Vol. 5, Chapter XII (Cont’d) – Peter Abaelard



Literature: Works of Abaelard: ed. first by Duchesne, Paris, 1616. Cousin: Ouvrages inédites d’Abélard, Paris, 1836, containing the Dialectica and Sic et Non; also the Opera omnia, 2 vols. Paris, 1849-1859. Reprod. in Migne, vol. 178. — R. Stölzle: De unitate et trinitate divina, first ed., Freib. im Br., 1891. — Ed. of his Letters by R. Rawlinson, Lond., 1718. Engl. trans. of Letters of Abaelard and Heloise, in Temple Classics.

Biographical: Abaelard’s Autobiography: Hist. calamitatum, in Migne, 178. 113-180. — Berengar: Apologeticus contra Bernardum, etc., in Migne, 178. 1856-1870. — Bernard’s letters as quoted below. — Otto of Freising: De Gestis Frid., 47 sqq. — John of Salisbury: Metalog. and Hist. Pontificalis. — Modern Lives by A. F. Gervaise, Paris, 1728; Cousin, in the Ouvrages, 1836; Wilkins, Göttingen, 1855; Ch. de Rémusat, Paris, 1845, 2 vols., new ed., 1855; O. I. de Rochely (Abél. et le rationalisme moderne), Paris 1867; Bonnier (Abél. et S. Bernard), Paris, 1862; Vacandard (P. Abél. et sa lutte avec S. Bernard), Paris, 1881; *S. M. Deutsch (P. Abael, ein kritischer Theologe des 12ten Jahrh., the best exposition of Abaelard’s system, Leip., 1883; A. Hausrath, Leip., 1893; Joseph McCabe, London, 1901. — E. Kaiser: P. Abél. Critique, Freib., 1901. — The story of Abaelard and Heloise has been specially told by Mad. Guizot, 2 vols., Paris 1839; Jacobi, Berl., 1850; Wright, New York, 1853; Kahnis, Leip., 1865, etc. — Compayré, Abél. and the Orig. and Early His. of Universities. — R. L. Poole: P. Abailard in Illustrations of Med. Thought, Lond., 1884, pp. 136-167. — Stöckl: Phil. des Mittelalters, I. 218-272. — Denifle: D. Sentenzen d. Abael. und die Bearbeitungen seiner Theologie vor Mitte des 12ten Jahrh. in Archiv für Lit. und Kirchengesch., etc., 1885, pp. 402-470, 584-624; Hefele, Councils, V. 451-488. — The Histories of Philos. of Ueberweg-Heinze and Ritter — The Lives of St. Bernard by Neander, I. 207-297; II. 1-44; Morison, 254-322; Vacandard, II. 120-181. — The Histories of Doctrine of Schwane, Harnack, Loofs, Fisher, Seeberg, Sheldon.

During the first half of the twelfth century, Peter Abaelard, 1079-1142, was one of the most conspicuous characters of Europe. His fame was derived from the brilliance of his intellect. He differed widely from Anselm. The latter was a constructive theologian; Abaelard, a critic. Anselm was deliberate, Abaelard, impulsive and rash. Anselm preferred seclusion; Abaelard sought publicity. Among teachers exercising the spell of magnetism over their hearers, Abaelard stands in the front rank and probably has not been excelled in France. In some of his theological speculations he was in advance of his age. His personal misfortunes give to his biography a flavor of romance which belongs to no other Schoolman. A man of daring thought and restless disposition, he was unstable in his mental beliefs and morally unreliable. Our main authority for his career is the Story of Misfortunes, Historia calamitatum, written by his own hand, (Migne, 178. 113-180) in the form of a letter.

The eldest son of a knight, Abaelard was born at the village of Palais or le Pallet, a few miles from Nantes. His original name was Pierre de Palais. Both his parents entered convents. Abaelard had for his first teacher Roscellinus. He listened to William of Champeaux, then at the head of the cathedral school at Paris, and soon began with confidence to refute William’s positions. He then established independent schools at Melun and Corbeil. After a period of sickness, spent under his father’s roof, he returned to Paris. He again listened to William on rhetoric, but openly announced himself as an antagonist of his views, and taught on Mt. Genevieve, then covered with vineyards. Abaelard represents himself as having drawn almost the last scholar away from the cathedral school to Genevieve. We next find him under Anselm of Laon, who, with his brother Radulf, had made the school of Laon famous. Again Abaelard set himself up against his teacher, describing him as having a wonderful flow of words, but no thoughts. When he lit a fire, he filled the whole house with smoke. He was like the barren fig tree with the promise of leaves and nothing more. Abaelard started at Laon counter lectures on Ezekiel.

Now the opportunity of his life came and he was called to preside over the cathedral school at Paris. William of Champeaux had retired to St. Victor and then had been made bishop. The years that immediately followed were the most brilliant in Abaelard’s career. All the world seemed about to do him homage. Scholars from all parts thronged to hear him. He lectured on philosophy and theology. He was well read in classical and widely read in sacred literature. His dialectic powers were ripe and, where arguments failed, the teacher’s imagination and rhetoric came to the rescue. His books were read not only in the schools and convents, but in castles and guildhouses. William of Thierry said they crossed the seas and overleaped the Alps. When he visited towns, the people crowded the streets and strained their necks to catch a glimpse of him. His remarkable influence over men and women must be explained not by his intellectual depth so much as by a certain daring and literary art and brilliance. He was attractive of person, and Bernard may have had this in mind when he says, Abaelard was outwardly a John though he had the heart of a Herod. His statements were clear. He used apt analogies and quoted frequently from Horace, Ovid, and other Latin poets. To these qualities he added a gay cheerfulness which expressed itself in compositions of song and in singing, which made him acceptable to women, as in later years Heloise reminded him.

