The Letters of Abelard and Heloise


About this time, correspondence began between the two former lovers. What exists today consists of seven letters (numbered Epistolae 2–8 in Latin volumes, since the Historia Calamitatum precedes them as Epistola 1). Four of the letters (Epistolae 2–5) are known as the 'Personal Letters', and contain personal correspondence. The remaining three (Epistolae 6–8) are known as the 'Letters of Direction'.

Héloïse responded, both on the behalf of the Paraclete and herself. In letters which followed, Héloïse expressed dismay at problems that Abélard faced, but scolded him for years of silence following the attack upon him, since Abélard was still wed to Héloïse.

Thus began a correspondence both passionate and erudite. Héloïse encouraged Abélard in his philosophical work, and he dedicated his profession of faith to her. But there is an underlying tenor of despair on Heloise's part. She reminds him that she did not want to marry him, that she preferred to be his whore rather than his wife, preferring freedom to chains.[17] Abélard insisted that he had never truly loved her, but only lusted after her, and that their relationship was a sin against God. He then recommended her to turn her attention toward the only one who ever truly loved her, Jesus Christ, and to consecrate herself fully from then on to her religious vocation.

At this point the tenor of the letters change.In the 'Letters of Direction', Heloise writes the fifth letter, declaring that she will no longer speak of the hurt that Abelard has caused her. The sixth is a long letter by Abelard in response to Heloise's first question in the fifth letter about the origin of nuns. In the long final, seventh letter, Abelard provides a Rule for the nuns at the Oratory of the Paraclete, again as requested by Heloise at the outset of the fifth letter.

The Problemata Heloissae (Héloïse's Problems) is a letter from Héloïse to Abélard containing 42 questions about difficult passages in Scripture, interspersed with Abelard's answers to the questions, probably written at the time when she was abbess at the Paraclete.

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