The Doctrine of Atonement According to Peter Abelard

A Literary and Historical Analysis

Seminar Paper, 2008

69 Pages, Grade: A



Statement of the Problem
Purpose of the Research

The Life of Peter Abelard
The Years as a Student
The Years as a Teacher, Lover, and Monk
The Years with the Final Conflicts
The Works of Peter Abelard
The Early Years (1113 – 1118)
The Years of Rising Theological Interest (1119 – 1138)
The Years of Reflection and Final Conflicts (1139 – 1142)

An Historical Outline of Atonement Theology
The New Testament on Atonement
Early Christian Writers on Atonement
Contemporary Writers on Atonement
Theological Links to Abelard’s Atonement Theory
The Exegetical Method
Predestination and a Free Will
The Nature of Sin
The Atonement Theology of Peter Abelard
The Rejection of Specific Atonement Theories
The Substitutionary Aspect of Christ’s Death
The Reconciliation of God and Man
The Restoration of Man



Primary Sources


Secondary Sources



Unpublished Materials



Statement of the Problem

The twentieth century has witnessed the spread of the so called moral influence theory among Christian believers.[1] Modern promoters of this theory refer to Peter Abelard’s[2] doctrine of the atonement to support their view that Jesus’ incarnation and death played only an exemplary role rather than a substitutionary one.[3] However, several scholars hold the view that this eleventh century philosopher, theologian, and scholar did not deny the substitutionary part of Christ’s death.[4] Yet, other theologians share the view of the modern proponents of the moral influence theory in regard to Abelard’s atonement theology but criticize it as wrong.[5]

Purpose of the Research

This study analyzes the writings of Peter Abelard with a special focus on the Commentaria in Epistolam Pauli ad Romanos[6] in order to give a comprehensive view of his atonement theology and the factors that may have influenced it.


First, I want to give a sketch of Abelard’s life and a list of his works in a probable chronological order. Both the biography and bibliography, in drawing a picture of his personality, behavior, actions, writings, and teachings, will help to provide insight into Abelard’s character, and eventually give reasons for the inevitability of misunderstandings.

Second, a survey through the theology of atonement of the preceding centuries, beginning with the Bible and the church fathers, and concluding with Abelard’s contemporary theologians will show similarities and differences between Abelard’s view and the teachings of his predecessors and contemporaries.

Third, Abelard’s writings on atonement are examined with a special attention to his commentary on Romans. Further, I will observe connections to other theological topics, and how they possibly influenced his atonement theology.



The Life of Peter Abelard

Born in 1079 as the eldest child of Berengarius and Lucia, Peter (in French “Pierre”) spent his childhood in Le Pallet which is situated south of the Loire River near Nantes in Brittany.[7] His father was a member of the minor Breton nobility serving Hoel IV, who was both the Count of Nantes and the Duke of Brittany. Aside from the fact that his mother was very dear to him, we know very little about her.[8] He was simply called Peter, and maybe he later added Abelard. Placed in a noble family, he was destined to become a knight. Yet, around 1093[9] he left his home, and became a peripatetic student to study “dialectic” known better today as logic.[10]

The Years as a Student

For some years, he was a student of Roscelin of Compiègne (1050 – 1125) at Leches and Tours.[11] Roscelin was a well-known logician at that time, his fame going far beyond the borders of France. However, an excursion into theology brought Roscelin problems in 1092. Being a nominalist he tried to explain the trinity on the basis of nominalism[12] which aroused accusations of heresy.[13] Around 1100 Peter entered the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris, and became a student of William of Champeaux (1070 – 1122) whose school and also he himself were most renowned.[14] Shortly after Abelard went into the lectures, he tried to refute his famous teacher who was a proponent of realism.[15] Two years later he opened his own school at Melun, in the south-west of Paris, before he moved to Corbeil that was nearer to Paris where he could better attract students.[16]

Due to a probable mental breakdown Abelard returned to his hometown in 1105, where his family cared for him.[17] When he recovered from this illness, he went back to Notre Dame as a student of William of Champeaux only to attack his teacher again on the issue of the universals.[18] After the teacher had modified his position, he was abandoned by some of his students.[19] Yet, Abelard’s desire to become a teacher at Notre Dame was not fulfilled.[20] After a short interlude at Melun he returned back to Paris, specifically to the church of Sainte Geneviève, outside the walls of the town, in order to establish a rival school in which he taught from 1109 to 1113.[21]

