Peter Abelard


Peter Abelard was a French philosopher and theologian who argued in favor of the medieval theory of Conceptualism, opposing the more popular Realism of his rivals. He is famed for his teachings as well as his unfortunate love affair with his beautiful pupil Heloise.

Abelard was born in Brittany but traveled throughout France, teaching and learning, until his voyages brought him to Paris. Here he was taught by William of Champeaux, a proponent of Realism. Abelard, however, sided with a different school of thought known as Conceptualism, and after defeating his teacher in a series of debates, he set up his own school near Paris. On his return to the city, he once again battled his former instructor and emerged victorious, winning acclaim as the supreme master of philosophical thought.

Shortly afterward, he was nominated canon of Notre-Dame and surrounded by hordes of academics eager to hear his lectures. He took particular interest in one student, a brilliant young woman named Heloise who lived with her uncle Fulbert, another canon. Abelard secured a place in Fulbertís home and proceeded to seduce Heloise. The affair continued even after they were found out and separated. Heloise became pregnant and was sent to Brittany to give birth to a son. The couple was then married in secret, but their union was found out and Heloise was sent to a convent, while Abelard failed to find a place in an abbey and instead resumed teaching. He published a book of his theology but was charged with heresy and made to burn his work before being shut away in a monastery. Unable to stand life at the abbey, he left and became a hermit, but still students flocked to him. He resumed teaching for a short time but was brought again to trial for heresy, this time by a deeply faithful man insulted by Abelardís rational inquiries. On his way to Rome to plead his case, Abelard fell ill and passed away some moths later. His remains were given Heloise, and the two were buried beside each other following her death.

Key events during the life of Peter Abelard:

Born in Brittany
Set up a school of thought
Nominated canon of Notre Dame
Charged with heresy
Lectured for a short time on Mt. Saint Genevieve
A council met at Sens to charge Abelard with heresy
Heloise died and was buried next to him

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
Oriflamme  in  The Story of France  by  Mary Macgregor

Image Links

Tomb of Abelard and Heloise
 in The Story of Old France

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