The Story of My Mis­for­tunes {.intro-h1}


Translated by Henry Adams Bellows ([source]( This doc­u­ment is avail­able in other formats: [PDF (A4)](abelard-misfortunes-A4.pdf), [PDF (Letter)](abelard-misfortunes-letter.pdf).


OFTEN the hearts of men and women are stirred, as like­wise they are soothed in their sorrows more by example than by words. And therefore, because I too have known some con­so­la­tion from speech had with one who was a witness thereof, am I now minded to write of the suf­fer­ings which have sprung out of my misfortunes, for the eyes of one who, though absent, is of himself ever a consoler. This I do so that, in com­par­ing your sorrows with mine, you may dis­cover that yours are in truth nought, or at the most but of small account, and so shall you come to bear them more easily.



KNOW, then, that I am come from a certain town which was built on the way into lesser Brittany, distant some eight miles, as I think, east­ward from the city of Nantes, and in its own tongue called Palets. Such is the nature of that country, or, it may be, of them who dwell there – for in truth they are quick in fancy – that my mind bent itself easily to the study of letters. Yet more, I had a father who had won some smat­ter­ing of letters before he had girded on the soldier’s belt. And so it came about that long af­ter­wards his love thereof was so strong that he saw to it that each son of his should be taught in letters even earlier than in the man­age­ment of arms. Thus indeed did it come to pass. And because I was his first born, and for that reason the more dear to him, he sought with double dili­gence to have me wisely taught. For my part, the more I went forward in the study of letters, and ever more easily, the greater became the ardour of my de­vo­tion to them, until in truth I was so en­thralled by my passion for learn­ing that, gladly leaving to my broth­ers the pomp of glory in arms, the right of her­itage and all the honours that should have been mine as the eldest born, I fled utterly from the court of Mars that I might win learn­ing in the bosom of Minerva. And – since I found the armory of logical rea­son­ing more to my liking than the other forms of philosophy, I ex­changed all other weapons for these, and to the prizes of victory in war I pre­ferred the battle of minds in disputation. Thenceforth, jour­ney­ing through many provinces, and de­bat­ing as I went, going whith­er­so­ever I heard that the study of my chosen art most flourished, I became such an one as the Peripatetics.



I CAME at length to Paris, where above all in those days the art of di­alec­tics was most flourishing, and there did I meet William of Champeaux, my teacher, a man most dis­tin­guished in his science both by his renown and by his true merit. With him I re­mained for some time, at first indeed well liked of him; but later I brought him great grief, because I un­der­took to refute certain of his opinions, not in­fre­quently at­tack­ing him in disputation, and now and then in these debates I was ad­judged victor. Now this, to those among my fellow stu­dents who were ranked foremost, seemed all the more in­suf­fer­able because of my youth and the brief du­ra­tion of my studies.

Out of this sprang the be­gin­ning of my misfortunes, which have fol­lowed me even to the present day; the more widely my fame was spread abroad, the more bitter was the envy that was kindled against me. It was given out that I, pre­sum­ing on my gifts far beyond the war­ranty of my youth, was as­pir­ing despite my tender years to the lead­er­ship of a school; nay, more, that I was making ready the very place in which I would un­der­take this task, the place being none other than the castle of Melun, at that time a royal seat. My teacher himself had some fore­knowl­edge of this, and tried to remove my school as far as pos­si­ble from his own. Working in secret, he sought in every way he could before I left his fol­low­ing to bring to nought the school I had planned and the place I had chosen for It. Since, however, in that very place he had many rivals, and some of them men of in­flu­ence among the great ones of the land, relying on their aid I won to the ful­fill­ment of my wish; the support of many was secured for me by reason of his own un­con­cealed envy. From this small in­cep­tion of my school, my fame in the art of di­alec­tics began to spread abroad, so that little by little the renown, not alone of those who had been my fellow students, but of our very teacher himself, grew dim and was like to die out altogether. Thus it came about that, still more con­fi­dent in myself, I moved my school as soon as I well might to the castle of Corbeil, which is hard by the city of Paris, for there I knew there would be given more fre­quent chance for my as­saults in our battle of disputation.

No long time there­after I was smitten with a griev­ous illness, brought upon me by my im­mod­er­ate zeal for study. This illness forced me to turn home­ward to my native province, and thus for some years I was as if cut off from France. And yet, for that very reason, I was sought out all the more eagerly by those whose hearts were trou­bled by the lore of dialectics. But after a few years had passed, and I was whole again from my sickness, I learned that my teacher, that same William Archdea­con of Paris, had changed his former garb and joined an order of the regular clergy. This he had done, or so men said, in order that he might be deemed more deeply religious, and so might be el­e­vated to a loftier rank in the prelacy, a thing which, in truth, very soon came to pass, for he was made bishop of Chalons. Nevertheless, the garb he had donned by reason of his con­ver­sion did nought to keep him away either from the city of Paris or from his wonted study of philosophy; and in the very monastery wherein he had shut himself up for the sake of re­li­gion he straight­way set to teach­ing again after the same fashion as before.

To him did I return for I was eager to learn more of rhetoric from his lips; and in the course of our many ar­gu­ments on various matters, I com­pelled him by most potent rea­son­ing first to alter his former opinion on the subject of the universals, and finally to abandon it altogether. Now, the basis of this old concept of his re­gard­ing the reality of uni­ver­sal ideas was that the same quality formed the essence alike of the ab­stract whole and of the in­di­vid­u­als which were its parts: in other words, that there could be no es­sen­tial dif­fer­ences among these individuals, all being alike save for such variety as might grow out of the many ac­ci­dents of existence. Thereafter, however, he cor­rected this opinion, no longer main­tain­ing that the same quality was the essence of all things, but that, rather, it man­i­fested itself in them through diverse ways. This problem of uni­ver­sals is ever the most vexed one among logicians, to such a degree, indeed, that even Porphyry, writing in his “Isagoge” re­gard­ing universals, dared not attempt a final pro­nounce­ment thereon, saying rather: “This is the deepest of all prob­lems of its kind.” Where­fore it fol­lowed that when William had first revised and then finally aban­doned al­to­gether his views on this one subject, his lec­tur­ing sank into such a state of neg­li­gent rea­son­ing that it could scarce be called lec­tur­ing on the science of di­alec­tics at all; it was as if all his science had been bound up in this one ques­tion of the nature of universals.

Thus it came about that my teach­ing won such strength and au­thor­ity that even those who before had clung most ve­he­mently to my former master, and most bit­terly at­tacked my doctrines, now flocked to my school. The very man who had suc­ceeded to my master’s chair in the Paris school offered me his post, in order that he might put himself under my tute­lage along with all the rest, and this in the very place where of old his master and mine had reigned. And when, in so short a time, my master saw me di­rect­ing the study of di­alec­tics there, it is not easy to find words to tell with what envy he was con­sumed or with what pain he was tormented. He could not long, in truth, bear the anguish of what he felt to be his wrongs, and shrewdly he at­tacked me that he might drive me forth. And because there was nought in my conduct whereby he could come at me openly, he tried to steal away the school by launch­ing the vilest calum­nies against him who had yielded his post to me, and by putting in his place a certain rival of mine. So then I re­turned to Melun, and set up my school there as before; and the more openly his envy pursued me, the greater was the au­thor­ity it con­ferred upon me. Even so held the poet: “Jealousy aims at the peaks; the winds storm the lofti­est summits.” (Ovid: “Remedy for Love,” I,369.)

Not long thereafter, when William became aware of the fact that almost all his stu­dents were holding grave doubts as to his religion, and were whis­per­ing earnestly among them­selves about his conversion, deeming that he had by no means aban­doned this world, he with­drew himself and his brotherhood, to­gether with his students, to a certain estate far distant from the city. Forth­with I re­turned from Melun to Paris, hoping for peace from him in the future. But since, as I have said, he had caused my place to be oc­cu­pied by a rival of mine, I pitched the camp, as it were, of my school outside the city on Mont Ste. Genevieve. Thus I was as one laying siege to him who had taken pos­ses­sion of my post. No sooner had my master heard of this than he brazenly re­turned post haste to the city, bring­ing back with him such stu­dents as he could, and re­in­stat­ing his broth­er­hood in their former monastery, much as if he would free his soldiery, whom he had deserted, from my blockade. In truth, though, if it was his purpose to bring them succour, he did nought but hurt them. Before that time my rival had indeed had a certain number of students, of one sort and another, chiefly by reason of his lec­tures on Priscian, in which he was con­sid­ered of great authority. After our master had returned, however, he lost nearly all of these followers, and thus was com­pelled to give up the di­rec­tion of the school. Not long thereafter, ap­par­ently de­spair­ing further of worldly fame, he was con­verted to the monas­tic life.

Fol­low­ing the return of our master to the city, the combats in dis­pu­ta­tion which my schol­ars waged both with him himself and with his pupils, and the suc­cesses which fortune gave to us, and above all to me, in these wars, you have long since learned of through your own experience. The boast of Ajax, though I speak it more temperately, I still am bold enough to make:

“if fain you would learn now
How victory crowned the battle, by him was
I never vanquished.”
(Ovid , “Metamorphoses,” XIII, 89.)

But even were I to be silent, the fact pro­claims itself, and its outcome reveals the truth re­gard­ing it.

While these things were happening, it became needful for me again to repair to my old home, by reason of my dear mother, Lucia, for after the con­ver­sion of my father, Berengarius, to the monas­tic life, she so ordered her affairs as to do likewise. When all this had been completed, I re­turned to France, above all in order that I might study theology, since now my oft-mentioned teacher, William, was active in the epis­co­pate of Chalons. In this field of learn­ing Anselm of Laon, who was his teacher therein, had for long years enjoyed the great­est renown.



I SOUGHT out, therefore, this same ven­er­a­ble man, whose fame, in truth, was more the result of long es­tab­lished custom than of the potency of his own talent or intellect. If any one came to him im­pelled by doubt on any subject, he went away more doubt­ful still. He was wonderful, indeed, in the eyes of these who only lis­tened to him, but those who asked him ques­tions per­force held him as nought. He had a mirac­u­lous flow of words, but they were con­temptible in meaning and quite void of reason. When he kindled a fire, he filled his house with smoke and il­lu­mined it not at all. He was a tree which seemed noble to those who gazed upon its leaves from afar, but to those who came nearer and ex­am­ined it more closely was re­vealed its barrenness. When, therefore, I had come to this tree that I might pluck the fruit thereof, I dis­cov­ered that it was indeed the fig tree which Our Lord cursed (Matthew xxi. 19; Mark xi. 13), or that ancient oak to which Lucan likened Pompey, saying:

“he stands, the shade of a name once mighty,
Like to the tow­er­ing oak in the midst of the fruit­ful field.”
(Lucan, “Pharsalia,” IV, 135-)

It was not long before I made this discovery, and stretched myself lazily in the shade of that same tree. I went to his lec­tures less and less often, a thing which some among his eminent fol­low­ers took sorely to heart, because they in­ter­preted it as a mark of con­tempt for so il­lus­tri­ous a teacher. Thence­forth they se­cretly sought to in­flu­ence him against me, and by their vile in­sin­u­a­tions made me hated of him. It chanced, moreover, that one day, after the ex­po­si­tion of certain texts, we schol­ars were jesting among ourselves, and one of them, seeking to draw me out, asked me what I thought of the lec­tures on the Books of Scripture. I, who had as yet studied only the sciences, replied that fol­low­ing such lec­tures seemed to me most useful in so far as the sal­va­tion of the soul was concerned, but that it ap­peared quite ex­tra­or­di­nary to me that ed­u­cated persons should not be able to un­der­stand the sacred books simply by study­ing them themselves, to­gether with the glosses thereon, and without the aid of any teacher. Most of those who were present mocked at me, and asked whether I myself could do as I had said, or whether I would dare to un­der­take it. I an­swered that if they wished, I was ready to try it. Forth­with they cried out and jeered all the more. “Well and good,” said they; “we agree to the test. Pick out and give us an ex­po­si­tion of some doubt­ful passage in the Scriptures, I so that we can put this boast of yours to the proof.” And they all chose that most obscure prophecy of Ezekiel.