So far, he had studied and taught only philosophy, but now he turned to theology, and became a student of divinity at Laon.[22] It did not take very long, until he found himself again in a conflict with his teacher, which was now the famous Anselm of Laon (1055 – 1117), a former student of Anselm of Canterbury.[23] Abelard considered the content of the lectures as something that could also be learned from books.[24] He cut the classes of Anselm presuming to give lectures on the Bible by himself although he was still a beginner in theology.[25] Thereby Abelard gained not only the enmity of his teacher but also of two influential fellow students, Lotulf of Lombardy and Alberic of Rheims.[26]

The Years as a Teacher, Lover, and Monk

After returning to Paris in 1114, Abelard got the position that he wanted for so long, becoming now a master at the school of Notre Dame.[27] The next three to four years present the peak of his career. Students from far and wide came to listen to this famous and successful teacher.[28] One of his fellow canons, Fulbert, rented rooms to Abelard and entreated him to tutor his niece Heloise (1095 – 1164).[29] Abelard fell in love with this talented, intelligent, beautiful, young woman.[30] He was so much absorbed by the love relationship that he totally neglected his lectures.[31] In 1118 the whole story came to a perilous end. The whole matter was hitherto unknown to her uncle Fulbert until he caught them in the act, and was furious.[32] When Abelard came to know of Heloise’s pregnancy, he secretly sent her away to his family to give birth to their son Astralabe.[33] After Fulbert realized that his niece had been sent away, his fury became almost uncontrollable and could only be appeased by Abelard’s offer to marry her.[34] What is quite strange is the fact that Abelard wanted to marry her only secretly. Apparently, he wanted nothing to interfere with his career, not even Heloise.[35] However, after Abelard and Heloise were married at daybreak at a church in Paris, her uncle could not keep the secret and made known the secret marriage.[36] Abelard felt betrayed, and sent his new wife into the monastery in Argenteuil, where she was dressed as a Benedectine nun but without the veil, the final sign of commitment.[37] That brought Fulbert’s anger to boil. Believing he had been betrayed and Abelard had tried to get rid of his wife by sending her into a nunnery, he most likely ordered several men to castrate Abelard in his bedroom by night.[38] The news of his castration soon spread in Paris and beyond. Abelard fled to the monastery of St. Denis, and he also urged Heloise to take the veil to become a nun, which she did.[39] While being in St. Denis he was at variance with the abbot as well as the monks.[40] To solve the problems, Abelard was sent to another priory in the Champagne.[41] Soon students again flocked to him to be taught by the master who was now compared to the mutilated church father Origen (185 – 254).

Although he was trained in philosophy rather than divinity, now being a monk he turned to the study of theology. Except the short studies at Laon he was virtually untrained in that area. In 1121 at the council of Soissons he was charged of heresy by his former co-students from Laon, ]Alberic and Lotulf, because of his teaching regarding the trinity in his book Theologia summi boni which he had just finished.[42] His defense was of no avail, and the book had to be thrown into the fire.[43]

Back at the priory he offended his fellow monks by questioning the identity of their patron saint.[44] He left the priory, and became a hermit in a solitary place near Troyes.[45] There an oratory of reed and thatch was built which Abelard named later “the Paraclete” (after the Holy Spirit).[46] Since too many students came to be taught by him, he established a school there.[47]

In 1125 the monastery of St. Gildas de Rhuys elected Abelard as their abbot.[48] He accepted the invitation, and was ordained a priest. Yet, a lot of controversies arose while being there. The monks had almost nothing in common with him, and he tried to change them.[49] In the meantime Heloise had become the prioress of the nunnery at Argenteuil. When the nuns were expelled in 1129, Abelard invited them to the Paraclete in order to settle there.[50] They did it and Heloise eventually became their abbess.[51]

The Years with the Final Conflicts

During the 1130’s and 1140’s Bernard of Clairveaux (1090 – 1153) was the most powerful theologian and ecclesiastic in Western Christianity.[52] In 1141 Abelard was charged of heresy, Bernard being the main prosecutor.[53] Abelard’s condemnation at the council of Sens in 1141 A.D. was based on the charges made by his main opponents, Bernard of Clairvaux and William of St. Thierry (1075 – 1148)[54]. There are several manuscripts extant which have deviant lists of charges (capitula) against Abelard.[55]

In these capitula William of St. Thierry and Bernard of Clairveaux accused Peter of teaching that Christ’s incarnation and death was unnecessary, that Christ’s death was not a sacrament of redemption and an example of humility.[56] They even made the unwarranted accusation that he believed Christ’s blood to be a payment made to the devil.[57] The writings of Abelard’s opponents show how they understood what he taught and wrote, or what his students thought. Abelard, in their understanding, promulgated that Christ’s love was exhibited but not infused. They said that Christ, however, gave not only an example but provided also the assistance of grace.[58]

