watered fields, their shady trees, the song of birds, the mirror of the fountain, the murmur of the stream, the many charms for eye and ear, fearing lest their souls should grow soft amid luxury and abundance of riches, and lest their virtue should thereby be defiled. For it is perilous to turn your eyes often to those things whereby you may some day be made captive, or to attempt the possession of that which it would go hard with you to do without. Thus the Pythagoreans shunned all companionship of this kind, and were wont to dwell in solitary and desert places. Nay, Plato himself, although he was a rich man, let Diogenes trample on his couch with muddy feet, and in order that he might devote himself to philosophy established his academy in a place remote from the city, and not only uninhabited but unhealthy as well. This he did in order that the onslaughts of lust might be broken by the fear and constant presence of disease, and that his followers might find no pleasure save in the things they learned."

Such a life, likewise, the sons of the prophets who were the followers of Eliseus are reported to have led. Of these Jerome also tells us, writing thus to the monk Rusticus as if describing the monks of those ancient days: "The sons of the prophets, the monks of whom we read in the Old Testament, built for themselves huts by the waters of the Jordan, and forsaking the throngs and the cities, lived on pottage and the herbs of the field" (Epist. iv).

Even so did my followers build their huts above the waters of the Arduzon, so that they seemed hermits rather than scholars. And as their number grew ever greater, the hardships which they gladly endured for the sake of my teaching seemed to my rivals to reflect new glory on me, and to cast new shame on themselves. Nor was it strange that they, who had done their utmost to hurt me, should grieve to see how all things worked together for my good, even though I was now, in the words of Jerome, afar from cities and the market place, from controversies and the crowded ways of men. And so, as Quintilian says, did envy seek me out even in my hiding place. Secretly my rivals complained and lamented one to another, saying: "Behold now, the whole world runs after him, and our persecution of him has done nought save to increase his glory. We strove to extinguish his fame, and we have but given it new brightness. Lo, in the cities scholars have at hand everything they may need, and yet, spurning the pleasures of the town, they seek out the barrenness of the desert, and of their own free will they accept wretchedness."

The thing which at that time chiefly led me to undertake the direction of a school was my intolerable poverty, for I had not strength enough to dig, and shame kept me from begging. And so, resorting once more to the art with which I was so familiar, I was compelled to substitute the service of the tongue for the labour of my hands. The students willingly provided me with whatsoever I needed in the way of food and clothing, and likewise took charge of the cultivation of the fields and paid for the erection of buildings, in order that material cares might not keep me from my studies. Since my oratory was no longer large enough to hold even a small part of their number, they found it necessary to increase its size, and in so doing they greatly improved it, building it of stone and wood. Although this oratory had been founded in honour of the Holy Trinity, and afterwards dedicated thereto, I now named it the Paraclete, mindful of how I had come there a fugitive and in despair, and had breathed into my soul something of the miracle of divine consolation.

Many of those who heard of this were greatly astonished, and some violently assailed my action, declaring that it was not permissible to dedicate a church exclusively to the Holy Spirit rather than to God the Father. They held, according to an ancient tradition, that it must be dedicated either to the Son alone or else to the entire Trinity. The error which led them into this false accusation resulted from their failure to perceive the identity of the Paraclete with the Spirit Paraclete. Even as the whole Trinity, or any Person in the Trinity, may rightly be called God or Helper, so likewise may It be termed the Paraclete, that is to say the Consoler. These are the words of the Apostle: "Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who comforteth us in all our tribulation" (2 Cor. i, 3). And likewise the word of truth says: "And he shall give you another comforter" (Greek "another Paraclete," John, xiv, 16).

Nay, since every church is consecrated equally in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, without any difference in their possession thereof, why should not the house of God be dedicated to the Father or to the Holy Spirit, even as it is to the Son? Who would presume to erase from above the door the name of him who is the master of the house? And since the Son offered Himself as a sacrifice to the Father, and accordingly in the ceremonies of the mass the prayers are offered particularly to the Father, and the immolation of the Host is made to Him, why should the altar not be held to be chiefly His to whom above all the supplication and sacrifice are made? Is it not called more rightly the altar of Him who receives than of Him who makes the sacrifice? Who would admit that an altar is that of the Holy Cross, or of the Sepulchre, or of St. Michael, or John, or Peter, or of any other saint, unless either he himself was sacrificed there or else special sacrifices and prayers are made there to him? Methinks the altars and temples of certain ones among these saints are not held to be idolatrous even though they are used for special sacrifices and prayers to their patrons.

Some, however, may perchance argue that churches are not built or altars dedicated to the Father because there is no feast which is solemnized especially for Him. But while this reasoning holds good as regards the Trinity itself, it does not apply in the case of the Holy Spirit. For this Spirit, from the day of Its advent, has had Its special feast of the Pentecost, even as the Son has had since His coming upon earth His feast of the Nativity. Even as the Son was sent into this world, so did the Holy Spirit descend upon the disciples, and thus does It claim Its special religious rites. Nay, it seems more fitting to dedicate a temple to It than to either of the other Persons of the Trinity, if we but carefully study the apostolic authority, and consider the workings of this Spirit Itself. To none of the three Persons did the apostle dedicate a special temple save to the Holy Spirit alone. He does not speak of a temple of the Father, or a temple of the Son, as he does of a temple of the Holy Spirit, writing thus in his first epistle to the Corinthians: "But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit." (I Cor. vi, 17). And again: "What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?" (ib. 19).