I ac­cepted the challenge, and invited them to attend a lecture on the very next day. Where­upon they un­der­took to give me good advice, saying that I should by no means make undue haste in so im­por­tant a matter, but that I ought to devote a much longer space to working out my ex­po­si­tion and off­set­ting my in­ex­pe­ri­ence by dili­gent toil. To this I replied in­dig­nantly that it was my wont to win success, not by routine, but by ability. I added that I would abandon the test al­to­gether unless they would agree not to put off their at­ten­dance at my lecture. In truth at this first lecture of mine only a few were present, for it seemed quite absurd to all of them that I. hith­erto so in­ex­pe­ri­enced in dis­cussing the Scriptures, should attempt the thing so hastily. However, this lecture gave such sat­is­fac­tion to all those who heard it that they spread its praises abroad with notable enthusiasm, and thus com­pelled me to con­tinue my in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the sacred text. When word of this was bruited about, those who had stayed away from the first lecture came eagerly, some to the second and more to the third, and all of them were eager to write down the glosses which I had begun on the first day, so as to have them from the very beginning.



NOW this ven­er­a­ble man of whom I have spoken was acutely smitten with envy, and straight­way incited, as I have already mentioned, by the in­sin­u­a­tions of sundry persons, began to per­se­cute me for my lec­tur­ing on the Scrip­tures no less bit­terly than my former master, William, had done for my work in philosophy. At that time there were in this old man’s school two who were con­sid­ered far to excel all the others: Alberic of Rheims and Lo­tulphe the Lombard. The better opinion these two held of themselves, the more they were in­censed against me. Chiefly at their suggestion, as it af­ter­wards transpired, yonder ven­er­a­ble coward had the im­pu­dence to forbid me to carry on any further in his school the work of prepar­ing glosses which I had thus begun. The pretext he alleged was that if by chance in the course of this work I should write any­thing con­tain­ing blunders–as was likely enough in view of my lack of training–the thing might be imputed to him. When this came to the ears of his scholars, they were filled with in­dig­na­tion at so undis­guised a man­i­fes­ta­tion of spite, the like of which had never been di­rected against any one before. The more obvious this rancour became, the more it re­dounded to my honour, and his per­se­cu­tion did nought save to make me more famous.



AND so, after a few days, I re­turned to Paris, and there for several years I peace­fully di­rected the school which for­merly had been des­tined for me, nay, even offered to me, but from which I had been driven out. At the very outset of my work there, I set about com­plet­ing the glosses on Ezekiel which I had begun at Laon. These proved so sat­is­fac­tory to all who read them that they came to believe me no less adept in lec­tur­ing on the­ol­ogy than I had proved myself to be in the field of philosophy. Thus my school was notably in­creased in size by reason of my lec­tures on sub­jects of both these kinds, and the amount of fi­nan­cial profit as well as glory which it brought me cannot be con­cealed from you, for the matter talked of. But pros­per­ity always puffs up the foolish and worldly comfort en­er­vates the soul, ren­der­ing it an easy prey to carnal temptations. Thus I who by this time had come to regard myself as the only philoso­pher re­main­ing in the whole world, and had ceased to fear any further dis­tur­bance of my peace, began to loosen the rein on my desires, al­though hith­erto I had always lived in the utmost continence. And the greater progress I made in my lec­tur­ing on phi­los­o­phy or theology, the more I de­parted alike from the prac­tice of the philoso­phers and the spirit of the divines in the un­clean­ness of my life. For it is well known, methinks, that philosophers, and still more those who have devoted their lives to arous­ing the love of sacred study, have been strong above all else in the beauty of chastity.

Thus did it come to pass that while I was utterly ab­sorbed in pride and sensuality, divine grace, the cure for both diseases, was forced upon me, even though I, for­sooth would fain have shunned it. First was I pun­ished for my sensuality, and then for my pride. For my sen­su­al­ity I lost those things whereby I prac­ticed it; for my pride, en­gen­dered in me by my knowl­edge of letters and it is even as the Apostle said: “Knowledge puffeth itself up” (I Cor. viii. 1) – I knew the hu­mil­i­a­tion of seeing burned the very book in which I most gloried. And now it is my desire that you should know the stories of these two happenings, un­der­stand­ing them more truly from learn­ing the very facts than from hearing what is spoken of them, and in the order in which they came about. Because I had ever held in ab­hor­rence the foul­ness of prostitutes, because I had dili­gently kept myself from all ex­cesses and from as­so­ci­a­tion with the women of noble birth who at­tended the school, because I knew so little of the common talk of or­di­nary people, per­verse and subtly flat­ter­ing chance gave birth to an oc­ca­sion for casting me lightly down from the heights of my own exaltation. Nay, in such case not even divine good­ness could redeem one who, having been so proud, was brought to such shame, were it not for the blessed gift of grace.



NOW there dwelt in that same city of Paris a certain young girl named Heloise, the neice of a canon who was called Fulbert. Her uncle’s love for her was equalled only by his desire that she should have the best ed­u­ca­tion which he could pos­si­bly procure for her. Of no mean beauty, she stood out above all by reason of her abun­dant knowl­edge of letters. Now this virtue is rare among women, and for that very reason it doubly graced the maiden, and made her the most worthy of renown in the entire kingdom. It was this young girl whom I, after care­fully con­sid­er­ing all those qual­i­ties which are wont to attract lovers, de­ter­mined to unite with myself in the bonds of love, and indeed the thing seemed to me very easy to be done. So dis­tin­guished was my name, and I pos­sessed such ad­van­tages of youth and comeliness, that no matter what woman I might favour with my love, I dreaded re­jec­tion of none. Then, too, I be­lieved that I could win the maiden’s consent all the more easily by reason of her knowl­edge of letters and her zeal therefor; so, even if we were parted, we might yet be to­gether in thought with the aid of written messages. Perchance, too, we might be able to write more boldly than we could speak, and thus at all times could we live in joyous intimacy.

Thus, utterly aflame with my passion for this maiden, I sought to dis­cover means whereby I might have daily and fa­mil­iar speech with her, thereby the more easily to win her consent. For this purpose I per­suaded the girl’s uncle, with the aid of some of his friends to take me into his household–for he dwelt hard by my school–in return for the payment of a small sum. My pretext for this was that the care of my own house­hold was a serious hand­i­cap to my studies, and like­wise bur­dened me with an expense far greater than I could afford. Now he was a man keen in avarice and like­wise he was most de­sirous for his niece that her study of letters should ever go forward, so, for these two reasons I easily won his consent to the ful­fill­ment of my wish, for he was fairly agape for my money, and at the same time be­lieved that his niece would vastly benefit by my teaching. More even than this, by his own earnest en­treaties he fell in with my desires beyond any­thing I had dared to hope, opening the way for my love; for he en­trusted her wholly to my guidance, begging me to give her in­struc­tion when­so­ever I might be free from the duties of my school, no matter whether by day or by night, and to punish her sternly if ever I should find her neg­li­gent of her tasks. In all this the man’s sim­plic­ity was nothing short of as­tound­ing to me; I should not have been more smitten with wonder if he had en­trusted a tender lamb to the care of a rav­en­ous wolf. When he had thus given her into my charge, not alone to be taught but even to be disciplined, what had he done save to give free scope to my desires, and to offer me every opportunity, even if I had not sought it, to bend her to my will with threats and blows if I failed to do so with caresses? There were, however, two things which par­tic­u­larly served to allay any foul suspicion: his own love for his niece, and my former rep­u­ta­tion for continence.

Why should I say more? We were united first in the dwelling that shel­tered our love, and then in the hearts that burned with it. Under the pretext of study we spent our hours in the hap­pi­ness of love, and learn­ing held out to us the secret op­por­tu­ni­ties that our passion craved. Our speech was more of love than of the books which lay open before us; our kisses far out­num­bered our rea­soned words. Our hands sought less the book than each other’s bosoms – love drew our eyes to­gether far more than the lesson drew them to the pages of our text. In order that there might be no suspicion, there were, indeed, some­times blows, but love gave them, not anger; they were the marks, not of wrath, but of a ten­der­ness sur­pass­ing the most fra­grant balm in sweetness. What followed? No degree in love’s progress was left untried by our passion, and if love itself could imagine any wonder as yet unknown, we dis­cov­ered it. And our in­ex­pe­ri­ence of such de­lights made us all the more ardent in our pursuit of them, so that our thirst for one another was still unquenched.

In measure as this pas­sion­ate rapture ab­sorbed me more and more, I devoted ever less time to phi­los­o­phy and to the work of the school. Indeed it became loath­some to me to go to the school or to linger there; the labour, moreover, was very burdensome, since my nights were vigils of love and my days of study. My lec­tur­ing became utterly care­less and lukewarm; I did nothing because of inspiration, but every­thing merely as a matter of habit. I had become nothing more than a reciter of my former discoveries, and though I still wrote poems, they dealt with love, not with the secrets of philosophy. Of these songs you your­self well know how some have become widely known and have been sung in many lands, chiefly, methinks, by those who de­lighted in the things of this world. As for the sorrow, the groans, the lamen­ta­tions of my stu­dents when they per­ceived the preoccupation, nay, rather the chaos, of my mind, it is hard even to imagine them.

A thing so man­i­fest could deceive only a few, no one, methinks, save him whose shame it chiefly bespoke, the girl’s uncle, Fulbert. The truth was often enough hinted to him, and by many persons, but he could not believe it, partly, as I have said, by reason of his bound­less love for his niece, and partly because of the well-known con­ti­nence of my pre­vi­ous life. Indeed we do not easily suspect shame in those whom we most cherish, nor can there be the blot of foul sus­pi­cion on devoted love. Of this St. Jerome in his epistle to Sabini­anus (Epist. 48) says: “We are wont to be the last to know the evils of our own households, and to be ig­no­rant of the sins of our chil­dren and our wives, though our neigh­bours sing them aloud.” But no matter how slow a matter may be in dis­clos­ing itself, it is sure to come forth at last, nor is it easy to hide from one what is known to all. So, after the lapse of several months, did it happen with us. Oh, how great was the uncle’s grief when he learned the truth, and how bitter was the sorrow of the lovers when we were forced to part! With what shame was I overwhelmed, with what con­tri­tion smitten because of the blow which had fallen on her I loved, and what a tempest of misery burst over her by reason of my disgrace! Each grieved most, not for himself, but for the other. Each sought to allay, not his own sufferings, but those of the one he loved. The very sun­der­ing of our bodies served but to link our souls closer together; the plen­ti­tude of the love which was denied to us in­flamed us more than ever. Once the first wild­ness of shame had passed, it left us more shame­less than before, and as shame died within us the cause of it seemed to us ever more desirable. And so it chanced with us as, in the stories that the poets tell, it once hap­pened with Mars and Venus when they were caught together.