When asked to respond to Bernard’s charges he simply said, “I appeal to the pope.” However, his appeal had little chances of being heard by Pope Innocent II, who himself was very thankful to Bernard for being restored as a pope.[59] The abbot of Cluny, Peter the Venerable, convinced Abelard to stay at his monastery and abstain from travelling further to Rome.[60] The pope not only condemned Abelard, but also presided over the burning of his books.[61] His health being already bad, Abelard moved to Chalon-sur-Saone, a priory of Cluny, where he also died on April 21, 1142.[62] Heloise requested Peter the Venerable to bring Abelard’s body personally to the Paraclete where it was buried in the chapel. Twenty-two years later, when Heloise died, her body was placed right next to her husband’s.

The Works of Peter Abelard

Scholars have pointed out that Abelard’s works, “often left incomplete, contain numerous addenda, minor deletions, improvements in definition, illogical and ungrammatical insertions, and strident phrasing.”[63] He revised his works several times, and even his students redacted his compositions for their own purposes.[64] Apparently, he was never content with his writings. On the other hand, he may have recognized the need for correction or adaptation on account of certain events, or the development of his own ideas. In fact, the circulation of several not up-to-date versions may have caused unnecessary criticism.[65] Since for several of his books it is impossible to produce a final text, one author said e.g. that “the sheer chaos of the varieties of the versions of the Sic et Non constitutes an editorial nightmare.”[66] During his lifetime Abelard focused on different topics which can be seen in the time sequence of his writings, although the time specification can only be rough and discussable.[67]


[1] Arthur Michael Ramsey, From Gore to Temple: The Development of Anglican Theology Between Lux Mundi and the Second World War, 1889-1939 (London: Longmans, 1961), 53-55; Adolf Holl, “Ein liebender Gott will keine Opfer! Suhne, Schuld und Scheitem sind nicht das Zentrum des Christentums, und Gott ist kein Sadist: Warum Jesus mit einem Opferlamm rein gar nichts zu tun hat,” Publik-Forum 8 (2000): 24-26. Rita Nakashima Brock, “Communities of the Cross: Christa and the Communal Nature of Redemption,” Feminist Theology 14, no. 1 (2005): 120, states that “most liberal Christians are Abelardians.”

[2] During his student days he was given the nickname Bajolardus. He was also called Esbaillart but in the vernacular it was Abailard or Abelard, at least according to Kathleen M. Starnes, Peter Abelard: His Place in History (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1981), 2. Readers will usually encounter different spellings of the last name. McGrath states that mediaevalists prefer the spelling Abailard. See Alister E. McGrath, “The Moral Theory of the Atonement: An Historical and Theological Critique,” Scottish Journal of Theology 38, no. 2 (1985): 205. However, Mews suggests “Abaelardus” as the original form. See Constant J. Mews, “In Search of a Name and Its Significance: A Twelfth Century Anecdote About Thierry and Peter Abaelard,” Traditio 44 (1988): 171-179, 196-200. In this paper I will use the widely used form “Abelard.”

[3] Hastings Rashdall, “Abelard’s Doctrine of the Atonement,” The Expositor 4, no. 8 (1893): 137-150; idem, The Idea of Atonement in Christian Theology, being the Bampton Lectures for 1915 (London: Macmillan and Co, 1919), 358, 360, 463-464; Robert S. Franks, The Work of Christ (London: Thomas Nelson, 1962), 283, 284. According to that view, Christ’s life and death were necessary to teach human beings by word and example to what limits the love of God towards humanity would go. That example had the purpose to arouse love in the hearts of humans toward God, and influence them in such a way that they live a life in love to God. See also C. de Rèmusat, Abélard (Paris: n.p, 1845), 2:447, 448. Frederick A. M. Spencer, “The Atonement in Terms of Personality,” The Expository Times 43, no. 2 (1931): 63, mentions that Rashdall calls his subjective view of the atonement “Abelard’s doctrine.” A book review on Franks work can be found in “Book Review: The Atonement,” The Expository Times 46 (1935): 206, 207. Simon S. Maimela, “The Atonement in the Context of Liberation Theology,” International Review of Mission 75, no. 299 (1986): 262, states that Abelard and the liberal theology of the 19th century supported the so called moralistic or subjective theory of atonement. Richard E. Weingart, “The Atonement in the Writings of Peter Abailard,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Yale University, 1965), 408, says that Abelard’s sympatheic interpreters limit his teachings to an exemplary theory of the atonement. The opposite view is usually designated as objective theory of the atonement meaning that Christ gave his life as a ransom to save us. Yet, since there are even more theories split down from these terms, the two terms can only point to a direction because they do not distinguish between these subcategories.

