When Abelard Became Jerome: The Slaying of Heloise — By Kim Lungociu

Published in 1132 Peter Abelard’s Historia Calamitatum  is one of the first autobiographies to appear in the medieval period since St. Augustine’s Confessions in 397Written in the form of a letter of consolation to a troubled friend, it recounts the tale of Abelard’s rise to fame as a master of dialectic in early twelfth-century Paris and his love affair with Heloise, a young woman celebrated for her mastery of languages and literature.  Furious at Abelard’s seduction of his niece, the canon Fulbert has him castrated.  Abelard’s life story continues with his decision to take monastic vows out of shame and to devote his life to applying his renowned skills in dialectic to the study of theology. In his autobiography, he dismisses Heloise as the unfortunate girl he had seduced, turning their relationship into a kind of predatory affair.  Following the castration, Abelard forces the reluctant Heloise to take monastic vows as well.  She returns to Argenteuil, the convent where she was raised and educated, and was soon named abbess.

A strange transformation takes place in Abelard’s identity in the course of this autobiographical letter to a friend. The text opens with him as a boasting, charismatic jester, a courtly lover of women, idolized by his young students as they watch him rhetorically defeat stodgy old teachers.  This image of him closely resembles the portrait traced by his students, contemporaries and Heloise. [1] The text closes with him transformed into the staunchly conservative Church Father – St. Jerome.  This is the role that will allow him to take on the voice of authority, making it possible to continue as a master and avoid confronting the pain Heloise asks him to share in response to the loss of their love. This paper stands in opposition to a strong grain of scholarship that sees Abelard as a defender of women.  We will see that although he defended education for nuns and like Gregory the Great believed in their superior spirituality, there is a disturbing inauthenticity in his relationship to Heloise.  The new Abelard seeks to shore up his reputation  damaged by the affair and the castration  with frenetic reading and writing, which M. T. Clanchy believes stems from his insecurity.[2] His effacement of himself in favor of  St. Jerome also carries momentous implications for the evolution of cultural tolerance for clerical marriage.  Abelard enters the historical scene in a moment when women’s involvement in religious and intellectual society was gaining greater acceptance.  Had this not been the case, Heloise’s uncle would not have arranged for his niece to continue her education right in the midst of the Notre Dame Cathedral precinct.  What is most significant about his adoption of the persona of Jerome is that Abelard began as one who promoted humanistic skepticism, only to reverse course and suddenly embrace an ancient glorification of virginity and celibacy in the footsteps of Jerome. [3] In this way, Abelard ends by supporting some of the most reactionary aspects of Gregorian reform, thereby helping to consolidate a silencing of both religious and intellectual women.  What happens between Abelard and Heloise amounts to a symbolic murder of one woman, which should be seen as illustrative of what develops on a much larger societal scale as the century progresses.  In the early twelfth century most clerics were either married or in some way involved with women.  By the end of the century, these relationships were no longer possible as they often led to the stripping of clerical privileges.[4] As an intellectual who questioned everything, it is surprising that Abelard would have supported such a reactionary move by the Church.  In this paper, I argue that this position can be traced to the event of Abelard becoming Jerome.

One reason why St. Bernard and others sought to minimize the intellectual impact of Abelard was that his life was of interest to thousands of students who took his ideas from Paris back to their communities all over Europe.[5]  The notion that a person who embodied new thinking suddenly reverted to extreme asceticism, including an aversion to normative relations between the sexes, gave strong support to Church reform that was increasingly unfavorable to women.  In her 1975 article, “Peter Abelard and the Dignity of Women,” Mary McLaughlin famously argued that Abelard should be seen as a kind of feminist.[6]  However, this position carries weight only with regard to his writings on women’s monasticism which in fact cannot stand up to honest feminist scrutiny for they are laced with Jeromian misogyny.  Yet the allegiance by scholars to McLaughlin’s stance persists even juxtaposed with an acknowledgement of Abelard’s reactionary embrace of fourth-century patristics.  For example, as recently as 2008 scholars wrote that Abelard expressed a “high estimation of the dignity and spiritual standing of women.”[7]   The same scholars added, “Nonetheless, one can also find in Abelard writings that point to the opposite extreme: No nun may touch ‘the relics, the sacramental vessels or the altar cloths, even if they were given to them for cleaning.”[8]  Fiona Griffiths likewise supports Abelard role in defending women citing the appearance of his ideas in the Institutes of a women’s monastery in Germany.[9] These authors claim that Abelard shows a similar position to that of Gregory the Great, who extolled the superior spirituality of women.  Gregory held that nuns should be supported so that men can benefit from their prayers, which are more effective than those of men.  We should remember that plagiarism is an anachronistic concept not considered by medieval writers and therefore Abelard’s use of the ideas of Gregory the Great without footnotes was perfectly acceptable in that milieu.  Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to credit Abelard with this notion, as it was clearly found in the writings of Gregory, an author Abelard knew well.[10]

Abelard and Heloise were very well known by their contemporaries.[11]  When Heloise asks for a return of intimacy after a separation of fifteen years, that passionate, brilliant person is rhetorically slain by Abelard, just as Jerome would have slain a woman asking for love.  Because of their presence in the limelight, this symbolic murder takes on sweeping implications for relations between the sexes more broadly.  For the very figure who represents the subversion of authority and the new humanism of courageous skepticism to utterly reverse course and begin to see women in a stark dichotomy of either virgin or temptress was to lead the world backward eight centuries.[12] Abelard enters the scene of the early University of Paris at a time when there were many who sought authentic spirituality based on the Acts of the Apostles and wondered what it would be like for the sexes to work, learn and live without worrying about scandal as they had in the Acts.  Abelard and Heloise were both innovators.  He questioned authority and seemed to be making headway challenging stale ways of thinking and teaching.  She was a beacon for other women who wanted to be part of the new University. In taking refuge in Jerome, Abelard damaged opportunities for both secular and religious women.  What did women’s religious lives look like just before the dawn of the twelfth century?  How did men mentor religious women and to what extent were these women free to determine their own lives?  What changes happened as the new century progressed and how does a women’s monastic model inspired by Jerome and delivered by Abelard compare to earlier models for women religious?