It was not long after this that Heloise found that she was pregnant, and of this she wrote to me in the utmost exultation, at the same time asking me to con­sider what had best be done. Accordingly, on a night when her uncle was absent, we carried out the plan we had de­ter­mined on, and I stole her se­cretly away from her uncle’s house, sending her without delay to my own country. She re­mained there with my sister until she gave birth to a son, whom she named Astrolabe. Mean­while her uncle after his return, was almost mad with grief; only one who had then seen him could rightly guess the burning agony of his sorrow and the bit­ter­ness of his shame. What steps to take against me, or what snares to set for me, he did not know. If he should kill me or do me some bodily hurt, he feared greatly lest his dear-loved niece should be made to suffer for it among my kinsfolk. He had no power to seize me and im­prison me some­where against my will, though I make no doubt he would have done so quickly enough had he been able or dared, for I had taken mea­sures to guard against any such attempt.

At length, however, in pity for his bound­less grief, and bit­terly blaming myself for the suf­fer­ing which my love had brought upon him through the base­ness of the de­cep­tion I had practiced, I went to him to entreat his forgiveness, promis­ing to make any amends that he himself might decree. I pointed out that what had hap­pened could not seem in­cred­i­ble to any one who had ever felt the power of love, or who re­mem­bered how, from the very be­gin­ning of the human race, women had cast down even the noblest men to utter ruin. And in order to make amends even beyond his ex­tremest hope, I offered to marry her whom I had seduced, pro­vided only the thing could be kept secret, so that I might suffer no loss of rep­u­ta­tion thereby. To this he gladly assented, pledg­ing his own faith and that of his kindred, and sealing with kisses the pact which I had sought of him–and all this that he might the more easily betray me.



FORTH­WITH I re­paired to my own country, and brought back thence my mistress, that I might make her my wife. She, however, most vi­o­lently dis­ap­proved of this, and for two chief reasons: the danger thereof, and the dis­grace which it would bring upon me. She swore that her uncle would never be ap­peased by such sat­is­fac­tion as this, as, indeed, af­ter­wards proved only too true. She asked how she could ever glory in me if she should make me thus inglorious, and should shame herself along with me. What penalties, she said, would the world rightly demand of her if she should rob it of so shining a light! What curses would follow such a loss to the Church, what tears among the philoso­phers would result from such a marriage! How unfitting, how lam­en­ta­ble it would be for me, whom nature had made for the whole world, to devote myself to one woman solely, and to subject myself to such humiliation! She ve­he­mently re­jected this marriage, which she felt would be in every way ig­no­min­ious and bur­den­some to me.

Besides dwelling thus on the dis­grace to me, she re­minded me of the hard­ships of married life, to the avoid­ance of which the Apostle exhorts us, saying: “Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry she hath not sinned. Nev­er­the­less such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you” (I Cor. vii. 27). And again: “But I would have you to be free from cares” (I Cor. vii. 32). But if I would heed neither the counsel of the Apostle nor the ex­hor­ta­tions of the saints re­gard­ing this heavy yoke of matrimony, she bade me at least con­sider the advice of the philosophers, and weigh care­fully what had been written on this subject either by them or con­cern­ing their lives. Even the saints them­selves have often and earnestly spoken on this subject for the purpose of warning us. Thus St. Jerome, in his first book against Jovinianus, makes Theophras­tus set forth in great detail the in­tol­er­a­ble an­noy­ances and the endless dis­tur­bances of married life, demon­strat­ing with the most con­vinc­ing ar­gu­ments that no wise man should ever have a wife, and con­clud­ing his reasons for this philo­sophic ex­hor­ta­tion with these words: “Who among Chris­tians would not be over­whelmed by such ar­gu­ments as these ad­vanced by Theophrastus?”

Again, in the same work, St. Jerome tells how Cicero, asked by Hircius after his divorce of Ter­en­tia whether he would marry the sister of Hircius, replied that he would do no such thing, saying that he could not devote himself to a wife and to phi­los­o­phy at the same time. Cicero does not, indeed, pre­cisely speak of “devoting himself,” but he does add that he did not wish to un­der­take any­thing which might rival his study of phi­los­o­phy in its demands upon him.

Then, turning from the con­sid­er­a­tion of such hin­drances to the study of philosophy, Heloise bade me observe what were the con­di­tions of ho­n­ourable wedlock. What pos­si­ble concord could there be between schol­ars and domestics, between authors and cradles, between books or tablets and distaffs, between the stylus or the pen and the spindle? What man, intent on his re­li­gious or philo­soph­i­cal meditations, can pos­si­bly endure the whining of children, the lul­la­bies of the nurse seeking to quiet them, or the noisy con­fu­sion of family life? Who can endure the con­tin­ual un­tidi­ness of children? The rich, you may reply, can do this, because they have palaces or houses con­tain­ing many rooms, and because their wealth takes no thought of expense and pro­tects them from daily worries. But to this the answer is that the con­di­tion of philoso­phers is by no means that of the wealthy, nor can those whose minds are oc­cu­pied with riches and worldly cares find time for re­li­gious or philo­soph­i­cal study. For this reason the renowned philoso­phers of old utterly de­spised the world, fleeing from its perils rather than re­luc­tantly giving them up, and denied them­selves all its de­lights in order that they might repose in the em­braces of phi­los­o­phy alone. One of them, and the great­est of all, Seneca, in his advice to Lucilius, says phi­los­o­phy is not a thing to be studied only in hours of leisure; we must give up every­thing else to devote our­selves to it, for no amount of time is really suf­fi­cient hereto” (Epist. 73)

It matters little, she pointed out, whether one aban­dons the study of phi­los­o­phy com­pletely or merely in­ter­rupts it, for it can never remain at the point where it was thus interrupted. All other oc­cu­pa­tions must be resisted; it is vain to seek to adjust life to include them, and they must simply be eliminated. This view is maintained, for example, in the love of God by those among us who are truly called monastics, and in the love of wisdom by all those who have stood out among men as sincere philosophers. For in every race, gen­tiles or Jews or Christians, there have always been a few who ex­celled their fellows in faith or in the purity of their lives, and who were set apart from the mul­ti­tude by their con­ti­nence or by their ab­sti­nence from worldly pleasures.

Among the Jews of old there were the Nazarites, who con­se­crated them­selves to the Lord, some of them the sons of the prophet Elias and others the fol­low­ers of Eliseus, the monks of whom, on the au­thor­ity of St. Jerome (Epist. 4 and 13), we read in the Old Testament. More re­cently there were the three philo­soph­i­cal sects which Jose­phus defines in his Book of An­tiq­ui­ties (xviii. 2), calling them the Pharisees, the Sad­ducees and the Essenes. In our times, furthermore, there are the monks who imitate either the com­mu­nal life of the Apos­tles or the earlier and soli­tary life of John. Among the gen­tiles there are, as has been said, the philosophers. Did they not apply the name of wisdom or phi­los­o­phy as much to the re­li­gion of life as to the pursuit of learning, as we find from the origin of the word itself, and like­wise from the tes­ti­mony of the saints?

There is a passage on this subject in the eighth book of St. Augustine’s “City of God,” wherein he dis­tin­guishes between the various schools of philosophy. “The Italian school,” he says, “had as its founder Pythago­ras of Samos, who, it is said, orig­i­nated the very word ‘philosophy’. Before his time those who were re­garded as con­spic­u­ous for the praise­wor­thi­ness of their lives were called wise men, but he, on being asked of his profession, replied that he was a philosopher, that is to say a student or a lover of wisdom because it seemed to him unduly boast­ful to call himself a wise man.” In this passage, therefore, when the phrase “conspicuous for the praise­wor­thi­ness of their lives” is used, it is evident that the wise, in other words the philosophers, were so called less because of their eru­di­tion than by reason of their vir­tu­ous lives. In what so­bri­ety and con­ti­nence these men lived it is not for me to prove by illustration, lest I should seem to in­struct Minerva herself.

Now, she added, if laymen and gentiles, bound by no pro­fes­sion of religion, lived after this fashion, what ought you, a cleric and a canon, to do in order not to prefer base volup­tuous­ness to your sacred duties, to prevent this Charyb­dis from sucking you down headlong, and to save your­self from being plunged shame­lessly and ir­rev­o­ca­bly into such filth as this? If you care nothing for your priv­i­leges as a cleric, at least uphold your dignity as a philosopher. If you scorn the rev­er­ence due to God, let regard for your rep­u­ta­tion temper your shamelessness. Re­mem­ber that Socrates was chained to a wife, and by what a filthy ac­ci­dent he himself paid for this blot on philosophy, in order that others there­after might be made more cau­tious by his example. Jerome thus men­tions this affair, writing about Socrates in his first book against Jovinianus: “Once when he was with­stand­ing a storm of re­proaches which Xan­tippe was hurling at him from an upper story, he was sud­denly drenched with foul slops; wiping his head, he said only, ‘I knew there would be a shower after all that thunder.’”

Her final ar­gu­ment was that it would be dan­ger­ous for me to take her back to Paris, and that it would be far sweeter for her to be called my mis­tress than to be known as my wife; nay, too, that this would be more ho­n­ourable for me as well. In such case, she said, love alone would hold me to her, and the strength of the mar­riage chain would not con­strain us. Even if we should by chance be parted from time to time, the joy of our meet­ings would be all the sweeter by reason of its rarity. But when she found that she could not con­vince me or dis­suade me from my folly by these and like arguments, and because she could not bear to offend me, with griev­ous sighs and tears she made an end of her resistance, saying: “Then there is no more left but this, that in our doom the sorrow yet to come shall be no less than the love we two have already known.” Nor in this, as now the whole world knows, did she lack the spirit of prophecy.

So, after our little son was born, we left him in my sister’s care, and se­cretly re­turned to Paris. A few days later, in the early morning, having kept our noc­tur­nal vigil of prayer unknown to all in a certain church, we were united there in the bene­dic­tion of wedlock her uncle and a few friends of his and mine being present. We de­parted forth­with stealth­ily and by sep­a­rate ways, nor there­after did we see each other save rarely and in private, thus striv­ing our utmost to conceal what we had done. But her uncle and those of his household, seeking solace for their disgrace, began to divulge the story of our marriage, and thereby to violate the pledge they had given me on this point. Heloise, on the contrary, de­nounced her own kin and swore that they were speak­ing the most ab­solute lies. Her uncle, aroused to fury thereby, visited her re­peat­edly with punishments. No sooner had I learned this than I sent her to a convent of nuns at Argenteuil, not far from Paris, where she herself had been brought up and ed­u­cated as a young girl. I had them make ready for her all the gar­ments of a nun, suit­able for the life of a convent, ex­cept­ing only the veil, and these I bade her put on.

When her uncle and his kinsmen heard of this, they were con­vinced that now I had com­pletely played them false and had rid myself forever of Heloise by forcing her to become a nun. Vi­o­lently incensed, they laid a plot against me, and one night while I all un­sus­pect­ing was asleep in a secret room in my lodgings, they broke in with the help of one of my ser­vants whom they had bribed. There they had vengeance on me with a most cruel and most shame­ful punishment, such as as­tounded the whole world; for they cut off those parts of my body with which I had done that which was the cause of their sorrow. This done, straight­way they fled, but two of them were cap­tured and suf­fered the loss of their eyes and their genital organs. One of these two was the afore­said servant, who even while he was still in my service, had been led by his avarice to betray me.



