Reader's Encyclopedia

Abélard, Pierre (1079-1142)

French scholastic philosopher and theologian Abélard studied under Roscellinus (b 1050), exponent of extreme nominalism, then under William of Champeaux (1070 - 1121), supporter of realism. In this controversy of medieval theology, Abélard evolved a middle position called conceptualism, holding that both particular objects and universal concepts are real. However, he angered the clergy, who emphasized faith rather than dialectic argument and proof, with his rationalistic approach to Church dogma, especially the dogma of the Trinity. Thus Saint Bernard of Clairvaux persecuted him as a heretic, and Abélard died on his way to Rome to appeal to the Pope against a condemnation on this charge. Nevertheless, Abélard had been extremely popular as a lecturer; when he had to leave Notre Dame, his students followed him to various monasteries. His influence and his writings, such as Sic et non, increased the popularity of Aristotelian logic over that of Platonic theory.

His popular fame, however, resulted from his tragic love affair with Héloïse. Moved by his Historia calamitatum (c1134), Héloïse wrote to him, and they exchanged their famous letters of love and suffering, including Abélard's advice on how she should conduct the convent he had turned over to her in 1129.

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