[4] Laurence W. Grensted, A Short History of the Doctrine of the Atonement, reprint (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1962), 103-110; Robert O. P. Taylor, “Was Abelard an Exemplarist?,” Theology 31, no. 184 (1935): 207-213; Richard E. Weingart, The Logic of Divine Love: A Critical Analysis of the Soteriology of Peter Abailard (London: Clarendon, 1970), 125, 126; Rolf Peppermüller, Abaelards Auslegung des Römerbriefes, Beiträge zur Geschichte der Philosophie und Theologie des Mittelalters, Neue Folge (Münster: Aschendorff, 1972), 10:96-104, 118-121; John Marenbon, The Philosophy of Peter Abelard (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 322, 323, 330, 331; Michael T. Clanchy, Abelard: A Medieval Life (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997), 278, 283-287; Philip L. Quinn, “Abelard on Atonement: ‘Nothing Unintelligible, Arbitrary, Illogical, or Immoral about It’,” in Reasoned Faith: Essays in Philosophical Theology in Honor of Norman Kretzmann, ed. Eleonore Stump (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1993), 290-291, 300; D. E. Luscombe, The School of Peter Abelard: The Influence of Abelard's Thought in the Early Scholastic Period, Cambridge Studies in Medieval Life and Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1969), 14:137, 138; Alister E. McGrath, Historical Theology: An Introduction to the History of Christian Thought, reprint (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 2000), 138; idem, “Moral Theory of the Atonement,” 206, 207-209. See especially Weingart’s dissertation which is devoted to the whole topic; Weingart, “The Atonement in the Writings of Peter Abailard.”

[5] Richard Swinburne, Responsibility and Atonement (Oxford: Clarendon, 1989), 162; J. G. Sikes, Peter Abailard, reprint, 1932 (New York: Russell & Russell, 1965), 207-210; Jean Rivière, Le dogme de la rédemption au début du moyen age, Bibliothèque Thomiste (Paris: Librairie Philoosophique J. Vrin, 1934), 19:106-125; A. Victor Murray, Abelard and St. Bernard: A Study in Twelfth Century 'Modernism' (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967), 126-134; John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986), 217­221. On page 218 fn. 23, Stott refers to McGrath’s argumentation in his above mentioned article (McGrath, “Moral Theory of the Atonement”), but rejects it because in his view “the passage in his [Abelard’s] commentary on the Letter to the Romans is quite explicit.” For an interesting overview of the literature on the atonement theories until 1937, see Vincent Taylor, “The Best Books on the Atonement,” The Expository Times 48 (1937): 267-273.

[6] All quotations will be made from the edition as found in Peter Abaelard, Expositio in Epistolam ad Romanos - Römerbriefkommentar, Transl. and preface by Rolf Peppermüller, Fontes Christiani, vols. 26/1-3 (Freiburg: Herder, 2000).

[7] Peter Abelard, The Story of Abelard's Adversities: A Translation with Notes of the Historia Calamitatum, Transl. J. T. Muckle with a preface by Étienne Gilson, reprint, 1954 (Toronto: The Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies, 1982), 11; cf. Marenbon, 7. On his life, see also Thomas Joseph Ficarra, “Bernard and Abelard: An Analysis of the Elements That Led to Their Conflict at Sens,” (D.Litt. Dissertation, Drew University, 2003), 14-23.

[8] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 20.

[9] Other scholars mention e.g. the date 1095. See Starnes, 2. All the dates in the paper are more or less vague. Abelard does not give many dates for the events in his autobiography. Further, a critical approach to his description of the events and persons is necessary, since his report is not impartial. See Wim Verbaal, “The Council of Sens Reconsidered: Masters, Monks, or Judges?,” Church History 74, no. 3 (2005): 464.

[10] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 12; Starnes, 12. Logic was the study of signs, principally verbal signs. See William J. Courtenay, “Late Medieval Nominalism Revisited: 1972-1982,” Journal of the History of Ideas 44, no. 1 (1983):161. Kevin Stephen Guilfoy, “Peter Abelard’s Theory of the Proposition,” (Ph.D. The Years as a Student Dissertation, University of Washington, 1999) wrote on Abelard’s use of logic, his way of argumentation (true, false, possible, necessary). On his use and theory of language (grammar and signification) see Jeffrey Bardzell, “Speculative Grammar and Stoic Language Theory in Medieval Allegorical Narrative: From Prudentius to Alan of Lille,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Indiana University, 2004), 110-129. For an explanation of Abelard’s nonterminist logic as well as the theories of terminism and dictism see Norman Kretzmann, “Medieval Logicians on the Meaning of the Propositio,” The Journal of Philosophy 67, no. 20 (1970): 767-787.

