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Abelard of Le Pallet on theology

Why did Abelard’s logic pose such a threat that it led to his trial for heresy at Sens in 1140?

In this document, the logical elements involved in eleven of the nineteen capitula under which Abelard was charged are analysed. Abelard was a logician, analysing the muddle that made up theology in his time and trying to bring to it some consistency. Because of this activity, some of his contemporaries treated Abelard as just another theologian who should be found in contempt of preferred Church teaching or, perhaps, as merely a politically awkward nuisance. Abelard’s analysis, and his teaching, goes much deeper than this, however; showing weaknesses not only in the thinking of his contemporaries, but also in the thinking of logicians and mathematicians today. (The other eight capitula are treated in the logic of ethics.) click for the index

A short biography of Abelard of Le Pallet, map and key references is available at
Abelard of Le Pallet, introduction.

Introduction – Abelard the heretic

In the logic of ethics, with commentary on the ethical teaching of Abelard le Pallet, I have opened the possibility that Abelard may plausibly be accused of the ‘heresies’ of:
In this document I shall for good measure mention a few more ‘heresies’ that could be attributed to Abelard. For further details on the nature of these ‘heresies’ , you may switch to ‘heresies’, authority, quarrels and words:
Pantheism [2]

I am not a historian but a specialist in the functioning of the human mind. My technical interest is in communication logic and its application to the education of intelligence.

I have noticed that when a great move forward in human understanding occurs; there is usually some thinker of considerable ability somewhere at the centre of the turmoil. Thus, Newton was at the centre of a major rethink in physical science, Breyer at the centre of a reorganisation of the understanding of chess, Bohr was instructing the young lions of the quantum revolution.

So, a few years ago, when I first stood in wonder at the glory of Chartres, it was natural for me to question where the brains behind such a revolution were hiding. I started to read widely and came across Henry II and his teacher William of Conches, and remembered Aristotle and Alexander. I found the loss of Angevin power in Henry’s poor child-raising skills and the longevity of the 12th century Capetians. I found Abbé Suger and his great organisational skill, and I found the immensely useful monograph by L. L. White on the 12th-century industrial revolution,[3] but still I was unsatisfied.clickfor more

The more I read and studied, the more I became focused on Abelard, regarded in his day as the new Aristotle and referred to as the most famous man of his age, yet widely written out of history by the efforts of the Church of Rome. Rome has done everything to destroy Abelard’s work and, failing that, to trivialise it, or even to claim Abelard’s forced ‘confessions’ showed him as a supporter when other means of denigration have failed.

A great deal of humanity spends most of its time seeking power and status, and breeding opportunities. A person like Abelard is naturally dominant. Such people become dominant by virtue of what they are. This tends to make enemies for them. As someone said, “Enemies are the status symbols of successful people”. Life is dangerous for people such as Abelard and, because they are intelligent, they quickly come to know this. People like Abelard also threaten the status quo, they threaten the power structure. It is common for such people to have to spend time in exile, prison, or worse[4].

Fortunately for them, at times such people find patrons who can use their talents, or who are just plain honourable and independent-minded enough to afford them some protection. In Abelard’s case, these included Stephen de Garlande, Peter of Cluny and, probably, the Capetian rulers through Abbé Suger, the brothers Bernard and Thierry of Chartres and perhaps some others in Rome. It is interesting that, at one time or another, Abelard probably had at least three future popes as pupils. These politicians and men of the world seem to have admired and somewhat protected Abelard from the worst consequences of his unremitting intellectual war with the increasingly repressive and ever superstitious tendencies of his society.

Abelard’s burning star was logic, and extremely good at it he was too. It made him the most famous man in the world and, in his own words, ‘hated amongst men’. But to several of his contemporaries, he was a jokester, he was flippant; or, to put this another way, he refused to act with proper establishment pomposity or dignity. Doubtless, he did not suffer fools gladly, and his razor wit and quickness of mind made it possible for him to puncture the posturing of other alpha males without losing stride.return to the index


to see more of the index C O O E 'Y'

Introduction – Abelard the heretic
The trial and ‘heresies’ of Abelard
  world soul and ‘paganism’
    third capitulum
  Superstition and ‘magic’
    fifteenth capitulum
Abelard’s god
  Space and time to see the rest of the index
    eighteenth capitulum
  Trinity: a counting problem
  Persons and persona
More of the charges against Abelard at Sens
  trinitarian issues
    second capitulum
    fifth capitulum
    thirteenth capitulum
    sixteenth capitulum
    first capitulum
  god, power and predestination
    seventh capitulum
    seventeenth capitulum
  ‘christ’s’ fear
    tenth capitulum
    fourteenth capitulum
Conclusion - The authoritarianism of Rome and the trinity
  Empty memes and authority
End notes

I am of the view that Abelard is very much more important in the history of logic than the censors of Rome would have people believe. I think it very likely that his shadowy imprint is a factor in various ‘heresies’ that were met by the inquisitions and eventually resulted in the Reformation.[5] However, I repeat that I am not a historian; history is to me a useful mine of human behaviour to be sifted in the understanding of human intelligence and reasoning.

This was no fool that was unaware of the situation in which his ability put him, so Abelard was constantly cautious and attempted not to go too far. But he refused to sell out; in fact, his great drive to understand probably makes that no option for him. There are some cases where some humans prefer risk to compromise, otherwise they lose what is essential to their sense of identity. As Robert Bolt puts it in Man for All Seasons: “When a man takes an oath, Meg, he’s holding his ownself in his own hands. Like water. And if he opens his fingers then – he needn’t hope to find himself again.”

With some of his contemporaries, I regard Abelard as post-Aristotelian and very much a modern, not as some second-class Aristotle as the spin-doctors of Rome would have one believe. Abelard lived in a society of superstition and ignorance, he clearly read just about everything he could lay his hands upon, in part travelling from city to city to do so.

Abelard had no access to the accumulated scientific data we have now, nor had he access to the great modern libraries with their millions of different books from around the world upon almost any conceivable subject.

He was an unusually intelligent, perseverant young man, who lived in a backward and superstitious society, a society with no Blackwell’s bookshop, no Bodleian library, no Bibliothèque Nationale. To a very great extent, he went where the books were and where there was a teacher of ability. It looks to me as if he steadily read his way through anything he could lay his hands on. It does not take very much of this type of behaviour before you tend to know more than all of your contemporaries. As Shaw said, “It’s not that I’m so clever, it is that others are so stupid.”[5a]

Much of the available information was individual speculation and rather crude pragmatic results. Much of what Abelard did was to attempt to make some sense of what was available. He lived with a language that was infested with mysticism, and in a society with little recognition of the function of the brain and of the eyes.

Berkeley regarded words as an impediment to thought,[6] the Buddhist Lankavatara says that “truth is beyond words and books”[7] and Bernard of Clairvaux rather pompously and foolishly upbraided Abelard with “you will find something more in the woods than in books. Woods and stones will teach you what you cannot hear from the ‘masters’ ”.[8] The Moonies[9] are encouraged to repeat the mantra or litany of “no concepts, no concepts”.

Commentators such as Quine and Chomsky have imagined that thinking is dependent upon words, but this is not so. While true independent thinking requires a silent mind, it is quite clear that other animals think, plan, and often communicate, with very little in the way of words. Words are useful for communication, but they are a trap and a prison for thought.

The Tao, with more wisdom, states that, “the good man does not prove by argument and he who proves by argument is not good”.[10]

Abelard had a better understanding, “language is generated by the intellect and generates the intellect”.[11] Words are useful in their place. To reject words is often an excuse for mysticism, while insistence on particular forms and definitions is often a tool of dogma; both are common means for authoritarians to vend their wares.

A logician becomes an expert on word usage, thus a logician learns to tear down human posture and pose, thus a logician confounds the attempts at dominance by bluff that is close to the centre of a great deal of human activity and motivation. A logician learns to concentrate very hard upon the woods and the stones, for a logician knows with Roscelin of Compiègne that words are mere farts.[12] Words do not have settled meanings, words of themselves do not have ‘meanings’ at all. It is humans who use words to convey meanings to others, words are indeed mere farts or wandering traces of ink upon paper. A logician needs no Bernard of Clairvaux to tell them this, for such a concentration on reality is the very heart of the logician’s trade. It is this concentration upon reality that allows an able logician to cut through obscurantism and posture, and leads to being “hated among men”, or at least by inferior men.