WHEN morning came the whole city was as­sem­bled before my dwelling. It is difficult, nay, impossible, for words of mine to de­scribe the amaze­ment which be­wil­dered them, the lamen­ta­tions they uttered, the uproar with which they ha­rassed me, or the grief with which they in­creased my own suffering. Chiefly the clerics, and above all my scholars, tor­tured me with their in­tol­er­a­ble lamen­ta­tions and outcries, so that I suf­fered more in­tensely from their com­pas­sion than from the pain of my wound. In truth I felt the dis­grace more than the hurt to my body, and was more af­flicted with shame than with pain. My in­ces­sant thought was of the renown in which I had so much delighted, now brought low, nay, utterly blotted out, so swiftly by an evil chance. I saw, too, how justly God had pun­ished me in that very part of my body whereby I had sinned. I per­ceived that there was indeed justice in my be­trayal by him whom I had myself already betrayed; and then I thought how eagerly my rivals would seize upon this man­i­fes­ta­tion of justice, how this dis­grace would bring bitter and en­dur­ing grief to my kindred and my friends, and how the tale of this amazing outrage would spread to the very ends of the earth.

What path lay open to me thereafter? How could I ever again hold up my head among men, when every finger should be pointed at me in scorn, every tongue speak my blis­ter­ing shame, and when I should be a mon­strous spec­ta­cle to all eyes? I was over­whelmed by the re­mem­brance that, ac­cord­ing to the dread letter of the law, God holds eunuchs in such abom­i­na­tion that men thus maimed are for­bid­den to enter a church, even as the unclean and filthy; nay, even beasts in such plight were not ac­cept­able as sacrifices. Thus in Leviti­cus (xxii. 24) is it said: “Ye shall not offer unto the Lord that which hath its stones bruised, or crushed, or broken, or cut.” And in Deuteron­omy (xxiii. 1), “He that is wounded in the stones, or hath his privy member cut off, shall not enter into the con­gre­ga­tion of the Lord.”

I must confess that in my misery it was the over­whelm­ing sense of my dis­grace rather than any ardour for con­ver­sion to the re­li­gious life that drove me to seek the seclu­sion of the monas­tic cloister. Heloise had already, at my bidding, taken the veil and entered a convent. Thus it was that we both put on the sacred garb, I in the abbey of St. Denis, and she in the convent of Argenteuil, of which I have already spoken. She, I re­mem­ber well, when her fond friends sought vainly to deter her from sub­mit­ting her fresh youth to the heavy and almost in­tol­er­a­ble yoke of monas­tic life, sobbing and weeping replied in the words of Cornelia:

“O husband most noble
Who ne’er shouldst have shared my couch! Has fortune such power
To smite so lofty a head? Why then was I wedded
Only to bring thee to woe? Receive now my sorrow,
The price I so gladly pay.”
(Lucan, “Pharsalia,” viii. 94.)

With these words on her lips did she go forth­with to the altar, and lifted there­from the veil, which had been blessed by the bishop, and before them all she took the vows of the re­li­gious life. For my part, scarcely had I re­cov­ered from my wound when clerics sought me in great numbers, end­lessly be­seech­ing both my abbot and me myself that now, since I was done with learn­ing for the sake of pain or renown, I should turn to it for the sole love of God. They bade me care dili­gently for the talent which God had com­mit­ted to my keeping (Matthew, xxv. 15), since surely He would demand it back from me with interest. It was their plea that, inas­much as of old I had laboured chiefly in behalf of the rich, I should now devote myself to the teach­ing of the poor. Therein above all should I per­ceive how it was the hand of God that had touched me, when I should devote my life to the study of letters in freedom from the snares of the flesh and with­drawn from the tu­mul­tuous life of this world. Thus, in truth, should I become a philoso­pher less of this world than of God.

The abbey, however, to which I had betaken myself was utterly worldly and in its life quite scandalous. The abbot himself was as far below his fellows in his way of living and in the foul­ness of his rep­u­ta­tion as he was above them in priestly rank. This in­tol­er­a­ble state of things I often and ve­he­mently denounced, some­times in private talk and some­times publicly, but the only result was that I made myself de­tested of them all. They gladly laid hold of the daily ea­ger­ness of my stu­dents to hear me as an excuse whereby they might be rid of me; and finally, at the in­sis­tent urging of the stu­dents themselves, and with the hearty consent of the abbot and the rest of the brotherhood, I de­parted thence to a certain hut, there to teach in my wonted way. To this place such a throng of stu­dents flocked that the neigh­bour­hood could not afford shelter for them, nor the earth suf­fi­cient sustenance.

Here, as be­fit­ted my profession, I devoted myself chiefly to lec­tures on theology, but I did not wholly abandon the teach­ing of the secular arts, to which I was more accustomed, and which was par­tic­u­larly de­manded of me. I used the latter, however, as a hook, luring my stu­dents by the bait of learn­ing to the study of the true philosophy, even as the Ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal History tells of Origen, the great­est of all Chris­t­ian philosophers. Since ap­par­ently the Lord had gifted me with no less per­sua­sive­ness in ex­pound­ing the Scrip­tures than in lec­tur­ing on secular subjects, the number of my stu­dents in these two courses began to in­crease greatly, and the at­ten­dance at all the other schools was cor­re­spond­ingly diminished. Thus I aroused the envy and hatred of the other teachers. Those way took who sought to be­lit­tle me in every pos­si­ble ad­van­tage of my absence to bring two prin­ci­pal charges against me: first, that it was con­trary to the monas­tic pro­fes­sion to be con­cerned with the study of secular books; and, second, that I had pre­sumed to teach the­ol­ogy without ever having been taught therein myself. This they did in order that my teach­ing of every kind might be prohibited, and to this end they con­tin­u­ally stirred up bishops, archbishops, abbots and what­ever other dig­ni­taries of the Church they could reach.



IT SO hap­pened that at the outset I devoted myself to analysing the basis of our faith through il­lus­tra­tions based on human understanding, and I wrote for my stu­dents a certain tract on the unity and trinity of God. This I did because they were always seeking for ra­tio­nal and philo­soph­i­cal explanations, asking rather for reasons they could un­der­stand than for mere words, saying that it was futile to utter words which the in­tel­lect could not pos­si­bly follow, that nothing could be be­lieved unless it could first be understood, and that it was absurd for any one to preach to others a thing which neither he himself nor those whom he sought to teach could comprehend. Our Lord Himself main­tained this same thing when He said: “They are blind leaders of the blind” (Matthew, xv. 14).

Now, a great many people saw and read this tract, and it became ex­ceed­ingly popular, its clear­ness ap­peal­ing par­tic­u­larly to all who sought in­for­ma­tion on this subject. And since the ques­tions in­volved are gen­er­ally con­sid­ered the most dif­fi­cult of all, their com­plex­ity is taken as the measure of the sub­tlety of him who suc­ceeds in an­swer­ing them. As a result, my rivals became fu­ri­ously angry, and sum­moned a council to take action against me, the chief in­sti­ga­tors therein being my two in­trigu­ing enemies of former days, Alberic and Lotulphe. These two, now that both William and Anselm, our erst­while teachers, we’re dead, were greedy to reign in their stead, and, so to speak, to succeed them as heirs. While they were di­rect­ing the school at Rheims, they managed by re­peated hints to stir up their archbishop, Rodolphe, against me, for the purpose of holding a meeting, or rather an ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal council, at Soissons, pro­vided they could secure the ap­proval of Conon, Bishop of Praeneste, at that time papal legate in France. Their plan was to summon me to be present at this council, bring­ing with me the famous book I had written re­gard­ing the Trinity. In all this, indeed, they were successful, and the thing hap­pened ac­cord­ing to their wishes.

Before I reached Soissons, however, these two rivals of mine so foully slan­dered me with both the clergy and the public that on the day of my arrival the people came near to stoning me and the few stu­dents of mine who had ac­com­pa­nied me thither. The cause of their anger was that they had been led to believe that I had preached and written to prove the ex­is­tence of three gods. No sooner had I reached the city, therefore, than I went forth­with to the legate; to him I sub­mit­ted my book for ex­am­i­na­tion and judgment, de­clar­ing that if I had written any­thing re­pug­nant to the Catholic faith, I was quite ready to correct it or oth­er­wise to make sat­is­fac­tory amends. The legate di­rected me to refer my book to the arch­bishop and to those same two rivals of mine, to the end that my ac­cusers might also be my judges. So in my case was ful­filled the saying: “Even our enemies are our judges” (Deut. xxxii. 31).

These three, then, took my book and pawed it over and ex­am­ined it minutely, but could find nothing therein which they dared to use as the basis for a public ac­cu­sa­tion against me. Ac­cord­ingly they put off the con­dem­na­tion of the book until the close of the council, despite their ea­ger­ness to bring it about. For my part, every day before the council con­vened I pub­licly dis­cussed the Catholic faith in the light of what I had written, and all who heard me were en­thu­si­as­tic in their ap­proval alike of the frank­ness and the logic of my words. When the public and the clergy had thus learned some­thing of the real char­ac­ter of my teaching, they began to say to one another: “Behold, now he speaks openly, and no one brings any charge against him. And this council, summoned, as we have heard, chiefly to take action upon his case is drawing toward its end. Did the judges realize that the error might be theirs rather than his?”

As a result of all this, my rivals grew more angry day by day. On one oc­ca­sion Alberic, ac­com­pa­nied by some of his students, came to me for the purpose of in­tim­i­dat­ing me, and, after a few bland words, said that he was amazed at some­thing he had found in my book, to the effect that, al­though God had be­got­ten God, I denied that God had be­got­ten Himself, since there was only one God. I an­swered unhesitatingly: “I can give you an ex­pla­na­tion of this if you wish it.” “Nay,” he replied, “I care nothing for human ex­pla­na­tion or rea­son­ing in such matters, but only for the words of authority.” “Very well, I said; “turn the pages of my book and you will find the au­thor­ity likewise.” The book was at hand, for he had brought it with him. I turned to the passage I had in mind, which he had either not dis­cov­ered or else passed over as con­tain­ing nothing in­ju­ri­ous to me. And it was God’s will that I quickly found what I sought. This was the fol­low­ing sentence, under the heading “Augustine, On the Trinity, Book I”: “Whosoever be­lieves that it is within the power of God to beget Himself is sorely in error; this power is not in God, neither is it in any created thing, spir­i­tual or corporeal. For there is nothing that can give birth to itself.”

When those of his fol­low­ers who were present heard this, they were amazed and much embarrassed. He himself, in order to keep his countenance, said: “Certainly, I un­der­stand all that.” Then I added: “What I have to say further on this subject is by no means new, but ap­par­ently it has nothing to do with the case at issue, since you have asked for the word of au­thor­ity only, and not for explanations. If, however, you care to con­sider logical explanations, I am pre­pared to demon­strate that, ac­cord­ing to Augustine’s statement, you have your­self fallen into a heresy in be­liev­ing that a father can pos­si­bly be his own son.” When Alberic heard this he was almost beside himself with rage, and straight­way re­sorted to threats, as­sert­ing that neither my ex­pla­na­tions nor my ci­ta­tions of au­thor­ity would avail me aught in this case. With this he left me.

