Cambridge University Press, 2006. — 324 p.Peter Abelard (1079–1142) is a philosopher and theologian whose reputation has always preceded him. Indeed, to this day he remains among the best-known figures of the entire Middle Ages. Although one can hardly overestimate the value of his intellectual legacy, his reputation owes at least as much to his flamboyant personality and to the sensational details of his biography. Very early on Abelard established his place as one of the most celebrated masters in Paris by challenging – and then defeating – his teachers and rivals in public disputation. In some cases, he literally drove these rivals out of business: he stole their students and set up his own schools (the first when he was only twenty-five) just down the road from them. He aroused the fiercest devotion in students, and the fiercest enmity in rivals. He also inspired the love and devotion of (some would say merely seduced) a seventeen-year-old Heloise. But when Heloise became pregnant and ran away with him to be secretly married, Abelard earned the hatred of her uncle and guardian, Fulbert, who was also the canon of Notre Dame. In fact, Fulbert’s anger was so great that he hired a group of thugs to seize Abelard and have him castrated, in an effort to put a quick end to their relations. Although Abelard spent the rest of his days as a monastic – he and Heloise having taken religious vows shortly after his castration – he continued to provoke the strongest reactions among those he encountered. For example, shortly after he was elected abbot of the monastery at St. Gildas, he was forced to flee the institution in fear of his life, having aroused such hostility in his fellow monks that they actually tried to kill him! Not surprisingly, his efforts at philosophical theology produced much the same reaction. Several of his works were publicly condemned for heresy (on two separate occasions), subsequently burned, and Abelard was excommunicated from the Church (though his excommunication was revoked shortly before his death). Obviously no attempt to assess Abelard’s place in history can ignore these aspects of his life. Nonetheless, it is to his intellectual achievements that the current volume is devoted.
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