Abelard, Peter


Abelard, Peter

biographical name

(born 1079, Le Pallet, near Nantes, Brittany—died April 21, 1142, Priory of Saint-Marcel, near Chalon-sur-Saône, Burgundy) French theologian and philosopher. The son of a knight, he abandoned his inheritance to study philosophy. He became private tutor to Héloïse, niece of a canon in Paris, c. 1114. They fell in love; Héloïse became pregnant, and they married secretly. Her uncle had Abelard castrated, after which he became a monk and Héloïse became a nun. Abelard's Theologia was condemned as heretical in 1121. He accepted election as abbot of a monastery in Brittany in 1125, but his relations with the community deteriorated and he had to flee for his life. From c. 1135 Abelard taught at Mont-Sainte-Geneviève, where he wrote Ethica, in which he analyzed the notion of sin. In 1140 he was again condemned for heresy, and he withdrew to the monastery at Cluny. His influential Sic et non, a collection of apparently contradictory writings by church fathers on various topics, was intended to bring readers to the truth by wrestling with divergent opinions. He also wrote an autobiography, Historia calamitatum, and his best-known work is the series of letters he exchanged with Héloïse after they retired to monasteries.

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