Hymn No 102

Alone thou goest forth, O Lord
in sacrifice to die,
is this thy sorrow naught to us,
who pass unheeding by

Peter Abelard French: Pierre Abélard (1079 – 1142) was a medieval French scholastic philosopher, leading logician, theologian, poet, composer and musician. Often referred to as the ‘Descartes of the twelfth century’, he is considered a forerunner of the philosophers Rousseau, Kant, and Spinoza.

He is best known for his passionate and tragic love affair, and intense philosophical exchange, with his brilliant student and eventual wife, Héloïse d’Argenteuil. He was a strong defender of women and of their education.

Héloïse d’Argenteuil lived within the precincts of Notre-Dame, under the care of her uncle, the secular canon Fulbert. She was famous as the most well-educated and intelligent woman in Paris, renowned for her knowledge of classical letters, including not only Latin but also Greek and Hebrew. At the time Heloise met Abelard, he was surrounded by crowds – supposedly thousands of students – drawn from all countries by the fame of his teaching.

Upon deciding to pursue Héloïse, Abelard sought a place in Fulbert’s house, and in 1115 or 1116 began an affair. While in his autobiography he describes the relationship as a seduction, Heloise’s letters contradict this and instead depict a relationship of equals kindled by mutual attraction. Abelard boasted of his conquest and wrote popular poems and songs of his love that spread throughout the country. Once Fulbert found out, he separated them, but they continued to meet in secret.

Héloïse became pregnant and was sent by Abelard to be looked after by his family in Brittany, where she gave birth to a son, whom she named Astrolabe, after the scientific instrument. The couple were married in secret, arousing Fulbert’s wrath and abuse. Abelard sent her to the convent at Argenteuil to protect her from her uncle.

Infuriated that Héloïse had been taken from his house, Fulbert arranged for a band of men to break into Abelard’s room one night and castrate him. In shame of his injuries, Abelard retired permanently, with any career as a priest or ambitions for higher office in the church shattered by his loss of manhood. He effectively hid himself as a monk at the monastery of St. Denis, near Paris, avoiding the questions of his horrified public.

He is considered to be the most significant forerunner of the modern autobiographer with his publicly distributed letter ‘The History of My Calamities’, and public correspondence.