In “Negotiating the Boundaries of Gender in Religious Life: Robert of Arbrissel and Hersende, Abelard and Heloise,” Constant Mews provides important background for the monastic orders that Abelard and Heloise joined in the mid twelfth century. Robert of Arbrissel represented a new, experimental approach to spirituality seen in the late eleventh century. [13]This was a time of itinerant preachers who answered a call to return Christianity to its apostolic roots.  Gregorian reforms sought to curb what had become institutionalized corruption in the Church as it combatted not only clerical marriage but also simony and an undereducated and uninspiring clergy. In these years many religious women once again were revered as they had been in Acts of the Apostles.  Robert’s lifetime captures the movement of a changing culture in the second half of the eleventh century that saw opportunities for spiritual women expand and then increasingly collapse in response to growing concern about the dangers of allowing them too much freedom.

Robert’s life mirrors many aspects of Abelard’s life. Like Abelard, Robert hailed from Brittany and wandered from town to town in his youth.  Robert preached the gospel; Abelard perfected the craft of dialectical argument.  Both Robert and Abelard studied in Paris and attracted crowds of admirers. Robert’s followers, more prominently women than men, set up camps and hospices that soon drew criticism.  For example, Marbod of Rennes wrote to complain that within these hospices there were men and women at table and in bed together and that babies could be heard, a sure sign that there was too much intermixing of sexes.[14]  Guibert of Nogent also expressed disapproval of these gatherings and of the idea of double-house monasteries with men and women under one roof, believing it would lead to “gross fornication.”[15] Nevertheless, in these years leading up to the turn of the century, there was a general cultural openness most apparent in the region of Anjou where contacts between the sexes, both spiritual and literary, were tolerated and encouraged. Robert’s biographer Baudri helped to create an “Ovidian subculture” in which the notion of love as a force of the divine was nurtured and pagan thinkers were actively studied for moral guidance.[16]  Robert was a product of this culture of open exchange between the sexes. What drove Robert was the need to find a place where women and men could opt for the religious life and live together without anxiety about scandal. Mews reveals evidence that Heloise’s uncle Fulbert may have been the brother of Hersende, the first abbess of Fontevraud, the double monastery founded by Robert.[17]This culture of open exchange between the sexes was part of Heloise’s family background, which may explain why Fulbert was willing to leave Abelard alone with his niece, and also why he was so infuriated by the betrayal of trust. Mews shows that Abelard did not live up to the expectations of this fleeting cultural tolerance for open and scandal-free exchange between the sexes. He not only transgressed the taboo against sexual involvement with the erudite Heloise, but also, as we will see, refused to console his grieving wife, thus distancing himself from the culture Robert espoused.

Abelard’s reactionary stance contrasts sharply with Robert’s egalitarian approach to women in religious settings.  In a famous sermon, Robert railed against the hypocritical “pretense of chastity” that increasingly gripped clerical society.[18]  Additionally, Robert seems to have been more politically savvy than Abelard, because he instituted the double-house of Fontevraud with clear physical separation of the sexes (albeit a female abbess) just at the moment when the cry for increasing separation of the sexes became more pronounced. Mews argues that because Heloise was part of this disappearing culture of open exchange and friendship between the sexes, Abelard can be seen as breaking the trust, and may have “helped to provoke a new attitude of suspicion about the dangers of transgressing gender boundaries.”[19] Abelard’s adoption of the persona of Jerome following his castration represents a distinctly reactionary position with regard to women, one that further consolidates and strengthens an ancient anti-feminist discourse rather than, like Robert, helping to change its terms.  For Abelard, becoming Jerome is a move to console himself in the presence of a mentor who validates the asexual scholar.  However, unlike Augustine and Jerome, Abelard reports nothing that resembles a real conversion experience.  He freely admits that it was shame, not “any devout wish for conversion which brought me to seek shelter in a monastery cloister.” [20] He claims that his pupils urged him not to waste his vast talent.  His conversion seems much more of the mind than of the heart as he claims that he must now become a philosopher “not of the world but of God.” [21] One reason why his contemporaries doubted his conversion was that his all-encompassing egotism remained intact after he took his vows. Clancy writes, “Abelard’s Theologia […] is written in a debating style and he was not modest about its merits, describing it as the acme of his genius.” [22] This is all the more reason why he must rely on a mentor to provide the words to fill in for the religious void he freely admits.  We might have expected this to be the moment in the story of himself when he describes his newly found religious feeling, but this is not the case.  Instead, he rails against the moral depravity of the monks he lives with at Saint-Denis. Although humility would have been appropriate to the newly-converted, he boasts about his newfound ability to apply dialectic to the study of scripture “more suitable to my calling,” and about his pupils who “gathered in crowds” to hear his teachings on scripture.[23] His willingness to debate all things ran contrary to ideals of faith and thus made his conversion suspect to his persecutors, provoking accusations of heresy.[24] The absence of evidence for a credible religious conviction is important to keep in mind as we see his approach to the brilliant Heloise become increasingly paternalistic and righteous.  These traits are quite unlike his self-portrayal in the first part of Historia and the picture of him painted by his contemporaries.[25] We begin to get a glimpse of Abelard as an impostor, which is not far from the view of his detractors.[26]

In Historia Calamitatum Abelard recounts a series of events in which he offends authorities by his audacity, culminating in a heresy trial at Soissons where he is forced to burn his first book on theology. He takes refuge in the symbolic Jeromian desert and founds a kind of school/monastery in the wilderness.[27]  There follows a lengthy quote from Jerome’s Against Jovinian arguing the merits of extreme asceticism and the benefits of the wilderness far away from any physical beauty, including “leafy trees, twittering of birds, reflections in spring waters and murmuring brooks,” that provide only, “snares for eye and ear.”[28]  Yet even in the wilderness, he is hounded by his enemies, to whom he remarks, “Thus jealousy of the French drove me west as that of the Romans once drove St. Jerome east.” [29] Here he is referring to the decision by authorities to assign him the post of abbot of St. Gildas in Brittany, far away from his beloved Paris.  He approaches the monks at St. Gildas, some of whom have wives and children living in the abbey, with the same righteous disdain that won him enemies on his first entrance into a monastery.  As a result of the animosity he has elicited from the monks, he now constantly fears for his life as they devise ways to kill him. Thus we witness a metamorphosis in his identity.  The former is a jaunty raconteur telling us about his adventures in colorful and entertaining language.  In this earlier persona Abelard is the knight of dialectic, winning battles in many places, the composer of love songs, the one who insists on marrying Heloise.  By the end of the Historia this character disappears and the language is that of a sermon. He clearly states that he considers himself the heir of St. Jerome.[30]