In the midst of this popularity came the fell tragedy of his life, his connection with Heloise, whom Remusat has called “the first of women.” This, the leading French woman of the Middle Ages, stands forth invested with a halo as of queenly dignity, while her seducer forfeits by his treatment of her the esteem of all who prefer manly strength and fidelity to gifts of mind, however brilliant.

Heloise was probably the daughter of a canon and had her home in Paris with her uncle, Fulbert, also a canon. When Abaelard came to know her, she was seventeen, attractive in person and richly endowed in mind. Abaelard prevailed upon Fulbert to admit him to his house as Heloise’s teacher. Heloise had before been at the convent of Argenteuil. The meetings between pupil and tutor became meetings of lovers. Over open books, as Abaelard wrote, more words of love were passed than of discussion and more kisses than instruction. The matter was whispered about in Paris. Fulbert was in rage. Abaelard removed Heloise to his sister’s in Brittany, where she bore a son, called Astralabius. Abaelard expressed readiness to have the nuptial ceremony performed, though in secret, in order to placate Fulbert. Open marriage was eschewed lest he should himself suffer loss to his fame, as he himself distinctly says.

The Story of Misfortunes leaves no doubt that what he was willing to do proceeded from fear and that he was not actuated by any sense of honor toward Heloise or proper view of woman or of marriage. What accord, he wrote, “has study with nurses, writing materials with cradles, books and desks with spinning wheels, reeds and ink with spindles! Who, intent upon sacred and philosophical reflections could endure the squalling of children, the lullabies of nurses and the noisy crowd of men and women! Who would stand the disagreeable and constant dirt of little children!”

Abaelard declared a secret marriage was performed in obedience to the demands of Heloise’s relatives. At best it was a mock ceremony, for Heloise persisted in denying she was Abaelard’s wife. With mistaken but splendid devotion, she declined to marry him, believing that marriage would interrupt his career. In one of her letters to him she wrote: “If to you, the name of wife seems more proper, to me always was more dear the little word friend, or if you do not deem that name proper, then the name of concubine or harlot, concubina vel scortum. I invoke God as my witness that, if Augustus had wished to give me the rule over the whole world by asking me in marriage, I would rather be your mistress, meretrix, than his empress, imperatrix. Thy passion drew thee to me rather than thy friendship, and the heat of desire rather than love.”

Abaelard removed Heloise to Argenteuil and she assumed the veil. He visited her in secret and now Fulbert took revenge. Entering into collusion with Abaelard’s servant, he fell upon him at night and mutilated him. Thus humiliated, Abaelard entered the convent of St. Denis, 1118, — not from any impulse of piety but from expediency. He became indifferent to Heloise.

New trials fell upon his chequered career — charges of heresy. He was arraigned for Sabellian views on the Trinity at Soissons, 1121, before the papal legate. Roscellinus, his old teacher, opened the accusations. Abaelard complains that two enemies were responsible for the actual trial and its issue, Alberic and Lotulf, teachers at Rheims. He was obliged to commit his book to the flames and to read publicly a copy of the Athanasian Creed.

Again he got himself into difficulty by opposing the current belief, based upon Bede’s statement, that Dionysius or St. Denis, the patron of France, was the Dionysius converted by Paul at Athens. The monks of St. Denis would not tolerate him. He fled, retracted his utterance, and with the permission of Suger, the new abbot of St. Denis, settled in a waste tract in Champagne and built an oratory which he called after the third person of the Trinity, the Paraclete. Students again gathered around him, and the original structure of reeds and straw was replaced by a substantial building of stone. But old rivals, as he says, again began to pursue him just as the heretics pursued Athanasius of old, and “certain ecclesiastics” — presumably Norbert, the founder of the Premonstrants, and Bernard of Clairvaux — were stirred up against him. Abaelard, perhaps with not too much self-disparagement, says of himself that, in comparison to them, he seemed to be as an ant before a lion. It was under these circumstances that he received the notice of his election as abbot of the monastery of St. Gildas on the sea, in his native Brittany. He went, declaring that “the envy of the Francians drove him to the West, as the envy of the Romans drove Jerome to the East.”

The monks of St. Gildas are portrayed by Abaelard as a band of unmitigated ruffians. They had their wives and children settled upon the convent’s domains. They treated their new abbot with contempt and violence, twice, at least, attempting his life. On one occasion it was by drugging the chalice. He complained of the barrenness of the surroundings. Bernard described him as an abbot without discipline. In sheer despair, Abaelard fled and in “striving to escape one sword I threw myself upon another,” he said. At this point the autobiography breaks off and we know little of its author till 1136.

