Tuesday, July 19, 2005

abelard and heloise

I've been reading about Abelard and Heloise lately - Heloise in particular. Abelard was one of the best known philosophers/teachers of the 12th century in France. He apparently was really, really smart, charismatic and a hottie to boot. (I'm not quite sure how that kind of information comes down through history, but the idea persists...)

Heloise was a very smart young woman under the guardianship of her uncle. Abelard became her tutor. (He was probably in his 30's, while she was a number of years younger. These two previously celibate, but apparently well-matched people, began a very intense love affair. It resulted in a son, a big-big scandal, and in Abelard's castration at the hands of Heloise's uncle. At Abelard's insistence, Heloise entered a convent (where she eventually became abbess), while Abelard as well entered a religious community. After about 10 years, at Heloise's insistence, they began corresponding - some of the most beautiful letters ever written. They also saw each other on occasion. Heloise clearly maintained that Abelard was the love of her life - above the church even.

Such a tragic story. Abelard was never the same after he was so horribly violated. As a theologian, he countered some of the prevailing dogma of the day - and but for different circumstances, the church might have followed his insights in a way that could have avoided some of the horrible things done in God's name over the years. His teachings have always been marred by being someone "who gave into lust and temptation."

I've been working on a paper that in part tells about Heloise. I keep wondering what things we can learn from her story. Should we not give into temptation? Do we want to continue to separate the flesh and spirit instead of seeing God in all things? Or should we see love as a gift from God and find ways in the world to celebrate that love? How do we do that without harming others? Or eventually harming ourselves?

Heloise and Abelard are often thought of as star-crossed lovers. I think of Romeo and Juliet that way - and who on earth wants to end up like that? Yet, after all the tumult, Abelard and Heloise were able to continue their lives - making important contributions to the world and people around them - and able to forge a lasting relationship with each other, albeit not the one they would have probably chosen.

Lasting love seems always to get past the exciting, heart-throbbing beginnings. May not be exciting at all sometimes, may be mundane and even trying later on - but I do think with some really hard work and committment - people can turn out better than Romeo and Juliet.

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