||Abelard and Heloise
By Gary Macy
There are many, many beautiful
letters contained in Christian history, but, for me, the most moving is the
letter that Peter the Venerable wrote to Heloise, Abbess of the Paraclete upon
the death of her husband, the monk and scholar Peter Abelard. Heloise had been
the most brilliant student of the famous (and arrogant) Parisian scholar
Abelard. They had had a passionate affair, secretly married and had a child,
Astrolabe. Alas, their love was fraught with tragedy, and both, for different
reasons, were forced to take the habit.
When Abelard died, Abbot Peter the Venerable broke the news:
As it is said of Gregory the Great, he never let a moment pass without
praying, reading, writing or composing. He was engaged on such holy occupations
when the Visitor of the Gospels came to find him and found him awake, not
asleep, like so many; found him truly awake, and summoned him to the wedding of
eternal life as wise, not a foolish virgin.
Thus did Master Peter end his days. Him, therefore,
venerable and dearest sister in the Lord, him to whom after your union in the
flesh you are joined by the better, and therefore stronger bond of divine love,
with whom and under whom you have long served God: Him, I say, in your place,
or as another you, God cherishes in his bosom, and keeps him there to be
restored to you though his grace at the coming of the Lord.
Abelard was buried at the Paraclete, and when Heloise died
she was buried beside him. Lovers still visit their tomb.
Gary Macy is a theology professor at the University of