In the early twelfth century, the church exhibits increasing intolerance for clerical marriage.  Therefore, when Abelard marries Heloise, this poses a serious risk to his career as a teaching master.[31] Even so, in spite of this institutional impediment, Abelard insisted on marrying her. This is important because it shows that Abelard sets Heloise’s honor as a priority in an act of chivalry that stands as an important signifier of his former identity. Ironically, at the moment they discover her pregnancy Heloise resists marriage, herself embracing Jerome, the author who railed against marriage in his well-known pamphlet Against Jovinian.   Heloise changes her mind about this decision fifteen years later and in writing to Abelard aims to restore in some fashion the lost intimacy in their marriage.  Although she alludes to her youthful opposition to marriage in her letters, she later clearly expresses a wish to be married.  In her second letter we witness Heloise’s horror when, after using all her rhetorical force to argue for  marriage, she realizes she is addressing not the gallant man who insisted on marrying her but one who could be no greater opponent to marriage — Jerome. Jerome in fact haunts the story from the beginning because, largely due to his fifth century attack on marriage and the glorification of virginity, an honorable marriage in the twelfth century could not coincide with a university career for Abelard.[32]

Let us look now at Heloise’s clear expression of her desire to once again be married to Abelard after a fifteen-year absence.  As mentioned earlier, Abelard’s autobiography Historia calamitatum, is structured as a letter of consolation for a troubled male friend.  The text found its way into Heloise’s hands by mistake.  In her first letter responding to this text, she writes,

I was not a little surprised and troubled by your forgetfulness, when neither reverence for God nor our mutual love nor the example of the holy Fathers made you think of trying to comfort me, wavering and exhausted as I was by prolonged grief, either by word when I was with you or by letter when we had parted.[33]

She asks why he is consoling a friend when it is obviously she who requires it.  She agrees that her prediction had come true and that she had destroyed herself at his command:  “I did more, strange to say – my love rose to such heights of madness that it robbed itself of what it most desired beyond hope of recovery, when immediately at your bidding I changed my clothing along with my mind, in order to prove you the sole possessor of my body and my will alike.”[34]  She states plainly that she was never meant to take monastic vows: “I can expect no reward for this from God, for it is certain that I have done nothing as yet for love of him […] My heart was not in me but with you, and now, even more, if it is not with you it is nowhere; truly, without you it cannot exist.”[35]  She reminds him of his former self, indeed the image he paints of himself at the beginning of Historia, as a courtly knight loved by women, composer of songs for her, a jongleur.  The letter ends with her request that he restore his presence to her.  Abelard answers this passionate letter with the conspicuous absence of any acknowledgement of her request for renewed intimacy.  Instead, his response is a homily on prayer and a request that she and her nuns say prayers for him every hour to save him from being murdered by the monks in his charge at St. Gildas.

In Letter Four Heloise seems unpersuaded by Abelard’s description of doom.  Her skepticism has a facetious quality when she writes, “We were also greatly surprised when instead of bringing us the healing balm of comfort as you should have, you increased our desolation and made the tears to flow which you should have dried […] Spare us, I implore you, spare us words such as these which can only intensify our existing unhappiness.”[36] Jan Ziolkowsky has shown that correspondence in this period was surprisingly available to the public and that the dramas between Abelard and Heloise seem to have been familiar to many.[37] Though there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of this letter, it contains a performance quality that suggests it was designed to entertain like a tragedy, calling on spectators to feel compassion for her grief at Abelard’s abandonment. She writes, “ O Fortune […] has emptied a full quiver [of arrows] on me, so that henceforth no one else need fear her onslaughts, and if she still had a single arrow she could find no place in me to take a wound,”[38] using rhetorical skill to emphasize the turmoil she has felt since the loss of Abelard.  She goes on,

To make me the saddest of all women she [Fortune] first made me blessed above all, so that when I thought how much I had lost, my consuming grief would match my crushing loss, and my sorrow for what was taken from me would be the greater for the fuller joy of possession which had gone before; and so the happiness of supreme ecstasy would end in the supreme bitterness of sorrow.[39]

Heloise portrays herself as a classical tragic heroine, victimized by fate.  In another passage, she changes roles to play the Christian penitent, referencing all of the women from scripture who have brought about the downfall of men she writes,

For this offense, above all, may I have strength to do proper penance, so that at least by long contrition I can make some amends for your pain from the wound inflicted on you; and what you suffered in the body for a time, I may suffer, as is right, throughout my life in contrition of mind, and thus make reparation to you at least, if not to God. [40]

She confesses that she still has sexual fantasies about Abelard and that she had never felt the call to take monastic vows, but had only done so at his command.[41]  She believes that her lust makes her position as abbess untenable:  “How can it be called repentance for sins, however great the mortification of the flesh, if the mind still retains the will to sin and is on fire with its old desires?”[42] From classical heroine victimized by fate to Christian penitent crushed by her own sin and repenting her role as femme fatale, Heloise ends by venting her anger at God for preparing all these horrors.

Heloise opts for bold and eloquent truth as she describes the emotional vicissitudes she has suffered. In keeping with Abelard’s métier, this is dialectic dueling at its most dramatic. Heloise’s skill at manipulating language, the appalling honesty of the confession, poses a challenge for Abelard. We should be careful not to reduce Heloise to an oversexed stereotype that justifies misogynist readings.[43]  She makes a very modern argument for allowing women what Freud called mental health: the ability to love and work.[44] She demands space for love and intellectual endeavor, at a time when increasingly, even educated men had to give up love relationships to pursue higher education.[45]  At the end of Letter Two Heloise writes, “And so, in the name of that God to whom you have dedicated yourself, I beg you to restore your presence to me in the way you can – by writing me some word of comfort, so that in this at least I may find increased strength and readiness to serve God.”[46]

In the first letter Heloise compares her own motivations for shunning marriage when Abelard first proposed it, to her more mature understanding more than a decade later.  She was so enthralled in her youth by his glorious reputation that she feared a wife and family would destroy it. She was at that time happy to be his concubine, so as to be a support and never a hindrance to his career.[47] Katharina Wilson and Glenda McLeod are among feminist scholars who have sought ways to explain and excuse these seemingly anti-feminist expressions.  They maintain that these are brilliant rhetorical moves that help Heloise achieve the goal of renewed engagement with Abelard.[48]  But this interpretation blurs the former with the mature Heloise even though she makes a clear distinction between the two.  Formerly, she shunned marriage; now, she asks for it to be restored.  In her second letter she illustrates her current desire for marriage by quoting from the dialogue of Aescines Socraticus written by the philosopher Aspasia to Xenophon and his wife.  The philosopher says to the married couple:

‘Unless you come to believe that there is no better man nor worthier woman on earth you will always still be looking for what you judge the best thing of all – to be the husband of the best of wives and the wife of the best of husbands.’  These are saintly words which are more philosophic; indeed, they deserve the name of wisdom, not philosophy.  It is a holy error and a blessed delusion between man and wife that perfect love can keep the ties of marriage unbroken not so much through bodily continence as chastity of spirit. [49]

Though Jerome was her ally in her younger days when she was so infatuated with Abelard that she was willing to efface her own needs and argue only for his interests, now Heloise shows herself to be quite opposed to the Church Father who would never have found evidence to favor marriage.  Though she refers back to her earlier feelings, she speaks with a new voice now, and it is not at all self-effacing but one that uses all her eloquence to argue for what she needs.  She writes, “…you must know that you are bound to me by an obligation which is all the greater for the further close tie of the marriage sacrament uniting us, and are the deeper in my debt because of the love I have always borne you, as everyone knows, a love which is beyond all bounds.”[50]

In Abelard’s response to this second letter from Heloise he plays semantically with the notion of husbands and wives in a way that amounts to a mockery of the honest nature of her confession.  Not only does he roundly reject Heloise’s request, he also makes many unnecessary references to marriage that imply the presence of the irascible Jerome.[51]  Given Heloise’s unabashedly vulnerable position, these references are cynical and even taunting. Abelard first defends having elevated her above her station in his previous letter, a point about which she had complained with, “…you must realize that you became my superior from the day when you began to be my lady on becoming the bride of my Lord.’’  Abelard continues:

Surely I must address as “my lady” her who is the bride of my Lord.  It was a fortunate trading of your married state: as you were previously the wife of a poor mortal and now you are raised to the bed of the high king […] So you should not be surprised if I commend myself in life as in death to the prayers of your community, seeing that in common law it is accepted that wives are better able than their households to intercede with their husbands, being ladies rather than servants.[52]

Because Heloise has asked Abelard to renew his marriage to her, it is striking that these phrases are so packed with metaphors of marriage, a clever rhetorical move since he is at once granting her wish and altogether avoiding it. The subject of this letter is her marriage not with him but with Christ. In the same sentence he extracts her from marriage with him, “a poor mortal”, and flings her into bed with another – no less than the “high king.”  He introduces Christ as a kind of adulterer about whom she should rejoice. This is a drastic way to induce Christian thinking in a person who has honestly shared her doubts about her faith.   Abelard throws Heloise violently from the lowness of mortality to the heights of heaven, and also tinges the whole ride with the connotations of wanton shifting from bed to bed. There is nothing gentle or generous about these images. Rather, this a semantic flogging (or perhaps stoning) that Jerome might have applied to a woman falling outside his accepted categories: virgin, widow, sister.  Abelard continues, “For your outer garb of coarse black clothing, like the mourning worn by good widows who weep for the dead husbands they had loved, shows you to be, in the words of the Apostle, truly widowed and desolate and such as the Church should be charged to support.”[53]  Indeed, Heloise weeps for her husband, but not because he is dead.  Heloise wants her husband restored to her.  Thus, any mention of husbands or wives or marriage in contexts other than their own carries overtones of mockery.  It is cynical on Abelard’s part to refer to Heloise as a widow. The truth is just too plain: Heloise’s husband is not dead, she is not a widow, and there is grave doubt in her mind as to whether she should be dressed in black at all.  Mockery itself is a rhetorical move used to blot out an identity Heloise has expressed.

To address the possible objection that Abelard sought to console Heloise by painting a picture of a better marriage, better love and even physical closeness, we should take note that the semantic register is far from one of consolation. Even if ascetics or saints report a sense of being held close by a spouse, this is hardly the way to elicit incipient religious feeling. Indeed, in response to the testimony of her persistent feelings for him, to argue in favor of faith in such starkly sexual terms is unsettling.  It is one element of an aggressive rhetorical strategy.  Abelard has willed that there will under no circumstances be further talk of her physical longing for him or of possible configurations for a continued marriage between them. In this letter, couched in the “consolation” of spiritual marriage through highly sexualized imagery, he bluntly cuts off any further talk of this kind. By brusquely displacing this longing and foisting it directly without warning into a religious context he leaves his reader out of wind, disjointed, revolted.

Let us now take a closer look at Abelard’s rhetorical moves aimed at derailing Heloise’s desire for intimacy in the course of this Letter Five.    He takes some of his tropes from the erotically charged Old Testament Song of Songs.  He begins with the words of the Song’s black bride, “Night after night on my bed I have sought my true love.”[54]  But Abelard’s elaboration crosses a crucial borderline from the sensuality of the biblical text into near obscenity when he writes:

Such a wife desires private, not public delights with her husband, and would rather be experienced in bed than seen at table.  Moreover, it often happens that the flesh of black women is all the softer to touch though it is less attractive to look at, and for this reason the pleasure they give is greater and more suitable for private than for public gratification. Their husbands take them into a bedroom to enjoy them rather than parade them in public.[55]

To add statements about the general sexual preferences of husbands is to veer into decidedly unbiblical territory.[56] Given Heloise’s frank admission that she still longs for him sexually, to place these images before her undermines his ostensible purpose of urging her to embrace her role as nun. These exaggerated figures of sensuality seem particularly designed to taunt, as he parades before her memories of past pleasures that he intends to systematically eradicate.  In other parts of this long letter, Abelard argues more conventionally that human love must be sublimated, displaced, driven inward, like the monastic movement toward the inner self away from the world: “Such blackness of bodily tribulation easily turns the minds of the faithful away from love of earthly things and attaches them to the desire for eternal life, often leading them from the stormy life of the world to retirement for contemplation.”[57]  Abelard follows this statement with a reference to Jerome, reminding us of the importance of leaving earthly things to retire to monastic life. But the unsettling tugging back into sensual registers happens once again just when the reader is led into an image of quiet monastic contemplation, Abelard adds, “…but you who have been led by the king of heaven himself into his chamber and rest in his embrace, and with the door always shut are wholly given up to him, and more intimately joined to him.”[58] After being lulled into peaceful contemplation, suddenly Abelard throws Heloise back in bed, behind shut doors, with someone who is not her husband. The juxtaposition of parts of what she desires with countercultural ascetic extremes of spirituality leaves the reader queasy. Add to this the suggestion that Abelard sees himself as a kind of voyeur waiting outside the bedroom door for her prayers, greatly enhanced by her wifely proximity to the king, “So much the more confidence, then, have I in the purity and effectiveness of your prayers, and the more urgently I demand your help.”[59] As in the first letter where he can offer no more than a demand for her prayers after she has expressed her despair, his concern doubles back to himself.  As a dénouement to this kind of cynical aggression Abelard adds another barb: “And I believe these prayers are offered devoutly on my behalf because we are bound together in such great mutual love.”[60]  After he has talked at length about the benefits of her spiritual marriage, he refers in passing to the topic she had asked him to examine in the first place, their mutual love.  Though his statement assumes that this love survives, the rhetorical function of the letter belies this.  In fact, he has set this love up to be not mutual, but utterly one-sided; he will receive the benefits of her prayers while he imposes upon her disturbingly sensual scenarios of Christian love wholly inappropriate for Heloise.