In the meantime the nuns of Argentueil were driven out of their quarters. In 1127, Abaelard placed Heloise in charge of the Paraclete, and under her management it became prosperous. He had observed a cold silence for a protracted period, but now and again visited the Paraclete and delivered sermons to the nuns. Heloise received the Story of Misfortunes, and, in receiving it, wrote, addressing him as “her lord or rather father, her husband or rather brother, from his handmaid or rather daughter, his consort or rather sister.” Her first two letters have scarcely, if ever, been equalled in the annals of correspondence in complete abandonment of heart and glowing expressions of devotion. She appealed to him to send her communications. Had she not offered her very being on the altar for his sake! Had she not obeyed him in everything, and in nothing would she offend him!

Abaelard replied to Heloise as the superior of the nuns of the Paraclete. She was to him nothing more. He preached to her sermons on prayer, asked for the intercession of the nuns on his behalf, and directed that his body be laid away in the Paraclete. He rejoiced that Heloise’s connection with himself prevented her from entering into marriage and giving birth to children. She had thereby been forced into a higher life and to be the mother of many spiritual daughters. Heloise plied him with questions about hard passages in the Scriptures and about practical matters of daily living and monastic dress, — a device to secure the continuance of the correspondence. Abaelard replied by giving rules for the nuns which were long and severe. He enjoined upon them, above all else, the study of the Scriptures, and called upon them to imitate Jerome who took up Hebrew late in life. He sent them sermons, seven of which had been delivered in the Paraclete. He proposed that there should be a convent for monks close by the Paraclete. The monks and nuns were to help each other. An abbot was to stand at the head of both institutions. The nuns were to do the monks’ washing and cooking, milk the cows, feed the chickens and geese.

In 1137 and again in 1139, we find Abaelard suddenly installed at St. Genevieve and enjoying, for a while, meteoric popularity. John of Salisbury was one of his pupils. How the change was brought about does not fully appear. But Abaelard was not destined to have peace. The final period of his restless career now opens. Bernard was at that time the most imposing religious personality of Europe, Abaelard was its keenest philosophical thinker. The one was the representative of churchmanship and church authority, the other of freedom of inquiry. A clash between these two personalities was at hand. It cannot be regarded as an historical misfortune that these two men met on the open field of controversy and on the floor of ecclesiastical synods. History is most true to herself when she represents men just as they were. She is a poor teacher, when she does not take opportunity to reveal their infirmities as well as their virtues.

Abaelard was as much to blame for bringing on the conflict by his self-assertive manner as Bernard was to blame by unnecessarily trespassing upon Abaelard’s territory. William, abbot of St. Thierry, addressed a letter to Bernard and Geoffrey, bishop of Chalons, announcing that Abaelard was again teaching and writing doctrinal novelties. These were not matters of mean import, but concerned the doctrine of the Trinity, the person of Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God’s grace. They were even receiving favor in the curia at Rome. William adduced no less than thirteen errors.

The first open sign of antagonism was a letter written by Abaelard, brimming over with self-conceit. On a visit to Heloise at the Paraclete, Bernard had taken exception to the use of the phrase “supersubstantial bread” in the Lord’s Prayer, instead of “daily bread” as given by Luke. Abaelard heard of the objection from Heloise, and, as if eager to break a lance with Bernard, wrote to him, showing he was in error. He became sarcastic, pointing out that, at Clairvaux, novelties were being practised which were otherwise unknown to the Church. New hymns were sung and certain intercessory prayers left out as if the Cistercian monks did not stand in need of intercession also.

So far as we know, Bernard did not answer this letter. After some delay, he acted upon the request of William of Thierry. He visited Abaelard in Paris and sought to secure from him a promise that he would retract his errors.

The difference was brought to open conflict at the synod of Sens, 1141, where Abaelard asked that his case might be presented, and that he might meet Bernard in argument. Arnold of Brescia seems to have been among those present. Bernard was among friends and admirers. Abaelard had few friends, and was from the first looked upon with suspicion. Bernard had come to the synod to lay the whole weight of his influence against Abaelard. He had summoned the bishops as friends of Christ, whose bride called to them out of the thicket of heresies. He wrote to the cardinals and to Innocent II., characterizing Abaelard as a ravenous lion, and a dragon. With Arnold as his armor-bearer at his side, Abaelard stood like another Goliath calling out against the ranks of Israel, while Bernard felt himself a youth in dialectical skill.

At a preliminary meeting with the bishops, Bernard went over the case and it seems to have been decided, at least in an informal way, that Abaelard should be condemned. The next day Bernard publicly presented the charges, but, to the great surprise of all, Abaelard declined to argue his case and appealed it to the pope. Passing by Gilbert of Poictiers, Abaelard is said to have whispered Horace’s line,

“Look well to your affairs now that your neighbor’s house is burning.”

Nam tua res agitur, paries eum proximus ardet.

To Rome the case must go. Abaelard no doubt felt that he had nothing to hope for from the prelates. From Innocent II., whose side he had espoused against the antipope, Anacletus, he might expect some favor and he had friends in the curia. The synod called upon the supreme pontiff to brand Abaelard’s heresies with perpetual condemnation — perpetua damnatione — and to punish their defenders. The charges, fourteen in number, concerned the Trinity, the nature of faith, the power and work of Christ, and the nature of sin. Bernard followed up the synodal letter with a communication to the pope, filling forty columns in Migne, and letters to cardinals, which are full of vehement charges against the accused man. Abaelard and Arnold of Brescia were in collusion. Abaelard had joined himself with Arius in ascribing degrees within the Trinity, with Pelagius in putting free will before grace, and with Nestorius in separating the person of Christ. In name and exterior a monk, he was at heart a heretic. He had emerged from Brittany as a tortuous snake from its hole and, as in the case of the hydra, seven heads appeared where before there had been but one. In his letter to the pope, he declared the only thing Abaelard did not know was the word nescio, “I do not know.”