Abelard compiled a dictionary of quotations[13] on various theological issues, 158 issues in all, clearly showing that the most quoted authorities of the church were wildly contradictory in their statements on matters of dogma.

Abelard is said to have approached this task in a spirit of showing how the various contradictions were only apparent. It is my view that he was, at least in part, genuine in this approach. A logician of real ability comes to understand that every person uses language in a private manner: the words have no static meaning but are constantly uncertain. A realistic philosopher assumes that the objects about which the individual humans are speaking are more or less stable. Therefore a conclusion may be drawn; although the words may sound to be contradictory, each rational speaker is intending to convey a similar truth.

I have been impressed by the considerable sophistication of Abelard’s approach to logic. It is necessary, when analysing the meaning of the writing of a person from another age, to attempt to hear the meaning behind the words. Abelard was living in an age when language was considerably less developed than it is at the beginning of the 21st century. His need was to express himself in that language to a society that lacked many of the concepts that are taken for granted today.

Likewise, Jesus of Nazareth and Aristotle lacked many ideas we now take for granted. We now know that thinking is primarily the function of the brain; we are clear that light rays travel into the eyes and that the eyes do not send out rays to probe the ‘objects’ which we see. Such clear understandings were not readily available in the 12th century. This did not make the prime thinkers of earlier times any less able, subtle or intelligent than ourselves. It is, in the words of Abelard’s contemporary Bernard of Chartres, “that if we see a little further, it is merely that we sit upon the shoulders of giants”.[14]

Abelard was one of the greatest of human teachers, many of the leaders of his society studied with him. His influence spread far and wide. He taught the medieval world to think more clearly. By teaching his society to think, he became a threat to venal authority. In order to silence him, Abelard was accused of ‘heresy’ and brought to trial. Such a trial endangered his life. In the process of his work, he also helped to lay the foundations for more clear communication. Communication is at the very heart of human progress; it allows co-operation to human ends.[15]

People who challenge authority or the myths of their age are not generally welcomed with open arms and fêted widely, they are instead commonly persecuted and vilified. Abelard was not an exception to this problem. Just what was it about the logic that he taught that made him “hated among men”? I will propose that in teaching people how to analyse language efficiently, he attacked the very foundation of authority, which widely relies upon empty rhetoric.

The philosophers or theologians, there was no serious distinction in Abelard’s society, were attempting to teach similar verities. I am not an adherent of any dogmatic cult, but I have studied human behaviour in much detail and immersed myself in long-term, close contact with a group of other adults. When it comes to understanding human relationships, I have been surprised to find that I have much common ground with groups such as the Hutterites, despite their adherence to a very fundamentalist religion that I regard as primitive superstition.

In fact, Hutterites with whom I have conversed are far more sophisticated and realistic in their discussions of human behaviour than most academics and practising psychologists I have met. I take this to be because the Hutterites have real, everyday close experience of community, experience that alienated modern western society simply does not have.

It is to be expected that those who apply themselves to understanding the ethical conduct of human societies will reach broadly similar conclusions, for they are studying broadly similar phenomena. Thus, it is perfectly reasonable for Abelard to expect the apparent differences in the teachings of past masters to be in general accord, however discordant the words may appear at first acquaintance. After all, the reality behind the words is unlikely to have changed radically in the intervening times.

What we now tend to call ‘psychology’ and ‘sociology’ were, in medieval times, the province of theology and of authority, both secular and religious. In medieval times, knowledge was not so fragmented or specialised; there was much more inclination to see things in the whole, and to spend long years of patient study to gain a full a rounded education for the administration and guidance of society.

I also am a logician, I also am carried upon the shoulders of giants; one of those giants is Abelard of Le Pallet. It is my view that, to understand Abelard’s voice with clarity, it is necessary to have some understanding of logic. I am therefore going to take you on a little ride through some basic logic in order to bring Abelard into better focus.

A great deal of what is now taught as logic is flummery and posture. Remember that Abelard was a freelance teacher who sought to increase the awareness of his students, he made fun and he was alive, he did not train students to pass exams by learning pre-digested formulae. Logic is centrally about teaching people to communicate clearly and, to a lesser extent, to think clearly. Logic is not some esoteric dogma, although that is how it is often presented.

Logic, correctly examined, is a practical down-to-earth matter: it is not ‘abstract’. Logic is about describing the world as we see it and find it. Forget all the ‘rules’ and formalisms, what matters is, “Does it work in everyday practice?” To hone their skills, a practising logician looks for the most abstruse and difficult cases they can find. The logician then attempts to understand what sense these cases make to the perpetrating humans and why, or even whether they make sense at all. For these reasons, I have expended much time plumbing the meaning and confusions of the Gödel formulations, the result of which you may see at the Confusions of Gödel. Abelard read the great masters available to him and attempted to make sense of: three in one, ‘spirits’, ‘essences’ and similar notions. The most complex and mystifying writings available to him were the abstruse speculations of ‘philosophy’ and ‘theology’. Hence, I wager the reason for his interest in Christology and trinitarianism. For more on this, see ‘heresies’, authority, quarrels and words.

Properly understood, logic is dynamic and living. It is not the desiccated generation of categories and rules of the Aristotelian tradition. Abelard understood this far better than most modern academic ‘philosophers’. Abelard is a modern; he is a relativist living in a backward culture. I have shown in the logic of ethics, how Abelard approaches ethics from three different viewpoints; certainly not as a rigid code. Here, I intend to build upon that foundation with regard to his approach to logic, which of course also informed his work on ethics.

Abelard’s logic is not some sterile dogma; he adjusts his logic to the prevailing question or problem. Abelard switches fluently from talking about external reality, to talking about internal thinking and to expressed words with their usage. He is trying to understand and he is trying to teach. He knows quite well that he cannot know what is in the mind/heart of another and, as a logician, he knows full well that his listeners can only understand him through a glass darkly; for that is what he has spent his life attempting with other masters.

Just what does the word ‘god’ mean? I have asked many people and received many and diverse responses, some of them none too friendly, logic indeed can make you “hated among men”. As far as possible, I have tried to understand at what conclusions Abelard arrived. Essentially, I believe that he identified ‘god’ with what we would call ‘reality’. That is, this stuff all around us, the stuff out of which we are assembled. By ‘soul‘, I think he meant something like we mean by ‘mind’ or ‘brain’ or being ‘alive’, an animating ‘principle’. Remember, biology was much less advanced than it is now, so the awareness that the head did the thinking was not in the culture.

Abelard was also much more reliant on prior speculative ‘philosophy’, hence the talk of the world spirit or of the holy spirit conferring spiritual life upon human souls. Abelard is attempting to integrate knowledge, the wisdom of many giants. For his time, the world was truly alive. Since then, society has lost this awe of the world, often calling such a mental set ‘superstition’, or ‘mysticism’ in a disparaging sense, or even ‘paganism’. Yet, our very bodies are made from the matter of the world and we are surely ‘alive’. The recent hippy revolution is a recapturing of the wonder and awe of the medieval revolution that was rapidly quashed by the authoritarians and their inquisitions. Abelard stood in their way for a time. Similarly, the statists of today are attempting to absorb, denigrate and crush the modern anti-authoritarian hippy revolution.

We still have very little idea what ‘consciousness’ means and how it occurs, but we have a word for it because our experience leads us to require such a word. We now understand much of the functioning of the senses, functioning that was confusing to our ancestors of 900 years ago. We understand that there is space around us through which we move, but just what space ‘is’ we have no idea. So we speak of the relative movement of objects, thus skirting the problems. In fact, we don’t really have an idea of what all this stuff around us is, why for example is there not nothing? Yet, so often people are content to think they understand far more than they do, just because they can describe the actions of real objects or the rough mechanisms of ‘evolution’. Thence they often lose their sense of wonder and of awe.

Our ancestors, who also knew even less and lived in a more dangerous and unpredictable world than we in modern Western society, had their explanations and even what we often think of as superstitions. Instead of some comforting reference to ‘the big bang,’ they referred to ‘god’. Instead of consciousness, they referred to the ‘soul’. Instead of talking of the roiling living reality in which we find ourselves, they might refer to the ‘world soul’ or the ‘holy spirit’ or even ‘gaia’ as an animating force. We are much nearer to the people of 1000 years ago than our noisy blustering successes easily allow us to always acknowledge. As a logician, I intend to show the use of words and their connections with things.