Who is there who does not know that the sacraments of God's blessings pertaining to the Church are particularly ascribed to the operation of divine grace, by which is meant the Holy Spirit? Forsooth we are born again of water and of the Holy Spirit in baptism, and thus from the very beginning is the body made, as it were, a special temple of God. In the successive sacraments, moreover, the seven-fold grace of the Spirit is added, whereby this same temple of God is made beautiful and is consecrated. What wonder is it, then, if to that Person to Whom the apostle assigned a spiritual temple we should dedicate a material one? Or to what Person can a church be more rightly said to belong than to Him to Whom all the blessings which the church administers are particularly ascribed? It was not, however, with the thought of dedicating my oratory to one Person that I first called it the Paraclete, but for the reason I have already told, that in this spot I found consolation. 'None the less, even if I had done it for the reason attributed to me, the departure from the usual custom would have been in no way illogical.



And so I dwelt in this place, my body indeed hidden away, but my fame spreading throughout the whole world, till its echo reverberated mightily-echo, that fancy of the poet's, which has so great a voice, and nought beside. My former rivals, seeing that they themselves were now powerless to do me hurt, stirred up against me certain new apostles in whom the world put great faith. One of these (Norbert of Premontre) took pride in his position as canon of a regular order; the other (Bernard of Clairvaux) made it his boast that he had revived the true monastic life. These two ran hither and yon preaching and shamelessly slandering me in every way they could, so that in time they succeeded in drawing down on my head the scorn of many among those having authority, among both the clergy and the laity. They spread abroad such sinister reports of my faith as well as of my life that they turned even my best friends against me, and those who still retained something of their former regard for me were fain to disguise it in every possible way by reason of their fear of these two men.

God is my witness that whensoever I learned of the convening of a new assemblage of the clergy, I believed that it was done for the express purpose of my condemnation. Stunned by this fear like one smitten with a thunderbolt, I daily expected to be dragged before their councils or assemblies as a heretic or one guilty of impiety. Though I seem to compare a flea with a lion, or an ant with an elephant, in very truth my rivals persecuted me no less bitterly than the heretics of old hounded St. Athanasius. Often, God knows, I sank so deep in despair that I was ready to leave the world of Christendom and go forth among the heathen, paying them a stipulated tribute in order that I might live quietly a Christian life among the enemies of Christ. It seemed to me that such people might indeed be kindly disposed toward me, particularly as they would doubtless suspect me of being no good Christian, imputing my flight to some crime I had committed, and would therefore believe that I might perhaps be won over to their form of worship.



While I was thus afflicted with so great perturbation of the spirit, and when the only way of escape seemed to be for me to seek refuge with Christ among the enemies of Christ, there came a chance whereby I thought I could for a while avoid the plottings of my enemies. But thereby I fell among Christians and monks who were far more savage than heathens and more evil of life. The thing came about in this wise. There was in lesser Brittany, in the bishopric of Vannes, a certain abbey of St. Gildas at Ruits, then mourning the death of its shepherd. To this abbey the elective choice of the brethren called me, with the approval of the prince of that land, and I easily secured permission to accept the post from my own abbot and brethren. Thus did the hatred of the French drive me westward, even as that of the Romans drove Jerome toward the East. Never, God knows, would I have agreed to this thing had it not been for my longing for any possible means of escape from the sufferings which I had borne so constantly.

The land was barbarous and its speech was unknown to me; as for the monks, their vile and untameable way of life was notorious almost everywhere. The people of the region, too, were uncivilized and lawless. Thus, like one who in terror of the sword that threatens him dashes headlong over a precipice, and to shun one death for a moment rushes to another, I knowingly sought this new danger in order to escape from the former one. And there, amid the dreadful roar of the waves of the sea, where the land's end left me no further refuge in flight, often in my prayers did I repeat over and over again: "From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed" (Ps. lxi, 2).

No one, methinks, could fail to understand how persistently that undisciplined body of monks, the direction of which I had thus undertaken, tortured my heart day and night, or how constantly I was compelled to think of the danger alike to my body and to my soul. I held it for certain that if I should try to force them to live according to the principles they had themselves professed, I should not survive. And yet, if I did not do this to the utmost of my ability, I saw that my damnation was assured. Moreover, a certain lord who was exceedingly powerful in that region had some time previously brought the abbey under his control, taking advantage of the state of disorder within the monastery to seize all the lands adjacent thereto for his own use, and he ground down the monks with taxes heavier than those which were extorted from the Jews themselves.

The monks pressed me to supply them with their daily necessities, but they held no property in common which I might administer in their behalf, and each one, with such resources as he possessed, supported himself and his concubines, as well as his sons and daughters. They took delight in harassing me on this matter, and they stole and carried off whatsoever they could lay their hands on, to the end that my failure to maintain order might make me either give up trying to enforce discipline or else abandon my post altogether. Since the entire region was equally savage, lawless and disorganized, there was not a single man to whom I could turn for aid, for the habits of all alike were foreign to me. Outside the monastery the lord and his henchmen ceaselessly hounded me, and within its walls the brethren were forever plotting against me, so that it seemed as if the Apostle had had me and none other in mind when he said: "Without were fightings, within were fears" (II Cor. vii, 5).

I considered and lamented the uselessness and the wretchedness of my existence, how fruitless my life now was, both to myself and to others; how of old I had been of some service to the clerics whom I had now abandoned for the sake of these monks, so that I was no longer able to be of use to either; how incapable I had proved myself in everything I had undertaken or attempted, so that above all others I deserved the reproach, "This man began to build, and was not able to finish" (Luke xiv, 30). My despair grew still deeper when I compared the evils I had left behind with those to which I had come, for my former sufferings now seemed to me as nought. Full often did I groan: "Justly has this sorrow come upon me because I deserted the Paraclete, which is to say the Consoler, and thrust myself into sure desolation; seeking to shun threats I fled to certain peril."

