Peter Abelard was a French philosopher and theologian during twelfth-century Europe. Despite the fact that there were schools specifically with monasteries and cathedrals, a new way of learning soon arose during his time. He was known for exemplifying this new model of learning. Abelard, like many other Philosophers during the olden times, paved his way into being successful by establishing his own way of thinking and teaching. Along with this recognition, undeniably came criticism too. Some of his scholars even felt threatened by him and coerced church officials to question his doings.
The success Abelard gained teaching new ways of learning eventually led him to appear in front of church officials. The document is a piece from his autobiography “The Story of My Misfortunes” in which he writes about his new way of learning during his time. He begins by giving a short background about himself and the things that were going on at that time. He taught scriptures and secular literature. Abelard emphasizes the fact that it is important to remember that he was a monk. People argued that monks should withdraw themselves from the world. They should not be teaching but rather be devoted to prayer.
It was obvious that Abelard had great passion for teaching and did not want to be detached from the world. Still, he fought to do what he loved. It was not long until the numbers in his school began to increase, while they decreased everywhere else. This led other school heads to hate him. They were essentially just jealous of all the success he was achieving. The fact that he was going against the norm was one of the biggest reasons why his enemies found him repulsive. Abelard taught on the basis of his faith by analogy with human reason and composed a theological treatise on divine unity and trinity.
He says, ““In fact they said that words were useless if the intelligence could not follow them, that nothing could be believed unless it was first understood, and that it was absurd for anyone to preach to others what neither he nor those he taught could grasp with the understanding: the Lord himself had criticized such ‘blind guides of blind men’” (Lualdi 212). People understood his teachings and they were satisfied with what he was teaching. The treatise on the Trinity was controversial because it talks about the Trinity and if non-Christians had the same viewpoint. Evidently this did not go well with his opponents.
These people, especially Alberic and Lotulf, were determined to do anything for Abelard’s downfall. They created rumors about Abelard to get others against him as well. Soon after, his opponents created a Council against him. At this Council, they asked him to bring a copy of the treatise. However, when Abelard was going to give the treatise to the legate, they turned him down and made him give it to his rivals because they believed in “Our enemies are our judges” (Lualdi 213). After searching and searching, they could not find anything yet they still charged Abelard with an open hearing.
Despite of all the negativity that Abelard was dealing with, he did not get defeated which easily may be a reason as to why his enemies felt threatened. He states, ““For my part, every day before the Council sat, I spoke in public on the Catholic faith in accordance with what I had written, and all who heard me were full of praise both for my exposition and for my interpretation” (Lualdi 213). After Abelard did this, it made people think that the judges may be the ones at fault, not him. This infuriated his enemies even more. Nevertheless, Abelard constantly proved them wrong.
For example, Alberic had once questioned Abelard about God. Abelard undoubtedly proved him wrong in an instant. It was to no surprise, that even on the last day of the Council, they still could not find anything to charge him with. When a suggestion was given by the bishop of Chartres that they should essentially just let it be, they were livid. Abelard says, “They hurried to the legate, made him reverse his decision and persuaded him against his better judgment to condemn the book without any inquiry, burn it immediately in the sight of all and condemn me to perpetual confinement in a different monastery” (Lualdi 215).
Abelard knew at this point that no matter what he did, he could not do anything. His enemies had won and he lost. At the end, they “accused” him of reading his treatise in public and making copies without permission from the Pope. Nonetheless it was just an excuse that they used to overpower Abelard. He shares a conversation he had with the bishop, “He [the bishop] said I could be confident that such violence so clearly prompted by jealously would discredit them and benefit me, and told me not to worry about being confined in a monastery as he knew that the papal legate was only acting under pressure…” (Lualdi 215).
He describes that as the “comfort he could [give]” (Lualdi 215). His opponents were furious that Abelard had more students than they did. They were angry at the fact that Abelard was going against what his own teachers taught him by creating new ways of learning. This goes to show how envious and threatened Abelard’s fellow scholars were of his success and knowledge.