In his epitaph for Abelard, Peter the Venerable called his friend “the Socrates of the Gauls, the great Plato of the West, our Aristotle.” Yet Abelard was neither a secular philosopher nor a religious skeptic. As he wrote in his Apologia (c. 1141), “I do not wish to be a philosopher by dissociating myself from Paul; I do not wish to be an Aristotle by separating myself from Christ, since there is no other name under heaven by which I can be saved.”
While Bernard was wrong to view Abelard as a heretic, he was right to see Abelard as a threat to the old order. Abelard’ popularity as a teacher helped create the university system, which spelled the end of the power of monastic schools. His fusion of logic and theology fostered a new scholasticism that was spread by his students, who included three future popes and the greatest classicist of the twelfth century, John of Salisbury. His manuscripts contributed to the era’ intellectual renaissance.
Abelard is best remembered, however, for his association with Héloïse; over the centuries writers have found in their story an inspiration for poems, plays, and novels. A strange new twist to that famous story was introduced in the 1980’, when a computer-assisted stylistic analysis of the correspondence between Abelard and Héloïse suggested that all the letters, including those attributed to Héloïse, were in fact written by Abelard himself. Thus the possibility exists that Abelard was not only a philosopher but also, in a peculiar way, a gifted writer of fiction.