The judgment was swift in coming and crushing when it came. Ten days were sufficient. The fourteen articles were burned by the pope’s own hand in front of St. Peter’s in the presence of the cardinals. Abaelard himself was declared to be a heretic and the penalty of perpetual silence and confinement was imposed upon him. The unfortunate man had set out for Rome and was hardly well started on his journey, when the sentence reached him. He stopped at Cluny, where he met the most useful friend of his life, Peter the Venerable. At Peter’s intercession, Innocent allowed the homeless scholar to remain in Cluny whence the pope himself had gone forth.

Following Peter’s counsel, Abaelard again met Bernard face to face. In a defence of his orthodoxy, addressed to Heloise, he affirmed his acceptance of all the articles of the Church from the article on the Trinity to the resurrection of the dead. As it was with Jerome, so no one could write much without being misunderstood.

But his turbulent career was at an end. He was sent by Peter to St. Marcellus near Chalons for his health, and there he died April 21, 1142, sixty-three years old. His last days in Cluny are described by Peter in a letter written to Heloise, full of true Christian sympathy. He called Abaelard a true philosopher of Christ. One so humble in manner he had not seen. He was abstinent in meat and drink. He read continually and prayed fervently. Faithfully he had committed his body and soul to his Lord Redeemer for time and eternity. “So Master Peter finished his days and he who was known in almost the whole world for his great erudition and ability as a teacher died peacefully in Him who said ‘Learn of me, for I am meek and lowly of heart,’ and he is, as we must believe, gone to Him.”

Abaelard’s body was carried to the Paraclete and there given rest. Twenty-two years later, Heloise was laid at his side. The inscription placed over the tomb ran, “The Socrates of the Gauls, the great Plato of the Occidentals, our Aristotle, who was greater or equal to him among the logicians! Abaelard was the prince of the world’s scholars, varied in talent, subtle and keen, conquering all things by his mental force. And then he became a conqueror indeed, when, entering Cluny, he passed over to the true philosophy of Christ.” At a later time the following inscription was placed over the united dust of these remarkable and unfortunate personages, “Under this marble lie the founder of this convent, P. Abaelard and the first abbess Heloise, once joined by studies, mind, love, forbidden marriage, — infaustis nuptiis, — and penitence and now, as we hope, in eternal felicity.”

At the destruction of the Paraclete during the French Revolution, 1792, the marble sarcophagus was removed to Paris and in 1816 it was transferred to the cemetery of Père la Chaise. There it remains, the chief object of interest in that solemn place of the dead, attracting Frenchmen and visitors from distant lands who commemorate, with tears of sympathy and a prayer over the mistakes of mortals, the unfortunate lovers.


100. Abaelard’s Teachings and Theology

Furnished with brilliant talents, Abaelard stands in the front rank of French public teachers. But he was a creature of impulse and offensively conscious of his own gifts and acquirements. He lacked the reverent modesty and equilibrium which become greatness. He was deficient in moral force to lift him above the whips and stings of fortune, or rather the calamities of his own making. He seems to have discerned no goal beyond his own selfish ambition. As Neander has said, if he had been a man of pure moral character, he would have accomplished more than he did in the domain of scholarly study. A man of the highest type could not have written his Story of Misfortunes in the tone that Abaelard wrote. He shows not a sign of repentance towards God for his treatment of Heloise. When he recalls that episode, it is not to find fault with himself, and it is not to do her any reparation.

His readiness to put himself in opposition to his teachers and to speak contemptuously of them and to find the motive for such opposition in envy, indicates also a lack of the higher moral sentiment. It is his own loss of fame and position that he is continually thinking of, and lamenting. Instead of ascribing his misfortunes to his own mistakes and mistemper, he ascribes them to the rivalry and jealousy of others. His one aim in his troubles seems to have been to regain his popularity.

Abaelard’s writings are dialectic, ethical, and theological treatises, poems and letters to Heloise, and his autobiography. His chief theological works are a Commentary on the Romans, the Introduction to Theology, and a Christian Theology, the last two being mainly concerned with the Trinity, a colloquy between a philosopher, a Jew, and a Christian and the Sic et Non, Yes and No. In the last work the author puts side by side in one hundred and fifty-eight chapters a collection of quotations from the Fathers which seem to be or really are contradictory. The compiler does not offer a reconciliation. The subjects on which the divergent opinions are collated range from the abstruse problem of the Trinity and the person of Christ to the questions whether Eve alone was seduced or Adam with her, whether Adam was buried on Calvary (the view taken by Ambrose and Jerome) or not (Isidore of Seville), and whether Adam was saved or not. His chief writing on Ethics was the Scito te ipsum, “Know thyself.”

In some of his theological conceptions Abaelard was in advance of his age. The new seeds of thought which he let fall have germinated in recent times. His writings show that, in the twelfth century also, the critical sense had a representative.