The language of Christianism in the United States has remained fairly constant over the last 50 years, yet the emphasis has shifted radically. Instead of emphasising hell fire and a narrow dogmatism, the emphasis has changed to understanding, tolerance, and kindness in the wake of the hippy revolution and growing psychological studies. It was fascinating to watch this process in the recent attempt at a pseudo-legal coup over Clinton’s consenting relationship with a certain young lady. Clinton’s older enemies, raised in past rigidities of thought, fatally misjudged their ability to use a harmless affair as a means to political gain. They were instead met by a wave of revulsion and rebellion from the younger generations, and support was reported at well over the 60% level, despite the later evidence that the country was evenly split in terms of party support. Gradually, a tolerant liberalism is displacing the old, more repressive order. Meanwhile the old guard struggle frantically to restore ‘order’ and authority.

Bernard was a repressive force against the liberalisation represented by Abelard. It is not enough to take single quotes from Abelard’s forced confession at the end of his life and claim that he really was on the side of the establishment, any more than the confessions at Stalin’s show trials can be regarded as reliable indications of their victim’s genuine beliefs. It is necessary to build up patterns that show a reasonable consistency. Even then, we do not really have enough, for it is possible to weave entirely different stories around groups of facts. As the Abelard said, only god knows what is in the heart.

However, I do think there are both more and less plausible interpretations of facts, and I prefer to build a picture from Abelard’s own words and those of his contemporaries, both positive and negative. Among other advantages, they were actually there and met him. Clearly, Abelard made a very great impression upon his contemporaries, whichever side of the fence they were on; it is Abelard we are still investigating and talking about nearly a millennium later, not his enemies. Because two people use common terms and phrases in no way guarantees similar meaning. That dictators call China, or East Germany, a people’s republic guarantees neither ownership of the government by the people, nor republican principles. Nor does banging on about christianist charity and the will of ‘god’ guarantee kindness and generosity of spirit.return to the index


I have discussed the so-called aliquid question sketchily in ‘heresies’, authority, quarrels and words; I now intend to return to this in more detail. I am increasingly inclined to think that what commentary I have read thus far is not thought through, or clear.

This site provides a translation, by Carolinne White, of a section from the notes of Roland of Siena, later pope Alexander III; in my view these notes were probably based on lectures by Abelard. This is the full section from which very short, unsatisfactory quotes have been used by both Little[17] and Somerville[18]. Having read the full section several times, I regard their interpretations as inadequate.

It is clear to me that Abelard is attempting to elucidate what, as an object, the whole being named ‘christ’ is to be called. He appears to come to the conclusion that ‘christ’ is neither ‘just’ ‘god’, that is, the third (nowadays second) ‘person’ of the trinity, nor is he a person in the sense of being an ordinary man, but that ‘christ’ is something else again. This appears to be why he says that ‘christ’ is not a ‘man’.

Abelard ‘explains’that ‘christ’ as ‘god’ has no parts, whereas ‘christ’ as man does ‘have’ parts (in that humans are ‘body’ and ‘soul’ and even teeth). Thus, it depends on whether one is speaking of ‘christ’ as ‘god’ [A] [B] or as ‘man’. Thence, the term ‘person’ or ‘son’ has different meanings according to whether one speaks of ‘god’ or ‘man’. The ‘aliquid question’ further concerns the different meanings of ‘aliquid’ or ‘person’.

If you go through the excerpt from Roland, On aliquid, you will see Abelard reviewing various opinions and focusing on the logic and the word meanings of the situation, rather than the ‘theology’. I propose that that this concentration on logic is always at the heart of Abelard’s interests.

Recently, an academic mathematics lecturer told me that he objected to the manner in which I review mathematics and the work of Gödel. Seemingly, Abelard had similar difficulties with his contemporaries when he chose to treat ‘theology’ as a data bank to be analysed and mined. Abelard was a logician, not a theologian, and he was treading where he is not wanted!

In Roland, Abelard discusses adoptionism and rejects it, so here is one ‘heresy’ of which we can likely find him not ‘guilty’!return to the index

The trial and ‘heresies’ of Abelard

In the logic of ethics, I dealt with eight capitula related to ethics, among the nineteen under which Abelard was charged at Sens. Here, I shall deal with the remaining eleven capitula, while commenting upon various ‘heresies’ they might be imagined to involve.

world soul and ‘paganism’

The third capitulum charged that Abelard taught ‘That the Holy Spirit is the world-soul’.

Abelard identified the Holy Spirit with the world-soul, as did Thierry of Chartres (brother of Bernard of Chartres and a supporter of Abelard at the Soissons trial) and, for some years of his life, so did William of Conches (tutor to Henry II).[19]

Lovelock’s Gaia model describes the world as being effectively ‘alive’: a feedback system of extreme complexity and attraction to us, and upon which we depend for life.[20]

Thus Abelard interprets Plato to mean that the world-soul, like the Holy Spirit, confers the spiritual life upon human souls by his gifts. Abelard says that by locating this soul in the middle of the world, Plato designates beautifully the grace of God, which is offered to all in common.

“Bernard of Clairvaux believes that Abelard has taught that the Spirit is the soul of the world and has proved that Plato’s world is a more excellent animal because in the Spirit it has a better (or bigger?) soul. The more, says Bernard, Abelard sweats to make Plato a Christian, the more he becomes [a] pagan.”[21]

“Thomas of Morigny [Bernard’s disciple] [...] objected that Abelard had introduced Plato, Macrobius and Virgil [...] to the banquet of the supreme king.”[22] There is a clear accusation of (the ‘heresy’ of) ‘paganism’, by which the Church tends to mean Greek philosophy or, alternatively, what ‘they’ sometimes call ‘superstition’.

So, just what did this accusation of ‘heresy’ amount to? What did Bernard mean by a ‘pagan’? Was Bernard’s comment about Abelard correct? I think Bernard was likely fully justified, and that Abelard subscribed neither to the fashionable christianist superstitions, nor to the authoritarian establishment that sought to engender and profit from those superstitions. Abelard was a logician and an enquirer; he sought to understand. “By doubting we come to enquiry and by enquiry we perceive the truth”.[23] This view is also strongly supported by the nature of his relationship to Heloise and the non-conformist name, Astralabe, given to their child.(See also Quotes from Heloise.)

‘Modern’ society remains riddled with ‘superstition’ and unclear expression: mathematicians often believe in ‘infinity’, psychologists speak as if people ‘have’ personalities rather than exhibit behaviours, it is common belief that the Retail Price Index or a rising price is ‘inflation’. When people do not understand things clearly, they use approximations and muddled language. The able logician investigates the relationship of words to reality. In the Middle Ages, much more even than now was unknown. ‘Supernatural’ was a term not unlike our present term, ‘unknown’. As indicated, we now refer to ‘space’ and ‘consciousness’, yet have very little clear idea what these ‘things’ are or why they exist. The medieval ideas of the ‘supernatural’ were related to the phenomenon of life that we still do not understand well. What serious difference is there between the current words ‘life’ and ‘consciousness’ and the more ancient terms of ‘supernatural’ or ‘soul’?return to the index


Superstition and ‘magic’

Traditionally, magic divided into natural magic (obeying natural laws) and supernatural magic (involving ‘supernatural’ forces). The word ‘magic’ signified attempts to understand the world and using that knowledge. The current word for this is science.

The fifteenth capitulum is that Abelard taught ‘That the devil instigates suggestions by the application of stones or herbs’. Luscombe claims Abelard’s “guilt was glaring”. Luscombe says that “in the Ethica [Abelard] had clearly taught that demons, the scientes, experts in the natural powers of things, can use herbs and seeds, stones and trees to influence and sway our minds and for example, Deo permittente, to induce languor.”[24]. “William [of Thierry] knew, not this passage of the Ethica, but an equivalent passage of the Liber Sententiarum[25], which taught that when the devil wishes to suggest lust or anger he produces a stone or a herb that contains the power of exciting the required passion.”[26] William commented that Abelard must have taught this flippantly.

Clanchy, however, refers to ‘drug’ effects[27]. Another possibility is the high suspicion of empiric science, e.g. the identification of empiricism with ‘necromancy’. Bernard rails against Abelard as a ‘magician’: “Let him who has scanned the heavens go down into the depths of hell”.[28]

Over the centuries, the cult of christianism has managed to associate the ‘pagans’, who sought to understand the world, with superstitious savages. It is fascinating to see their attack on Abelard as a ‘heretic’ for seeking to understand the world, questioning or analysing what he appears to have regarded as ‘superstitions’ or allegory, ‘superstitions’ such as ‘the’ trinity’ and ‘original sin’. It was on just such grounds that the condemnation of 1140 was founded.

