Abelard and Theology
As a theologian no less than as a logician, Peter Abelard has been hailed as the father of scholasticism. Both in the rules for critiquing authorities laid out at the beginning of his Sic et non and in his challenge in the Dialogus, that believers need to bolster their creeds with rational arguments, he takes to the field as the emblematic opponent of Bernard of Clairvaux, their standoff representing the last ditch effort of monastic obscurantism to halt the advance of scholastic enlightenment. In this essay, I wish to question this standard picture of Abelard the theologian. Despite his insistence on the need to apply reason and critical analysis to the Christian tradition, his project turns out to be better stated in theory than it was worked out in actual practice. And, in some of the substantive areas where he is deemed the most radical, he emerges as closer to the theological mainstream than is often appreciated.
KeywordsTwelfth Century Christian Tradition Secondary Literature Consensus Position Fall Humanity
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- 2.Peter Abelard, Ethics, ed. and trans. David E. Luscombe (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1971).Google Scholar
- 6.Peter Abelard, Sic et non, éd. Blanche B. Boyer and Richard McKeon (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), prologus.Google Scholar
- 7.see Marcia L. Colish, Peter Lombard, 2 vols. (Leiden: Brill, 1994), 1:51 n40.Google Scholar
- 8.The various references in this section are summarized in Colish, Peter Lombard 1, pp. 305–319. See more recently, Barbara Newman, God and the Goddesses: Vision, Poetry, and Belief in the Middle Ages (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2003), ch. 2.Google Scholar
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- 23.Kilian Walsh and Irene Edmonds, in Bernard of Clairvaux, On the Song of Songs, 4 vols. (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1971–1980), 1:150.Google Scholar