1. In the conflict over Realism and Nominalism Abaelard occupied an intermediate position. On the one hand he ridiculed the nominalism of Roscellinus, and on the other he controverted the severe realism of William of Champeaux. He taught that the universal is more than a word, vox. It is an affirmation, sermo. That which our thinking finds to be common, he declared to be real, and the forms of things existed in the divine mind before the creation.

2. Of much more interest are Abaelard’s views of the ultimate seat of religious authority and of inspiration. Although his statements at times seem to be contradictory, the conclusion is justified that he was an advocate of a certain freedom of criticism and inquiry, even though its results contradicted the authority of the Church. He recognized the principle of inspiration, but by this he did not mean what Gregory the Great taught, that the biblical authors were altogether passive. They exercised a measure of independence, and they were kept from all mistakes.

The rule upon which he treated the Fathers and the Scriptures is set forth in the Prologue of the Sic et Non. In presenting the contradictory opinions of the Fathers he shows his intellectual freedom, for the accredited belief was that their statements were invariably consistent. Abaelard pronounced this a mistake. Did not Augustine retract some of his statements? Their mistakes, however, and the supposed mistakes of the Scriptures may be only imaginary, due to our failure to understand what they say. Paul, in saying that Melchisedek has neither father nor mother, only meant that the names of his parents were not given in the Old Testament. The appearance of Samuel to Saul at the interview with the witch of Endor was only a fancy, not a reality. Prophets did not always speak with the Spirit of God, and Peter made mistakes. Why should not the Fathers also have made mistakes? The authority of Scripture and the Fathers does not preclude critical investigation. On the contrary, the critical spirit is the proper spirit in which to approach them. “In the spirit of doubt we approach inquiry, and by inquiry we find out the truth, as He, who was the Truth said, ‘Seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you.’”

The mystical and the philosophical elements, united in Anselm, were separated in Abaelard. But Abaelard followed the philosophical principle further than Anselm. He was a born critic, restless of mind, and anxious to make an innovation. In him the inquisitive temper was in the ascendant over the fiducial. Some writers even treat him as the forerunner of modern rationalism. In appearance, at least, he started from a principle the opposite of Anselm’s, namely, “nothing is to be believed, until it has been understood.” His definition of faith as a presumption of things not seen was interpreted by Bernard and other contemporaries to mean that faith was an uncertain opinion. What Abaelard probably meant was, that faith does not rest upon authority, but upon inquiry and experience. There are times, however, when he seems to contradict himself and to set forth the opposite principle. He says, “We believe in order to know, and unless ye believe, ye cannot know.” His contemporaries felt that he was unsound and that his position would overthrow the authority of the Church.

The greater doctrines of the Trinity and the existence of God, Abaelard held, could not be proved as necessary, but only as probable. In opposition to the pruriency of Scolasticism, he set up the principle that many things pertaining to God need neither to be believed, nor denied, for no danger is involved in the belief or denial of them. He gives as examples, whether God will send rain on the morrow or not, and whether God will grant pity to a certain most wicked man or not. On the other hand be declared that to affirm that we cannot understand what has been taught about the Trinity is to say that the sacred writers themselves did not understand what they taught. As for the Catholic faith, it is necessary for all, and no one of sound mind can be saved without it.

3. In his statement of the doctrine of the Trinity, Abaelard laid himself open to the charge both of modalism and Arianism. It called forth Bernard’s severest charges. Abaelard made no contribution to the subject. The idea of the Trinity he derived from God’s absolute perfections. God, as power, is the Father; as wisdom, He is the Son; as love, the Spirit. The Scriptures are appealed to for this view. The Father has put all things in His power, Act_1:7. The Son, as Logos, is wisdom. The Holy Spirit is called good, Psa_143:10, and imparts spiritual gifts. The figure gave much umbrage, by which he compared the three persons of the Trinity to the brass of which a seal is made, the form of the seal, and the seal itself proceeding from, or combining the brass and the form. “The brass itself which is the substance of the brazen seal, and the seal itself of which the brass is the substance, are essentially one; yet the brass and the seal are so distinct in their properties, that the property of the brass is one, and the property of the brazen seal another.” These are ultimately three things: the brass, aes, the brass capable of sealing, sigillabile, and the brass in the act of sealing, sigillans.

4. In his treatment of the atonement, Abaelard has valuable original elements. Strange to say, he makes no reference to Anselm’s great treatise. Man, Abaelard said, is in the power of the devil, but the devil has no right to this power. What rights does a slave have over another slave whom he leads astray? Christ not only did not pay any price to the devil for man’s redemption, he also did not make satisfaction to divine justice and appease God’s wrath. If the fall of Adam needed satisfaction by the death of some one, who then would be able to satisfy for the death of Christ? In the life and death of the Redeemer, God’s purpose was to manifest. His love and thus to stir up love in the breast of man, and to draw man by love back to Himself. God might have redeemed man by a word, but He chose to set before man an exhibition of His love in Christ. Christ’s love constitutes the merit of Christ. The theory anticipates the modern moral influence theory of the atonement, so called.

5. Abaelard’s doctrine of sin likewise presents features of difference from the view current in his time. The fall occurred when Eve resolved to eat the forbidden fruit, that is, after her desire was aroused and before the actual partaking of the fruit.