[11] Petrus Abaelardus, Dialectica: First Complete Edition of the Parisian Manuscript, ed. by L. M. de Rijk, 2nd rev. ed., Wijsgerige Teksten en Studies (Assen: van Gorcum, 1970), 1:554, 555; cf. Otto of Freising, Gesta Frederici, Ed. by M. de Simson (Hannover: n.p., 1912), 69; Leif Grane, Peter Abelard: Philosophy and Christianity in the Middle Ages, Translated by Frederick and Christine Crowley (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1970), 36, 75; Paul L. Williams, The Moral Philosophy of Peter Abelard (Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1980), 14, 15; Clanchy, 342; Marenbon, 8. In 1096, when other young people rushed off to recapture the holy places in Palestine, Abelard preferred the conflicts of disputation to the trophies of war (et tropaeis bellorum conflictus praetuli disputationem). See Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 12; cf. William Barclay, “Men and Affairs,” The Expository Times 85 (1974): 128.

[12] Nominalism declares that the universals do not have an existence in themselves so that they are only a sound (vocal) or an abstracted term (concept). Realism, on the other hand, taught that ideas or terms have an existence in themselves beside the material things. This controversy in the Middle Ages is called the dispute over universals, whether universalia ante res or universalia post res. On current studies regarding medieval nominalism see Starnes, 3; Courtenay, “Late Medieval Nominalism Revisited,” 159-164.

[13] Marenbon, 9. The problem arises as a result of the attempt to explain an invisible divine reality as really existent, and not only as mere terms without physical existence. Are the terms/ideas already there prior to the things? Or are terms/ideas not real until the things exist physically and the terms are formed in a human mind? What about the existence of realities hidden to human senses?

[14] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 12; cf. Barclay, 128; Starnes, 3; Clanchy, 344; Marenbon , 9. Margaret Anne Cameron, “William of Champeaux and Early Twelfth-Century Dialectic,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Toronto, 2005), 6-30, also provides a short biography of William’s life and works. William of Champeaux is also known as Guillaume de Champeaux. See Jean Châtillon, “De Guillaume de Champeaux à Thomas Gallus: chronique d’histoire littéraire et doctrinale de l’École de Saint-Victor,” Revue du moyen âge latin 8 (1952): 139-162, 247-272. In the last few years, several works have been attributed to him, although scholars had thought for a long time that none of his works were extent. See Cameron, ii. For a short description of the development of schools and universities since 1100, see Walter A. Lunden, “The Occurrence of Major Educational Institutions in the Western World Since 1100 A.D.,” Journal of Educational Sociology 6, no. 2 (1932): 90-99.

[15] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 12; cf. Marenbon , 9-10. William had also been a student of both, Roscelin and Anselm of Laon. He eventually adopted the realism of the latter. See Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy (Garden City, N.Y.: Image Books, 1962), 1:168; Starnes, 3. Peter can best be described as a non-realist. Further, he like William of Ockham did not yet consider the subjectivism in which people conceive things. Alongside Peter’s nominalism there can be recognized also a strong current of Platonism. See Courtenay, “Late Medieval Nominalism Revisited,” 160, 161; cf. T. Gregory, “Abelard et Platon,” in Peter Abelard: Proceedings of the International Conference, Louvain, May 10-12, 1971, ed. Eligius M. Buytaert, Mediaevalia Lovaniensia, Series I, Studia 2 (Leuven: Leuven University Press, 1974), 38-64.

[16] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 13, 14; cf. Starnes, 3, 4; Marenbon , 10.

[17] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 14, 15. Regine Pernoud, Heloise and Abelard, Transl. by Peter Wiles (London: Collins, 1962), 27, argues for a “nervous breakdown”. Yet, Williams, 16, clarifies that this cannot be substantiated. Marenbon, 10, says that Abelard himself gives “overwork” as the reason.

[18] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 15, 16; cf. Marenbon, 10. On William’s views regarding the universals, see ibid. , 113-114. Basic features of his dialectic can be found in Cameron, 78-127.

[19] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 16-18.