Jerome became a staple figure among other misogynist authors who imagined women as purveyors of pollution threatening the bodies of Christian men.  Alcuin Blamires documents a standard reading list of Latin misogynist writings including Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine and Isidore that provided the basic educational formation for boys entering the clergy.[61] The ease with which these writings emerge in Abelard’s letters to Heloise attests to how completely immersed boys were in these ideas.  With women excluded from the schools, Blamires argues that these authors and their pupils amounted to a private anti-feminist club for the Latin speaking elite. They furnish Abelard with familiar tropes we see surfacing in this letter as well.  For example, he calls their former love “wretched, obscene pleasures which we blush to name,” and he mentions how happy he is to be “cut off from the slough of filth,” [62]  for he can now approach the holy altars with no “contagion of carnal impurity […] free from the heavy yoke of carnal desire.”[63] With these images Abelard recalls to Heloise his memories of their affair; and to add again to the aggression, he once more taunts her with the seeming conviction that the affair once constituted true love: “At the time I desired to keep you whom I loved beyond measure for myself alone forever, but he (God) was already planning to use this opportunity for our joint conversion to himself.”[64] That his love may have ever qualified as beyond measure is mentioned nowhere else, and is so anomalous that we should view it as but another mockery.

The strangeness of Abelard’s response comes in part from its inauthenticity.  Rather than take the challenge and devise his own words and thoughts to answer Heloise, the material in his letters is lifted from the pages of Jerome.  Abelard is always armed with a multiplicity of quotations from both Christian and pagan authors. Here, his central text is a commentary on the Old Testament Song of Songs written by Origen and translated by Jerome.  Peter Brown writes:

Origen wrote, around 240, as a peculiarly consequential exponent of what has been aptly called the “wild” Platonism of his generation.  In such Platonism, sensuality could not simply be abandoned or repressed.  Rather, the sharpness of sensual experience was brought back to its primordial intensity; it was reawakened, in the mystic’s heart, at its true level – the level of the spirit…The pleasures of the marriage bed, the intimacy and loyalty of married life, were slurred echoes of the more clear delights reserved for spirits unnumbed and uncushioned by sensual experience.[65]

In this passage we get an idea of what attracted Jerome to Origen.  They both taught women who had taken religious vows, and were both in the business of eliciting in their pupils heights of mystical experience in which sexual abstinence was a key component.  As Brown notes, “though dedicated to Pope Damascus, Jerome’s translation of Origen’s Homilies on the Song of Songs was intended for his new circle of female spiritual charges.”[66]  At a loss as to how to manage Heloise, we can imagine Abelard sifting through the filing cabinet of his mind in search of how to mentor female religious.  Never mind that Heloise had clearly stated that she was not and most likely never could be a deeply committed Christian.  Abelard had his script, the one that seemed most suited to the situation. It is a highly artificial application of a template, one that he had mastered and could implement easily.

Peter Brown writes that Jerome’s “… was a memorable statement of the ascetic viewpoint at its most unpleasant and impracticable.”[67] It is quite interesting that Origen, Jerome’s mentor, was accused of heresy in 393, as was Abelard on more than one occasion.  Origen’s heresy charge became an embarrassment for Jerome, who had championed him as an “immortal genius” using him to belittle and scorn the clergy back in Rome.[68]  Brown emphasizes Jerome’s many enemies and his essential meanness, citing one holy man who said, “The lady Paula, who looks after him, will die first and will be set free at last from his meanness. (For) because of him no holy person will live in those parts.  His bad temper would drive out even his own brother.”[69] This makes for an interesting comparison with Abelard, whose “meanness” is evident in Letter Five.  Abelard wholly embraced Jerome’s view of sexuality, which would be integrated into Church policy. Of Jerome, Brown explains, “He himself had contributed handsomely, in his letters, to the sharp tone of sexual anxiety that stressed the irreducible sexual differences between male and female bodies, that lingered with studied alarm on the dangers that stemmed from these differences.”[70] Jerome had spent time as a desert ascetic in Egypt, and also as a student in Constantinople, where he earned his credentials as a scholar of Greek and Hebrew.  During most of his career, he was in the company of affluent Roman women who studied and meditated with him in monastic communities in Jerusalem.   He boasted about his women friends – some virgins, some widows – but all strictly celibate. These women, like Heloise, were fluent in Greek and some knew Hebrew as well.  Perhaps it was more appropriate for the female friends of Jerome and Origen, who had long since renounced worldly desires, to think in terms of resting in the embrace of the savior. However, to answer Heloise’s passionate plea to restore their marital love with these images of extreme asceticism from Jerome is strangely inappropriate and even suggests a mechanical application of the wrong script.[71]  This possibility does not negate his aim to destroy through rhetorical skill a passion that perhaps he may have felt threatened by and that surely endangered his reputation and his career. We can only guess at his reasons for the violent rhetoric in this last personal letter to Heloise.

Following Letter Five, Heloise gives up on her quest to forge some form of a married relationship with Abelard.  In this sense, one could say that he won a sort of duel with her because although it was of immense importance to her, she will never again, in the context of the extant letter collection, ask for him to console her as a husband might be expected to do. Scholars are not consistent on the question of whether she ever did undergo a conversion. I do not believe there is evidence in the texts that she did. Nonetheless, her contemporaries concur that she was a remarkably successful abbess who cared for the nuns in her charge. We also know that she was extremely competent in the administration of her abbey and that her expert management led to its expansion into a number of daughter-houses that were successful in their turn.[72]

In response to Heloise’s request for help with her abbey, the Paraclete, Abelard creates an elaborate body of work, including hymns, sermons, and guidelines for use. This would seem to belie any reading of the correspondence that interprets Abelard as simply ceasing to love her. Reading many of these works tirelessly composed to fulfill Heloise’s request returns us to that unsettling place we saw in Letter Five, that Jeromian land where all energies are devoted to praises sung to, by, and for virgins. The following is from Virgines castae, a collection of hymns composed by Abelard to be sung daily by the nuns at the Paraclete:

As a burnt-offering virgins
Offer to the Lord
From their integrity
Flesh and mind
Choosing Christ
As their immortal Spouse.