During the building in 1143 of Saint-Denis, a great storm blew up, so large that the clerics were fearful lest the partially built structure would collapse.[28a] Geoffroy de Levres, bishop of Chartres[29], who was holding a service at the time, frequently made the sign of the cross and held out a box containing the arm of ‘saint’ Simeon in the direction of most danger. Suger, the moving force behind the building of St-Denis, one of the most innovatory buildings of all time, recalling this incident, noted that, while the storm caused much damage elsewhere, it was unable to damage the new and exposed structure.

It is interesting to note that 782 years later in 1925, 200 kilometres to the west, the then ‘pope’ Pius XI[30] gave the arm of Theresa of Lisieux to a new basilica built in Lisieux. I have no idea how these worthies came to collect or own these spare parts, however, it is instructive that a cult that rails against both superstition and science, in such a manner that it tends to confuse the two, still maintains so much sway in the modern world.

Modern christianists perpetuate superstitions, while condemning other superstitions common among christianists a thousand years ago. These superstitions are still not far beneath the surface in the modern, supposedly christianist culture, superstitions such as the widely read astrology columns in most media and the common notion of ‘equality’.

It is strange that Luscombe can describe Abelard’s ‘guilt’ as ‘glaring’, while William of Thierry regarded Abelard as being flippant. Remember, this is a society in which the highest in the church are able to put trust in severed arms. By contrast, we have Abelard, steeped in learning, including Greek and Roman sources. He was very likely having a little droll fun at the expense of his ignorant adversaries. After all, if a dead arm can achieve good ends, why should not stones and herbs cause ‘bad’ ends? We do not know what was in Abelard’s mind, but he was, through his copious reading, demonstrably a collector of ‘data’ from far and wide.

Abelard delighted in contrasts, as is clear from his monumental Sic et Non. His long relationship with Heloise, his focus on intention above act in ethics and his defence of lust make it clear that his views were well out of accord with the narrow and puritanical Bernard. Abelard was also famous for his songs (now lost other than a little church chant [31]) and was well acquainted with allusion, for his very life was steeped in words.

I do not think that Abelard’s ‘guilt is glaring’ on the fifteenth capitulum, I think the reality is that we do not know. Maybe it was a joke, as William of Thierry thought, or maybe it was some reference to drug effects, as Michael Clanchy suggests. I am more inclined to William’s view, it seems to sit well with Abelard the logician’s sense of humour to me. His contemporaries knew his flippant cast of mind better than us, but I’m not laying any bets.return to the index

Abelard’s god

Space and time

The eighteenth capitulum states ‘That the soul of Christ itself did not descend to Hell, but only through its power’.

“[Abelard] taught in the Theologia ‘Scholarium’ that God, as a spirit, is neither circumscribed by location nor able to move from place to place. Space itself and what fills space is itself maintained by God who is therefore substantially present in it through the efficacy of his power”[32]. One cannot understand god in human terms, but one can try!

“Abelard,[...] in [...] the fourth recension of his Scholarium, affirmed the omnipresence of the divine substance, with only the qualification that a terminology which implied the physical or local presence of incorporeal being should be avoided.”[33] But what do the words ‘incorporeal substance’ mean?

“Walter of Mortagne, in his letter to Abelard, reported that Abelard, during a recent conversation, had said some dubious things about the divine presence and the location of spirits, specifically that God is not essentially in the world or anywhere and that angels and souls are nowhere; and in a letter which [Walter] wrote to one Master Thierry at an uncertain date, he reported the thesis which he claimed was being taught in one school, which may be Abelard’s, that God was omnipresent, not in essence but in power. Walter himself affirmed forcefully the essential omnipresence of God.”[34]

“[Abelard] wrote [...] that, in view of the inability of any soul or spirit to move locally, the meaning of the descent into Hell of the soul of Christ is that his passion had a liberating effect upon the souls of the elect.”[35] Remember that Abelard habitually stresses the exemplar nature of ‘christ’s’ mission and tends to think of ‘soul’ as an animating life force.

“Abelard claimed in his Confessio fidei ‘universis’ that the proposition [...] was completely foreign to his words and meaning”;[36] but such claims are clearly empty, as the confessio was extracted under threat. Nor is it stated what his words did mean. It is clear misuse of texts to claim that Abelard followed the party line other than when he was writing in context of intimidation. Mind you, it is also frequently very difficult to follow just what the party line might be on any subject. Abelard’s insistence on analysing words and meanings often brought this reality rather too close to the surface for the comfort of some interests.

Abelard’s views were clearly more sophisticated than common christianist superstition. His teachings run more with the deeper thinkers of history, several of whom lived in areas under the thrall of Rome and thus required to use caution. Another problem was the constraints of contemporary semantics to express complex ideas.

There is a religion of dogma and rules for the control and civilising of the masses; with another of metaphysics, and much else, for the intelligentsia and even the rulers. By my reading, Abelard is not even particularly interested in orthodoxy, but is entirely focused on the logic and semantics, or else on ethics.return to the index


How did Abelard think about negatives? It would appear that he regarded ‘the holy spirit’ as a relationship between ‘the father’ and ‘the son’ and, further, that he regarded ‘a relationship’ as ‘not a thing’. The idea of ‘not’ in language is quite complex and I don’t intend to take it apart here.

“Nothing can be said affirmatively of the dictum [36a] of a statement - as for instance, I might say nothing - but rather negatively, that it is not anything.” - Abelard. [37] Compare this with the Aliquid section.

I think people often tend to confuse this kind of statement. I am inclined to think that Abelard also did not regard statements as objects, or else was not entirely clear on the point. The words may be mere farts, but the wind and the vibrations in the air are indeed real. The idea of metalanguage was not yet highly developed, although Abelard is clearly struggling towards the concept when he distinguishes between talking of objects and discussing words.[38]

“[...] when Boethius says everything which exists is either ‘corporeal’ or ‘incorporeal’, the alternative ‘incorporeal’ perhaps seems superfluous, since nothing that exists is ‘incorporeal’ – that is, nondiscrete”. - Abelard. [39]

Abelard appears to be thinking that a ‘universal’ could be regarded as ‘incorporeal’, that is, not an individual object or thing. This erroneous view remains with us today in the notion of an empty set. The universal exists in the head of the speaker, it just does not exist ‘out there’. The idea of incorporeal is indeed redundant as Abelard suggests, the word unicorn is not ‘incorporeal’, it merely attempts to refer to (a non) something which is not ‘out there’ which some may be content to call incorporeal. Abelard is more cautious in his handling of language.

Trinity: a counting problem

The standard ‘orthodox’ line of the roman authorities is
One ‘essence’ with three ‘persons’, one of which has two ‘ essences’.

One thing is not two things, or even three. To a logician, the number ‘one’ is no more than another word for ‘thing’. You call a part of the world either one thing or two things or many things, it is a matter of choice, not a matter of ‘fact’. You may call the motor car one object or lists its parts, or talk of chassis, engine, wheels etcetera, again a matter of choice or ‘opinion’. Only those who are rigidly wedded to words, rather than to reality, insist that the car is one or two, or any other number.

One in three or three in one only is a problem of the speaker’s meaning. Hence, in Sic et non, Abelard’s intent was not to show why the commentators were ‘wrong’, but to discover the commentators’ real intentions and to attempt to reconcile their meanings.

“[...] Abelard kept discussion of God out of his work on logic. In a passage in his commentary on Porphyry, the question of God’s intellect arises in the context of the problem of knowledge of the future. God’s perception of the future, Abelard says, is most sensibly resolved by saying that

His substance, which alone is unchanging and simple, is varied by no conceptions of things nor by any other forms. For; although the custom of human speech presumes to speak of the creator in the same way as of creatures, by calling Him provident or intelligent for example, nevertheless nothing in Him should be, or can be, understood as distinct from Him: neither perception nor any other form. Therefore any question about perception is irrelevant so far as God is concerned.” [40]

Abelard tried to make his contemporaries understand that there is a fundamental difference between talking about ‘god’ and, alternatively, discussing what others have said of ‘god’. It is but a short step to substitute the term ‘god’ with the word ‘reality’ in the writings of the brighter of the scholastics, whence texts that may read as obscurantism and mysticism to a modern start to make eminent sense.