On the last day of the council, before the session convened, the legate and the arch­bishop de­lib­er­ated with my rivals and sundry others as to what should be. done about me and my book, this being the chief reason for their having come together. And since they had dis­cov­ered nothing either in my speech or in what I had hith­erto written which would give them a case against me, they were all reduced to silence, or at the most to ma­lign­ing me in whispers. Then Geoffroi, Bishop of Chartres, who ex­celled the other bishops alike in the sin­cer­ity of his re­li­gion and in the im­por­tance of his see, spoke thus:

“You know, my lords, all who are gath­ered here, the doc­trine of this man, what it is, and his ability, which has brought him many fol­low­ers in every field to which he has devoted himself. You know how greatly he has less­ened the renown of other teachers, both his masters and our own, and how he has spread as it were the off­shoots of his vine from sea to sea. Now, if you impose a lightly con­sid­ered judg­ment on him, as I cannot believe you will, you well know that even if mayhap you are in the right there are many who will be angered thereby and that he will have no lack of defenders. Re­mem­ber above all that we have found nothing in this book of his that lies before us whereon any open ac­cu­sa­tion can be based. Indeed it is true, as Jerome says: `Fortitude openly dis­played always creates rivals, and the light­ning strikes the highest peaks.’ Have a care, then, lest by violent action you only in­crease his fame, and lest we do more hurt to our­selves through envy than to him through justice. A false report, as that same wise man reminds us, is easily crushed, and a man’s later life gives tes­ti­mony as to his earlier deeds. If, then, you are dis­posed to take canon­i­cal action against him, his doc­trine or his writ­ings must be brought forward as evidence, and he must have free op­por­tu­nity to answer his questioners. In that case if he is found guilty or if he con­fesses his error, his lips can be wholly sealed. Con­sider the words of the blessed Nicodemus, who, de­sir­ing to free Our Lord Himself, said: ’Doth our law judge any man before it hear him and know what he doeth? (John, vii. 51).

When my rivals heard this they cried out in protest, saying: “This is wise counsel, forsooth, that we should strive against the wordi­ness of this man, whose arguments, or rather, sophistries, the whole world cannot resist!” And yet, methinks, it was far more dif­fi­cult to strive against Christ Himself, for Whom, nevertheless, Nicode­mus de­manded a hearing in ac­cor­dance with the dic­tates of the law. When the bishop could not win their assent to his proposals, he tried in another way to curb their hatred, saying that for the dis­cus­sion of such an im­por­tant case the few who were present were not enough, and that this matter re­quired a more thor­ough examination. His further sug­ges­tion was that my abbot, who was there present, should take me back with him to our abbey, in other words to the monastery of St. Denis, and that there a large con­vo­ca­tion of learned men should determine, on the basis of a careful investigation, what ought to be done. To this last pro­posal the legate consented, as did all the others.

Then the legate arose to cel­e­brate mass before en­ter­ing the council, and through the bishop sent me the per­mis­sion which had been de­ter­mined on, au­tho­riz­ing me to return to my monastery and there await such action as might be finally taken. But my rivals, per­ceiv­ing that they would ac­com­plish nothing if the trial were to be held outside of their own diocese, and in a place where they could have little in­flu­ence on the verdict, and in truth having small wish that justice should be done, per­suaded the arch­bishop that it would be a grave insult to him to trans­fer this case to another court, and that it would be dan­ger­ous for him if by chance I should thus be acquitted. They like­wise went to the legate, and suc­ceeded in so chang­ing his opinion that finally they induced him to frame a new sentence, whereby he agreed to condemn my book without any further inquiry, to burn it forth­with in the sight of all, and to confine me for a year in another monastery. The ar­gu­ment they used was that it suf­ficed for the con­dem­na­tion of my book that I had pre­sumed to read it in public without the ap­proval either of the Roman pontiff or of the church, and that, furthermore, I had given it to many to be transcribed. Me­thinks it would be a notable bless­ing to the Chris­t­ian faith if there were more who dis­played a like presumption. The legate, however, being less skilled in law than he should have been, relied chiefly on the advice of the archbishop, and he, in turn, on that of my rivals. When the Bishop of Chartres got wind of this, he re­ported the whole con­spir­acy to me, and strongly urged me to endure meekly the man­i­fest vi­o­lence of their enmity. He bade me not to doubt that this vi­o­lence would in the end react upon them and prove a bless­ing to me, and coun­seled me to have no fear of the con­fine­ment in a monastery, knowing that within a few days the legate himself, who was now acting under compulsion, would after his de­par­ture set me free. And thus he con­soled me as best he might, min­gling his tears with mine.



STRAIGHT­WAY upon my summons I went to the council, and there, without further ex­am­i­na­tion or debate, did they compel me with my own hand to cast that mem­o­rable book of mine into the flames. Al­though my enemies ap­peared to have nothing to say while the book was burning, one of them mut­tered some­thing about having seen it written therein that God the Father was alone omnipotent. This reached the ears of the legate, who replied in as­ton­ish­ment that he could not believe that even a child would make so absurd a blunder. “Our common faith,” he said, holds and sets forth that the Three are alike omnipotent.” A certain Tirric, a schoolmaster, hearing this, sar­cas­ti­cally added the Athanasian phrase, “And yet there are not three om­nipo­tent Persons, but only One.”

This man’s bishop forth­with began to censure him, bidding him desist from such trea­son­able talk, but he boldly stood his ground, and said, as if quoting the words of Daniel: “‘Are ye such fools, ye sons of Israel, that without ex­am­i­na­tion or knowl­edge of the truth ye have con­demned a daugh­ter of Israel? Return again to the place of judgment,’ (Daniel, xiii. 48 The History of Susanna) and there give judg­ment on the judge himself. You have set up this judge, forsooth, for the in­struc­tion of faith and the cor­rec­tion of error, and yet, when he ought to give judgment, he con­demns himself out of his own mouth. Set free today, with the help of God’s mercy, one who is man­i­festly innocent, even as Susanna was freed of old from her false accusers.”

There­upon the arch­bishop arose and con­firmed the legate’s statement, but changed the wording thereof, as indeed was most fitting. “It is God’s truth,” he said, “that the Father is omnipotent, the Son is omnipotent, the Holy Spirit is omnipotent. And whoso­ever dis­sents from this is openly in error, and must not be lis­tened to. Nevertheless, if it be your pleasure, it would be well that this our brother should pub­licly state before us all the faith that is in him, to the end that, ac­cord­ing to its deserts, it may either be ap­proved or else con­demned and corrected.”

When, however, I fain would have arisen to profess and set forth my faith, in order that I might express in my own words that which was in my heart, my enemies de­clared that it was not needful for me to do more than recite the Athanasian Symbol, a thing which any boy might do as well as I. And lest I should allege ignorance, pre­tend­ing that I did not know the words by heart, they had a copy of it set before me to read. And read it I did as best I could for my groans and sighs and tears. Thereupon, as if I had been a con­victed criminal, I was handed over to the Abbot of St. M�dard, who was there present, and led to his monastery as to a prison. And with this the council was im­me­di­ately dissolved.

The abbot and the monks of the afore­said monastery, think­ing that I would remain long with them, re­ceived me with great exultation, and dili­gently sought to console me, but all in vain. O God, who dost judge justice itself, in what venom of the spirit, in what bit­ter­ness of mind, did I blame even Thee for my shame, ac­cus­ing Thee in my madness! Full often did I repeat the lament of St. Anthony: “Kindly Jesus, where wert Thou?” The sorrow that tor­tured me, the shame that over­whelmed me, the des­per­a­tion that wracked my mind, all these I could then feel, but even now I can find no words to express them. Com­par­ing these new suf­fer­ings of my soul with those I had for­merly endured in my body, it seemed that I was in very truth the most mis­er­able among men. Indeed that earlier be­trayal had become a little thing in com­par­i­son with this later evil, and I lamented the hurt to my fair name far more than the one to my body. The latter, indeed, I had brought upon myself through my own wrongdoing, but this other vi­o­lence had come upon me solely by reason of the honesty of my purpose and my love of our faith, which had com­pelled me to write that which I believed.

The very cruelty and heart­less­ness of my punishment, however, made every one who heard the story ve­he­ment in cen­sur­ing it, so that those who had a hand therein were soon eager to dis­claim all responsibility, shoul­der­ing the blame on others. Nay, matters came to such a pass that even my rivals denied that they had had any­thing to do with the matter, and as for the legate, he pub­licly de­nounced the malice with which the French had acted. Swayed by re­pen­tance for his injustice, and feeling that he had yielded enough to satisfy their rancour he shortly freed me from the monastery whither I had been taken, and sent me back to my own. Here, however, I found almost as many enemies as I had in the former days of which I have already spoken, for the vile­ness and shame­less­ness of their way of living made them realize that they would again have to endure my censure.

After a few months had passed, chance gave them an op­por­tu­nity by which they sought to destroy me. It hap­pened that one day, in the course of my reading, I came upon a certain passage of Bede, in his com­men­tary on the Acts of the Apostles, wherein he asserts that Diony­sius the Are­opagite was the bishop, not of Athens, but of Corinth. Now, this was di­rectly counter to the belief of the monks, who were wont to boast that their Dionysius, or Denis, was not only the Are­opagite but was like­wise proved by his acts to have been the Bishop of Athens. Having thus found this tes­ti­mony of Bede’s in con­tra­dic­tion of our own tradition, I showed it some­what jest­ingly to sundry of the monks who chanced to be near. Wrath­fully they de­clared that Bede was no better than a liar, and that they had a far more trust­wor­thy au­thor­ity in the person of Hilduin, a former abbot of theirs, who had trav­elled for a long time through­out Greece for the purpose of in­ves­ti­gat­ing this very question. He, they insisted, had by his writ­ings removed all pos­si­ble doubt on the subject, and had se­curely es­tab­lished the truth of the tra­di­tional belief.

One of the monks went so far as to ask me brazenly which of the two, Bede or Hilduin, I con­sid­ered the better au­thor­ity on this point. I replied that the au­thor­ity of Bede, whose writ­ings are held in high esteem by the whole Latin Church, ap­peared to me the better. There­upon in a great rage they began to cry out that at last I had openly proved the hatred I had always felt for our monastery, and that I was seeking to dis­grace it in the eyes of the whole kingdom, robbing it of the honour in which it had par­tic­u­larly gloried, by thus denying that the Are­opagite was their patron saint. To this I an­swered that I had never denied the fact, and that I did not much care whether their patron was the Are­opagite or some one else, pro­vided only he had re­ceived his crown from God. There­upon they ran to the abbot and told him of the mis­de­meanour with which they charged me.

The abbot lis­tened to their story with delight, re­joic­ing at having found a chance to crush me, for the greater vile­ness of his life made him fear me more even than the rest did. Ac­cord­ingly he sum­moned his council, and when the brethren had as­sem­bled he vi­o­lently threat­ened me, de­clar­ing that he would straight­way send me to the king, by him to be pun­ished for having thus sullied his crown and the glory of his royalty. And until he should hand me over to the king, he ordered that I should be closely guarded. In vain did I offer to submit to the cus­tom­ary dis­ci­pline if I had in any way been guilty. Then, hor­ri­fied at their wickedness, which seemed to crown the ill fortune I had so long endured, and in utter despair at the ap­par­ent con­spir­acy of the whole world against me, I fled se­cretly from the monastery by night, helped thereto by some of the monks who took pity on me, and like­wise aided by some of my scholars.

I made my way to a region where I had for­merly dwelt, hard by the lands of Count Theobald (of Champagne). He himself had some slight ac­quain­tance with me, and had com­pas­sion on me by reason of my persecutions, of which the story had reached him. I found a home there within the walls of Provins, in a priory of the monks of Troyes, the prior of which had in former days known me well and shown me much love. In his joy at my coming he cared for me with all diligence. It chanced, however, that one day my abbot came to Provins to see the count on certain matters of business. As soon as I had learned of this, I went to the count, the prior ac­com­pa­ny­ing me, and be­sought him to in­ter­cede in my behalf with the abbot. I asked no more than that the abbot should absolve me of the charge against me, and give me per­mis­sion to live the monas­tic life where­so­ever I could find a suit­able place. The abbot, however, and those who were with him took the matter under advisement, saying that they would give the count an answer the day before they departed. It ap­peared from their words that they thought I wished to go to some other abbey, a thing which they re­garded as an immense dis­grace to their own. They had, indeed, taken par­tic­u­lar pride in the fact that, upon my conversion, I had come to them, as if scorn­ing all other abbeys, and ac­cord­ingly they con­sid­ered that it would bring great shame upon them if I should now desert their abbey and seek another. For this reason they refused to listen either to my own plea or to that of the count. Furthermore, they threat­ened me with ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion unless I should in­stantly return; like­wise they forbade the prior with whom I had taken refuge to keep me longer, under pain of sharing my excommunication. When we heard this both the prior and I were stricken with fear. The abbot went away still obdurate, but a few days there­after he died.