(and elsewhere in the same sequence):

Their [virgins’] beds
Which are unoccupied
For Christ
Guardian angels protect
Lest any one impure defile
They ward off the impure
With their drawn swords.[73]

In the second of these passages based on the Song of Songs, Abelard has transformed the swords of Solomon’s guards into the swords of angels warding off the constant danger of the defilement of the Paraclete’s virgins. Thomas Bell writes, “The theme of virgins offering their pure bodies and spirits to Christ is also present in Virginitatis laus, a letter believed in the medieval period to be by Jerome and used often by Abelard in his Paracelete liturgica.[74] The glorification of virginity is the essential theme of most of the work Abelard composed for use at the Paraclete.  An additional theme is also one we saw in Letter Five, that women are by their nature more suited to closeness to the bridegroom, as such they can serve as important intermediaries to intercede with Christ for men.  Ironically, Heloise asked for and received much more of the very same material that caused her to abandon her quest for personal closeness with Abelard that we saw in Letter Five.

One problem with the expectation that the nuns at the Paraclete would sing from morning to night of the great preference of Christ for virgins (aside from the obvious fact that Heloise was not a virgin) is that Bruce Venarde has shown that virgins did not constitute the overwhelming majority of the nuns found in monasteries of France in the twelfth century.[75] His study of women’s monasteries shows that generally at least thirty-five percent of these women were wives, mothers and grandmothers. After the First Crusade, many young widows with children joined monasteries. Many who were not well-off financially faced poor prospects for remarrying or could be forced by a lord to accept his choice for a husband. Others had been abandoned by their husbands. Young women who had heroically pledged their virginity as an offering to Christ were not the norm. Robert of Arbrissel was aware of this, and refused to return battered wives who had joined him to their husbands even when ordered by a bishop to do so.[76]  Jerome’s drilling of the importance of virginity for women blinded Abelard to the realities of life for monastic women. He simply did not see or account for alternative scenarios as Robert had, but as we saw earlier, Robert’s was a more enlightened era, though he and Abelard were only a generation apart.

We cannot know how often Abelard’s sequences were performed at the Paraclete.  We do know that Heloise rejected Abelard’s wish to place an abbot in charge of her abbey.  Abelard would have referred to her as deaconess rather than abbess and never allowed her to leave the cloister.[77]  Abelard held that women were morally inferior to men and thus required male supervision.  At the same time he believed that nuns’ fulfillment of the monastic vow was superior to that of monks.  Further, although the abbot must manage the affairs of the house, he must always seek permission from the deaconess before taking action.  Julie Ann Smith calls this plan ambiguous and impossible to implement.[78]  It is interesting that even though in his autobiography he extolls Heloise for her reputation as an exemplary abbess, implementation of Abelard’s Rule would have taken away her authority as abbess, with the abbot controlling all financial dealings and the nuns forbidden to leave the premises.  Because of a subsequent decision by Pope Eugenius III in 1148 requiring nuns to continue to follow the Benedictine Rule, Heloise never had to decide whether to follow Abelard’s Rule.  Rather, in her own Institutiones Nostrae, written during the 1140s, she strikes out Abelard’s written intention to undermine her authority, replacing it with “Let the debt of obedience be shown only to the abbess or prioress.”[79]  The office of deaconess is thrown out, and the nuns will manage their own property and finances.  Though most of the nuns will remain cloistered, “mature and tested nuns and conversas may be sent out of the cloister.”[80]  Thus, Heloise protected the Paraclete from encroachment by male institutions and ensured that both it and its daughter-houses would remain autonomous.

Following his castration and subsequent role as monk, Abelard re-established himself as Jerome. Consistent with his new persona, the notion of marriage is not only unacceptable to him, but also contemptible, for it carries patristic connotations of filth and defilement. He frequently mentions the many ways in which his life converges with that of Jerome: both men are prone to making enemies, both are exiled from places they would choose to live and work, and both are charged with ministering to religious women.  It is striking that Abelard even seems to welcome a kind of Jeromian mean streak, as we saw in Letter Five.  He rhetorically deflects talk of marriage by violently displacing it into an ascetic register, completely robbing it of connotations of pleasure, romance, or love–themes that were so central to his earlier persona.

Even after Abelard became a monk, he still taught and attracted crowds of admiring students in Paris.  As we have seen, his students came from all corners of Europe and they took his ideas home with them.[81]  Several cardinals and one pope who had studied with Abelard anxiously read his books, including those which were condemned, and thus followed the evolution of his thinking.[82] We might compare the sudden adoption of Jerome by Abelard to the shock value of a Voltaire deciding suddenly to support the ancien regime. The march of progress in the domain of clerical marriage and gender relationships came to a halt in the mid-twelfth century. Abelard as Jerome answered questions about love and marriage with an ancient, reactionary voice that assisted in stifling possibilities for a more enlightened understanding of women. Abelard helped to restore and reinforce a very old hierarchy, honoring virgins above all, with the lowest regard and respect afforded to married women.  This came at a historical moment when figures like Robert of Arbrissel had, within Abelard’s lifetime, taught new ways to approach relationships between the sexes, even within religious settings. As an advocate of critical thinking and skepticism, Abelard was in a position to encourage movement of these new notions into popular and elite discourses.  Instead, Abelard aligned himself with the most reactionary aspects of Church reform. This is what makes Heloise’s voice so poignant and iconic: we can hear her plea for a space to allow lay, intellectual women of the time to flourish, followed by a brutal silencing, Abelard’s slaying of her desire simply to love and work.

Kim Lungociu, Catholic University of America

Kim Lungociu is a retired high school French teacher. She completed the M.A. in Medieval History at Catholic University of America in May.   She is currently working on a novel about Abelard and Heloise.


[1] M. T. Clanchy, Abelard: A Medieval Life (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), p. 19.

[2] M. T. Clanchy, Abelard: A Medieval Life (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), p. 223.