We all live in the ‘one’ world; whatever we say must reflect our experiences in that world, however clumsily we express our experiences in speech or writing. ‘Contradictions’ do not exist when all is one, only mis-expression. At the heart of christianism is the one; if it is expressed as three, either we have aspects of ‘god’ or we have multiple ‘gods’. Either christianism is a monotheistic system, or it is otherwise. See sabellianism for further discussion. return to the index

persons and personas

The meaning of ‘person’ has changed. Abelard took his meaning from Boethius,[41] who stated that a person was an “individual substance of a rational nature”. Before this time, ‘person’ could be thought of as an aspect or ‘personality’.

This earlier Latin meaning has passed into the English usage as ‘persona’, rather than ‘person’. Abelard took a position, sometimes now called sabellianism and termed a heresy![42]. But such a position looks close to the earlier ‘persona’ to me, which interpretation is said to be nearer to Reformation and modern protestantism. As so often with disputes, we are probably just seeing different meanings for a word. As a joke has it: why are the fishwives bawling and arguing across the street? Answer, Because they are arguing from different premises.

A confused J. H. Newman[43] says the following, “The mysteriousness of the doctrine evidently lies in our inability to conceive a sense of the word person, such, as to be more than a mere character, yet less than an individual intelligent being.” But again, “The word Person which we venture to use in speaking of those three distinct and real modes in which it has pleased Almighty God to reveal to us His being.”[44] The second quote is a clear form of modalism.

Hume states that; “We have therefore no idea of substance, distinct from that of a collection of particular qualities, nor have we any other meaning when we either talk or reason concerning it.”[45] Gold, to take Hume’s example, is nothing but the collection of the ideas of yellow, malleable, fusible, and so on.

Abelard held that the Son and Spirit are of the same substance as the Father. Attempts to distinguish substance and essence, I regard as futile, as it appears did Abelard. Abelard comes close to Hume when he says, “there is no substance of a species apart from the essences of its particulars and that what are related are particulars - particular accidents - not species”.[46]

The ‘object’ is ‘out there’; we all experience the objects as individuals. To allocate to the ‘object’ a specific ‘essence’ is to mis-describe reality, a disguised form of animism. Abelard, like many before and after, speculated upon the nature of ‘god’, while trying to bring his understanding in line with logical expressions and with previous teachers.return to the index

More of the charges against Abelard at Sens

trinitarian issues

Things get exciting around here, as Abelard’s examination of the theology of the trinity has him charged by various people with a raft of ‘heresies’. The five capitula reviewed here all relate to Abelard’s speculations, all on essentially the same issue.

The second capitulum states ‘That the Holy Spirit is not of the substance of the Father or the Son’. Its accusation refers to Abelard’s attempt in the Theologia to find a way of relating the generation of the Son and the procession of the Spirit to the notion of the undivided substance of God.

Remembering the earlier quote concerning corporeality, I am pretty sure that what, in fact, concerned Abelard, as a conceptualist, was the question, “just what real-world object is a relationship?” This is a difficult matter; again, one which I will not pull to pieces here. Suffice to say that Abelard thought of a relationship, in this case father to son as expressed by ‘the holy ghost’ (benignity or love), as a ‘non-thing’, whereas he seems to have thought of the ‘son’ as an ‘object’ in some sense.

Nowadays we are better able to place a ‘thing’ like a ‘relationship’ in the head of the individual person who is contemplating ‘the’ relationship. As humans, we focus on relationships that appear useful to us in everyday life. Genetic relationships between individual people are now thought to mediate the degree of altruism we show to others. In other words, the term ‘relationship’ now also has some ascribed meaning ‘out there’, but such notions are recent. Just how one uses words is very much context-dependent. All words mean different things at different times and in different contexts, these differences are mediated by our immediate purposes. ‘Relationship’, like all other words, means exactly what I intend it to mean right now, to paraphrase another able logician.[47]

The fifth capitulum states ‘That neither God and man, nor this person which Christ is, is the third person in the Trinity’. Luscombe says that this teaching is not contained in the Theologia and that William must therefore have formulated his own capitulum after reading the Liber Sententiarum from which he quotes an offending passage. William, and after him Bernard, accused Abelard of Nestorianism[48] on the ground that he had excluded the assumptus homo from the Trinity. On reading the Roland translation, that is hardly a safe charge to propose, nor does Abelard here say what ‘christ’ is as opposed to what he is not. But also see below.

Little says that Bernard got right to the heart of the matter in the thirteenth capitulum, ‘That to the Father, who is not from another, properly or specially belongs omnipotence, not however wisdom and goodness’. This capitulum was Bernard’s own contribution to the list. One of the foundations of Abelard’s doctrine of the Trinity was his doctrine of the attributes, power, wisdom and benignity, as the basis of the distinction of the persons.[49] According to Little, it was a substantive issue. Historically, Abelard’s theology on this point was rejected.

Just what is ‘substantive’ is beyond my comprehension, and just what the ‘theology’ that was accepted means and to whom it means anything, is quite beyond me. Abelard sought to order a human muddle in a consistent manner. As he was quite aware that ‘god’ was beyond any human understanding, he was therefore clearly discussing how to discuss the matter in a consistent manner. On this level, he seems very clear to me.

Luscombe says otherwise, that the thirteenth capitulum is somewhat misleading since it may give the impression that Abelard excluded wisdom and benignity from the Father altogether. In the Confessio fidei (which confession still looks clearly forced to me), Abelard reiterated his constant belief that no person of the Trinity differs from another in goodness or dignity.

“[Abelard] had, however, associated omnipotence very closely with the Father, and Walter of Mortagne was disturbed by reading in the first version of the Theologia ‘Scholarium’ a passage where Abelard argued that power belonged specially to the Father who alone has his being and his power from himself, whereas the Son and Spirit have their power and being from the Father. [...] Abelard argued that the relationship of the persons within the Trinity affects the way in which each was omnipotent. Power properly belongs to the Father, not only in respect of what he does, but also because of his unbegotten nature or mode of existence. The other persons, who are equally omnipotent, do not have their power from themselves. [...] Abelard did not abandon this teaching in the fifth and last recension of the ‘scholarium’.”[50]

Themes abound in formulas in Gilson and Aquinas such as uncaused causes and “a god who’s essence is existence”, whatever that may mean.

“ Thomas of Morigny finds himself in agreement with Abelard’s thesis that omnipotence belongs to the Father both because he is omnipotent and because he is unbegotten, but he rejects the additional terminology of proprie and specialiter [properly and specially], saying that in using it Abelard wished to avoid assigning omnipotence to the Son and Spirit; by ascribing omnipotence to the Father,[...] Abelard introduces inequalities into the Trinity. Abelard’s critics were perhaps clearer in finding Abelard’s argument unacceptable than in stating why it was unacceptable.”[51]

One reason why Abelard specially associated wisdom with the Son was that it was the function of the Son to judge the world at the end of time. Also to be mentioned here is the sixteenth capitulum, ‘That the advent at the end of the world can be attributed to the father’.

The first capitulum states ‘That the Father is full power, the Son a certain power, the Holy Spirit no power.’ (Knowles [52] calls this Sabellianism [53]. “The Father in a special sense is the power of God. Wisdom is a sort of power, being the power of discernment. Benignity is not a power nor wisdom, but the effect of love”,[54] or perhaps grace.

“Abelard always maintained that all the three persons are each fully powerful and fully wise and fully loving. But that there were deep Scriptural and Patristic roots for associating these three attributes with the three persons respectively. Works of power, such as the creation from nothing or the sending of the Son into this world are usually ascribed to the Father. The work of Christ, the Word of God, was, beside some miracles and other deeds which exhibited power, always educational. [...] The Spirit who is the effect of divine love, is the giver of gifts such as regeneration in baptism and strengthening in confirmation.”[55]

Luscombe[56] also implies that Bernard accused Abelard of Arianism[57]. It looks like ‘throwing the book at’ or ‘scraping the barrel’; the accusations of various ‘heresies’ appear rather as launching a few naughty words in an attempt to denigrate.return to the index

god and power and predestination

The seventh capitulum, ‘That God can do or forego only those things, or only in that manner, or at that time, in which he does, not in another’, and the seventeenth capitulum, ‘That God neither ought nor can prevent evil’, are similar, but Luscombe states that the latter cannot be found in Abelard’s writing. In my view, the seventh capitulum also looks far too clumsy and sloppy to have come from Abelard’s hand. The real meaning to the seventh capitulum is that ‘god’ only does what is fitting.