The thing which tormented me most was the fact that, having abandoned my oratory, I could make no suitable provision for the celebration there of the divine office, for indeed the extreme poverty of the place would scarcely provide the necessities of one man. But the true Paraclete Himself brought me real consolation in the midst of this sorrow of mine, and made all due provision for His own oratory. For it chanced that in some manner or other, laying claim to it as having legally belonged in earlier days to his monastery, my abbot of St. Denis got possession of the abbey of Argenteuil, of which I have previously spoken, wherein she who was now my sister in Christ rather than my wife, Heloise, had taken the veil. From this abbey he expelled by force all the nuns who had dwelt there, and of whom my former companion had become the prioress. The exiles being thus dispersed in various places, I perceived that this was an opportunity presented by God himself to me whereby I could make provision anew for my oratory. And so, returning thither, I bade her come to the oratory, together with some others from the same convent who had clung to her.

On their arrival there I made over to them the oratory, together with everything pertaining thereto, and subsequently, through the approval and assistance of the bishop of the district, Pope Innocent II promulgated a decree confirming my gift in perpetuity to them and their successors. And this refuge of divine mercy, which they served so devotedly, soon brought them consolation, even though at first their life there was one of want, and for a time of utter destitution. But the place proved itself a true Paraclete to them, making all those who dwelt round about feel pity and kindliness for the sisterhood. So that, methinks, they prospered more through gifts in a single year than I should have done if I had stayed there a hundred. True it is that the weakness of womankind makes their needs and sufferings appeal strongly to people's feelings, as likewise it makes their virtue all the more pleasing to God and man. And God granted such favour in the eyes of all to her who was now my sister, and who was in authority over the rest, that the bishops loved her as a daughter, the abbots as a sister, and the laity as a mother. All alike marvelled at her religious zeal, her good judgment and the sweetness of her incomparable patience in all things. The less often she allowed herself to be seen, shutting herself up in her cell to devote herself to sacred meditations and prayers, the more eagerly did those who dwelt without demand her presence and the spiritual guidance of her words.



Before long all those who dwelt thereabouts began to censure me roundly, complaining that I paid far less attention to their needs than I might and should have done, and that at least I could do something for them through my preaching. As a result, I returned thither frequently, to be of service to them in whatsoever way I could. Regarding this there was no lack of hateful murmuring, and the thing which sincere charity induced me to do was seized upon by the wickedness of my detractors as the subject of shameless outcry. They declared that I, who of old could scarcely endure to be parted from her I loved, was still swayed by the delights of fleshly lust. Many times I thought of the complaint of St. Jerome in his letter to Asella regarding those women whom he was falsely accused of loving, when he said (Epist. xcix): "I am charged with nothing save the fact of my sex, and this charge is made only because Paula is setting forth to Jerusalem." And again: "Before I became intimate in the household of the saintly Paula, the whole city was loud in my praise, and nearly every one deemed me deserving of the highest honours of priesthood. But I know that my way to the kingdom of Heaven lies through good and evil report alike."

When I pondered over the injury which slander had done to so great a man as this, I was not a little consoled thereby. If my rivals, I told myself, could but find an equal cause for suspicion against me, with what accusations would they persecute me! But how is it possible for such suspicion to continue in my case, seeing that divine mercy has freed me therefrom by depriving me of all power to enact such baseness? How shameless is this latest accusation! In truth that which had happened to me so completely removes all suspicion of this iniquity among all men that those who wish to have their women kept under close guard employ eunuchs for that purpose, even as sacred history tells regarding Esther and the other damsels of King Ahasuerus (Esther ii, 5). We read, too, of that eunuch of great authority under Queen Candace who had charge of all her treasure, him to whose conversion and baptism the apostle Philip was directed by an angel (Acts viii, 27). Such men, in truth, are enabled to have far more importance and intimacy among modest and upright women by the fact that they are free from any suspicion of lust.

The sixth book of the Ecclesiastical History tells us that the greatest of all Christian philosophers, Origen, inflicted a like injury on himself with his own hand, in order that all suspicion of this nature might be completely done away with in his instruction of women in sacred doctrine. In this respect, I thought, God's mercy had been kinder to me than to him, for it was judged that he had acted most rashly and had exposed himself to no slight censure, whereas the thing had been done to me through the crime of another, thus preparing me for a task similar to his own. Moreover, it had been accomplished with much less pain, being so quick and sudden, for I was heavy with sleep when they laid hands on me, and felt scarcely any pain at all.

But alas, I thought, the less I then suffered from the wound, the greater is my punishment now through slander, and I am tormented far more by the loss of my reputation than I was by that of part of my body. For thus is it written: "A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches" (Prov. xxii, 1). And as St. Augustine tells us in a sermon of his on the life and conduct of the clergy, "He is cruel who, trusting in his conscience, neglects his reputation." Again he says: "Let us provide those things that are good, as the apostle bids us (Rom. xii, 17), not alone in the eyes of God, but likewise in the eyes of men. Within himself each one's conscience suffices, but for our own sakes our reputations ought not to be tarnished, but to flourish. Conscience and reputation are different matters: conscience is for yourself, reputation for your neighbour." Methinks the spite of such men as these my enemies would have accused the very Christ Himself, or those belonging to Him, prophets and apostles, or the other holy fathers, if such spite had existed in their time, seeing that they associated in such familiar intercourse with women, and this though they were whole of body. On this point St. Augustine, in his book on the duty of monks, proves that women followed our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostles as inseparable companions, even accompanying them when they preached (Chap. 4). "Faithful women," he says, "who were possessed of worldly wealth went with them, and ministered to them out of their wealth, so that they might lack none of those things which belong to the substance of life." And if any one does not believe that the apostles thus permitted saintly women to go about with them wheresoever they preached the Gospel, let him listen to the Gospel itself, and learn therefrom that in so doing they followed the example of the Lord. For in the Gospel it is written thus: "And it came to pass afterward, that He went throughout every city and village, preaching and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with Him, and certain women, which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod's steward, and Susanna, and many others, which ministered unto Him of their substance" (Luke viii, i-3).