The seat of sin is the intention, which is the root, bearing good and bad fruit. Desire or concupiscence is not sin. This intention, intentio, is not the simple purpose, say, to kill a man in opposition to killing one without premeditation, but it is the underlying purpose to do right or wrong. In this consciousness of right or wrong lies the guilt. Those who put Christ to death from a feeling that they were doing right, did not sin, or, if they sinned, sinned much less grievously than if they had resisted their conscience and not put him to death. How then was it that Christ prayed that those who crucified him might be forgiven? Abaelard answers by saying that the punishment for which forgiveness was asked was temporal in its nature.

The logical deduction from Abaelard’s premises would have been that no one incurs penalty but those who voluntarily consent to sin. But from this he shrank back. The godless condition of the heathen he painted in darkest colors. He, however, praised the philosophers and ascribed to them a knowledge through the Sibylline books, or otherwise, of the divine unity and even of the Trinity. Bernard wrote to Innocent II. that, while Abaelard labored to prove Plato a Christian, he proved himself to be a pagan. Liberal as he was in some of his doctrinal views, he was wholly at one with the Church in its insistence upon the efficiency of the sacraments, especially baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Because Abaelard stands outside of the theological circle of his day, he will always be one of the most interesting figures of the Middle Ages. His defect was in the lack of moral power. The student often finds himself asking the question, whether his statements were always the genuine expression of convictions. But for this lack of moral force, he might have been the Tertullian of the Middle Ages, whom he is not unlike in dash and original freshness of thought. The African Father, so vigorous in moral power, the Latin Church excludes from the number of the saints on account of his ecclesiastical dissent. Abaelard she cannot include on account of moral weakness. Had he been willing to suffer and had he not retracted all the errors charged against him, he might have been given a place among the martyrs of thought. As it is, his misfortunes arouse our sympathy for human frailties which are common; his theology and character do not awaken our admiration.


101. Younger Contemporaries of Abaelard

Literature: For Gilbert (Gislebertus) of Poictiers. His Commentaries on Boethius, De trinitate are in Migne, 64. 1266 sqq. The De sex principiis, Migne, 188. 1250-1270. For his life: Gaufrid of Auxerre, Migne, 185. 595 sqq. — Otto of Freising, De gestis Frid., 50-57. — J. of Salisbury, Hist. pontif., VIII. — Poole, in Illustr. of the Hist. of Med. Thought, pp. 167-200. Hefele, V. 503-508, 520-524. — Neander-Deutsch, St. Bernard, II. 130-144.

For John of Salisbury, Works in Migne, vols. 190, 199, and J. A. Giles, Oxford, 1848, 5 vols. — Hist. pontificalis romanus, in Mon. German., vol. XX. — Lives by Reuter, Berlin, 1842. — *C. Schaarschmidt, Joh. Saresbriensis nach Leben und Studien, Schriften und Philosophie, Leip., 1862, and art. in Herzog, IX. 313-319. — Denimuid, Paris, 1873. — Schubert: Staatslehre J. von Sal., Berlin, 1897. — Stubbs, in Study of Med. and Mod. Hist., Lectt. VI., VII. — Poole, in Illustr. etc., pp. 201-226, and Dict. of Natl. Biogr., XXIX. 439-446.

Among Abaelard’s younger contemporaries and pupils were Gilbert of Poictiers, John of Salisbury, and Robert Pullen, theologians who were more or less influenced by Abaelard’s spirit of free inquiry. Peter the Lombard, d. 1164, also shows strong traces of Abaelard’s teaching, especially in his Christology.

Gilbert of Poictiers, 1070-1154, is better known by his public trial than by his writings, or any permanent contributions to theology. Born at Poictiers, he studied under Bernard of Chartres, William of Champeaux, Anselm of Laon, and Abaelard. He stood at the head of the cathedral school in Chartres for ten years, and in 1137 began teaching in Paris. In 1142 he was made bishop of Poictiers. His two principal works are De sex principiis, an exposition of Aristotle’s last six categories, which Aristotle himself left unexplained, and a commentary on the work on the Trinity, ascribed to Boethius. They occupy only a few pages in print.

Gilbert’s work on the Trinity involved him in a trial for heresy, in which Bernard was again a leading actor. The case was brought before the synods of Paris, 1147, and Rheims, 1148. According to Otto of Freising, Gilbert was a man of earnest purpose. It was his dark and abstruse mode of statement and intense realism that exposed him to the accusation of unorthodoxy.

Some of Gilbert’s pupils were ready to testify against him, but sufficient evidence of tritheism were not forthcoming at Paris and the pope, who presided, adjourned the case to Rheims. At Rheims, Bernard who had been appointed prosecutor offended some of the cardinals by his methods of conducting the prosecution. Both Otto of Freising and John of Salisbury state that a schism was threatened and only averted by the good sense of pope Eugenius.

To the pope’s question whether Gilbert believed that the highest essence, by virtue of which, as he asserted, each of the three persons of the Trinity was God, was itself God, Gilbert replied in the negative. Gilbert won the assembly by his thorough acquaintance with the Fathers. The charge was declared unproven and Gilbert was enjoined to correct the questionable statements in the light of the fourth proposition brought in by Bernard. The accused continued to administer his see till his death. Otto of Freising concludes his account by saying, that either Bernard was deceived as to the nature of Gilbert’s teaching as David was deceived by Mephibosheth, 2Sa_9:1-9 sqq., or that Gilbert covered up his real meaning by an adroit use of words to escape the judgment of the Church. With reference to his habit of confusing wisdom with words Walter of St. Victor called Gilbert one of the four labyrinths of France.