According to Luscombe, “Abelard was rightly charged with teaching the seventh capitulum. [...] In both the Theologia Christiana and the Theologia ‘Scholarium’ Abelard stressed the difficulty of the question whether God can do more and better than he does and whether God can abandon what he does.” Luscombe says that “whichever answer is given involves anxieties and will be unsatisfactory”,[58] but to keep the logic clear, in neither does Abelard just suggest that God cannot prevent evils, thus it would require further probing to try to understand the mind of Abelard on this. “Thomas of Morigny himself thought that even if Abelard were right, it would have been better to be silent.”[59]

The seventh proposition has been placed by Little in the group of those that Bernard failed to understand and for which especially further explanation was needed.[60] He says that Abelard raises this question explicitly in Theologia Scholarium.[61] And that there is little doubt that Abelard’s apparent selection of one of the horns of this dilemma, defending God’s goodness to the detriment of his power, was what shocked Bernard.

A ‘logical’ problem with ‘god’s’ alleged omniscience is that it cancels out his attribute of being omnipotent. In Aristotelian category ‘logic’, it is ‘contradictory’ to claim that a being is both all-knowing and all-powerful. If ‘god’, fifteen billion years ago, knew everything that would happen after that point, for the rest of eternity, then he would be limiting himself. Does ‘god’ know every decision and action he will make after that point?

If ‘god’ knows everything that will happen, then ‘he’ cannot change it. If it is open to change, then ‘he’ does not know everything that will happen. For example, if ‘god’, fifteen billion years ago, told his angels “on December 31, 2001 I will make it flood in Nantes.” From that point, ‘god’ is locked to that event, and is no longer free. If on 31 December 2001 there were no floods in Nantes, then ‘god’ either lied (which surely god does not do), or ‘he’ did not really know what was going to happen. However, if ‘god’ knows that ‘he’ will make it flood on 31 December 2001, fifteen billion years before ‘he’ does so; but decides on December 23rd 2001, not to make it flood then ‘he’ really didn’t know what was going to happen, as ‘he’ made an incorrect prediction fifteen billion years previously.

More sophisticated theologians, such as Abelard, would tend to argue that ‘god’ exists outside, or independant of, time or space. Once again, the human tendency to categorise generates difficulties.

Turing suggests that

“thinking is a function of man’s immortal soul. God has given an immortal soul to every man and woman, but not to any other animal or to machines. Hence no animal or machine can think.”
“It appears to me that the argument implies a serious restriction of the omnipotence of the Almighty. It is admitted that there are certain things that He cannot do such as making one equal to two[62], but should we not believe that He has freedom to confer a soul on an elephant if He sees fit? We might expect that He would only exercise this power in conjunction with a mutation that provided the elephant with an appropriately improved brain to minister to the needs of this soul. An argument of exactly similar form may be made for the case of machines. It may seem different because it is more difficult to “swallow”. But this really only means that we think it would be less likely that He would consider the circumstances suitable for conferring a soul.” [A.M. Turing]return to the index

‘christ’s’ fear

The tenth capitulum,states ‘That in Christ there had not been a spirit of fear of the Lord’.

Luscombe says that “in his Sermons Abelard several times refers to Christ knowing fear and in the eleventh Sermon, in a passage which in the Migne edition unfortunately is somewhat corrupt, Abelard appears to suggest that the fear felt by Christ before his passion pertains to the persona suorum membrorum and is not to be understood  juxta litteram of Christ himself. This is confirmed by Abelard’s defence in his Confessio fidei ‘universis’, where he states that the spirit of fear, the fear that is of God and which is the beginning of wisdom, was not present in Christ’s soul which had only a perfect love of God, but it was present in Christ’s members.”[63] Now this last does look to me close to a form of what is called ‘Nestorianism’.

Similar observations have to be made concerning the fourteenth capitulum, ‘That also chaste fear is excluded from future life’. Luscombe states that “Bernard is the only critic to mention the charge; no text by Abelard is known to contain the teaching and, in the Confessio fidei, Abelard affirms that castus timor, the reverence of love, is present in the elect”.[64]return to the index

Conclusion - the authoritarianism of Rome and the trinity

Rome has long had problems with ‘the trinity’. The driving force behind Rome has been power and control, added to which is an almost pathological need to be ‘right’. Any political system has the justification that, without control, chaos (which they often erroneously call anarchy) will reign.[65]

The justification has some historical support, as much human misery comes from different power centres in conflict. Thus, a drive develops to develop a writ of conformity over the greatest possible span. This drive requires that all dissent, both within and without the current borders, be crushed with utter ruthlessness. There is no human so violent as one who just knows what is ‘right’. Even better if one may bring peace and enlightenment to the savages in the process. Any person who dissents, or even questions the great leaders, is seen as an imminent threat to ‘good’ order and right thinking.

While wars between power blocks have killed millions, so have states killed great numbers of their own citizens in the drive to conformity and uniformity.

Christianism is a bridge between the ‘pagan’ world of Greece and Rome and the ‘monotheism of Judaism, between tolerance and order, between humanism and authoritarianism, between reason and superstition. As such, it imbibes problems and solutions from both camps. This is an ongoing process as human knowledge advances. Abelard was a significant contributor to that process.

The trinity is essentially a counting problem, counting is however, not nearly as simple a matter as most have imagined.

Around AD 451, a couple of bishops, both of whom wished to be lord high panjandrum, got annoyed with each other; as has been habitual in human affairs, they started calling each other heretics. This caused a split among the major providers of certainty and superstition.

More recently, in accord with modern fashion, these two providers have been attempting to work a merger in their currently shrinking market. Unfortunately, both modern branches still want to be numero uno, neither side wishes the slightest hint that they may be ‘wrong’, and both sides are brimming over with bureaucratic lawyers (in this case known as experts in canon law, often called ‘theology’). These lawyers are particularly dull-witted, but enormously vain in their ‘learning’. They argue their cases in Aristotelian ‘logic’, which makes reading their work a useful exercise in pathological ‘thinking’. These organisations suffer from inherent weaknesses stemming from the drives outlined above.

Much of this argument was generated by the unholy alliance of politics and clumsy language. Eventually, this resolved itself into a dispute as to whether ‘christ’, an entity supposed to be a sort of melding of the human Jesus of Nazareth with another entity named ‘god’ (which entity is conventionally imagined to exist beyond all human knowledge), was possessed of one will or personality or two. These two positions are eruditely, or pompously, referred to as monophysite and dyosophysite.

Rational analysis, combined with reality orientation, tends to lead to questioning of such language usage. However, authoritarians resist such a development, for it gives individuals access to reality-checking as a restraint upon the words of ‘authority’. To quote Tertullian, “It must be true because it is ridiculous”, so naturally some regard Tertullian with veneration. return to the index

Empty memes and authority

Essentially, it does not matter to politicians what the masses believe, or how ridiculous those beliefs may be. The politicians’ concerns are two-fold:

1 everybody believes the ‘same’ thing. This lowers contention amongst the sheep, allowing those sheep to differentiate themselves from those belonging to the satrap down the road. They will then take up an appropriate battle-formation when the correct flag is waved.
2 The masses be convinced that
  a. the ‘truths’ the bosses promulgate are complex and mysterious, and
  b. the bosses (or priest-class) are recognised as the only legitimate fount for these ‘truths’.
return to the indexThe fact that these ‘truths’ are quite ridiculous and meaningless only enhances their effectiveness and suitability to purpose.

Machiavelli warned to trust actions, not words. Naturally, Rome banned his book, it being necessary to keep the population in confusion so that authority becomes the channel of ‘truth’. Religion and other political dogmas exist in a world where often black is white and white is black. This is a world where perception is controlled to enable the objectives of rulers; once the masses attend to reality actions, the game ceases to work.

Most ‘theologians’ or ‘philosophers’ are apologists for the status quo. Abelard was an independent, thus the imperative to silence him. That he managed as well as he did to get his message out, suggests no mean political nous. That Rome has suppressed that message with such vigour and success for much of 800 years, should give some estimation of the effectiveness of the enemies of progress and freedom.

For there to be a ‘truth’, it is essential that grey areas be excluded. This suppression is inherent in Aristotelianism.[66] For ‘truth’ to serve authority, it is essential to confuse instead of to educate. Abelard was systematically cutting through the confusions; little wonder that he found that “logic has made me hated among men”.

