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About the Events Of The Night Before

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A meeting of bishops was held, at which Bernard was present, but not Abelard, and in that meeting a number of propositions were selected from Abelard’s writings, and condemned. When, on the following morning, these propositions were read in solemn council, Abelard, informed, so it seems, of the proceedings of the evening before, refused to defend himself, declaring that he appealed to Rome. Accordingly, the propositions were condemned, but Abelard was allowed his freedom.

St. Bernard now wrote to the members of the Roman Curia, with the result that Abelard had proceeded only as far as Cluny on his way to Rome when the decree of Innocent II confirming the sentence of the Council of Sens reached him. The Venerable Peter of Cluny now took up his case, obtained from Rome a mitigation of the sentence reconciled him with St. Bernard, and gave him honourable and friendly hospitality at Cluny.

There Abelard spent the last years of his life, and there at last he found the peace which he had elsewhere sought in vain. He donned the habit of the monks of Cluny and became a teacher in the school of the monastery. He died at Chaln-sur-Sane in 1142, and was buried at the Paraclete. In 1817 his remains and those of Heloise were transferred to the cemetery of Pre la Chaise, in Paris, where they now rest.

For our knowledge of the life of Abelard we rely chiefly on the Story of My Calamities, an autobiography written as a letter to a friend, and evidently intended for publication. To this may be added the letters of Abelard and Heloise, which were also intended for circulation among Abelard’s friends. The Story was written about the year 1130, and the letters during the following five or six years. In both the personal element must of course, be taken into account. Besides these we have very scanty material; a letter from Roscelin to Abelard, a letter of Fulco of Deuil, the chronicle of Otto of Freising, the letters of St. Bernard, and a few allusions in the writings of John of Salisbury.

Abelard’s philosophical works are Dialectica, a logical treatise consisting of four books (of which the first is missing); Liber Divisionum et Definitionum; Glosses on Porphyry, Boius, and the Aristotelian Categories; Glossulae in Porphyrium (hitherto unpublished except in a French paraphrase by Rmusat); the fragment De Generibus et Speciebus, ascribed to Abelard by Cousin; a moral treatise Scito Teipsum, seu Ethica, first published by Pez in Thes. Anecd. Noviss. All of these, with the exception of the Glossulae and the Ethica, are to be found in Cousin’s Ouvrages indits d’Ablard. Abelard’s theological works include Sic et Non, consisting of scriptural and patristic passages arranged for and against various theological opinions, without any attempt to decide whether the affirmative or the negative opinion is correct or orthodox; Tractatus de Unitate et Trinitate Divin, which was condemned at the Council of Sens (discovered and edited by Stlzle, Freiburg, 1891); Theologia Christiana, a second and enlarged edition of the Tractatus.

Introductio in Theologiam’ (more correctly, Theologia), of which the first part was published by Duchesne in 1616; Dialogus inter Philosophum, Judaeum, et Christianum; Sententiae Petri Abaelardi, otherwise called Epitomi Theologiae Christianae, which is seemingly a compilation by Abelard’s pupils (first published by Rheinwald, Berlin, 1535); and several exegetical works hymns, sequences, etc. In philosophy Abelard deserves consideration primarily as a dialectician. For him, as for all the scholastic philosophers before the thirteenth century, philosophical inquiry meant almost exclusively the discussion and elucidation of the problems suggested by the logical treatises of Aristotle and the commentaries thereon, chiefly the commentaries of Porphyry and Botius. Perhaps his most important contribution to philosophy and theology is the method which he developed in his Sic et Non (Yea and Nay), a method germinally contained in the teaching of his predecessors, and afterwards brought to more definite form by Alexander of Hales and St. Thomas Aquinas.

It consisted in placing before the student the reasons pro and contra, on the principle that truth is to be attained only by a dialectical discussion of apparently contradictory arguments and authorities. In the problem of Universals, which occupied so much of the attention of dialecticians in those days, Abelard took a position of uncompromising hostility to the crude nominalism of Roscelin on the one side, and to the exaggerated realism of William of Champeaux on the other. What, precisely, was his own doctrine on the question is a matter which cannot with accuracy be determined. However, from the statements of his pupil, John of Salisbury, it is clear that Abelard’s doctrine, while expressed in terms of a modified Nominalism, was very similar to the moderate Realism which began to be official in the schools about half a century after Abelard’s death.

In ethics Abelard laid such great stress on the morality of the intention as apparently to do away with the objective distinction between good and evil acts. It is not the physical action itself, he said, nor any imaginary injury to God, that constitutes sin, but rather the psychological element in the action, the intention of sinning, which is formal contempt of God. With regard to the relation between reason and revelation, between the sciences — including philosophy — and theology, Abelard incurred in his own day the censure of mystic theologians like St. Bernard, whose tendency was to disinherit reason in favour of contemplation and ecstatic vision.

And it is true that if the principles Reason aids Faith and Faith aids Reason are to be taken as the inspiration of scholastic theology, Abelard was constitutionally inclined to emphasize the former, and not lay stress on the latter. Besides, he adopted a tone, and employed a phraseology, when speaking of sacred subjects, which gave offence, and rightly, to the more conservative of his contemporaries. Still, Abelard had good precedent for his use of dialectic in the elucidation of the mysteries of faith; he was by no means an innovator in this respect; and though the thirteenth century, the golden age of scholasticism, knew little of Abelard, it took up his method, and with fearlessness equal to his, though without any of his flippancy or irreverence, gave full scope to reason in the effort to expound and defend the mysteries of the Christian Faith. St. Bernard sums up the charges against Abelard when he writes (Ep. cxcii) Cum de Trinitate loquitur, sapit Arium; cum do grati, sapit Pelagium; cum de person Christi, sapit Nestorium, and there is no doubt that on these several heads Abelard wrote and said many things which were open to objection from the point of view of orthodoxy.

That is to say, while combating the opposite errors, he fell inadvertently into mistakes which he himself did not recognize as Arianism, Pelagianism, and Nestonanism, and which even his enemies could characterize merely as savouring of Arianism, Pelagianism, and Nestorianism. Abelard’s influence on his immediate successors was not very great, owing partly to his conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities, and partly to his personal defects, more especially his vanity and pride, which must have given the impression that he valued truth less than victory. His influence on the philosophers and theologians of the thirteenth century was, however, very great. It was exercised chiefly through Peter Lombard, his pupil, and other framers of the Sentences. Indeed, while one must be careful to discount the exaggerated encomiums of Compayr, Cousin, and others, who represent Abelard as the first modern, the founder of the University of Paris, etc., one is justified in regarding him, in spite of his faults of character and mistakes of judgment, as an important contributor to scholastic method, an enlightened opponent of obscurantism, and a continuator of that revival of learning which occurred in the Carolingian age, and of which whatever there is of science, literature, and speculation in the early Middie Ages is the historical development.

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About the Events Of The Night Before. (2019, Feb 21). Retrieved from