The Best Quotes from Teacher and Philosopher Peter Abelard

Words of wisdom from the famous medieval philosopher

Statue of Peter Abelard
Statue of Peter Abelard by Jules Cavelier (Ca.1853) Louvre Palace facade, Napoléon courtyard. Paris, France. Adapted from a photo by Wikimedia user Jebulon, who has kindly released it into the public domain

Peter Abelard was a writer, teacher, and philosopher whose contributions to Scholastic Philosophy cannot be overestimated, and the quotes he left us offer intriguing ins. However, he is better known for the infamous love affair he had with his student, Heloise. This famous relationship was revealed in a letter Abelard wrote that has come to be known as the Historia Calamitatum ("The Story of My Misfortunes").

When it was over, the brilliant logician became a monk and changed his philosophical focus to theology.

"Against the disease of writing one must take special precautions, since it is a dangerous and contagious disease." -- Letter 8 to Heloise

"The cup of sinners overflows with so inchanting a sweetness and we are naturally so much inclined to taste it, that it needs only be offered to us." -- Letter 3 to Heloise

"O how great and glorious are those sabbaths which the heavenly court for ever celebrates!" (O quanta qualia sunt illa sabata, Quae semper celebrat superna curia-- Hymnus Paraclitensis

"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." -- Historia Calamitatum, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

"... This first key of wisdom is defined, of course, as assiduous or frequent questioning." -- Sic et Non, translated by W.

J. Lewis

"... Through doubting we come to questioning and through questions we perceive the truth." -- Sic et Non

"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" -- Historia Calamitatum, translated by Henry Adams Bellows

"We call the intention good which is right in itself, but the action is good, not because it contains within it some good, but because it issues from a good intention. The same act may be done by the same man at different times. According to the diversity of his intention, however, this act may be at one time good, at another bad." -- Ethics, translated by J.R. McCallum

Attributed Peter Abelard Quotes

The following quotations have been attributed to Abelard, but I have not been able to find their source.

"Are you not moved to tears and bitter compassion, when you behold the only Son of God seized by the most impious, dragged away, mocked, scourged, buffeted, spit upon, crowned with thorns, hung upon the infamous cross between two thieves, finally in such a horrible and execrable manner suffering death, for your salvation and that of the world?"
 

"I preferred the weapons of dialectic to all the other teachings of philosophy, and armed with these, I chose the conflicts of disputation rather than the trophies of war."
 

"Logic has made me hated in the world."
 

"The men who abandon themselves to the passions of this miserable life, are compared in Scripture to beasts."
 

"Our redemption through the suffering of Christ is that deeper love within us which not only frees us from slavery to sin, but also secures for us the true liberty of the children of God, in order that we might do all things out of love rather than out of fear -- love for him that has shown us such grace that no greater can be found."