The Church and its apologists have been denigrating and trivialising Abelard and his work down the ages. Attention is drawn to his relationship with Heloise, which in its turn is trivialised and rendered salacious. The Jesuit Knowles, whose writing is highly regarded, states that “Abelard falls short of the highest achievement” and that Abelard “practised a logic that was soon to fall out of favour”.[67] Knowles, like many writers on Abelard, does not understand that Abelard’s work is not some rediscovery of Aristotle, but is a fundamental advance. That Abelard’s work has been neglected is hardly surprising, in view of the attempts by the Church to burn all his books and the lack of clear understanding of his work by most writers. Historians and theological devotees are hardly the best people to promote the work of a considerable logician who went a fair way to make donkeys out of the establishment of Rome.

In as much as writers give faint praise to Abelard, it is to use the oft-quoted words attributed to Abelard, “I do not wish to be a philosopher if it means conflicting with Paul, nor be an Aristotle if it cuts me off from Christ”.[68] This quote comes from a second-hand report of a ‘confession of faith’, quoted by the rather fickle Berenger of Poitiers, but it is quoted as evidence of Abelard’s dedication to Rome, likely because there is little alternative validation. This is the confession that begins with Abelard’s comment that “logic has made me hated by the world”. The claimed date for this confession is 1139, in the context of his threatened trial for heresy in 1140. After a life of persecution for holding radical views, which he was able to promote effectively, it would hardly be regarded as a safe deposition.

The amazing request by Alberic of Rheims and Lotulf of Novara to Cono of Praeneste that Abelard be condemned and his book burnt without any enquiry, [69] was accepted at the 1121 trial at Soissons. As Abelard puts it in Historia Calamitatum, “at once my rivals broke out with an outcry: ‘fine advice that is, to bid us compete with the ready tongue of a man whose arguments and sophistries could triumph over the whole world!’”.[70] The fear he would be able to defend himself too effectively illustrates the serious difficulty Rome was having with Abelard. Abelard had taught many of the leading minds of Europe, he was a considerable political threat to the theological/political establishment and he had also engendered widespread sympathy and support. It was essential to silence him.

Marker at abelard.org

Some reference keywords/tags:
Peter,Pierre,Abelard,Heloise,psychological profile,logic,heretic,heresies,Christianity,christianism,semantics,
capitula,trial,Sens,aliquid,Sabellianism, Nestorianism,Arianism,adoptionism,pantheism,pagan,paganism,superstition,
magic,Pelagianism,Donatism ,trinity,Rome,Bernard,Roland, return to the index

Related further reading

marker at abelard.org Pierre (Peter) Abelard, introduction and short biography
marker at abelard.org the logic of ethics, including Pierre (Peter) Abelard on ethics
marker at abelard.org On Aliquid by Roland, Pope Alexander III (12th century A.D.); translator: Dr Carolinne White
marker at abelard.org Le Pallet, birthplace of Pierre Abelard link to related photos for Pierre Abelard
For further background:
marker at abelard.org The rise and fall of the Church of Rome
marker at abelard.org ‘Heresy’, authority, quarrels and words

End notes
1. “Logic has made me hateful to the world”, 1140. From Clanchy, p.95.
2. See also Consciousness part 1  in franchise by examination, education and intelligence.
3. See Medieval Technology and Social Change by L. White Jr.
4. Havelock Ellis did a survey of 1000 eminent Englishmen and noted that approximately 16% of them has spent time in prison or the madhouse.
5. For example, Arnold of Brescia. Abelard’s interpretation also accords with some early strands of christianism.
5a George Bernard Shaw, Caesar and Cleopatra, Act 4
6. Davis and Hersh, p.308.
7. ibid.
8. Clanchy, p.37.
9. Followers of ‘Revd’ Sun Myung Moon, founder of the Unification Church.
10. Davis and Hersh, p.308.
11. Davis and Hersh, p.307.
12. flatus vocis: Clanchy, p. 76.
13. Sic et non.
14. Bernard of Chartres (d. c.1130) used to say, “We are like dwarfs on the shoulders of giants, so that we can see more than they, and things at a greater distance, not by virtue of any sharpness of sight on our part, or any physical distinction, but because we are carried high and raised up by their giant size”.
John of Salisbury The Metalogicon (1159) bk. 3, ch. 4; quoted in R. K. Merton, ch. 9.

Also Isaac Newton: “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”. Letter to Robert Hooke, 5 February 1676, in H. W. Turnbull, p. 416.

Also Samuel Taylor Coleridge: “The dwarf sees farther than the giant, when he has the giant’s shoulder to mount on”.
The Friend (1818) vol. 2 ‘On the Principles of Political Knowledge’.
15. Henry Ford tried to understand history in terms of communication technology, in which he included transportation systems.
17. Little, p.61.
18. Somerville, p.61.
19. Luscombe, p.123; see also Marenbon, pp 42, 56 and 329.
20. See also feedback and crowding.
Pantheism stresses the all-embracing inclusiveness of God, as compared with his separateness as emphasised in many versions of Theism. On the other hand, pantheism and panentheism stress the theme of immanence (this concerns the indwelling presence of God) and are themselves versions of Theism, conceived in its broadest meaning.

Pantheism stresses the identity between God and the world; panentheism (Greek en, “in”) holds that the world is included in God but that God is more than the world.

The adjective “pantheist” was introduced by the Irish Deist, John Toland, in a book, Socinianism Truly Stated (1705). The noun “pantheism” was first used in 1709 by one of Toland’s opponents. The term “panentheism” appeared much later, in 1828, when it was used to characterise the view that the world is a finite creation within the infinite being of God.

Although the terms are recent, they have been applied retrospectively to alternative views of the divine being as found in the entire philosophical traditions of both East and West.

Pantheism (a belief system in which God is equated with the forces of the universe) or deism (a belief system based on a non-intervening creator of the universe), as was advocated in the rationalistic philosophy of religion of western Europe of the 16th to 18th centuries, is not appropriate in studies of nature worship in preliterate cultures. Worship of nature as an omnipotent entity, in the pantheistic sense, has not yet been documented anywhere.

Pantheism, is in most cases more a philosophical than a religious category. The god of pantheism, however, is impersonal, rather a divine fluid that permeates the whole world including man himself.
                                            [Various excerpts from Encyclopaedia Britannica.]
21. Luscombe, p.126; Clanchy, p.117.
22. Luscombe, p.126
23. Clanchy, p.105
24. Luscombe, p.141
25. To spell out the provenance of several of the background texts to the Sens accusations, Bernard got it from William, who got it from the anonymous Exerptor, who got it from The anonymous Liber Sententiarum!! The last is a work which Abelard disavowed.
26. Luscombe, p.141
27. Clanchy, p.28
28. In a letter, quoted by Clanchy, p.25
28a Also spelled Geoffrey de Lèves. Source: Suger, as reported by Lindy Grant in Suger en question by Rolf Große [Grosse], 2004, p.46, ISBN-10: 3486568337, ISBN-13: 978-3486568332
29. Incidentally, this is the same fellow who was involved in the 1121 Soissons fracas making, at least, a pretence of defending Abelard [Radice. p. 81-84].
30. Pius XI (original name Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti, b. May 31, 1857, Desio, Lombardy, Austrian Empire [now in Italy]-d. Feb. 10, 1939, Rome, Italy). Italian pope from 1922 to 1939, one of the most important modern pontiffs, whose motto “the peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ”, illustrated his work to construct a new Christendom based on world peace.

Pius’ pontificate soon witnessed the rise to power of Benito Mussolini, who signed (Feb. 11, 1929) with him the Lateran Treaty that allowed the existence of the independent Vatican City state, over which the pope ruled. The papacy, in turn, recognised the establishment of the kingdom of Italy and announced permanent neutrality in military and diplomatic conflicts of the world. Pius further agreed that a pope would intervene in foreign affairs not as head of a sovereign state but as head of the church. Concurrently, a concordat established the validity of church marriage in Italy, provided compulsory religious instruction for Catholic schoolchildren, and declared Roman Catholicism to be Italy’s exclusive religion.

He made agreement (1933), though short-lived, with Adolf Hitler’s newly formed Nazi government in Germany, hoping to alleviate the difficulties confronting German Catholics. From 1933 to 1936 he wrote several protests against the Third Reich, and his attitude toward fascist Italy changed dramatically after Nazi racial attitudes were introduced into Italy in 1938.