[3] In 393 Jerome wrote a pamphlet entitled Against Jovinian in which he argued that married women belong on the lowest rung in a hierarchy beneath widows, with virgins of course taking the top tier.  Men tainted by married women were for him ineligible to become clergy.

[4] Julia Barrow, The Clergy in the Medieval World  ( Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press, 2015).

[5] M. T. Clanchy, Abelard: A Medieval Life (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), p. 3.

[6] Mary M. McLaughlin, “Peter Abelard and the dignity of women: Twelfth century “feminism” in theory and practice” in Pierre Abelard  Pierre le Vénérable (Paris: Editions du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, 1975).

[7]  Jan Gerchow , Katrinette Bodarwé, Susan Marti, Hedwig Roceklein, “Early Monasteries and Foundations (500-1200), in Crown and Veil: Female Monasticism from the Fifth to the Fifteenth Centuries (New York: Columbia University Press, 2008).

[8]  Ibid., p. 14.

[9]  Fiona Griffiths, “Brides and Dominae: Abelard’s Cura Monialium at the Augustinian Monastery of Marbach,” Viator 01 (2003): 57-88.

[10]  Clanchy, p. 121.

[11]  Clanchy, p. 3.

[12] Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia University Press, 1988),  see final chapter.

[13] Constant J. Mews, “Negotiating Boundaries of Gender in Religious Life: Robert of Arbrissel, Abelard and Heloise,” Viator 37 (2006): 113-148, 112.

[14]  Mews, “Negotiating Boundaries” 114.   This was Marbod’s reading.  In fact there were many widows with children attached to these followers of Robert.

[15] Mews, “Negotiating Boundaries,” 120.

[16]   Mews, “Negotiating Boundaries,” 123.

[17]  Mews has even found evidence suggesting that Robert may have been Heloise’s father, in “Negotiating Boundaries,” p.  127.

[18]  Mews, “Negotiating Boundaries,” p. 133.

[19]  Ibid., p. 138.

[20]   Betty Radice, trans., The Letters of Abelard and Heloise (London: Penguin Group, 1974), p. 18.

[21]  Radice, Letters, p. 19.

[22]   Clanchy, p.  229.

[23]  Radice, Letters, p. 19.

[24]  Clanchy, p. 18.

[25]  Ibid., p. 19.

[26]  Constant J. Mews, The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard: Perceptions of Dialogue in Twelfth-Century France (New York: Palgrave Publishers, 2001), p. 149.

[27]  This would become the Paraclete, the abbey Abelard transfers to Heloise and where she will be abbess.

[28]  Radice, Letters, p. 29. Ubi ager irriguus et arborum come et susurrus avium, fontis speculum, rivus murmurans, et multe oculorum auriumque    Victor Cousin, Petri Abelardi Opera ( Paris: Prostant Apud Aug. Durand, 1849),  p. 26.

[29] Radice, Letters, p. 33.

[30] Radice, Letters, p. 42. “The Psalmist says that ‘They are destroyed who seek to please men, since God has rejected them.’  It was with this particularly in mind that St. Jerome, whose heir I consider myself…”

[31] Julia Barrow, The Clergy in the Medieval World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 118.

[32] Barrow, The Clergy, p. 118.

[33]   Radice, Letters, p. 50. Unde non mediocri ammiratione nostre tenera conversacionis initia tua iam dudum oblivio movit, quod nec reverentia Dei nec amore nostri nec sanctorum patrum exemplis ammonitus fluctuantem me et iam diutino merore confectam, vel sermone presentem, vel epistola absentem consolari temptaveris; cui quidem tanto te maiore debito noveris obligatum quanto te amplius nuptialis federe sacramenti constat esse astrictum et eo te magis mihi obnoxium quo te semper, ut omnibus patet, immoderato amore complexa sum.   Cousin, Petri Abelardi Opera , p. 74.

[34]     Radice, Letters, p. 51.       Et quod maius est dictuque mirabile, in tantam versus est amor insaniam ut quod solum appetebat, hoc ipse sibi sine spe recuperationis auferret, cum ad tuam statim iussionem tam habitum ipsa quam animum immutarem, ut te tam corporis mei quam animi unicum possessorem ostenderem. Cousin, Petri Abelardi Opera ,  p. 75.

[35]    Radice, Letters, p. 54       Nulla mihi super hoc merces expectanda est a Deo, cuius adhuc amore nichul me constat egisse.non enim mecum animus meus, sed tecum erat; sed et nunc maxime, si tecum non est, nusquam est: esse vero sine te nequaquam potest.    Cousin, Petri Abelardi Opera ,  p. 77.

[36]   Radice, Letters,  p. 61 Parce, obsecro, domine, parce hujusmodi dictis, quibus miiseras miserrimas facias      Cousin, p.  85.

[37]    Jan M. Ziolkowsky, Letters of Peter Abelard/ Beyond the Personal (Washington, D.C: Catholic University Press, 2008), p. 137.

[38]    Radice, Letters, 65.  O infortunatam fortunam! …ut quibus in alios saeviat, jam non habeat!…Nec si ei adhuc telum aliquiod susperesset, locum in me vulneris inveniret.  Cousin, Petri Abelardi Opera ,  p. 87.

[39]    Radice, Letters,  p. 65. Quae, ut me miserrimam omnium faceret, omnibus ante beatiorem effecerat, ut, quum tanta perdidi pensarum, tanto major amissorum succederet dolor, quanto major possessorum praecesserat amor et summae voluptatis gaudia summa moeroris terminaret tristitia. Cousin,  p. 87.

[40]    Ibid. , p. 67.  ut poenae illi tuae vulneris illati ex longa saltem poenitentia contrition vicem quoque modo recompensare queam  Cousin, p. 88.

[41]   Ibid., p. 68.

[42]    Ibid., p. 68.  Quomodo etiam poenitentia peccatorum dicitur, quantacunque sit corporis affliction, si men adhuc ipsam peccandi retinet voluntatem,   Cousin, p. 89.

[43]   Alcuin Blamires, Woman Defamed and Woman Defended (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992).

[44]   Erik Ericson quoted Freud, and this is popularly accepted as Freud’s thought though it was never specifically written in his work.

[45]   Barrow, The Clergy in the Medieval World,  p. 114.

[46]    Radice,  Letters, p. 54.    Per ipsum itaque, cui te obtulisti, Deum te obsecro, ut quoque modo potes tuam mihi preesentiam reddas, consolationem videlicet mihi aliquam rescribendo, hoc saltem pacto, ut sic recreate divino alacrior vacem obsequio.      Constant,  p. 78.