Leo the Ninth, furthermore, in his reply to the letter of Parmenianus concerning monastic zeal, says: "We unequivocally declare that it is not permissible for a bishop, priest, deacon or subdeacon to cast off all responsibility for his own wife on the grounds of religious duty, so that he no longer provides her with food and clothing; albeit he may not have carnal intercourse with her. We read that thus did the holy apostles act, for St. Paul says: 'Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?' (I Cor. ix, 5). Observe, foolish man, that he does not say: 'have we not power to embrace a sister, a wife,' but he says 'to lead about,' meaning thereby that such women may lawfully be supported by them out of the wages of their preaching, but that there must be no carnal bond between them."

Certainly that Pharisee who spoke within himself of the Lord, saying: "This man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is a sinner" (Luke vii, 39), might much more reasonably have suspected baseness of the Lord, considering the matter from a purely human standpoint, than my enemies could suspect it of me. One who had seen the mother of Our Lord entrusted to the care of the young man (John xix, 27), or who had beheld the prophets dwelling and sojourning with widows (I Kings xvii, 10), would likewise have had a far more logical ground for suspicion. And what would my calumniators have said if they had but seen Malchus, that captive monk of whom St. Jerome writes, living in the same but with his wife? Doubtless they would have regarded it as criminal in the famous scholar to have highly commended what he thus saw, saying thereof: "There was a certain old man named Malchus, a native of this region, and his wife with him in his hut. Both of them were earnestly religious, and they so often passed the threshold of the church that you might have thought them the Zacharias and Elisabeth of the Gospel, saving only that John was not with them."

Why, finally, do such men refrain from slandering the holy fathers, of whom we frequently read, nay, and have even seen with our own eyes, founding convents for women and making provision for their maintenance, thereby following the example of the seven deacons whom the apostles sent before them to secure food and take care of the women? (Acts vi, 5). For the weaker sex needs the help of the stronger one to such an extent that the apostle proclaimed that the head of the woman is ever the man (I Cor. xi, 3), and in sign thereof he bade her ever wear her head covered (ib. 5). For this reason I marvel greatly at the customs which have crept into monasteries, whereby, even as abbots are placed in charge of the men, abbesses now are given authority over the women, and the women bind themselves in their vows to accept the same rules as the men. Yet in these rules there are many things which cannot possibly be carried out by women, either as superiors or in the lower orders. In many places we may even behold an inversion of the natural order of things, whereby the abbesses and nuns have authority over the clergy, and even over those who are themselves in charge of the people. The more power such women exercise over men, the more easily can they lead them into iniquitous desires, and in this way can lay a very heavy yoke upon their shoulders. It was with such things in mind that the satirist said:

"There is nothing more intolerable than a rich woman." (Juvenal, Sat. VI, v, 459).



Reflecting often upon all these things, I determined to make provision for those sisters and to undertake their care in every way I could. Furthermore, in order that they might have the greater reverence for me, I arranged to watch over them in person. And since now the persecution carried on by my sons was greater and more incessant than that which I formerly suffered at the hands of my brethren, I returned frequently to the nuns, fleeing the rage of the tempest as to a haven of peace. There, indeed, could I draw breath for a little in quiet, and among them my labours were fruitful, as they never were among the monks. All this was of the utmost benefit to me in body and soul, and it was equally essential for them by reason of their weakness.

But now has Satan beset me to such an extent that I no longer know where I may find rest, or even so much as live. I am driven hither and yon, a fugitive and a vagabond, even as the accursed Cain (Gen. iv, 14). I have already said that "without were fightings, within were fears" (II Cor. vii, 5), and these torture me ceaselessly, the fears being indeed without as well as within, and the fightings wheresoever there are fears. Nay, the persecution carried on by my sons rages against me more perilously and continuously than that of my open enemies, for my sons I have always with me, and I am ever exposed to their treacheries. The violence of my enemies I see in the danger to my body if I leave the cloister; but within it I am compelled incessantly to endure the crafty machinations as well as the open violence of those monks who are called my sons, and who are entrusted to me as their abbot, which is to say their father.

Oh, how often have they tried to kill me with poison, even as the monks sought to slay St. Benedict! Methinks the same reason which led the saint to abandon his wicked sons might encourage me to follow the example of so great a father, lest, in thus exposing myself to certain peril, I might be deemed a rash tempter of God rather than a lover of Him, nay, lest it might even be judged that I had thereby taken my own life. When I had safeguarded myself to the best of my ability, so far as my food and drink were concerned, against their daily plottings, they sought to destroy me in the very ceremony of the altar by putting poison in the chalice. One day, when I had gone to Nantes to visit the count, who was then sick, and while I was sojourning awhile in the house of one of my brothers in the flesh, they arranged to poison me, with the connivance of one of my attendants, believing that I would take no precautions to escape such a plot. But divine providence so ordered matters that I had no desire for the food which was set before me; one of the monks whom I had brought with me ate thereof, not knowing that which had been done, and straightway fell dead. As for the attendant who had dared to undertake this crime, he fled in terror alike of his own conscience and of the clear evidence of his guilt.