John of Salisbury, about 1115-1180, was the chief literary figure and scholar among the Englishmen of the twelfth century, and exhibits in his works the practical tendency of the later English philosophy. He was born at Salisbury and of plebeian origin. He spent ten or twelve years in “divers studies” on the Continent, sat at the feet of Abaelard on Mt. Genevieve, 1136, and heard Gilbert of Poictiers, William of Conches, Robert Pullen, and other renowned teachers. A full account of the years spent in study is given in his Metalogicus. Returning to England, he stood in a confidential relation to archbishop Theobald. At a later time he espoused Becket’s cause and was present in the cathedral when the archbishop was murdered. He had urged the archbishop not to enter his church. In 1176 he was made bishop of Chartres. He says he crossed the Alps no less than ten times on ecclesiastical business.

By his reminiscences and miscellanies, John contributed, as few men did, to our knowledge of the age in which he lived. He had the instincts of a Humanist, and, had he lived several centuries later, would probably have been in full sympathy with the Renaissance. His chief works are the Metalogicus, the Polycraticus, and the Historia pontificalis. The Polycraticus is a treatise on the principles of government and philosophy, written for the purpose of drawing attention away from the trifling disputes and occupations of the world to a consideration of the Church and the proper uses of life. He fortified his positions by quotations from the Scriptures and classical writers, and shows that the Church is the true conservator of morality and the defender of justice in the State. He was one of the best-read men of his age in the classics.

In the Metalogicus, John calls a halt to the casuistry of Scholasticism and declares that the reason is apt to err as well as the senses. Dialectics had come to be used as an exhibition of mental acumen, and men, like Adam du Petit Pont, made their lectures as intricate and obscure as possible, so as to attract students by the appearance of profundity. John declared that logic was a vain thing except as an instrument, and by itself as useless as the “sword of Hercules in a pygmy’s hand.” He emphasized the importance of knowledge that can be put to use, and gave a long list of things about which a wise man may have doubts, such as providence and human fortune, the origin of the soul, the origin of motion, whether all sins are equal and equally to be punished. God, he affirmed, is exalted above all that the mind can conceive, and surpasses our power of ratiocination.

The Historia pontificalis is an account of ecclesiastical matters falling under John’s own observation, extending from the council at Rheims, 1148, to the year 1152.


102. Peter the Lombard and the Summists

Literature: Works of P. Lombard, Migne, vols. 191, 192. — Protois, P. Lomb. son épôque, sa vie, ses écrits et son influence, Paris, 1881. Contains sermons not found in Migne. — Kögel: P. Lomb. in s. Stellung zur Philos. des Mittelalters, Leip., 1897. — *O. Baltzer: D. Sentenzen d. P. Lomb., irhe Quellen und ihre dogmengeschichtl. Bedeutung, Leip., 1902. — *Denifle: D. Sentenzen Abaelards, etc., in Archiv, 1885, pp. 404 sqq. — Arts. Lombardus, in Wetzer-Welte, IX. 1916-1923, and *Herzog, by Seeberg, XI. 630-642. — Stöckl, Philos. des Mittelalters, I. 390-411. The Histories of Doctrine of Schwane, pp. 160 sqq., Bach, Harnack, Fisher, etc.

Peter the Lombard is the father of systematic theology in the Catholic Church. He produced the most useful and popular theological text-book of the Middle Ages, as Thomas Aquinas produced the most complete theological system. In method, he belongs to the age of the great theologians of the thirteenth century, when Scholasticism was at its height. In point of time, he has his place in the twelfth century, with whose theologians, Bernard, Abaelard, Gilbert, Hugo of St. Victor, and others, he was personally acquainted. Peter was born at Novara, in Northern Italy, and died in Paris about 1164. After studying in Bologna, he went to France and attended the school of St. Victor and the cathedral school in Paris, and came under the influence of Abaelard. He afterwards taught in Paris. Walter Map, describing his experiences in France, calls him “the famous theologian.” In 1159 he was made bishop of Paris.

His monumental work, the Four Books of Sentences, libri quatuor sententiarum, covers, in a systematic way, the whole field of dogmatic theology, as John of Damascus had done four hundred years before in his summary of the Orthodox Faith. It won for its author the title, the Master of Sentences, magister sententiarum. Other systems of theology under the name of sentences had preceded the Lombard’s treatise. Such a work was ascribed to Abaelard by St. Bernard. This was probably a mistake. It is certain, however, that Abaelard’s scholars — Roland (afterwards Alexander III.), while he was professor at Bologna, 1142, and Omnebene — produced such works and followed Abaelard’s threefold division of faith, charity, and the sacraments. Of more importance were the treatises of Anselm of Laon, Robert Pullen, and Hugo of St. Victor, who wrote before the Lombard prepared his work. Robert Pullen, who died about 1147, was an Englishman and one of the first teachers at Oxford, then went to Paris, where he had John of Salisbury for one of his hearers about 1142, enjoyed the friendship of St. Bernard, came into favor at Rome, and was appointed cardinal by Coelestin II.