[20] Peter took the chair of dialectics in the cathedral school of Paris maybe around 1108. Yet, he did not teach very long there because William of Champeaux made charges against Robert of Melun, Peter’s predecessor, with the result that Abelard was deposed and replaced by one of Abelard’s rivals. See ibid., 18; cf. Starnes, 5; Marenbon , 10.

[21] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 18, 19; cf. Marenbon , 10-11. Starnes, 5, suggests the date 1108 for the beginning of his teaching career at the cathedral school of Paris.

[22] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 20, 21.

[23] Clanchy, 337; Starnes, 6.

[24] On features of Anselm’s teaching and his mentality see Ermenegildo Bertola, “Le critiche di Abelardo ad Anselmo di Laon ed a Guglielmo di Champeaux,” Rivista di Filosofia Neoscolastica 52 (1960): 495-522; Odon Lottin, Psychologie et morale aux Xlle et Xllle siècles (Louvain-Gembloux: Abbaye du Mont Cesar, 1959), 5:443, 444.

[25] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 23; cf. Marenbon , 12.

[26] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities., 21-24; cf. Marenbon , 12-13; Clanchy , 337.

[27] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities., 24, 25. Starnes, 7, gives 1112 as the date for the beginning of his teaching career at Paris. Marenbon , 13, suggests the year 1113. For a discussion on the title “Master” during that time, see Clanchy , 65-67.

[28] Starnes, 7; Marenbon , 13.

[29] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 26, 27; cf. Barclay, 128; Marenbon , 14; Clanchy , 340. In the literature several dates are given for her birth, varying from 1090 to 1095.

[30] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 26; cf. Starnes, 8; Marenbon , 14.

[31] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities., 28, 29; cf. Starnes, 9.

[32] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 29; cf. Starnes, 9; Barclay, 128.

[33] Peter Abelard, The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, Transl. by Betty Radice (New York: Penguin Books, 1976), 69; idem, The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 30; cf. Starnes, 9; Marenbon , 15.

[34] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 31; cf. Marenbon , 15.

[35] It is quite interesting that Heloise herself reminded him of the possible results of their marriage. See Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 31-37. It is possible that he wanted to marry her because of a “possessive jealousy.” At least one of his letters seems to suggest that. See Starnes, 11.

[36] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 37, 38; cf. Starnes, 11; Marenbon , 15.

[37] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 38; cf. Starnes, 11; Marenbon , 15.

[38] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 38; cf. Barclay, 128; Marenbon , 15.

[39] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 40; cf. Marenbon , 16.

[40] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 41. Marenbon , 16, shows that the abbot and other clerics were first favorable to him and begged him to continue his teaching. Yet, he made himself unpopular by criticizing their life.

[41] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 41; idem , The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, 77; cf. Williams, 38.

[42] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 43, 44, points out that his opponents never read his work but that they assumed he would teach three gods since he was a nominalist. Abelard claims that Alberic and Lotulf constantly pressed prominent persons to forbid him to teach already before he published his book. See also Marenbon , 17. Further, ibid., 17-18, shows that the whole process was far more complex. The papal legate probably refused to evaluate personally the work in question because he himself felt unfamiliar with the technical language of scholastic argumentation, and that is why the evaluation remained the task of the initial accusers. See William J. Courtenay, “Inquiry and Inquisition: Academic Freedom in Medieval Universities,” Church History 58, no. 2 (1989): 173.

[43] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 49, 50. His former co-students, Alberic and Lotulf, now his accusers, suggested that the work should be condemned, even if no heresy can be found, because it was published without an imprimatur. See also Starnes, 15, 16.

[44] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 53-55; cf. Starnes, 16, 17; Marenbon , 18-19. Actually, he was for some days at the Cluniac cloister of St. Medard before returning to St. Denis. See Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 51; Starnes, 16.

[45] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 57; cf. Starnes, 17.

[46] Ibid., 17; Marenbon , 19. Actually, he called it first “The Holy Trinity” but changed it later to “The Paraclete”. See Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 57, 60.

[47] Ibid., 59; cf. idem , The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, 90; Starnes, 17, 18; Marenbon , 20. It is possible that Peter Comestor (1100 – 1178) was directly or indirectly influenced by Abelard while he was near Troyes. Abelard encouraged the study of Hebrew and Greek for a better understanding of the Bible. Comestor later sought a school that offered a similar approach. A comparison of the selection of sources in the books of Abelard and Peter Comestor reveals striking parallels. See Saralyn R. Daly, “Peter Comestor: Master of Histories,” Speculum 32, no. 1 (1957): 63-65. The suggestion to the nuns at the Paraclete to learn Greek and Hebrew, suggests that Abelard knew some Hebrew and Greek himself. Yet, similar statements were made by other medieval writers who knew only Latin. The cause was a glorification of the three sacred languages. However, the well-developed arguments of the Jew in his Dialogus support the possibility that he had some knowledge of Hebrew. Besides, he had also some personal contacts with Jews in Paris. At that time an increased attention was devoted to the sacred languages, probably influenced by such schools as e.g. the one at Laon. See Lucille Claire Thibodeau, “The Relation of Peter Abelard’s ‘Planctus Dinae’ to Biblical Sources and Exegetic Tradition: A Historical and Textual Study,” (Ph.D. Dissertation, Harvard University, 1990), 245, 246.

