Authors: Peter Abelard

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

French philosopher

Author Works


Logica ingredientibus, c. 1120

Tractatus de unitate et trinitate divina, c. 1120

Dialectica, c. 1120

Theologia “summi boni,” c. 1120

Sic et Non, c. 1123 (treatises)

Logica “nostrorum petitioni sociorum,” c. 1124

Theologia Christiana, c. 1125 (partial translation, Christian Theology, 1948)

Historia calamitatum, c. 1132 (autobiography; The Story of My Misfortune, 1922)

Theologia Scolarium, c. 1135

Ethica, c. 1138 (Abailard’s Ethics, 1935; also known as Peter Abelard’s Ethics, 1971, and Ethical Writings, 1994)

Apologia, c. 1141

Dialogus inter philosophum, Judaeum et Christianum, 1141-1142 (Dialogue of a Philosopher with a Jewand a Christian, 1979)

Letters of Abelard and Heloise, 1713


Pierre Abelard (ab-uh-lahrd) at a very young age relinquished his inheritance from his family to pursue a life in philosophy, seeking out the best-known philosophers of his day. As a result he studied under such influential philosophers as Roscelin, a popular eleventh century philosopher, William of Champeaux, and Anselm of Laon. Feeling that his intellect had outstripped each of these men, Abelard soon left their company to begin his own school of logic and philosophy near Paris. Between the years of 1101 and 1113 his reputation as a great thinker and teacher grew. He had the opportunity to teach many individuals, among them a brilliant young woman named Héloïse, whom Abelard secretly married. Her uncle, Canon Fulbert of Notre Dame, discovered the two lovers together and, believing that Abelard had seduced his young niece, hired men to castrate Abelard.{$I[AN]9810000686}{$I[A]Abelard, Peter}{$I[geo]FRANCE;Abelard, Peter}{$I[tim]1079;Abelard, Peter}

Peter Abelard

(Library of Congress)

With his reputation destroyed and his body mutilated, Abelard retired to a monastery and became a monk. He never saw Héloïse again; she accepted a cloistered life and became the head of a small nunnery. During their separation Abelard and Héloïse wrote several letters to each other, however, and these letters became some of the clearest records of life in the Middle Ages. Abelard also wrote an informative, revealing autobiography titled The Story of My Misfortune.

Because of the relationship between Abelard and Héloïse, the medieval Church, led by Bernard of Clairvaux, sought to prevent Abelard’s ideas from continuing to influence society. The Church was concerned by such ideas as Abelard’s rejection of Original Sin and his declaration that individuals do not inherit the sins of Adam nor the consequences of those sins. These ideas led Abelard to believe that Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was intended not to free humanity from the chains of sin but to change the hearts of a sinful world by providing an example of true love. Although those who opposed these ideas were able greatly to hamper the widespread growth and acceptance of his philosophy, future philosophers such as John of Salisbury, Arnold of Brescia, and Thomas Aquinas were significantly influenced by Abelard.

In 1141 the Council of Sens condemned Abelard for what they considered to be heretical teachings, and he was excommunicated from the Catholic Church. Deeply troubled by the council’s condemnation, Abelard spent several months wandering from monastery to monastery. On April 21, 1142, he died on his way to defend himself before the pope. He was buried in Paraclete, and when Héloïse died in 1164 she was buried beside him. After his death, Bernard of Clairvaux worked vigorously to suppress Abelard’s ideas, making it more difficult to uncover Abelard’s ideas than those of philosophers who conformed to Church doctrine.

BibliographyAbelard, Peter. Abelard and Heloise: The Story of His Misfortunes and the Personal Letters. Translated by Betty Radice. London: Folio Society, 1977. Abelard’ account of his life and his and Héloïse’ letters, which provide primary information about Abelard’ life from his birth until around 1132.Clanchy, M. T. Abelard: A Medieval Life. Malden, Mass.: Blackwell, 1999. A biography on Abelard focusing on theology in France during the Middle Ages.Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy: Medieval Philosophy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1962. A leading historian of Western philosophy emphasizes Abelard’s contribution to controversies about metaphysics and the theory of knowledge.Grane, Leif. Peter Abelard: Philosophy and Christianity in the Middle Ages. Translated by Frederick Crowley and Christine Crowley. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1970. An excellent survey of Abelard’ life set against the history, religion, and philosophy of the twelfth century. Chapter 5 neatly summarizes Abelard’ views on metaphysics and religion.Lloyd, Roger Bradshaigh. The Stricken Lute: An Account of the Life of Peter Abelard. London: L. Dickson, 1932. A biography that touches lightly on Abelard’ philosophy and stresses his modernity.Luscombe, David Edward. The School of Abelard: The Influence of Abelard’ Thought in the Early Scholastic Period. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1969. Draws on a variety of sources, especially Abelard’ manuscripts and the writings of his pupils. Includes a twenty-eight-page bibliography of works by and about Abelard.Marenbon, John. The Philosophy of Peter Abelard. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997. Analyzes Abelard’ philosophical work, with a focus on logic, theology, perception, knowledge, ethics and society, and more.Pelikan, Jaroslav. Jesus Through the Centuries: His Place in the History of Culture. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1985. Examines Abelard’s influence.Rinser, Luise. Abelard’s Love. Translated by Jean M. Snook. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1998. Focuses on Abelard’s relation to Héloïse.Sikes, Jeffrey Garrett. Peter Abelard. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1932. A scholarly and still authoritative biography. Much attention is given to Abelard’ views on religious and philosophical matters.Starnes, Kathleen M. Peter Abelard, His Place in History. Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981. A helpful study that offers important insights about the development of Abelard’s thought and its significance in Western philosophy.Worthington, Marjorie. The Immortal Lovers: Heloise and Abelard. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1960. A popular biography of the two lovers. Contains extensive quotations from The Story of My Misfortune and the letters as well as novelistic re-creations of various episodes. Good on twelfth century background.
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