After this, as their wickedness was manifest to every one, I began openly in every way I could to avoid the danger with which their plots threatened me, even to the extent of leaving the abbey and dwelling with a few others apart in little cells. If the monks knew beforehand that I was going anywhere on a journey, they bribed bandits to waylay me on the road and kill me. And while I was struggling in the midst of these dangers, it chanced one day that the hand of the Lord smote me a heavy blow, for I fell from my horse, breaking a bone in my neck, the injury causing me greater pain and weakness than my former wound.

Using excommunication as my weapon to coerce the untamed rebelliousness of the monks, I forced certain ones among them whom I particularly feared to promise me publicly, pledging their faith or swearing upon the sacrament, that they would thereafter depart from the abbey and no longer trouble me in any way. Shamelessly and openly did they violate the pledges they had given and their sacramental oaths, but finally they were compelled to give this and many other promises under oath, in the presence of the count and the bishops, by the authority of the Pontiff of Rome, Innocent, who sent his own legate for this special purpose. And yet even this did not bring me peace. For when I returned to the abbey after the expulsion of those whom I have just mentioned, and entrusted myself to the remaining brethren, of whom I felt less suspicion, I found them even worse than the others. I barely succeeded in escaping them, with the aid of a certain nobleman of the district, for they were planning, not to poison me indeed, but to cut my throat with a sword. Even to the present time I stand face to face with this danger, fearing the sword which threatens my neck so that I can scarcely draw a free breath between one meal and the next. Even so do we read of him who, reckoning the power and heaped-up wealth of the tyrant Dionysius as a great blessing, beheld the sword secretly hanging by a hair above his head, and so learned what kind of happiness comes as the result of worldly power (Cicer. 5, Tusc.) Thus did I too learn by constant experience, I who had been exalted from the condition of a poor monk to the dignity of an abbot, that my wretchedness increased with my wealth; and I would that the ambition of those who voluntarily seek such power might be curbed by my example.

And now, most dear brother in Christ and comrade closest to me in the intimacy of speech, it should suffice for your sorrows and the hardships you have endured that I have written this story of my own misfortunes, amid which I have toiled almost from the cradle. For so, as I said in the beginning of this letter, shall you come to regard your tribulation as nought, or at any rate as little, in comparison with mine, and so shall you bear it more lightly in measure as you regard it as less. Take comfort ever in the saying of Our Lord, what he foretold for his followers at the hands of the followers of the devil: "If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you (John xv, 20). If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own" (ib. 18-19). And the apostle says: "All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (II Tim. iii, 12). And elsewhere he says: "I do not seek to please men. For if I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ" (Galat. i, 10). And the Psalmist says: "They who have been pleasing to men have been confounded, for that God hath despised them."

Commenting on this, St. Jerome, whose heir methinks I am in the endurance of foul slander, says in his letter to Nepotanius: "The apostle says: 'If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.' He no longer seeks to please men, and so is made Christ's servant" (Epist. 2). And again, in his letter to Asella regarding those whom he was falsely accused of loving: "I give thanks to my God that I am worthy to be one whom the world hates" (Epist. 99). And to the monk Heliodorus he writes: "You are wrong, brother, you are wrong if you think there is ever a time when the Christian does not suffer persecution. For our adversary goes about as a roaring lion seeking what he may devour, and do you still think of peace? Nay, he lieth in ambush among the rich."

Inspired by those records and examples, we should endure our persecutions all the more steadfastly the more bitterly they harm us. We should not doubt that even if they are not according to our deserts, at least they serve for the purifying of our soul. And since all things are done in accordance with the divine ordering, let every one of true faith console himself amid all his afflictions with the thought that the great goodness of God permits nothing to be done without reason, and brings to a good end whatsoever may seem to happen wrongfully. Wherefore rightly do all men say: "Thy will be done." And great is the consolation to all lovers of God in the word of the Apostle when he says: "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God" (Rom. viii, 28). The wise man of old had this in mind when he said in his Proverbs: "There shall no evil happen to the just" (Prov. xii, 21). By this he clearly shows that whosoever grows wrathful for any reason against his sufferings has therein departed from the way of the just, because he may not doubt that these things have happened to him by divine dispensation. Even such are those who yield to their own rather than to the divine purpose, and with hidden desires resist the spirit which echoes in the words, "Thy will be done," thus placing their own will ahead of the will of God. Farewell.



Petrus Abaelardus (or Abailardus) was born in the year 1079 at Palets, a Breton town not far from Nantes. His father, Berengarius, was a nobleman of some local importance; his mother, Lucia, was likewise of noble family. The name "Abaelardus" is said to be a corruption of "Habelardus," which, in turn, was substituted by himself for the nickname "Bajolardus" given to him in his student days. However the name may have arisen, the famous scholar certainly adopted it very early in his career, and it went over into the vernacular as "Abelard" or "Abailard," though with a multiplicity of variations (in Villon's famous poem, for example, it appears as "Esbaillart").

For the main facts of Abelard's life his own writings remain the best authority, but through his frequent contact with many of the foremost figures in the intellectual and clerical life of the early twelfth century it has been possible to check his own account of his career with considerable accuracy. The story told in the "Historia Calamitatum" covers the events of his life from boyhood to about 1132 or 1133,—in other words, up to approximately his fifty-third or fifty-fourth year. That the account he gives of himself is substantially correct cannot be doubted; making all due allowance for the violence of his feelings, which certainly led him to colour many incidents in a manner unfavourable to his enemies, the main facts tally closely with all the external evidence now available.