As soon as his suc­ces­sor had been named, I went to him, ac­com­pa­nied by the Bishop of Meaux, to try if I might win from him the per­mis­sion I had vainly sought of his predecessor. At first he would not give his assent, but finally, through the in­ter­ven­tion of certain friends of mine, I secured the right to appeal to the king and his council, and in this way I at last ob­tained what I sought. The royal seneschal, Stephen, having sum­moned the abbot and his sub­or­di­nates that they might state their case, asked them why they wanted to keep me against my will. He pointed out that this might easily bring them into evil repute, and cer­tainly could do them no good, seeing that their way of living was utterly in­com­pat­i­ble with mine. I knew it to be the opinion of the royal council that the ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the conduct of this abbey would tend to bring it more and more under the control of the king, making it in­creas­ingly useful and like­wise prof­itable to him, and for this reason I had good hope of easily winning the support of the king and those about him.

Thus, indeed, did it come to pass. But in order that the monastery might not be shorn of any of the glory which it had enjoyed by reason of my sojourn there, they granted me per­mis­sion to betake myself to any soli­tary place I might choose, pro­vided only I did not put myself under the rule of any other abbey. This was agreed upon and con­firmed on both sides in the pres­ence of the king and his councellors. Forth­with I sought out a lonely spot known to me of old in the region of Troyes, and there, on a bit of land which had been given to me, and with the ap­proval of the bishop of the district, I built with reeds and stalks my first oratory in the name of the Holy Trinity. And there concealed, with but one comrade, a certain cleric, I was able to sing over and over again to the Lord: “Lo, then would I wander far off, and remain in the wilderness” (Ps. iv. 7).



NO SOONER had schol­ars learned of my retreat than they began to flock thither from all sides, leaving their towns and castles to dwell in the wilderness. In place of their spa­cious houses they built them­selves huts; instead of dainty fare they lived on the herbs of the field and coarse bread; their soft beds they ex­changed for heaps of straw and rushes, and their tables were piles of turf. in very truth you may well believe that they were like those philoso­phers of old of whom Jerome tells us in his second book against Jovinianus.

“Through the senses,” says Jerome, “as through so many windows, do vices win en­trance to the soul. The me­trop­o­lis and citadel of the mind cannot be taken unless the army of the foe has first rushed in through the gates. If any one de­lights in the games of the circus, in the con­tests of athletes, in the ver­sa­til­ity of actors, in the beauty of women, in the glitter of gems and raiment, or in aught else like to these, then the freedom of his soul is made captive through the windows of his eyes, and thus is ful­filled the prophecy: ‘For death is come up into our windows’ (Jer. ix. 21). And then, when the wedges of doubt have, as it were, been driven into the citadels of our minds through these gateways, where will be its liberty? where its fortitude? where its thought of God? Most of all does the sense of touch paint for itself the pic­tures of past raptures, com­pelling the soul to dwell fondly upon re­mem­bered iniquities, and so to prac­tice in imag­i­na­tion those things which reality denies to it.

“Heeding such counsel, therefore, many among the philoso­phers forsook the throng­ing ways of the cities and the pleas­ant gardens of the countryside, with their well watered fields, their shady trees, the song of birds, the mirror of the fountain, the murmur of the stream, the many charms for eye and ear, fearing lest their souls should grow soft amid luxury and abun­dance of riches, and lest their virtue should thereby be defiled. For it is per­ilous to turn your eyes often to those things whereby you may some day be made captive, or to attempt the pos­ses­sion of that which it would go hard with you to do without. Thus the Pythagore­ans shunned all com­pan­ion­ship of this kind, and were wont to dwell in soli­tary and desert places. Nay, Plato himself, al­though he was a rich man let Dio­genes trample on his couch with muddy feet, and in order that he might devote himself to phi­los­o­phy es­tab­lished his academy in a place remote from the city, and not only un­in­hab­ited but un­healthy as well. This he did in order that the on­slaughts of lust might be broken by the fear and con­stant pres­ence of disease, and that his fol­low­ers might find no plea­sure save in the things they learned.”

Such a life, likewise, the sons of the prophets who were the fol­low­ers of Eliseus are re­ported to have led. Of these Jerome also tells us, writing thus to the monk Rus­ti­cus as if de­scrib­ing the monks of those ancient days: “The sons of the prophets, the monks of whom we read in the Old Tes­ta­ment built for them­selves huts by the waters of the Jordan, and for­sak­ing the throngs and the cities, lived on pottage and the herbs of the field” (Epist. iv).

Even so did my fol­low­ers build their huts above the waters of the Arduzon, so that they seemed hermits rather than scholars. And as their number grew ever greater, the hard­ships which they gladly endured for the sake of my teach­ing seemed to my rivals to reflect new glory on me, and to cast new shame on themselves. Nor was it strange that they, who had done their utmost to hurt me, should grieve to see how all things worked to­gether for my good, even though I was now, in the words of Jerome, afar from cities and the market place, from con­tro­ver­sies and the crowded ways of men. And so, as Quin­til­ian says, did envy seek me out even in my hiding place. Se­cretly my rivals com­plained and lamented one to another, saying: “Behold now, the whole world runs after him, and our per­se­cu­tion of him has done nought save to in­crease his glory. We strove to ex­tin­guish his fame, and we have but given it new brightness. Lo, in the cities schol­ars have at hand every­thing they may need, and yet, spurn­ing the plea­sures of the town, they seek out the bar­ren­ness of the desert, and of their own free will they accept wretchedness.”

The thing which at that time chiefly led me to un­der­take the di­rec­tion of a school was my in­tol­er­a­ble poverty, for I had not strength enough to dig, and shame kept me from begging. And so, re­sort­ing once more to the art with which I was so familiar, I was com­pelled to sub­sti­tute the service of the tongue for the labour of my hands. The stu­dents will­ingly pro­vided me with what­so­ever I needed in the way of food and clothing, and like­wise took charge of the cul­ti­va­tion of the fields and paid for the erec­tion of buildings, in order that ma­te­r­ial cares might not keep me from my studies. Since my oratory was no longer large enough to hold even a small part of their number, they found it nec­es­sary to in­crease its size, and in so doing they greatly im­proved it, build­ing it of stone and wood. Al­though this oratory had been founded in honour of the Holy Trinity, and af­ter­wards ded­i­cated thereto, I now named it the Paraclete, mindful of how I had come there a fugi­tive and in despair, and had breathed into my soul some­thing of the miracle of divine consolation.

Many of those who heard of this were greatly astonished, and some vi­o­lently as­sailed my action, de­clar­ing that it was not per­mis­si­ble to ded­i­cate a church ex­clu­sively to the Holy Spirit rather than to God the Father. They held, ac­cord­ing to an ancient tradition, that ’it must be ded­i­cated either to the Son alone or else to the entire Trinity. The error which led them into this false ac­cu­sa­tion re­sulted from their failure to per­ceive the iden­tity of the Par­a­clete with the Spirit Paraclete. Even as the whole Trinity, or any Person in the Trinity, may rightly be called God or Helper, so like­wise may It be termed the Paraclete, that is to say the Consoler. These are the words of the Apostle: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; who com­forteth us in all our tribulation” (II Cor. i. 3) And like­wise the word of truth says: “And he shall give you another comforter” (Greek “another Paraclete,” John, xiv. 16).

Nay, since every church is con­se­crated equally in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, without any dif­fer­ence in their pos­ses­sion thereof, why should not the house of God be ded­i­cated to the Father or to the Holy Spirit, even as it is to the Son? Who would presume to erase from above the door the name of him who is the master of the house? And since the Son offered Himself as a sac­ri­fice to the Father, and ac­cord­ingly in the cer­e­monies of the mass the prayers are offered par­tic­u­larly to the Father, and the im­mo­la­tion of the Host is made to Him, why should the altar not be held to be chiefly His to whom above all the sup­pli­ca­tion and sac­ri­fice are made? Is it not called more rightly the altar of Him who re­ceives than of Him who makes the sacrifice? Who would admit that an altar is that of the Holy Cross, or of the Sepulchre, or of St. Michael, or John, or Peter, or of any other saint, unless either he himself was sac­ri­ficed there or else special sac­ri­fices and prayers are made there to him? Me­thinks the altars and temples of certain ones among these saints are not held to be idol­a­trous even though they are used for special sac­ri­fices and prayers to their patrons.

Some, however, may per­chance argue that churches are not built or altars ded­i­cated to the Father because there is no feast which is sol­em­nized es­pe­cially for Him. But while this rea­son­ing holds good as regards the Trinity itself, it does not apply in the case of the Holy Spirit. For this Spirit, from the day of Its advent, has had its special feast of the Pentecost, even as the Son has had since His coming upon earth His feast of the Nativity. Even as the Son was sent into this world, so did the Holy Spirit descend upon the disciples, and thus does It claim Its special re­li­gious rites. Nay, it seems more fitting to ded­i­cate a temple to It than to either of the other Persons of the Trinity, if we but care­fully study the apos­tolic authority, and con­sider the work­ings of this Spirit Itself. To none of the three Persons did the apostle ded­i­cate a special temple save to the Holy Spirit alone. He does not speak of a temple of the Father, or a temple of the Son, as he does of a temple of the Holy Spirit, writing thus in his first epistle to the Corinthians: “But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit.” (I Cor. vi. 17). And again: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” (ib. 19).

Who is there who does not know that the sacra­ments of God’s bless­ings per­tain­ing to the Church are par­tic­u­larly as­cribed to the op­er­a­tion of divine grace, by which is meant the Holy Spirit? For­sooth we are born again of water and of the Holy Spirit in baptism, and thus from the very be­gin­ning is the body made, as it were, a special temple of God. In the suc­ces­sive sacraments, moreover, the seven-fold grace of the Spirit is added, whereby this same temple of God is made beau­ti­ful and is consecrated. What wonder is it, then, if to that Person to Whom the apostle as­signed a spir­i­tual temple we should ded­i­cate a ma­te­r­ial one? Or to what Person can a church be more rightly said to belong than to Him to Whom all the bless­ings which the church ad­min­is­ters are par­tic­u­larly ascribed? It was not, however, with the thought of ded­i­cat­ing my oratory to one Person that I first called it the Paraclete, but for the reason I have already told, that in this spot I found consolation. None the less, even if I had done it for the reason at­trib­uted to me, the de­par­ture from the usual custom would have been in no way illogical.



AND so I dwelt in this place, my body indeed hidden away, but my fame spread­ing through­out the whole world, till its echo re­ver­ber­ated might­ily – echo, that fancy of the poet’s, which has so great a voice, and nought beside. My former rivals, seeing that they them­selves were now pow­er­less to do me hurt, stirred up against me certain new apos­tles in whom the world put great faith. One of these (Norbert of Pr�montr�) took pride in his po­si­tion as canon of a regular order; the other (Bernard of Clairvaux) made it his boast that he bad revived the true monas­tic life. These two ran hither and yon preach­ing and shame­lessly slan­der­ing me in every way they could, so that in time they suc­ceeded in drawing down on my head the scorn of many among those having authority, among both the clergy and the laity. They spread abroad such sin­is­ter reports of my faith as well as of my life that they turned even my best friends against me, and those who still re­tained some­thing of their former regard for me were fain to dis­guise it in every pos­si­ble way by reason of their fear of these two men.