The Lombard’s work is clear, compact, and sententious, moderate and judicial in spirit, and little given to the treatment of useless questions of casuistry. In spite of some attacks upon its orthodoxy, it received wide recognition and was used for several centuries as a text-book, as Calvin’s Institutes, at a later period, was used in the Protestant churches. Down to the sixteenth century, every candidate for the degree of B. A. at Paris was obliged to pass an examination in it. Few books have enjoyed the distinction of having had so many commentaries written upon them. One hundred and sixty are said to be by Englishmen, and one hundred and fifty-two by members of the order of St. Dominic. The greatest of the Schoolmen lectured and wrote commentaries upon it, as Alexander Hales, Albertus Magnus, Bonaventura, Thomas Aquinas, Durandus, and Ockam.

Not uninfluenced by the method pursued by Abaelard in the Sic et Non, the Lombard collated statements from the Fathers and he set about making his compilation to relieve the student from the task and toil of searching for himself in the Fathers. Augustine furnished more than twice as many quotations as all the other Fathers together. The Lombard went further than Abaelard and proposed to show the harmony existing between the patristic statements. In the arrangement of his material and for the material itself he drew largely upon Abaelard, Gratian, and Hugo of St. Vector, without, however, quoting them by name. Upon Hugo he drew for entire paragraphs.

The Sentences are divided into four parts, treating of the triune God, created beings and sin, the incarnation, the Christian virtues and the decalogue, and the sacraments with some questions in eschatology. The author’s method is to state the doctrine taught by the Church, to confirm it from Scripture, then to adduce the opinions of the Fathers and, if they seemed to be in conflict, to reconcile them. His ultimate design was to lift up the light of truth in its candlestick, and he assures us his labor had cost him much toil and sweat of the brow.

The Lombard’s arguments for the divine existence are chiefly cosmological. God’s predestination of the elect is the cause of good in them and is not based upon any foreseen goodness they may have. Their number cannot be increased or diminished. On the other hand, God does not take the initiation the condemnation of the lost. Their reprobation follows as a consequence upon the evil in them which is foreseen.

In the second book, the Lombard makes the famous statement which he quotes from Augustine, and which has often been falsely ascribed as original to Matthew Henry, that the woman was not taken from Adam’s head, as if she were to rule over him or from his feet as if she were to be his slave, but from his side that she might be his consort. By the Fall man suffered injury as from a wound, vulneratio, not deprivation of all virtue. Original sin is handed down through the medium of the body and becomes operative upon the soul by the soul’s contact with the body. The root of sin is concupiscence, concupiscentia. The Lombard was a creationist. God knew man would fall. Why He did not prevent it, is not known.

In his treatment of the atonement, Peter denied that Christ’s death was a price paid to the devil. It is the manifestation of God’s love, and by Christ’s love on the cross, love is enkindled within us. Here the Lombard approaches the view of Abaelard. He has nothing to say in favor of Anselm’s view that the death of Christ was a payment to the divine honor.

In his treatment of the sacraments, the Lombard commends immersion as the proper form of baptism, triune or single. Baptism destroys the guilt of original sin. The Lord’s Supper is a sacrifice, and the elements are transmuted into the body and blood of Christ. Water is to be mixed with the wine, the water signifying the people redeemed by Christ’s passion.

It is remarkable that a work which came into such general esteem, and whose statements are so carefully guarded by references to Augustine, should have been attacked again and again as heretical, as at the synod of Tours, 1163, and at the Third Lateran, 1179; but at neither was any action taken. Again at the Fourth Lateran, 1215, Peter’s statement of the Trinity was attacked. Peter had said that the Father, Son, and Spirit were “a certain highest being,” and that the substance neither begets nor is begotten, nor does it proceed from anything. Joachim charged that he substituted a quaternity for the Trinity and called him a heretic, but the council took another view and pronounced in favor of Peter’s orthodoxy. Walter of St. Victor went so far as to accuse the author of the Sentences with Sabellianism, Arianism, and “novel heresies.” In spite of such charges no one can get as clear an idea of medieval theology in a succinct form as in Peter Lombard unless it be in the Breviloquium of Bonaventura.

The last and one of the clearest of the Summists of the twelfth century was Alanus de Insulis, Alain of Lille, who was born at Lille, Flanders, and died about 1202. His works were much read, especially his allegorical poems, Anticlaudianus and De planctu naturae.

In the Rules of Sacred Theology Alanus gives one hundred and twenty-five brief expositions of theological propositions. In the five books on the Catholic Faith, he considers the doctrine of God, creation and redemption, the sacraments, and the last things. The Church is defined as the congregation of the faithful confessing Christ and the arsenal of the sacraments. Alanus’ work, Against Heretics, has already been used in the chapters on the Cathari and Waldenses.

Another name which may be introduced here is Walter of St. Victor, who is chiefly known by his characterization of Abaelard, Gilbert of Poictiers, Peter the Lombard, and the Lombard’s pupil, Peter of Poictiers, afterwards chancellor of the University of Paris, as the four labyrinths of France. He likened their reasoning to the garrulity of frogs, — ranarum garrulitas, — and declared that, as sophists, they had unsettled the faith by their questions and counterquestions. Walter’s work has never been printed. He succeeded Richard as prior of the convent of St. Victor. He died about 1180.