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Best-known now for his romance with Héloïse, Peter Abelard was gifted teacher and scholar whose resolution of the debate between the realists and the nominalists prefigured that of Aquinas.
Abelard was born in 1079 into a knightly family in Pallet, near Nantes. He abandoned his military heritage to study philosophy under Roscelin, William of Champeaux, and Anselm of Laon, all of whom he eventually debated. Abelard lectured in Paris from c. 1108 until 1118, when he and the pregnant Héloïse left Paris so she could bear their child (Astrolabe) in the security of his sister's house. Athough the lovers were later married, Héloïse's uncle avenged her supposed wrong. She became a nun at Argenteuil, where she had been educated, and he became a monk. His book on the Trinity was condemned in 1121 at the Council of Soissons, after which the book was burned. While a monk at St.-Denis, Abelard established that St. Denis of Paris was not Dionysios the Areopagite; the monks were critical of his reasoning, and since he considered them barbarians, he left to become a hermit at the Paraclete in Troyes, which he later left to Héloïse and a community of nuns, for whom he wrote a monastic rule and gave spiritual guidance.
Around 1136, he began to teach in Paris, and he is said to have founded the University of Paris, which grew up around the site of his school. Several of his students went on to become respected and now-forgotten churchmen; John of Salisbury is his most famous student. Some scholars believe that Arnold of Brescia was Abelard's student, but it is not clear if Arnold was a student or an associate. At the instigation of Bernard of Clairvaux, Abelard and Arnold were condemned at the Council of Sens (1140/41). Each was confined to a separate monastery in Paris. Through the efforts of Peter of Cluny, Abelard was reconciled to Bernard and to Innocent II, who had confirmed the decision of Sens. When Abelard died in 1142, he was buried at the Paraclete. In the XIX Century, Abelard and Héloïse were reburied together in Paris.
Abelard put forth the idea that universals exist a thoughts based on the particulars of things, in contrast to the idea that only things exist and the idea that only classes exist. Abelard also suggested in Ethica that intent is the criterion by which one ought to judge sin because a deed by itself is neutral. Abelard wrote, in addition to his ethics and book on the Trinity, an Introduction to Theology, A Dialogue among Philosophers, and The History of Calamaties (his autobiography). He and Héloïse compiled and published their letters in the 1130's.
Karen Rae Keck
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