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. His 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. The information contained in this e-mail and any attachments thereto ("e-mail") is sent by the Johnson County Community College ("JCCC") and is intended to be confidential and for the use of only the individual or entity named above. The information may be protected by federal and state privacy and disclosures acts or other legal rules. If the reader of this message is not the intended recipient, you are notified that retention, dissemination, distribution or copying of this e-mail is strictly prohibited. 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