Hortulus Journal 12.2 (Spring 2016)
A tragic example of a clerical marriage gone awry is that of Peter Abelard and his pupil Heloise. In response to a plea on Heloise’s part to resume their marriage after a fifteen year hiatus living separate monastic lives, Abelard takes refuge in the persona of St. Jerome, one who argued forcefully against marriage for clerics. With Abelard’s wide popularity and influence, his embrace of this ancient reactionary stance helped to stop the progress toward acceptance of clerical marriage in the mid twelfth century. This paper aims to reveal the irony in this metamorphosis in Abelard’s character from brave skeptic and humanist to one who saw marriage and fornication as synonymous thus supporting one of the most reactionary positions of Gregorian reform.
In Marie de France’s lai Fresne, the central heroine is rejected and sent away from her family immediately following her birth, due to her mother’s fear of retribution at having birthed twins. From the outset of the story, Fresne is an innocent victim and becomes the site of constant silence and suffering. It is this very victimization that allows the heroine to attain a higher level of holiness through her suffering and imitatio Christi. As a result of her penitential journey, Fresne becomes the vehicle of redemption not only for herself, but for those around her, including her mother. Frense, then, transcends the temporal realm and becomes an exemplar of Christian forgiveness and holiness. At the same time, during the moment where she performs her most selfless act—lovingly preparing the marriage bed for her lover and his new bride—she also exhibits personal choice and independent thinking. This also serves as the moment of identification: Fresne is recognized by her mother and is welcomed back into her biological family. This act of both selflessness and independence, thus allows her to be considered exceptionally holy while gaining agency and secular advantage.
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