[48] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 64, 65; cf. Marenbon , 21.

[49] Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 65-67, 75-77; Starnes, 20, 21, 23; Marenbon , 21, 22. Mary M. McLaughlin, “Abelard as Autobiographer: The Motives and Meaning of His ‘Story of Calamities’,” Speculum 42, no. 3 (1967): 466, fn. 13, points out that a linguistic boundary-line ran between Le Pallet (Romance language) and the monastery of Saint Gildas (Celtic language). Abelard was probably totally ignorant of the Celtic dialect of the monks. The monks even tried to kill him by putting poison into the altar wine. See Starnes, 22, 23; Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 76.

[50] Ibid., 68; Starnes, 21. According to McLaughlin, 465, fn. 9, the Abbot Suger of St. Denis made claims of his abbey to the convent of Argenteuil and did even successfully manipulate the documentary evidence on which his claim was based. Later Pope Innocent II confirmed the gift of Abelard’s oratory to Heloise and her nuns. See Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 68; cf. McLaughlin, 465, 466; Marenbon , 22, 23.

[51] Considering the problems with his monks of St. Gildas it is quite understandable that Abelard saw the Paraclete as a haven of peace from the stormy tempest, visiting it more often. See Starnes, 21, 22; Abelard , The Story of Abelard's Adversities, 75. Formerly he was criticized for not taking better care for the sisters. Now judgment was passed on him because he was too often there. See ibid., 70; Marenbon , 23.

[52] Pierre Aubé, Saint Bernard de Clairveaux (Paris: Fayard, 2003), 13; Clanchy, 338; Verbaal, 460, 461. On Bernard’s life see also Ficarra, 24-36.

[53] According to Starnes, 25, Bernard preached prior to the meeting to the public on what he understood as Abelard’s heresies. Even before the council started, he had already won the support of the public and the bishops.

[54] Clanchy, 344. In the past the council was dated on June 2, 1140. However, it has been convincingly shown that this date is untenable. The council has been re-dated on the Octave of the Pentecost in the year 1141, which fell on May 25, 1141. See e.g. Constant J. Mews, “The Council of Sens (1141): Abelard, Bernard, and the Fear of Social Upheaval,” Speculum 77, no. 2 (2002): 342-382; Verbaal, 460. Only recently it has been shown that Abelard’s condemnation stood in a much broader context. Arnold of Brescia (1090 – 1155), who had just been condemned by the second Lateran council in 1139 and forced from Italy, appeared as one of Abelard’s students. That caused the fear that Arnold could gain followers among those students and through the influence of Abelard. The condemnation of Abelard seemed to solve that problem. See ibid., 461, 489; Mews, “The Council of Sens (1141),” 364, 365. For an outline of the events at the council, see Verbaal, 466-468. In his autobiography Abelard states that he was summoned to appear at the meeting. Yet, that is not true. He had been challenging Bernard to appear for a scholastic disputation about his accusations. So he was looking for a disputation with Bernard at Sens but found himself in juridical procedure. See ibid., 482-487, 489, 490.

