The twelfth period was a period of revolutionary changes in religion, culture, social and intellectual life in Europe. Many historians have argues that the twelfth century was actually the beginning of the modern age. Humanism is believed to have originated from this period, while scholarship and philosophy were becoming increasingly popular. ‘Of course, medieval society wasn’t quiet the same as contemporary western culture; for one thing, it was profoundly religious and although church and state separate, the church itself was a government that was in some ways more powerful than the king’.1 During this period the worldview was dramatically different from that of today.
The ‘reform movement, which you might call the religious right of its day, believed that not only sex but also sexual fantasies were inherently evil and enforced chastity was high on the agenda’.2 The love story of Abelard and Heloise is one of the most famous of the Middle Ages and occurs in the middle of this movement. Peter Abelard was one of the greatest logicians and philosophers of the twelfth century renaissance and is widely known today because of his autobiographical Historia Calamitatum and the exchange of letters that followed between him and his young student Heloise who later became his lover, wife and sister in religion. Abelard and Heloise reveal much about themselves and the culture of the twelfth century through their writings. Theirs is a story about passion, faith, heresy, brutality and intellectual brilliance and through it was can question medieval attitudes to sex, gender, marriage as well as faith and learning.
Peter Abelard (1070-1142) was one of the great wandering scholars of the twelfth century. ‘The son of a Breton nobleman, Abelard, showed his intellectual promise early in his life and even before he finished his elementary studies was already challenging his teachers’.3 Abelard studied under the orthodox William of Champaux, however instead of following in the steps of his teachers Abelard worked out his own philosophy. ‘Abelard was a restless, vain and contentious man who got into trouble with the medieval church not so much for his views – which by today’s standards seem rather innocuous – but for the way in which he stated his views’.4 His first book Sic et Non (yes and no) quoted from the bible, the church fathers and papal letters and showed that they contradicted themselves when it comes to interpreting the scriptures. Abelard’s point was that ‘ church could not rely solely on the authority of tradition to solve such basic questions of faith since the tradition itself was imperfect’.5 For Abelard, people showed think for themselves and use reason and logic to answer such questions. ‘ ”
Diligent and constant questioning is the fundamental key to all wisdom,” he wrote in the book majestic preface; ” by doubting we come to inquire and by inquiring we come to the truth” ‘.6 This technique shocked Abelard’s contemporaries, as ‘scripture for these men was the truth’.7 Despite the constant complaints Abelard received from the church he devoted himself to teaching large crowds of students in Paris and attracted students from all over Europe who came in the ‘ ” firm belief that there was nothing he couldn’t teach them” ‘.8Abelard also devoted himself to a young girl named Heloise who was the niece of a canon named Fulbert. Abelard was attracted to her, not only by her beauty but also by her knowledge’s which was very rare in women at this time because women were rarely educated, which he writes about in his Historia Calamitatum.