A very brief summary of the events of the final years of his life will serve to round out the story. The "Historia Calamitatum" was written while Abelard was still abbot of the monastery of St. Gildas, in Brittany. The terrors of his existence there are fully dwelt on in his autobiographical letter, and finally, in 1134 or 1135, he fled, living for a short time in retirement. In 1136, however, we find him once more lecturing, and apparently with much of his former success, on Mont Ste. Genevieve. His old enemies were still on his trail, and most of all Bernard of Clairvaux, to whose fiery adherence to the faith Abelard's rationalism seemed a sheer desecration. The unceasing activities of Bernard and others finally brought Abelard before an ecclesiastical council at Sens in 1140, where he was formally arraigned on charges of heresy. Had Abelard's courage held good, he might have won his case, for Bernard was frankly terrified at the prospect of meeting so formidable a dialectitian, but Abelard, broken in spirit by the prolonged persecution from which he had suffered, contented himself with appealing to the Pope. The indefatigable Bernard at once proceeded to secure a condemnation of Abelard from Rome, whither the accused man set out to plead his case. On the way, however, he collapsed, both physically and in spirit, and remained for a few months at the abbey of Cluny, whence his friends removed him, a dying man, to the priory of St. Marcel, near Chalons-sur-Saone. Here he died on April 21, 1142.

A discussion of Abelard's position among the scholastic philosophers would necessarily go far beyond the proper limits of a mere historical note. He stands out less commandingly as a constructive philosopher than as a master of dialectics. He was, as even his enemies admitted, a brilliant teacher and an unconquerable logician; he was, moreover, a voluminous writer. Works by him which have been preserved include letters, sermons, philosophical and religious treatises, commentaries on the Bible, on Aristotle and on various other books, and a number of poems.

Many of the misfortunes which the "Historia Calamitatum" relates were the direct outcome of Abelard's uncompromising position as a rationalist, and the document is above all interesting for the picture it gives of the man himself, against the background of early twelfth century France. A few dates will help the general reader to connect the life surrounding Abelard with other and more familiar facts. William the Conqueror had entered England thirteen years before Abelard's birth. The boy was eight years old when the Conqueror died near Rouen during his struggle with Philip of France. He was seventeen when the First Crusade began, and twenty when the crusaders captured Jerusalem.

Two of the men who most profoundly influenced the times in which Abelard lived were Hildebrand, famous as Pope Gregory VII, and Louis VI (the Fat), king of France. It was to Hildebrand that the Church owed much of that regeneration of the spirit which gave it such vitality throughout the twelfth century. Hildebrand died, indeed, when Abelard was only six years old, but he left the Church such a force in the affairs of men as it had never been before. As for Louis the Fat, who reigned from 1108 to 1137, it was he who began to lift the royal power in France out of the shadow which the slothfulness and incompetence of his immediate predecessors, Henry I and Philip I, had cast over it. Discerning enough to see that the chief enemies of the crown were the great nobles, and constantly advised by a minister of exceptional wisdom, Suger, abbot of St. Denis, Louis did his utmost to protect the towns and the churches, and to bring that small part of France wherein his power was felt out of the anarchy and chaos of the eleventh century.

It was the France of Louis VI and Sager which formed the background for the great battle between the realists and the nominalists, the battle in which Abelard played no small part. His life was divided between the towns wherein he taught and the Church which alternately welcomed and denounced him. His fellow-disputants have their places in the history of philosophy; the story of Abelard's love for Heloise has set him apart, so that he has lived for eight centuries less as a fearless thinker and masterly logician than as one of the glowingly romantic figures of the Middle Ages.


It is not known to whom Abelard's letter was addressed, but it may be guessed that the writer intended it to reach the hands of Heloise. This actually happened, and the first and most famous letter from Heloise to Abelard was substantially an answer to the "Historia Calamitatum."


William of Champeaux (Gulielmus Campellensis) was born about 1070 at Champeaux, near Melun. He studied under Anselm of Laon and Roscellinus, his training in philosophy thereby being influenced by both realism and nominalism. His own inclination, however, was strongly towards the former, and it was as a determined proponent of realism that he began to teach in the school of the cathedral of Notre Dame, of which he was made canon in 1103. In 1108 he withdrew to the abbey of St. Victor, and subsequently became bishop of Chalons-sur-Marne. He died in 1121. As a teacher his influence was wide; he was a vigorous defender of orthodoxy and a passionate adversary of the heterodox philosophy of his former master, Roscellinus. That he and Abelard disagreed was only natural, but Abelard's statement that he argued William into abandoning the basic principles of his philosophy is certainly untrue.


It is not within the province of such a note as this to discuss in detail the great controversy between the realists and the nominalists which dominated the philosophical and, to some extent, the religious thought of France during the first half of the twelfth century. In brief, the realists maintained that the idea is a reality distinct from and independent of the individuals constituting it; their motto, Universalia sunt realia, was readily capable of extension far beyond the Church, and William of Champeaux himself carried it to the extent of arguing that nothing is real but the universal. The nominalists, on the other hand, argued that "universals" are mere notions of the mind, and that individuals alone are real; their motto was Universalia sunt nomina. Thus the central question in the long controversy concerned the reality of abstract or incorporate ideas, and it is to be observed that the realists held views diametrically opposite to those which the word "realism" today implies. In upholding the reality of the idea, they were what would now be called idealists, whereas their opponents, denying the reality of abstractions and insisting on that of the concrete individual or object, were realists in the modern sense.

The peculiar importance of this controversy lay in its effect on the status of the Church. If nominalism should prevail, then the Church would be shorn of much of its authority, for its greatest power lay in the conception of it as an enduring reality outside of and above all the individuals who shared in its work. It is not strange, then, that the ardent realism of William of Champeaux should have been outraged by the nominalistic logic of Abelard. Abelard, indeed, never went to such extreme lengths as the arch-nominalist, Roscellinus, who was duly condemned for heresy by the Council of Soissons in 1092, but he went quite far enough to win for himself the undying enmity of the leading realists, who were followed by the great majority of the clergy.


