Dear friends,

In preparation for the presenation I plan to give at the upcoming ABS
meeting I have been reviewing the medieval conflict between Peter Abelard
and St. Bernard as an example of the differences between the monastic style
of education as represented by St. Bernard and the academic style as
represented by Peter Aberlard. I'm not sure where I'm going with this but I
thought I share the story with you anyhow and get your comments as to how
this might relate to some of the intellectual and spiritual demarcation
lines we sometimes find in our own community of faith.

In any case, it makes for a good story, and I know Susan Brill appreciates
those. ;-}

warmest, Susan

The introduction of more thoroughgoing use of Aristotelean logic into
Western Europe coincided with the rise of universities there.  Prior to this
education in medieval Europe was largely done in the purview of the
monastery. Both monasteries and universities primarily focused on the study
of religious texts, but they did so quite differently.  The monastic life
focused on the quiet and constant contemplation of the scriptures. Monks ate
their meals in silence while the scriptures were being read and meditated on
them while alone in their cells.  This devotional approach to scripture
served to imprint the scriptures on their very souls. The emerging
universities, on the other hand, took a very different approach. Although
students were largely drawn from monastic orders, rather than simply
internalize the scriptures they were taught to examine them critically.
Peter Abelard was among the first to utilize this method.  In a book
entitled Sic et Non he compiled a list of 156 philosophical and theological
questions about which there were divided opinion in the scriptures or the
writings of the early church fathers.

Abelard believed that creating doubts was a necessary means to get students
to investigate the truth for themselves, "For by doubting we come to
inquiry; through inquiring we perceive the truth, according to the Truth
Himself.."   He planted in his students a skeptical attitudes towards
authority, an awareness that language is vague and words may not carry the
same meaning from age to age, and thus texts must be understood in the
context in which they are written.  He thereby laid the groundwork for the
critical methods of study that  predominate in the university to this day.
        St. Bernard of  Clairvaux , the most famous mystic and monk of his day,
was scandalized by such an approach to the sacred.  He condemned Abelard as
"scrutinizer of majesty and fabricator of heresies," who "deems himself able
by human reason to comprehend God altogether." St. Bernard saw no value in
what we might call 'the independent investigation of truth.' He wrote: "far
be it from us to think that in our faith or hope anything, as he supposes,
depends on the fluctuating judgment of the individual, and that the whole of
it does not rest on sure and solid truth, having been commended by miracles
and revelations from above."     For him the entire academic enterprise
insofar as it encouraged doubt, was to be condemned: "Far be it from us,
then, to suppose that the Christian faith has as its boundaries those
opinions of the Academicians, whose boast it is that they doubt of
everything, and know nothing."  He quoted St. Augustine as saying: "Faith is
not held by any one in whose heart it is, by conjectures or opinions, but it
is sure knowledge and has the assent of the conscience" and adds, "For faith
is not an opinion, but a certitude."
        The role Greek philosophy may have played in these disputes is somewhat
muddled. Peter Abelard was very much an Aristotelian, yet Bernard said of
him, "The more, Abelard sweats to make Plato a Christian, the more he
becomes [a] pagan."   Yet at the same time Bernard defended Anselm's very
Platonic conception of atonement against Abelard's more nominalistic one.
Likewise Abelard's nominalistic conception of the Trinity (which bordered on
tri-theism) led St. Bernard to accuse him of heresy.  It would seem it was
Plato's ethics, not his metaphysics, that most impressed Aberlard.  He
studied under both the best nominalists and realists of his time, but in the
end ended up ridiculing  his teachers in both schools.
        Indeed, Peter Abelard's character may well have been his worst enemy.  
sexual indiscretions with Heloise led to his having to leave Paris and adopt
the monastic life so contrary to his personal tastes. While he was likely
the most brilliant intellectual of his age (at least in Western Europe) he
was also known for his overbearing intellectual arrogance and pride. While
he was a popular lecturer, he seemed to stir up conflict and contention
wherever he went.  Consequently when the most influential man in Europe
arose to oppose him, Peter Abelard could find no one willing to defend him.
When his teachings were condemned by the church only Peter the Venerable,
abbot of the famous monastery at Cluny was willing to take him in.  Peter
the Venerable befriended Peter Abelard and sought to reconcile him both with
St. Bernard and with his long lost love Heloise. With the former Peter the
Venerable had no success and said of St. Bernard, the man revered by all for
his intense bridal mysticism: "You perform all the difficult religious
duties; you fast, you watch, you suffer; but you will not endure the easy
ones--you do not love."  When Peter Abelard died in 1142 the same man wrote
to Heloise, "He who was known throughout the world by the fame of his
teaching, entered the school of Him who said, "Learn of me, for I am meek
and lowly of heart.."
        If Peter Abelard views were largely rejected by the church, his methods
lived on to provide the basis of university education, articulated next in
the works of Peter Lombard. Instead of being persecuted like Peter Abelard,
Peter Lombard found a powerful patron in none other than St. Bernard
himself. Like his predecessor, Peter Lombard also wrote a compilation of
bible texts and quotations from the early church fathers. But rather than
place them over-against one another, Peter Lombard merely put them under
various subject headings, called sentences which covered virtually every
area of Christian theology.   The Sentences became the standard text in
universities for the next several centuries.  Those wishing to become
doctors of theology did so by writing a commentary on these sentences in the
course of which their own theology would be explained.

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