[55] Constant J. Mews, “The Lists of Heresies Imputed to Peter Abelard,” Revue Bénédictine 95 (1985): 74­80, gives a list of all existing manuscripts which list the heresies that are imputed to Peter Abailard. Wilhelm Meyer, “Die Anklagesätze des hl. Bernhard gegen Abaelard,” Nachrichtungen der kgl. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften zu Göttingen, Phil.-hist. Klasse, no. 4 (1896): 431-437, argued that there were originally only eighteen capitula. Jean Rivière, “Les ‘capitula’ d’ Abélard condamnés au concile de Sens,” Recherces de théologie anc. et méd. 5 (1933): 5­22, refuted Meyer’s thesis and argued for nineteen capitula on the basis of previously unknown fragment of Abelard’s Apologia, where Abelard quotes nineteen capitula. L. Grill, “Die neunzehn ‘Capitula’ Bernhards von Clairvaux gegen Abälard,” Historisches Jahrbuch 80 (1961): 230-239, produced another edition without referring to Rivière. Jean Leclercq, “Les formes successives de la lettre–traité de Saint Bernard contre Abélard,” Revue Bénédictine 78 (1968): 100-105, published still a further edition of the nineteen capitula. Mews, “The Lists of Heresies Imputed to Peter Abelard,” 82-105, points to two previously neglected lists, one by William of St. Thierry and another by an unknown author of the Capitula Haeresum XIV. Further, he discusses earlier recensions of the nineteen capitula, other sources that mention specific capitula, as well as the possible authorship of both, the nineteen capitula and the Capitula Haeresum XIV. William of St. Thierry was the first who produced a list of thirteen heretical capitula in his Epist. 326 and Disputatio (Lent 1140). Bernard of Clairveaux depended largely on William’s Disputatio making a first recension of it in his Epist. 190, without making much research himself. Thomas of Morigny (1080 – 1145), a Benedictine abbot, seemed to be the author of the Capitula Haeresum XIV., the fourteenth capitula possibly added through Bernard’s influence. Soon after Easter 1140 a compilation of nineteen errors was written. The basis was the Capitula Haeresum XIV., with additions and changes that were apparently inspired by William and Bernard. A revised form of that list was attached to Bernard’s Epist. 190. Abelard quoted that list in his Apologia, indirectly in his Confessio fidei ‘Universis’ and in the rubrics to some Manuscripts of the Confessio. There seemed to be some further recensions. See Mews, “The Lists of Heresies Imputed to Peter Abelard,” 105, 106; cf. Clanchy, 343.

[56] Weingart, “The Atonement in the Writings of Peter Abailard,” 407, 408. William of St. Thierry was the original instigator of the whole controversy, while the more influential Bernard did primarily voice William’s criticism. See Verbaal, 462.

[57] William of St. Thierry made such a statement in his Disp. Ab. 7, quoted in Jaroslav Pelikan, The Growth of Medieval Theology (600 - 1300), The Christian Tradition (Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 3:139.

[58] Grensted , 106; Quinn, 292. See also Marenbon , 26-32, for the whole events around Sens, the charges, etc.

[59] Clanchy, 208-211.

[60] Abelard , The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, 275; Starnes, 26.

[61] Ibid., 25; Sikes, 235. However, it is interesting to note that the next pope, Celestine II, had great affection for Abelard, at least according to Bernard of Clairveaux. When Celestine II died in 1144, he left his copies of Abelard’s Theologia and Sic et Non to his church of Città di Castello. Although Innocent II had ordered Abelard’s books to be burned wherever they were found, the latter Celestine II, at that time a senior cardinal in Rome itself, was able to hold on to these books and become shortly after elected as pope. Apparently, Celestine II did not consider these books to be heretical. See Clanchy, 218.

[62] Abelard , The Letters of Abelard and Heloise, 282; Starnes, 26-28; Marenbon , 34, 35.

[63] Daniel F. Blackwell, Non-Ontological Constructs: The Effects of Abaelard's Logical and Ethical Theories on His Theology: A Study in Meaning and Verification, Basler und Berner Studien zur historischen und systematischen Theologie (Bern: Peter Lang, 1988), 56:1; c.f. Eligius M. Buytaert, “Critical Observations on the ‘Theologia Christiana’ of Abelard,” Antonianum 38 (1963): 390, 391; idem, “The Greek Fathers in Abelard’s ‘Sic et Non’,” Antonianum 41 (1966): 414; Luscombe , The School of Peter Abelard, 95.

[64] Ibid., 95, 96; Blackwell, 1, 2.

[65] Ibid., 1, 2; Luscombe, The School of Peter Abelard, 96.

[66] Ibid.

[67] Starnes, 28. Abelard rarely dated anything he wrote.

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The Doctrine of Atonement According to Peter Abelard
A Literary and Historical Analysis
University of St Andrews
The Church in the Middle Ages (CHIS 609)
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Atonement, Abelard, Abaelard, Abelardus, Redemption, Salvation, Love, Versöhnung, Erlösung, Liebe, Moral Influence Theory, Argenteuil, St. Gildas de Rhuys, Theologia summi boni, Anselm of Laon, Anselm of Canterbury, Sainte Geneviève, William of Champeaux, Roscelin of Compiègne, Heloise, Notre Dame, Soissons, Bernard of Clairveaux, William of St. Thierry, Sic et Non
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Denis Kaiser (Author), 2008, The Doctrine of Atonement According to Peter Abelard, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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