ABELARD, Peter (1079–1142/3), philosopher and theologian. (Abailard, used by some scholars, is prob. nearer the original form of his name and its pronunciation than the conventional spelling.) He was born at Le Pallet, near Nantes, the son of a Breton knight. The pupil successively of Roscelin, William of Champeaux, and of Anselm of Laon, he early showed evidence of a lively, restless, and independent mind which brought him into frequent conflict with his masters. His brilliant refutation of the Realism of William of Champeaux at once established his renown as a teacher. He went on to lecture at Paris to large audiences of enthusiastic students, first in dialectics and later in theology, until the tragic issue of his love-affair with Héloïse, the niece of Fulbert, Canon of NotreDame, caused him to retire to the monastery of St-Denis in 1117/18. Roscelin and others then attacked the orthodoxy of his teaching on the Trinity; he was condemned unheard at the Council of Soissons (1121) and made to burn his book on the subject (the ‘Theologia Summi Boni’). He returned to St-Denis, but, having already provoked the monks’ hostility, he was forced to flee when he criticized the legend of St Dionysius, the patron of the abbey. He established a small oratory called the Paraclete, near Troyes, where he was soon joined by a band of pupils; it was here that Héloïse was later to become Abbess of a house of nuns. In 1127 Abelard became Abbot of StGildas, but by 1136 he was back in Paris, where he had among his students John of Salisbury and Arnold of Brescia. In June 1140, after St Bernard of Clairvaux had denounced his teaching to Rome, a list of propositions ascribed to him was condemned at the Council of Sens. The sentence was confirmed by Pope Innocent II, but, as a result of the intervention of Peter the Venerable, Abelard was reconciled to Bernard, restored to communion, and received by Peter at Cluny. He died at the Cluniac priory of St-Marcel, near Chalon-sur-Saône.
Abelard’s versatility is reflected in his writings. His philosophical works include ‘Scito to ipsum’ (also called ‘Ethics’), a ‘Dialectica’, and some ‘Glossulae’ on Porphyry. His ‘Sic et Non’, a collection of apparently contradictory excerpts from the Bible and the Fathers on a large number of questions, was intended to help the reader to reconcile the contradictions by making him aware of the difference between authority itself and the many forms in which it is expressed. In his ‘Theologia Summi Boni’ (c.1119–20), he did not apply reason directly to the doctrine of the Trinity, but rather sought to show how this doctrine might be understood by way of ‘analogies provided by human reason’. He continued to refine and defend this method in a series of new versions of the ‘Theologia’. In his ‘Collationes’ or ‘Dialogus’ (?1127–32), he displayed a sympathy in debate (with a Jew and a philosopher) at variance with his earlier more combative style. He was also the author of a collection of hymns, written at the request of Héloïse for the nuns of the Paraclete. These include the well-known ‘O quanta qualia’ (‘O what the joy and the glory must be’), to be sung at Vespers on Saturday, which, with its characteristic combination of devotional feeling and dialectical play, hymns the joys of an endless Sabbath in heaven.
Abelard’s philosophical and theological doctrines were to a great extent determined by his early interest in the problem of universals. Inspired no doubt by his lessons with the Nominalist Roscelin, he maintained that only individuals could be described as things (‘res’), and that language represented an abstraction from these things. The ‘vox’ or ‘nomen’ of language could not be considered a thing, but only a concept, because the qualities shared by individuals are not in themselves things, but the results of a mental act. Later he came to give more importance to the question of meaning in language. The understanding of the thing, which is required for words to have meaning, is at least in part (he said) a true understanding of the thing as it was conceived in the mind of God. With this thinking he moved from his earlier scepticism back to a position nearer to the Realism he had begun by attacking. In his ‘Ethics’, he argued that sin, ‘properly speaking’, consisted not in any action but in contempt for the wishes of God; while thus emphasizing the importance of intention in moral action, he held that it must nevertheless be informed by a knowledge of right and wrong which depended ultimately on revealed truth. Similarly, his stress on the suffering and death of Christ as our supreme example (his exemplarist theory of the Atonement) involved no denial of the place of Christ’s death in effecting salvation through the sacraments.
