I have recently been enjoying The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (c.1132 – 1138) by Peter Abelard and Heloise with a translation and introduction by Betty Radice and M. T. Clanchy. And this has caused me to theologically investigate what is a very interesting Medieval man and his theology, a poor token offering of which is offered below (that’s my attempt at being humble):
Peter Abelard was a highly gifted intellectual. He outshone his fellow French pupils and tutors alike during the High Middle Ages, being also a supreme master logician. One of his pupils was a young woman named Heloise, who was, arguably, more gifted than he. The short story is that they fell in love (or fell in lust?), had a secret affair that was then exposed, leading to a strange story of marriage, revenge (castration – ouch!), love and ministry.
I have been reading from the Penguin Classics series by updated by M. T. Clanchy from the work of Betty Radice’s own work of the 1970s, featuring the letters of Abelard and Heloise (including his really fascinating autobiographical account – worth the book alone – Historia Calamitatum) plus other bits, such as letters between Peter the Venerable and Heloise, two hymns by Abelard and extracts from the Lost Love Letters. Another of Clanchy’s books opens with: ‘Peter Abelard, now forgotten, was once the most famous man in the world.’ Well that may be what it is, but it is not what all it is.
The Lives of Abelard and Heloise
Peter Abelard was born c.1092 at Le Pallet, near Nantes, the eldest son of a minor noble Breton family. His father wanted his son to have a career in the military as he did, but Abelard pursued life as an academic, and a gifted one at that. Abelard excelled at the art of dialectic, and during this early part of his life he “began to travel about in several provinces disputing, like a true peripatetic philosopher, wherever I had heard there was a keen interest in the art of dialectic.” One gets the impression he rather enjoyed being the know-it-all, but I suppose to many (including himself), he did!
Guest post by Dr Rob Knowles:
How is belief related to desire?
“We may indeed want to believe in something, and therefore believe in it. Thus, for example, we want to think that we are good, righteous, not that bad, better than average, not as bad as so and so, morally more advanced than Daily Mail readers – and so on. And we tend to believe this, even as Christians, even though Jesus says ‘God alone is good’ and Paul says ‘all are sinful’.
But when somebody says, “ah, but you would believe that, wouldn’t you, you‘re a Christian”, then you know that they have done almost no study. They are just repeating a speech-utterance that it has become fashionable to utter in tipsy conversations in pubs, restaurants, and at the kitchen-table soirees of middle-class pretenders.
In the history of the world there have been very few genuine intellectual challenges to Christianity. Claims are forever being made, by a Dawkins or a Fry. And such characters tend to be brilliant orators and conversationalists too – they have mastered the mockery of their opponents; they have mastered how to win in sophistic exchanges; they can make those with double their IQ – but with the hesitancy of intellectual integrity – look like fools. But all that is in spoken exchanges. It is in their texts that they come across as mere popularists, as intellectual lightweights. Dawkins is no Wittgenstein; and Fry is no Heidegger. Wittgenstein and Heidegger both help us to understand Christianity. Dawkins and Fry merely obscure and caricature it.
History is always told from a certain angle or perspective. We’re told that history is written by the winners; and that the only thing we ever learn from history is that we never learn from history or that we are condemned to repeat the history we do not know! Even good history is offered from a particular perspective, no less than a good map is produced from a certain angle for a particular reason.
Rowan Williams writes, “Good history makes us think again about the definition of things we thought we understood pretty well, because it engages not just with what is familiar but with what is strange. It recognises that “the past is a foreign country” as well as being our past.”
In the context of “truth”, history can be told from multiple angles, and seeming opposites. “Well they can’t both be true!” Yes they can. I recently discovered my notes taken from an unknown place and time given by Bible scholar D. A. Carson. He spoke of the same [American] history being told in two different ways, both accurate, both true, both very different!