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Heloise To Abelard

Peter Abelard (1079 - 1142), one of the most brilliant and controversial philosophers of the 12th century, met nineteen year-old Heloise, his intellectual equal, in 1116. They soon fell deeply in love but when her uncle discovered their affair, Heloise and Abelard were violently forced apart. Disgraced, they both fled: Heloise to a convent, Abelard to a monastery. Their love continued, however, in the beautiful letters they wrote to each other. In the following excerpt from one of those letters, Heloise relates her fear of outliving her love.


Heloise To Abelard

Date Unknown

To her only one after Christ, she who is his alone in Christ.

...We were greatly surprised when instead of bringing us the healing balm of comfort you increased our desolation and made the tears to flow which you should have dried. For which of us could remain dry-eyed on hearing the words you wrote towards the end of your letter: 'But if the Lord shall deliver me into the hands of my enemies so that they overcome and kill me...'? My dearest, how could you think such a thought? How could you give voice to it? Never may God be so forgetful of his humble handmaids as to let them outlive you; never may he grant us a life which would be harder to bear than any form of death.

The proper course would be for you to perform our funeral rites, for you to commend our souls to God, and to send ahead of you those whom you assembled for God's service -- so that you need no longer be troubled by worries for us, and follow after us the more gladly because freed from concern for our salvation.

Spare us, I implore you, master, spare us words such as these which can only intensify our existing unhappiness; do not deny us, before death, the one thing by which we live. 'Each day has trouble enough of its own,' and the day, shrouded in bitterness, will bring with it distress enough to all it comes upon. 'Why is it necessary,' says Seneca, 'to summon evil' and to destroy life before death comes?

You ask us, my love, if you chance to die when absent from us, to have your body brought to our burial-ground so that you may reap a fuller harvest from the prayers we shall offer in constant memory of you. But how could you suppose that our memory of you could ever fade? Besides, what time will there be then which will be fitting for prayer, when extreme distress will allow us no peace, when the soul will lose its power of reason and the tongue its use of speech? Or when the frantic mind, far from being resigned, may even (if I may so) rage against God himself, and provoke him with complaints instead of placating him with prayers?

In our misery then we shall have time only for tears and no power to pray; we shall be hurrying to follow, not to bury you, so that we may share your grave instead of laying you in it. If we lose our life in you, we shall not be able to go on living when you leave us.

I would not even have us live to see that day, for if the mere mention of your death is death for us, what will the reality be if it finds us still alive? God grant we may never live on to perform this duty, to render you the service which we look for from you alone; in this may we go before, not after you!



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