The Introduction ("Isagoge") to the Categories of Aristotle, Written by the Greek scholar and neoplatonist Porphyry in the third century A.D., was translated into Latin by Boetius, and in this form was extensively used throughout the Middle Ages as a compendium of Aristotelian logic. As a philosopher Porphyry was chiefly important as the immediate successor of Plotinus in the neoplatonic school at Rome, but his "Isagoge" had extraordinary weight among the medieval logicians.


The Institutiones grammaticae of Priscian (Priscianus Caesariensis) formed the standard grammatical and philological textbook of the Middle Ages, its importance being fairly indicated by the fact that today there exist about a thousand manuscript copies of it.


Anselm of Laon was born somewhere about 1040, and is said to have studied under the famous St. Anselm, later archbishop of Canterbury, at the monastery of Bec. About 1070 he began to teach in Paris, where he was notably successful. Subsequently he returned to Laon, where his school of theology and exegetics became the most famous one in Europe. His most important work, an interlinear gloss on the Scriptures, was regarded as authoritative throughout the later Middle Ages. He died in 1117. That he was something of a pedant is probable, but Abelard's picture of him is certainly very far from doing him justice.


Of these two not much is known beyond what Abelard himself tells us. ALberic, indeed, won a considerable reputation, and was highly recommended to Pope Honorius II by St. Bernard. In 1139 Alberic seems to have become archbishop of Bourges, dying two years later. Lotulphe the Lombard is referred to by another authority as Leutaldus Novariensis.


The enormous scholarship of St. Jerome, born about 340 and dying September 30, 420, made him not only the foremost authority within the Church itself throughout the Middle Ages, but also one of the chief guides to secular scholarship. Abelard repeatedly quotes from him, particularly from his denunciation of the revival of Gnostic heresies by Jovinianus and from some of his voluminous epistles. He also refers extensively to the charges brought against Jerome by reason of his teaching of women at Rome in the house of Marcella. One of his pupils, Paula, a wealthy widow, followed him on his journey through Palestine, and built three nunneries at Bethlehem, of which she remained the head up to the time of her death in 404.


Regarding the position of St. Augustine (354-430) throughout the Middle Ages, it is here sufficient to quote a few words of Gustav Krueger: "The theological position and influence of Augustine may be said to be unrivalled. No single name has ever exercised such power over the Christian Church, and no one mind ever made so deep an impression on Christian thought. In him scholastics and mystics, popes and opponents of the papal supremacy, have seen their champion. He was the fulcrum on which Luther rested the thoughts by which be sought to lift the past of the Church out of the rut; yet the judgment of Catholics still proclaims the ideals of Augustine as the only sound basis of pbilosopby."


The abbey of St. Denis was founded about 625 by Dagobert, son of Lothair II, at some distance from the basilica which the clergy of Paris had erected in the fifth century over the saint's tomb. Long renowned as the place of burial for most of the kings of France, the abbey of St. Denis had a particular importance in Abelard's day by reason of its close association with the reigning monarch. The abbot to whom Abelard refers so bitterly was Adam of St. Denis, who began his rule of the monastery about 1094. In 1106 this same Adam chose as his secretary one of the inmates of the monastery, Suger, destined shortly to become the most influential man in France through his position as advisor to Louis VI, and also the foremost historian of his time. Adam died in 1123, and his successor, referred to by Abelard in Chapter X, was none other than Suger himself. From 1127 to 1137 Suger devoted most of his time to the reorganization and reform of the monastery of St. Denis. If we are to believe Abelard, such reform was sorely needed, but other contemporary evidence by no means fully sustains Abelard in his condemnation of Adam and his fellow monks.


The ALexandrian theological writer Origen, who lived from about 185 to 254, was the most distinguished and the most influential of all the theologians of the ancient Church, with the single exception of Augustine. His incredible industry resulted in such a mass of Writings that Jerome himself asked in despair, "Which of us can read all that he has written?" Origen's self-mutilation, referred to by Abelard, was subsequently used by his enemies as an argument for deposing him from his presbyterial status.


Abelard's tract regarding the power of God to create Himself was one of the many distant echoes of the great Arian-Athanasian controversy of the fourth century. St. Athanasius, bishop of Alexandria, well deserved the title conferred on him by the Church as "the father of orthodoxy," and it was by his name that the doctrine of identity of substance ("the Son is of the same substance with the Father") became known. Much of the life of Athanasius was passed amid persecutions at the hands of his enemies, and on several occasions he was driven into exile.


Rodolphe, or, as some authorities call him, Rudolph or Radulph, became archbishop of Rheims in 1114, after having served as treasurer of the cathedral. His importance among the French clergy is attested by the many references to him in contemporary documents.


Conon, bishop of Praeneste, whose real name may have been Conrad, came to France as papal legate on at least two occasions. He represented Paschal II in 1115 at ecclesiastical councils held in Beauvais, Rheims and Chalons; in 1120 he represented Calixtus II at Soissons on the occasion of Abelard's trial.


Geoffroi, bishop of Chartres, the second of the name to hold that post, was subsequently a warm friend of St. Bernard. Abelard's high estimate of him is fully confirmed by other contemporary authorities.


This abbot was probably, though not certainly, Anselm of Soissons, who became a bishop in 1145. The chronology, however, is confusing.