Surpassing his predecessors in support of overseas missions, he required every religious order to engage actively in this work, with the result that missionaries doubled their number during his pontificate. Most significant was his consecration of the first Chinese bishops, in 1926. His response to the ecumenical movement was negative toward Protestantism as revealed in an encyclical of 1928.
31. Herald CD, HAVPCD 168
32. Luscombe, p.120
33. Luscombe, p.121
34. Ibid.
35. Luscombe, p.120; taken from Abelard’s Exposition of the Apostles’ Creed.
36. Luscombe, p.120
36a. Word or thing said.
37. Marenbon, p.207.
38. See, for example, Marenbon p.145. “Plato’s definition concerns a ‘verbal construction’, whereas the Aristotelian definition is about the ‘natural relationship of things.”
39. Abelard, Glosses on Porphyry, 150, in Spade, p.52
40. Clanchy, 1999, p.106; from Logica Ingredientibus, p.27, lines 9-15. (See translation by Spade, §140 on p.50).
41. Born AD 470-475, died approximately 524.
42. For instance, see Knowles, p.116.
43. 1876, Arians, ii. ii. p.155, (original edition: 1833).
J.H. Newman was founder of the Oxford movement and a convert to Catholicism in 1845.
44. Ibid. v. i. p. 365
45. 1739, Treatise, Section 6 - ‘Of modes and Substances’.
46. Marenbon, p.145 (slightly modified).
47. Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass, 1872, reprinted by Puffin Books, 1998, 0140383514; chapter 6.
48. What is commonly called Nestorianism does not appear to be what Nestorius taught! There is more full review of Nestorianism in ‘heresy’, authority, quarrels and words. What is usually meant by Nestorianism is that Jesus of Nazareth and ‘god the son’ are regarded as separate entities.
49. Theologia Scholarium, I, viii-x, PL 178:989-995: power, wisdom and goodness.
50. Luscombe, p.131
51. Luscombe, p.133 – 4
52. Knowles, p.116.
53. Sabellius evidently taught that the Godhead is a monad, expressing itself in three operations: as Father, in creation; as Son, in redemption; and as Holy Spirit, in sanctification.
54. Luscombe, p.116
55. Ibid.
56. Luscombe, p.114.
57. Arianism was the doctrine which denied the true divinity of Christ, named after the Alexandrian priest Arius (c. 250-c. 336}. It maintained that the Son was not eternal, or of one nature with God, but was a dependent instrument created for the redemption of the world. Therefore ‘christ’ must have had a beginning in time. Therefore ‘christ’ was not the equal of the father.

An attempted fix was to say the son had always existed. In 325, the General Council of Nicaea under Athanasius (296-373 AD) defined the doctrine of the coeternity and coequality of God and the Son. This doctrine of homoousion requires some confidence that we know, for example, how to count whether things are of one or two substances.

You can see Abelard playing with this notion in Roland’s notes, modifying the meanings of the language in such a manner that they make some sort of real-world, consistent sense! Note that in the Roland translation, ‘Abelard’ distinguishes between the terminology applied to ‘god’ and to ‘man’. If this is kept in mind, referring to aspects of ‘god’ as perceived by humans does not import the confusion of ‘god’ having parts. It is important not to confuse these different relative approaches. A ‘person’ of ‘god’ is indeed an ‘aspect’ of ‘god’, but that is just we humans chattering about things quite beyond us. To then somehow ‘equate’ our discussions in words, and thence in parts with the reality, is merely clumsy.
58. Luscombe, p.134
59. Luscombe, p.136
60. Little, p.59.
61. Little, p.63, footnote 42.
62. Here [footnote 1] Turing notes, “Possibly this view is heretical. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica, quoted by Bertrand Russell, 1, p.480) states that God cannot make a man to have no soul. But this may not be a real restriction on His powers, but only a result of the fact that men’s souls are immortal, and therefore indestructible”.
63. Luscombe, p.128.
64. ibid.
65. “During the time men live without a common power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called war; and such a war as is of every man against every man.”
Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), Leviathan,1651, part 1, chapter 13.
66. Aristotle was tutor to Alexander of Macedon, sometimes called ‘the great’.
67. Knowles, p.118.
68. Radice, p.270.
69. Clanchy, p.300.
70. Radice, pp 81-2.
71. Celestine II (approx. 165th pope), lived unknown-1144, pope from 1143-1144.
Alexander III (approx.170th pope), lived 1100/5-1181, pope from 1159-1181.
Clement III (approx.174th pope), lived 1130-1191, pope from 1187-1191.


Bolt, Robert A Man for all Seasons by Robert BoltA Man for all Seasons
[1st ed. 1960, first performed in 1954]
1990, Vintage Books,
ISBN-10: 0679728228
ISBN-13: 978-0679728221
$9.95 [amazon.com] {advert}
Carroll, Lewis Alice through the looking glass
[1st ed. 1872]
pbk: 1993, Everyman, 0460873598
$3.55 [amazon.com] {advert}
pbk: 1998, OUP, 019283374X,
£3s.99 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}
hbk: 1993, William Morrow & Co, 0688120504
$23.73 [amazon.com] {advert}
hbk: 1998, Macmillan, 0333722728
£17.00 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}
Clanchy, M. T. Abelard, a Medieval Life
pbk, 1999, Blackwell Pub
£17.99 [amazon.co.uk] {advert} /
$29.95 [amazon.com] {advert}
Davis, Philip J. & Hersh, Reuben The Mathematical Experience
[1st ed. 1980]
hbk: Springer Verlag, 0817637397
$39.95 [amazon.com] {advert}
pbk: 1999, reprint, Houghton Mifflin, 0395929687
$14.40 [amazon.com] {advert}
Ellis, Henry Havelock A Study of British Genius 1904, Huret & Blackett: London.
Out of print.
Geitl, P. Fr. Ambrosius M. (annotator) Die Sentenzen Rolands nachmals Papstes Alexander III
[excerpt translated by Dr. Carolinne White of Oxford University]
1891, Herdersche Verlagshandlung, Freiburg im Breisgau.
Out of print.
Knowles, David
(D. E. Luscombe, editor)
Evolution of Medieval Thought
hbk: 2nd ed., 1989, 0582494265,
Addison-Wesley Pub Co.
$33.60 [amazon.com] {advert} /
Longman Publishing Group,
£27.54 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}
Little, Edward Bernard of Clairvaux: Bernard and Abelard at the Council of Sens, 1140
(vol.23 of Studies presented to Dom Jean Leclerq)
1973, Cistercian Studies series, 0879078235;
Cistercian Publications, Consortium Press, Washington, D.C.
(Cistercian study series, as whole: 0879078006).
Out of print.
Luscombe, D.E. The School of Peter Abelard 1969 Cambridge U. P.,
SBN 521073375.
Out of print.
Marenbon, J. Philosophy of Peter Abelard
pbk: 1999, Cambridge University Press, 0521663997
$24.95 [amazon.com] {advert} /
£13.56 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}
Merton, Robert K. On the Shoulders of Giants
[1st ed. 1965]
Reprint1993, University of Chicago Press;
ISBN: 0226520862
:$18.00 [amazon.com] {advert} /
£11.50 [amazon.co.uk]
Radice, B (translator) The Letters of Abelard and Heloise
Penguin, 1974,
$10.40 [amazon.com] {advert}
£8 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}
Spade, P. V. (translator) Five Texts on the Problems of Universals
1994, Hackett Pub Co,
$16.95 [amazon.com] {advert} /
£10.36 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}
Somerville, Robert Pope Alexander III and the Council of Tours (1163).
A Study of Ecclesiastical Politics and Institutions in the Twelfth Century
Pope Alexander III and the Council of Tours (1163) by Robert Somerville1977, University of California Press, Berkeley,
ISBN 0-520-03184-9
Out of print.
Turing, A.M. ‘Computing Machinery and Intelligence’ Mind, 1950, vol. 59, no.236
(available at https://www.abelard.org/turpap/turpap.php)
H. W. Turnbull (ed.), Correspondence of Isaac Newton, vol. 1 1959, Cambridge University Press.
Out of print.
Lynn White Jr. Medieval Technology and Social Change
Five GoldenYak(tm) award
1966, OUP, 0195002660, pbk
$9.32 [amazon.com] {advert} /
£7.34 [amazon.co.uk] {advert}

A fascinating, short monograph on the industrial revolution during the Middle Ages.

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