God is my witness that when­so­ever I learned of the con­ven­ing of a new as­sem­blage of the clergy, I be­lieved that it was done for the express purpose of my condemnation. Stunned by this fear like one smitten with a thunderbolt, I daily ex­pected to be dragged before their coun­cils or as­sem­blies as a heretic or one guilty of impiety. Though I seem to compare a flea with a lion, or an ant with an elephant, in very truth my rivals per­se­cuted me no less bit­terly than the heretics of old hounded St. Athanasius. Often, God knows, I sank so deep in despair that I was ready to leave the world of Chris­ten­dom and go forth among the heathen, paying them a stip­u­lated tribute in order that I might live quietly a Chris­t­ian life among the enemies of Christ. It seemed to me that such people might indeed be kindly dis­posed toward me, par­tic­u­larly as they would doubt­less suspect me of being no good Christian, im­put­ing my flight to some crime I had committed, and would there­fore believe that I might perhaps be won over to their form of worship.



WHILE I was thus af­flicted with so great per­tur­ba­tion to of the spirit, and when the only way of escape seemed to be for me to seek refuge with Christ among the enemies of Christ, there came a chance whereby I thought I could for a while avoid the plot­tings of my enemies. But thereby I fell among Chris­tians and monks who were far more savage than hea­thens and more evil of life. The thing came about in this wise. There was in lesser Brittany, in the bish­opric of Vannes, a certain abbey of St. Gildas at Ruits, then mourn­ing the death of its shepherd. To this abbey the elec­tive choice of the brethren called me, with the ap­proval of the prince of that land, and I easily secured per­mis­sion to accept the post from my own abbot and brethren. Thus did the hatred of the French drive me westward, even as that of the Romans drove Jerome toward the East. Never, God knows, would I have agreed to this thing had it not been for my longing for any pos­si­ble means of escape from the suf­fer­ings which I had borne so constantly.

The land was bar­barous and its speech was unknown to me; as for the monks, their vile and un­tame­able way of life was no­to­ri­ous almost everywhere. The people of the region, too, were un­civ­i­lized and lawless. Thus, like one who in terror of the sword that threat­ens him dashes head­long over a precipice, and to shun one death for a moment rushes to another, I know­ingly sought this new danger in order to escape from the former one. And there, amid the dread­ful roar of the waves of the sea, where the land’s end left me no further refuge in flight, often in my prayers did I repeat over and over again: “From the end of the earth will I cry unto Thee, when my heart is overwhelmed” (Ps. lxi. 2).

No one, methinks, could fail to un­der­stand how per­sis­tently that undis­ci­plined body of monks, the di­rec­tion of which I had thus undertaken, tor­tured my heart day and night, or how con­stantly I was com­pelled to think of the danger alike to my body and to my soul. I held it for certain that if I should try to force them to live ac­cord­ing to the prin­ci­ples they had them­selves professed, I should not survive. And yet, if I did not do this to the utmost of my ability, I saw that my damna­tion was assured. Moreover, a certain lord who was ex­ceed­ingly pow­er­ful in that region had some time pre­vi­ously brought the abbey under his control, taking ad­van­tage of the state of dis­or­der within the monastery to seize all the lands ad­ja­cent thereto for his own use, and he ground down the monks with taxes heavier than those which were ex­torted from the Jews themselves.

The monks pressed me to supply them with their daily necessities, but they held no prop­erty in common which I might ad­min­is­ter in their behalf, and each one, with such re­sources as he possessed, sup­ported himself and his concubines, as well as his sons and daughters. They took delight in ha­rass­ing me on this matter, and they stole and carried off what­so­ever they could lay their hands on, to the end that my failure to main­tain order might make me either give up trying to enforce dis­ci­pline or else abandon my post altogether. Since the entire region was equally savage, lawless and disorganized, there was not a single man to whom I could turn for aid, for the habits of all alike were foreign to me. Outside the monastery the lord and his hench­men cease­lessly hounded me, and within its walls the brethren were forever plot­ting against me, so that it seemed as if the Apostle had had me and none other in mind when he I said: “Without were fightings, within were fears” (II Cor. vii. 5).

I con­sid­ered and lamented the use­less­ness and the wretched­ness of my existence, how fruit­less my life now was, both to myself and to others; how of old I had been of some service to the clerics whom I had now aban­doned for the sake of these monks, so that I was no longer able to be of use to either; how in­ca­pable I had proved myself in every­thing I had un­der­taken or attempted, so that above all others I de­served the reproach, “This man began to build, and was not able to finish” (Luke xiv. 30). My despair grew still deeper when I com­pared the evils I had left behind with those to which I had come, for my former suf­fer­ings now seemed to me as nought. Full often did I groan: “Justly has this sorrow come upon me because I de­serted the Paraclete, which is to say the Consoler, and thrust myself into sure desolation; seeking to shun threats I fled to certain peril.”

The thing which tor­mented me most was the fact that, having aban­doned my oratory, I could make no suit­able pro­vi­sion for the cel­e­bra­tion there of the divine office, for indeed the extreme poverty of the place would scarcely provide the ne­ces­si­ties of one man. But the true Par­a­clete Himself brought me real con­so­la­tion in the midst of this sorrow of mine, and made all due pro­vi­sion for His own oratory. For it chanced that in some manner or other, laying claim to it as having legally be­longed in earlier days to his monastery, my abbot of St. Denis got pos­ses­sion of the abbey of Argenteuil, of which I have pre­vi­ously spoken, wherein she who was now my sister in Christ rather than my wife, Heloise, had taken the veil. From this abbey he ex­pelled by force all the nuns who had dwelt there, and of whom my former com­pan­ion had become the prioress. The exiles being thus dis­persed in various places, I per­ceived that this was an op­por­tu­nity pre­sented by God himself to me whereby I could make pro­vi­sion anew for my oratory. And so, re­turn­ing thither, I bade her come to the oratory, to­gether with some others from the same convent who had clung to her.

On their arrival there I made over to them the oratory, to­gether with every­thing per­tain­ing thereto, and subsequently, through the ap­proval and as­sis­tance of the bishop of the district, Pope In­no­cent II pro­mul­gated a decree con­firm­ing my gift in per­pe­tu­ity to them and their successors. And this refuge of divine mercy, which they served so devotedly, soon brought them consolation, even though at first their life there was one of want, and for a time of utter destitution. But the place proved itself a true Par­a­clete to them, making all those who dwelt round about feel pity and kind­li­ness for the sisterhood. So that, methinks, they pros­pered more through gifts in a single year than I should have done if I had stayed there a hundred. True it is that the weak­ness of wom­ankind makes their needs and suf­fer­ings appeal strongly to people’s feelings, as like­wise it makes their virtue all the more pleas­ing to God and man. And God granted such favour in the eyes of all to her who was now my sister, and who was in au­thor­ity over the rest, that the bishops loved her as a daughter, the abbots as a sister, and the laity as a mother. All alike mar­velled at her re­li­gious zeal, her good judg­ment and the sweet­ness of her in­com­pa­ra­ble pa­tience in all things. The less often she allowed herself to be seen, shut­ting herself up in her cell to devote herself to sacred med­i­ta­tions and prayers, the more eagerly did those who dwelt without demand her pres­ence and the spir­i­tual guid­ance of her words.



BEFORE long all those who dwelt there­abouts began to censure me roundly, com­plain­ing that I paid far less at­ten­tion to their needs than I might and should have done, and that at least I could do some­thing for them through my preaching. As a result, I re­turned thither frequently, to be of service to them in what­so­ever way I could. Re­gard­ing this there was no lack of hateful murmuring, and the thing which sincere charity induced me to do was seized upon by the wicked­ness of my de­trac­tors as the subject of shame­less outcry. They de­clared that I, who of old could scarcely endure to be parted from her I loved, was still swayed by the de­lights of fleshly lust. Many times I thought of the com­plaint of St. Jerome in his letter to Asella re­gard­ing those women whom he was falsely accused of loving when he said (Epist. xcix): “I am charged with nothing save the fact of my sex, and this charge is made only because Paula is setting forth to Jerusalem.” And again: “Before I became in­ti­mate in the house­hold of the saintly Paula, the whole city was loud in my praise, and nearly every one deemed me de­serv­ing of the highest honours of priesthood. But I know that my way to the kingdom of Heaven lies through good and evil report alike.”

When I pon­dered over the injury which slander had done to so great a man as this, I was not a little con­soled thereby. If my rivals, I told myself, could but find an equal cause for sus­pi­cion against me, with what ac­cu­sa­tions would they per­se­cute me! But how is it pos­si­ble for such sus­pi­cion to con­tinue in my case, seeing that divine mercy has freed me there­from by de­priv­ing me of all power to enact such baseness? How shame­less is this latest accusation! In truth that which had hap­pened to me so com­pletely removes all sus­pi­cion of this in­iq­uity among all men that those who wish to have their women kept under close guard employ eunuchs for that purpose, even as sacred history tells re­gard­ing Esther and the other damsels of King Aha­suerus (Esther ii. 5). We read, too, of that eunuch of great au­thor­ity under Queen Candace who had charge of all her treasure, him to whose con­ver­sion and baptism the apostle Philip was di­rected by an angel (Acts viii. 27). Such men, in truth, are enabled to have far more im­por­tance and in­ti­macy among modest and upright women by the fact that they are free from any sus­pi­cion of lust. The sixth book of the Ec­cle­si­as­ti­cal History tells us that the great­est of all Chris­t­ian philosophers, Origen, in­flicted a like injury on himself with his own hand, in order that all sus­pi­cion of this nature might be com­pletely done away with in his in­struc­tion of women in sacred doctrine. In this respect, I thought, God’s mercy had been kinder to me than to him, for it was judged that he had acted most rashly and had exposed himself to no slight censure, whereas the thing had been done to me through the crime of another, thus prepar­ing me for a task similar to his own. Moreover, it had been ac­com­plished with much less pain, being so quick and sudden, for I was heavy with sleep when they laid hands on me, and felt scarcely any pain at all.