The confusion regarding the identity of Dionysius the Areopagite persists to this day, at least to the extent that we do not know the real name of the fourth or fifth century writer who, under this pseudonym, exercised so profound an influence on medieval thought. That he was not the bishop of either Athens or Corinth, nor yet the Dionysius who became the patron saint of France, is clear enough. Of the actual Dionysius the Areopagite we know practically nothing. He is mentioned in Acts, xvii, 34, as one of those Athenians who believed when they had heard Paul preach on Mars Hill. A century or more later we learn from another Dionysius, bishop of Corinth, that Dionysius the Areopagite was the first bishop of Athens, a statement of doubtful value. In the fourth or fifth century a Greek theological writer of extraordinary erudition assumed the name of Dionysius the Areopagite, and as his works exerted an enormous influence on later scholarship, it was quite natural that the personal legend of the real Dionysius should have been extended correspondingly.

The Hilduin referred to by Abelard, who was abbot of St. Denis from 814 to 840, was directly responsible for the extreme phase of this extension. Accepting, as most of his contemporaries unquestioningly did, the identity of the theological writer with the Dionysius mentioned in Acts and spoken of as bishop of Athens, Hilduin went one step further, and demonstrated that this Dionysius was likewise the Dionysius (Denis) who had been sent into Gaul and martyred at Catulliacus, the modern St. Denis. There is no evidence to support Hilduin's contention, and the chronology of Gregory of Tours is quite sufficient to disprove it, but none the less it was enthusiastically accepted in France, and above all by the monks of St. Denis.

There was, however, a persistent doubt as to the identity of the Dionysius whose writings had become so famous. Bede, the authority quoted by Abelard, was, of course, wrong in saying that he was the bishop of Corinth, but anything which tended to shake the triple identity, established by Hilduin, of the Dionysius of Athens who listened to St. Paul, of the pseudo-Areopagite whose works were known to every medieval scholar, and of the St. Denis who had become the patron saint of France, was naturally anathematized by the monks who bore the saint's name. Bede and Abelard were by no means accurate, but Bede's inkling of the truth was quite enough to get Abelard into serious trouble.


Theobald II, Count of Blois, Meaux and Champagne, was one of the most powerful nobles in France, and by the extent of his influence fully deserved the title of "the Great" by which he was subsequently known. His domain included the modern departments of Ardennes, Marne, Aube and Haute-Marne, with part of Aisne, Seine-et-Marne, Yonne and Meuse. Furthermore, his mother Adela, was the daughter of William I of England, and his younger brother, Stephen, was King of England from 1135 to 1154. Theobald became Count of Blois in 1102, Count of Champagne in 1125, and Count of Troyes in 1128. Had he so chosen, he might likewise have become Duke of Normandy after the death of his uncle, Henry I of England, in 1135. He died in 1152.


There is much doubt as to whether this Stephen was Stephen de Garland, dapifer, or another Stephen, who was royal chancellor under Louis the Fat. A charter of the year 1124 is signed by both Stephen dapifer and Stephen cancellarius. Probably, however, the authority identifying Stephen dapifer as Stephen de Garland, seneschal of France, is trustworthy.


Among the terms which are characteristic of, or even peculiar to, the Gospel of St. John is that of "the Paraclete," rendered in the King games version "the Comforter." The Greek word of which "Paraclete" is a reproduction literally means "advocate," one called to aid; hence "intercessor." The doctrine of the Paraclete appears chiefly in John, xiv and xv. For example: (xiv, 16-17) "And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter (Paraclete) that be may abide with you for ever; even the spirit of truth." Again: (xiv, 26) "But the Comforter (Paraclete), which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things." With John's words as a basis, the Paraclete came to be regarded as identical with the Third Person of the Trinity, but always with the special attributes of consolation and intercession.


In 1120 there was established at Premontre, a desert place in the diocese of Laon, a monastery of canons regular who followed the so-called Rule of St. Augustine, but with supplementary statutes which made the life one of exceptional severity. The head of this monastery was Norbert, subsequently canonized. His order received papal approbation in 1126, and thereafter it spread rapidly throughout Europe; two hundred years later there were no less than seventeen hundred Norbertine or Premonstratensian monasteries. Norbert himself became archbishop of Magdeburg, and it was in Germany that the most notable work of his order was accomplished.


Regarding the illustrious St. Bernard, abbot of Clairvaux, it is needless here to say more than that his own age recognized in him the embodiment of the highest ideal of medieval monasticism. Intellectually inferior to Abelard and to some others of those over whom he triumphed, he was their superior in moral strength, in zeal, and above all in the power of making others share his own enthusiasms. Born in 1090, he was renowned as one of the foremost of French churchmen before he was thirty years old; his share in the contest which followed the death of Pope Honorius II in 1130 made him one of the most commanding figures in all Europe. It was to him that the Cistercian order owed its extraordinary expansion in the twelfth century. That Abelard should have fallen before so redoubtable an adversary (see the note on Pierre Abelard) is in no way surprising, but there can be no doubt that St. Bernard's "persecution" of Abelard was inspired solely by high ideals and an intense zeal for the truth as Bernard perceived it.


Traditionally, at least, this abbey was the oldest one in Brittany. According to the anonymous author of the Life and Deeds of St. Gildas, it was founded during the reign of Childeric, the second of the Merovingian kings, in the fifth century. Be that as it may, its authentic history had been extensive before Abelard assumed the direction of its affairs. His gruesome picture of the conditions which prevailed there cannot, of course, be accepted as wholly accurate, but even allowing for gross exaggeration, the life of the monks must have been quite sufficiently scandalous. It was apparently in the closing period of Abelard's sojourn at the abbey of St. Gildas that he wrote the "Historia Calamitatum." He endured the life there for nearly ten years; the date of his flight is not certain, but it cannot have been far from 1134 or 1135.


Leo IX, pope from 1049 to 1054, was a native of Upper Alsace. It was at the Easter synod of 1049 that he enjoined anew the celibacy of the clergy, in connection with which the letter quoted by Abelard was written.


Previous Part     1  2
Home - Random Browse