It was never Abelard’s purpose simply to set reason against faith. His writings are best seen as a sustained attempt to question the content of faith, and so to gain a fuller, more lucid perception of it. The ‘Historia Calamitatum’, the account which he gave of his life to c.1132, records some of the difficulties, private and public, caused by such an approach. As well as the pleasure he took in his own powers of argument, it tells of the disappointments which he suffered when he felt that his ideas had been misunderstood. Despite his frequent immersion in controversy, after his separation from Héloïse he held increasingly to an ideal (derived partly from St Jerome) of the monk as one engaged in a solitary, intellectual search for God. His influence is evident in the many authors who took up his method and, in a sense, in the history of scholasticism itself.There is not yet a complete edn. of Abelard’s works, which have only slowly come to light in modern times. Early edn. by A. Du Chesne (Paris, 1616), repr., with additions, in J. P. Migne, PL 178; modern collections of Ouvrages inédits (Paris, 1836), and Opera hactenus seorsim edita (2 vols., ibid., 1849–59), both by V. Cousin. Opera theologica, ed. E. M. Buytaert, OFM, C. J. Mews and C. J. Ilgner (CCCM, 11, 12, 13, 190, etc., 1969 ff.). Crit. edn. of hymns by G. M. Dreves, SJ (Paris, 1891; also AHMA 48 (1905), pp. 141–232); and by J. Szövérffy (Medieval Classics, Texts and Studies, 2–3; Albany, NY, 1975). I ‘Planctus’ ed., with musical transcription, by G. Vecchi (Modena, 1951). Short early glosses on logical texts ed. M. Dal Pra (Rome and Milan, 1954); further writings on logic ed. B. Geyer (BGPM 21, Hefte 1–4; 1919–33; 2nd edn. of Heft 4, 1973). Glossae super librum Porphyrii secundum vocales, attributed to Abelard, ed. C. Ottaviano, Testi medioevali inediti (Fontes Ambrosiani, 3; Florence, 1933), pp. 95–207. Super Periermenias, 12–14, and Sententie secundum M. Petrum, prob. by Abelard, ed. L. Minio-Paluello, Twelfth Century Logic: Texts and Studies, 2 (Rome, 1958). Dialectica, ed. L. M. De Rijk (Assen, 1956). Sic et Non, ed. B. Boyer and R. McKeon (6 fasc., Chicago and London, 1976–7). Crit. edn. of Historia Calamitatum, with Fr. tr., by J. Monfrin (Bibliothèque des Textes Philosophiques, 1959; 3rd edn., 1967); Ethics, ed., with Eng. tr., D. E. Luscombe (Oxford Medieval Texts, 1971); Collationes, ed., with Eng. tr., by J. Marenbon and G. Orlandi (ibid.,
CCCM Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis (Turnhout, 1967 ff.).
AHMA Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi, ed. G. M. Dreves, SJ, and C. Blume, SJ (55 vols., Leipzig, 1886–1922); Register, ed. M. Lütolf (3 vols., Bern and Munich, 1978).
BGPM Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophic des Mittelalters. Texte and Untersuchungen, begründet von C. Baeumker (Münster i.W., 1891 ff.; from 1938 Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters; NF, 1970 ff.; Supplementbände, 1913 ff.).
Gesammelte Schriften, ed. J. Höfer (8 vols., Freiburg i.B., 1941–67). Eng. trs. of Die Mysterien des Christentums by C. Vollert, SJ (St Louis, 1946), and of Natur und Gnade by id. (ibid. and London, 1954). J. Hertkens, Professor M. J. Scheeben: Leben und Wirken eines katholischen Gelehrten im Dienste der Kirche (1892). K. Feckes and others, M. J. Scheeben (Mainz, 1935). F. S. Pancheri, OFM, Il pensiero teologico di M. J. Scheeben e S. Tommaso (1956), with bibl.; B. Fraigneau-Julien, PSS, L’Église et le caractère sacramentel selon M.-J. Scheeben (1958); N. Hoffmann, SSCC, Natur und Gnade: Die Theologie der Gottesschau als vollendeter Vergöttlichung des Geistgeschöpfes bei M. J. Scheeben (Analecta Gregoriana, 160; 1967); E. Paul, Denkweg und Denkform der Theologie von Matthias Joseph Scheeben (Münchener theologische Studien, II. Systematische Abteilung, 60; 1970), with extensive bibl; U. Sander, Ekklesiologisches Wissen: Kirche als Autorität: Die ‘Theologische Erkenntislehre’ Matthias Joseph Scheebens als antimodernistische Theologie der Moderne (Frankfurter Theologische Studien, 54; 1997). T. F. O’Meara, OP, Church and Culture: German Catholic Theology, 1860–1914 (Notre Dame, Ind., and London ), pp. 53–67. K.-H. Minz in Dict. Sp. 14 (1990), cols. 404–8, s.v.
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