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Abelard and Heloise’s Differing Opinions of Sex, Love and Sin

The love story of Heloise and Abelard has been received by critics and has created a subject of research to put some of the doubts and disbeliefs to rest. Letters and texts have been placed under scrutiny as many had differing opinions of the actual writer of the letters sent to Abelard as they addressed the stance on marriage and free love, (Classen, 2003). From their son’s point of view, the historical novels revels the importance of the bond of love that exists between the husband and wife as well as the importance of the same bond between the parents and children. As well in the society marriage should not be kept as a secret from the family members, this is to say that love is not a secret as the punishment to Abelard for doing this was his castration.

Abelard’s life is full of love for both God and his wife as he dedicated his inner life to them. He had serious faith in Christ as well as an ardent love for his wife. On the other hand, keeping this love a secret and hence the marriage was also a secret was not acceptable to Abelard’s father and the fatherly infernally poisonous jealousy lead to the forceful castration of Abelard. Heloise’s love is so intense and described as the love that would lead to worshipping a lover and as she is sent to a convent, she resorts to letter writing to her lover.

Abelard and Heloise’s Differing Opinions of Sex, Love and Sin

Astrolabe, Abelard’s son is seen as the distant link between him and Heloise as he admires his intellectual similarities while also failing to full recognize him as his son though this trinity is connected through secrecy and profound love. Heloise is imprisoned in a convent out of her own free will and though Abelard’s love and passion is almost nil he takes a mistress to fulfill his experience passion and sexual love. This imprisonment can be attributed to the actions of Abelard’s action of making her pregnant before marriage and the son really questions her mother’s intention in being a nun in the true power and extent of love, and the meaning of love. The son could not understand the love Heloise had for Abelard, so intense to have blinded her not to see his shortcomings such as his cantankerousness, his megalomania, his vanity, his ingratitude and arrogance. At one time, blasphemy could have led to her expulsion from convent for her absolute love for Abelard is said to have exceeded the utmost possible for a human being, such love viewed to exceed love for God. She loved wholeheartedly and Classen (2003) describes as love with body and soul, in complete devotion as he thinks that it is only a woman who loves like that. This loves is for themselves only as they seem not to have much live for their child as Astrolabe even dreams of killing his father not out of hate but out of love, wild jealous love for the parents.

According to Porter, (2000), Aberlards definition of sin is nothing other than to hold the creator in contempt, not to do for his sake what should be done for his sake or rather nit go forego for his sake that which we believe should be foregone. His understanding is reacting against the view of the early medieval penitential, which understood sin in terms of wrong doing without much regard for the agent’s motives or intentions, (Leclercq, 1973). At his time, 12th century, he was not the only one with this different view and the period can be described to have had widespread uncertainty about sin and penance though these issues were of practical concern to the society. Critically evaluating his understanding reveals that his case for sin is the fault of the soul which is rendered guilt before God as the desire to perform a sinful act itself cannot be considered as sin. His stance on moral accountability has implications for moral accountability, the legitimacy of punishment and the practice of penance are based on the consent of the soul through which the creator is held in contempt. Desire, just the desire for pleasure rather than engaging in the sinful pleasure cannot be regarded as sin as no bad or good has already taken place, it’s just a will.

Abelard’s writing on sin is rather an intervention on debates, rather than a challenge to the generally accepted views but at the same time represents a break with one strand of eleventh and twelfth century reflections on these matters, namely, the stage theory of sin. His view is grounded  in something interior to the act a person does that will be considered sin which is an attempt to determine the initial intention within a person who commits sin. He insist that sin can only be considered sin if it stems from a person’s internal conscience and his sinful intentions in carrying out an act of sin as moral guilt depends on the inner state of the agent. An individual’s moral responsibility is a conviction that has long been part of the Christian moral traditions and was given new saliency by reform movements back in the twelfth century. In this, Abelard’s moral theory is sometimes characterized as a philosophical, rather than a theological, ethic principle as he insists on the importance of one’s inward state are scriptural and theological rather than strictly philosophical and this is informed by a complex set of practices and judgments stemming ultimately from the New Testament emphasis on inwardness. His views seems to assert that the human person is dammed on account of those things that are in the heart, rather than those which are apparent in actions, as the Lord judges the soul to be polluted by those things that are joined to it as the spiritual stains on the soul, just as bodily matters are stains in bodies, (Porter, 2000). The things that comes from the mouth stains a person since what comes from the mouth has come from the heart’s evil thoughts such as murders, adulteries, fornications, theft, false testimonies and blasphemy (Laclede, 1973).

On the other hand, his thoughts on sexual relations are attributed to the knowledge an individual has to the subject which includes adultery and incest. On the subject of incest, having sexual relations with a relative will be considered sin of the person has the full knowledge that he or she is engaging in relations with a relative. Abelard says that an individual will only be guilty if incest if he has sexual relations with his sister knowing very well that the woman he is engaging in is his sister. Other examples that he gives to emphasis his ideology are simply involuntary such as the putative act of a woman who is raped by someone else’s husband, the man who has sex with a woman in the mistaken belief that it is his wife, the judge who condemns an innocent man in error and the man who marries his sister in ignorance of her relation to him. All the above acts from Aberlards understanding are not sinful because the agent does not consent to it considered precisely as contempt for God either because the agent does not consent to the act at all, in the case of the woman who is raped, or because he does not know crucial features of the situation, in the virtue of which the act would be sinful if it were done knowingly in each of the other cases mentioned. The difference here attributed to sin is the critical discrepancy between what the agent consents to do and what she or he actually does. Acts that are of good intention are morally good though at times may be considered otherwise morally wrong when performed in full awareness of the features in the virtue of which it is wrong. Further, there are other actions that are morally anomalous by reason of exceptional circumstances or special features of the motives or the situation of the agent but this is not to limit the scope of the moral values that have been in practice for far too long. The delights of eating and sexual pleasure are necessarily concomitants of the acts themselves and if these acts were sinful, we would be forced to sin every time we are engaged in these activities which are essential to the preservation of individual and corporate life, (Porter, 2000).

  • Classen, A. (2003). Abelard and Heloise’s Love Story from the Perspective of their Son  Astrolabe: Louise Rinse’s Novel “Abelard’s Love”. Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association.
  • Laclede, J., (1973). Modern Psychology and the Interpretation of Medieval Texts. Medieval Academy of America. 48(3), p. 476-490
  • Porter, J., (2000). Responsibility, Passion and Sin: A reassessment of Abelard’s Ethics. The Journal of Religious Ethics.

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