Relationship Between Abelard And Heloise

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Melodie Gibson HIST145-001Professor KuskowskiMarch 28, 2018
The Body in the Letters of Abelard and Heloise The body — both male and female, figures prominently in the correspondence between Abelard and Heloise. However, they conceptualize the body in very different ways. Abelard positions the physical body within metaphor — as something that should be shed in favor of spiritual attainment, while Heloise believes that spiritual attainment is inextricably linked to physical (perhaps more specifically, monastic) experience.
Physical and Spiritual bodies Throughout their correspondence, Abelard and Heloise tackle one of the relevant theological questions of the time: the division of the body and the spirit/soul. In his first letter to Heloise,
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Here, Abelard divides the physical body — associating the heart with spiritual love, and the body, with sexual love. However, in letter six, Heloise expands upon this division: “For nothing is less under our control than the heart — having no power to command it we are forced to obey…” Here, Heloise puts the heart at the core of desire (bodily love). This inverts the division Abelard established. Her conception of the relationship between body and spirit is more physically centered and begs the question — is the body ruled by the heart/soul, or is the heart/soul ruled by the body? This dichotomy between the physical and spiritual elements of the body sets up their discourse on desire and devotion. Abelard besets Heloise to forget her desire for him …show more content…
Heloise abandons the passion of her previous letters and resolves to occupy her mind with “constructive thoughts.” She makes two requests of Abelard: that he explain the origin of the order of nuns, and provide advice on a monastic rule appropriate for women (modification to the Benedictine Rule that was then applied to both male and female monastic servants). This begins a lengthy discourse on the value of women and the role of women in spiritual service. In Letter 5, Abelard establishes a strong division between reproduction of the flesh and reproduction of spirituality: “What a hateful loss and grievous misfortune if you had abandoned yourself to the defilement of carnal pleasures only to bear in suffering a few children for the world, when now you are delivered in exultation of numerous progeny for heaven! Nor would you have been more than a woman, whereas now you rise even above men, and have turned the curse of Eve into the blessing of Mary.” By dwelling on her sexual pleasures, Abelard believes that Heloise is not living up to her spiritual reproductive potential — a potential, he points out, that men cannot attain. However, this discounts an important part of their own history — the fact that Heloise is the physical mother of Abelard’s son. And it was this physical fertility that led to their entry into monastic life. By urging Heloise to renounce carnal

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