But alas, I thought, the less I then suf­fered from the wound, the greater is my pun­ish­ment now through slander, and I am tor­mented far more by the loss of my rep­u­ta­tion than I was by that of part of my body. For thus is it written: “A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches” (Prov. xxii. 1). And as St. Au­gus­tine tells us in a sermon of his on the life and conduct of the clergy, “He is cruel who, trust­ing in his conscience, ne­glects his reputation.” Again he says: “Let us provide those things that are good, as the apostle bids us (Rom. xii. 17), not alone in the eyes of God, but like­wise in the eyes of men. Within himself each one’s con­science suffices, but for our own sakes our rep­u­ta­tions ought not to be tarnished, but to flourish. Con­science and rep­u­ta­tion are dif­fer­ent matters: con­science is for yourself, rep­u­ta­tion for your neighbour.” Me­thinks the spite of such men as these my enemies would have accused the very Christ Himself, or those be­long­ing to Him, prophets and apostles, or the other holy fathers, if such spite had existed in their time, seeing that they as­so­ci­ated in such fa­mil­iar in­ter­course with women, and this though they were whole of body. On this point St. Augustine, in his book on the duty of monks, proves that women fol­lowed our Lord Jesus Christ and the apos­tles as in­sep­a­ra­ble companions, even ac­com­pa­ny­ing them when they preached (Chap. 4). “Faithful women,” he says, “who were pos­sessed of worldly wealth went with them, and min­is­tered to them out of their wealth, so that they might lack none of those things which belong to the sub­stance of life.” And if any one does not believe that the apos­tles thus per­mit­ted saintly women to go about with them where­so­ever they preached the Gospel, let him listen to the Gospel itself, and learn there­from that in so doing they fol­lowed the example of the Lord. For in the Gospel it is written thus: “And it came to pass afterward, that He went through­out every city and village, preach­ing and showing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God: and the twelve were with Him and certain women which had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary called Magdalene, and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, which min­is­tered unto Him of their substance” (Luke viii. 1-3)

Leo the Ninth, furthermore, in his reply to the letter of Par­me­ni­anus con­cern­ing monas­tic zeal says: “We un­equiv­o­cally declare that it is not per­mis­si­ble for a bishop, priest, deacon or sub­dea­con to cast off all re­spon­si­bil­ity for his own wife on the grounds of re­li­gious duty, so that he no longer pro­vides her with food and clothing; albeit he may not have carnal in­ter­course with her. We read that thus did the holy apos­tles act, for St. Paul says: ‘Have we not power to lead about a sister, a wife, as well as other apostles, and as the brethren of the Lord, and Cephas?’ (I Cor. ix. 5). Observe, foolish man, that he does not say: ‘have we not power to embrace a sister, a wife,’ but he says ‘to lead about,’ meaning thereby that such women may law­fully be sup­ported by them out of the wages of their preaching, but that there must be no carnal bond between them.”

Cer­tainly that Phar­isee who spoke within himself of the Lord, saying: “This man, if He were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth Him: for she is a sinner” (Luke vii. 39), might much more rea­son­ably have sus­pected base­ness of the Lord, con­sid­er­ing the matter from a purely human standpoint, than my enemies could suspect it of me. One who had seen the mother of Our Lord en­trusted to the care of the young man (John xix. 27), or who had beheld the prophets dwelling and so­journ­ing with widows (I Kings xvii. 10), would like­wise have had a far more logical ground for suspicion. And what would my ca­lum­ni­a­tors have said if they had but seen Malchus, that captive monk of whom St. Jerome writes, living in the same hut with his wife? Doubt­less they would have re­garded it as crim­i­nal in the famous scholar to have highly com­mended what he thus saw, saying thereof: “There was a certain old man named Malchus, a native of this region, and his wife with him in his hut. Both of them were earnestly religious, and they so often passed the thresh­old of the church that you might have thought them the Zacharias and Elis­a­beth of the Gospel, saving only that John was not with them.”

Why, finally, do such men refrain from slan­der­ing the holy fathers, of whom we fre­quently read, nay, and have even seen with our own eyes, found­ing con­vents for women and making pro­vi­sion for their maintenance, thereby fol­low­ing the example of the seven deacons whom the apos­tles sent before them to secure food and take care of the women? (Acts vi. 5). For the weaker sex needs the help of the stronger one to such an extent that the apostle pro­claimed that the head of the woman is ever the man (I Cor. i. 3), and in sign thereof he bade her ever wear her head covered (ib. 5). For this reason I marvel greatly at the customs which have crept into monas­ter­ies whereby, even as abbots are placed in charge of the men, abbesses now are given au­thor­ity over the women, and the women bind them­selves in their vows to accept the same rules as the men. Yet in these rules there are many things which cannot pos­si­bly be carried out by women, either as su­pe­ri­ors or in the lower orders. In many places we may even behold an in­ver­sion of the natural order of things, whereby the abbesses and nuns have au­thor­ity over the clergy and even over those who are them­selves in charge of the people. The more power such women ex­er­cise over men, the more easily can they lead them into in­iq­ui­tous desires, and in this way can lay a very heavy yoke upon their shoulders. It was with such things in mind that the satirist said:

“There is nothing more in­tol­er­a­ble than a rich woman.”
(Juvenal, Sat. VI, v 459)



RE­FLECT­ING often upon all these things, I de­ter­mined to make pro­vi­sion for those sisters and to un­der­take their care in every way I could. Furthermore, in order that they might have the greater rev­er­ence for me, I arranged to watch over them in person. And since now the per­se­cu­tion carried on by my sons was greater and more in­ces­sant than that which I for­merly suf­fered at the hands of my brethren, I re­turned fre­quently to the nuns, fleeing the rage of the tempest as to a haven of peace. There, indeed, could I draw breath for a little in quiet, and among them my labours were fruitful, as they never were among the monks. All this was of the utmost benefit to me in body and soul, and it was equally es­sen­tial for them by reason of their weakness.

But now has Satan beset me to such an extent that I no longer know where I may find rest, or even so much as live. I am driven hither and yon, a fugi­tive and a vagabond, even as the ac­cursed Cain (Gen. iv. 14). I have already said that “without were fightings, within were fears” (II Cor. vii. 5), and these torture me ceaselessly, the fears being indeed without as well as within, and the fight­ings where­so­ever there are fears. Nay, the per­se­cu­tion carried on by my sons rages against me more per­ilously and con­tin­u­ously than that of my open enemies, for my sons I have always with me, and I am ever exposed to their treacheries. The vi­o­lence of my enemies I see in the danger to my body if I leave the cloister; but within it I am com­pelled in­ces­santly to endure the crafty machi­na­tions as well as the open vi­o­lence of those monks who are called my sons, and who are en­trusted to me as their abbot, which is to say their father.

Oh. how often have they tried to kill me with poison, even as the monks sought to slay St. Benedict! Me­thinks the same reason which led the saint to abandon his wicked sons might en­cour­age me to follow the example of so great a father, lest, in thus ex­pos­ing myself to certain peril, I might be deemed a rash tempter of God rather than a lover of Him, nay, lest it might even be judged that I had thereby taken my own life. When I had safe­guarded myself to the best of my ability, so far as my food and drink were concerned, against their daily plottings, they sought to destroy me in the very cer­e­mony of the altar by putting poison in the chalice. One day, when I had gone to Nantes to visit the count, who was then sick, and while I was so­journ­ing awhile in the house of one of my broth­ers in the flesh, they arranged to poison me with the con­nivance of one of my at­ten­dants be­liev­ing that I would take no pre­cau­tions to escape such a plot. But divine prov­i­dence so ordered matters that I had no desire for the food which was set before me; one of the monks whom I had brought with me ate thereof, not knowing that which had been done, and straight­way fell dead. As for the at­ten­dant who had dared to un­der­take this crime, he fled in terror alike of his own con­science and of the clear ev­i­dence of his guilt.

After this, as their wicked­ness was man­i­fest to every one, I began openly in every way I could to avoid the danger with which their plots threat­ened me, even to the extent of leaving the abbey and dwelling with a few others apart in little cells. If the monks knew be­fore­hand that I was going any­where on a journey, they bribed bandits to waylay me on the road and kill me. And while I was strug­gling in the midst of these dangers, it chanced one day that the hand of the Lord smote me a heavy blow, for I fell from my horse, break­ing a bone in my neck, the injury causing me greater pain and weak­ness than my former wound.

Using ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion as my weapon to coerce the untamed re­bel­lious­ness of the monks, I forced certain ones among them whom I par­tic­u­larly feared to promise me publicly, pledg­ing their faith or swear­ing upon the sacrament, that they would there­after depart from the abbey and no longer trouble me in any way. Shame­lessly and openly did they violate the pledges they had given and their sacra­men­tal oaths, but finally they were com­pelled to give this and many other promises under oath, in the pres­ence of the count and the bishops, by the au­thor­ity of the Pontiff of Rome, Innocent, who sent his own legate for this special purpose. And yet even this did not bring me peace. For when I re­turned to the abbey after the ex­pul­sion of those whom I have just mentioned, and en­trusted myself to the re­main­ing brethren, of whom I felt less suspicion, I found them even worse than the others. I barely suc­ceeded in es­cap­ing them, with the aid of a certain no­ble­man of the district, for they were planning, not to poison me indeed, but to cut my throat with a sword. Even to the present time I stand face to face with this danger, fearing the sword which threat­ens my neck so that I can scarcely draw a free breath between one meal and the next. Even so do we read of him who, reck­on­ing the power and heaped-up wealth of the tyrant Diony­sius as a great blessing, beheld the sword se­cretly hanging by a hair above his head, and so learned what kind of hap­pi­ness comes as the result of worldly power (Cicer. 5, Tusc.) Thus did I too learn by con­stant experience, I who had been exalted from the con­di­tion of a poor monk to the dignity of an abbot, that my wretched­ness in­creased with my wealth; and I would that the am­bi­tion of those who vol­un­tar­ily seek such power might be curbed by my example.

And now, most dear brother in Christ and comrade closest to me in the in­ti­macy of speech, it should suffice for your sorrows and the hard­ships you have endured that I have written this story of my own misfortunes, amid which I have toiled almost from the cradle. For so, as I said in the be­gin­ning of this letter, shall you come to regard your tribu­la­tion as nought, or at any rate as little, in com­par­i­son with mine, and so shall you bear it more lightly in measure as you regard it as less. Take comfort ever in the saying of Our Lord, what he fore­told for his fol­low­ers at the hands of the fol­low­ers of the devil: “If they have per­se­cuted me, they will also per­se­cute you (John xv. 20). If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated vou. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own” (ib. 18-19). And the apostle says: “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution” (II Tim. iii. 12). And else­where he says: “I do not seek to please men. For if I yet pleased men I should not be the servant of Christ” (Galat. i. 10). And the Psalmist says: “They who have been pleas­ing to men have been confounded, for that God hath de­spised them.”

Com­ment­ing on this, St. Jerome, whose heir me­thinks I am in the en­durance of foul slander, says in his letter to Nepotanius: “The apostle says: ‘If I yet pleased men, I should not be the servant of Christ.’ He no longer seeks to please men, and so is made Christ’s servant” (Epist. 2). And again, in his letter to Asella re­gard­ing those whom he was falsely accused of loving: “I give thanks to my God that I am worthy to be one whom the world hates” (Epist. 99). And to the monk He­liodorus he writes: “You are wrong, brother. You are wrong if you think there is ever a time when the Chris­t­ian does not suffer persecution. For our ad­ver­sary goes about as a roaring lion seeking what he may devour, and do you still think of peace? Nay, he lieth in ambush among the rich.”

In­spired by those records and examples, we should endure our per­se­cu­tions all the more stead­fastly the more bit­terly they harm us. We should not doubt that even if they are not ac­cord­ing to our deserts, at least they serve for the pu­ri­fy­ing of our souls. And since all things are done in ac­cor­dance with the divine ordering, let every one of true faith console himself amid all his af­flic­tions with the thought that the great good­ness of God permits nothing to be done without reason, and brings to a good end what­so­ever may seem to happen wrongfully. Where­fore rightly do all men say: “Thy will be done.” And great is the con­so­la­tion to all lovers of God in the word of the Apostle when he says: “We know that all things work to­gether for good to them that love God” (Rom. viii. 28). The wise man of old had this in mind when he said in his Proverbs: “There shall no evil happen to the just” (Prov. xii. 21). By this he clearly shows that whoso­ever grows wrath­ful for any reason against his suf­fer­ings has therein de­parted from the way of the just, because he may not doubt that these things have hap­pened to him by divine dispensation. Even such are those who yield to their own rather than to the divine purpose, and with hidden desires resist the spirit which echoes in the words, “Thy will be done,” thus placing their own will ahead of the will of God. Farewell.