[47]     Ibid., p. 51.

[48]     Katharina Wilson ; Glenda McLeod, « Textual Strategies in the Abelard /Heloise Correspondence , » in Listening to Heloise : the voice of a twelfth-century woman,  Bonnie Wheeler, ed. (New York : St. Martin’s Press, 2000).

[49]     Radice, Letters, p. 52.   ‘Quia nisi hoc peregeritis, ut neque vir melior, neque femina in terries lectior sit, profecto semper id quod optimum putabis ess multo maxime requiretis, ut et tu maritus sis quam optimae, et haec quam optimo viro nupta sit.’  Sancts profecto haec et plus quam philosophica est sentential ipsius potius sophiae quam philosophiae dicenda.  Santus hic error, et beata fallacia in conjugatis, ut perfecta dilectio illaesa custodiat matrimonii foedera non tam corporum continentia, quam animorum pudicitia.        Constant, p. 76.

[50]   Radice, Letters p. 50.   Cui auidem tanto te majore debito noveris obligatum, quanto te amplius nuptialis foedere ssacramenti constat esse astrictum ; et eo te magis mihi obnoxium, quo te semper, ut omnibus patet, immoderato amore comlexa sum.   Constant,  p. 74.

[51]    Brown,  The Body and Society, p. 377.

[52]    Radice, Letters, p. 73.   Felix talium commercium nuptiarum, ut homunculi miseri prius uxor, nunc in summi  regis thaa=lamis sublimeris, nec ex hujus honoris privilegio prior tantummodo viro, sed quibuscunque servis ejusdem regis praelata…Ne mireris igitur si tam vivus quam mortuus me vestris praecipue commendem orationibus, quum jure public constet apud dominos plus earum sponsa intercedendo posse, quam ipsorum familias, dominas amplius quam servos. Constant, p. 93.

[53]   Ibid., p. 73.  Ipse quippe cultus exterior nigrorum aut vilium indumentorum, instar lugubris habitus bonarum viduarum mortuos quos dilexerant viros plangentium, mos inhoc mundo, juxta apostolum, vere viduas et desolatas ostendit, stipendiis ecclesiae sustentandas.  Constant, p. 93.

[54] Radice, Letters, p.  75.   Et quae talis est uxor, secreta potius viri gaudia quam manifesta desiderat, et in lecto magis vult sentiri quam in mensa videri. Et frequenter accidit, ut nigrarum caro feminarum quanto est in aspectu deformior, tanto sit in tactu suavior ; atque ideo earum vouptas secretis gaudiis quam publicis gratior sit et convenientior, et earum viri, ut illis oblectentur, magis eas in cubiculum introducent, quam ad publicum educunt. Constant, p. 95.

[55] Ibid, p.  75., Constant, p. 95.

[56]   Ann Matter shows that in Origen’s commentary the Song of Songs was used to refer to Christ in a quasi erotic relationship with the soul or the Church.  Nonetheless, I argue that even if Abelard finds himself in good ecclesiastical company (Jerome translated Origen’s commentary) the allusion to “black women” in general and “husbands” in general pushes the discussion out of this register into one of mockery for specific rhetorical purposes.   Ann Matter, The Voice of My Beloved: The Song of Songs in Western Christianity ( Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990).

[57]   Radice,  Letters,  p.  75  Quae quidem nigredo, corporalium scilicet tribulationum, facile fidelium mentes ab amore terrenorum avellit, et ad aeternae vitae desideria suspendi, et saipe a tumultuaosa seculi vita trahit ad secretum contemplationis.   Constant, p. 95.

[58]    Radice,  Letters, p.  76     Vos autem quae in cubiculum caelestis regis ab ipso introductae, atque in ejus amplexibus quiescentes, clauso semper ostio ei totae vacatis, quanto familiarius ei adhaeretis.  Constant, 96.

[59]    Ibid., p.76   …tanto puriorem et efficaciorem habere confidimus orationem, et ob hoc vehementius earum efflagitamus opem. Constant, p. 96.

[60]     Ibid., p. 77.  Quas etiam tanto devotius pro me faciendas esse credimus, quanto majore nos invicem charitate colligati sumus. Constant,  p. 95.

[61] >   Blamires, Woman Defamed and Woman Defended, p. 153.

[62]   Radice, Letters, p.  82.   ut miseras illas obscenissimas voluptates,quas nominare confundimur  Constant, 100.

[63]    Ibid., p. 82.    ; et ab his me spurcitiis, quibus me totum quasi luto immerseram…quanto me nulla hinc amplius carnalium contagia pollutionum revocarent,  Constant, p. 100.

[64]    Radice, Letters, p. 82.   Paululum enim antequam hoc accideret, nos indissolubili lege sacramenti nupitalis invicem astrinzerat, quum cuperem to mehi supra modum dilectam in perpetuum retinere, imo quum ipse jam tractaret ad se nos ambos hac occasione convertere.  Constant, p. 101.

[65]   Brown, Body and Society, pp.172-173.

[66] Ibid., p. 367.

[67]   Ibid.,  p. 377.

[68]   Brown, Body and Society, p.  379.

[69]   Ibid., p. 379.

[70]   Ibid.,  p. 380.

[71]   Clanchy, p.  75:   Otto of Freising, a contemporary of Abelard, claimed that, as a Breton, though he had mastered many difficult texts, he lacked common sense and was at times “quite stupid.”

[72]  Clanchy, p.  3.

[73]   Thomas J. Bell, Peter Abelard after Marriage: The Spiritual Direction of Heloise and Her Nuns Through Liturgical Song (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2007), p. 54.

[74]   Ibid., p. 79.

[75] Bruce L. Venarde, Women’s Monasticism and Medieval Society: Nunneries in France and England, 890-1215 (London: Cornell University Press, 1997), p. 97.

[76]  Venarde, Women’s Monasticism,  p. 100.

[77]  Julie Ann Smith ,“Debitum Obediente: Heloise and Abelard on Governance at the Paraclete,” Parergon 25 (2008):1-23, p. 12.

[78]  Ibid., p.  15.

[79]  Smith, “Debitum obediente,” p. 19.

[80]   Smith,   “Debitum obediente,” p. 20.

[81]   Clanchy, p. 3.

[82]   Clanchy,  p. 313. John of Salisbury claimed that Hyacinth Boboni who later became pope “studiously fostered” Abelard’s cause against St. Bernard, his principal accuser in the heresy trial at Sens.