The Letters Of Abelard And Heloise

The medieval European societies were noticeably characterized by Christian ideas in almost every aspect of life.

When start to read “The Letters of Abelard and Heloise”, one can feelastonished by their behaviors which seem to stand much against the social norms at that time, especially about gender issues. Indeed, because of refusals that Heloise gave Abelard, a few scholars claim that comparing to general medieval Christian perspectives on gender roles, Abelard and Heloise were revolutionaries. However, while continuing reading other letters, one can found that their opinions of male and female still largely conform to the traditional Christian views.

To begin with, Abelard consistently presented the domination of men and the submission of women in his words. It can be considered that he always required Heloise to pray or believe in God for him, and he even sort of blamed her for not listening to his complaints and sorrows instead of asking what happened to her. For example, he wrote to her to ask for “the special and proper help of her prayers”, and the reason for the letter seemed to be asking her to pray for him, as she was believed to be closer to the God as he mentioned before. Also, in letter 5, he wrote again that he “trusted the more in her power to intercede for them, hoping to obtain through her prayers what he cannot achieve by his own, especially when dangers and torments press upon him every day”. From these words, it feels that rather than for her own sake, he wanted her to believe in God simply because of his belief that she could pray to god and ask for forgiveness for him. He mentioned a lot of painfulness in his current life, and when Heloise was wondering about some happiness, he even questioned her that “is it right for her to rejoice when he is tormented by such despair of his life” and described her as a false friend who could not be with him in adversity.

In addition, Heloise, as a girl raised in a rich family and received fine education, still agreed that women were inferior to men. For example, the reason why she refused to marry him was that “how disgraceful and deplorable it would be if he, whom nature had created for all mankind, should tie him to one woman and lower himself in this fashion”. In order to show her passionate love for him, she lowered her status, willing to be a whore, as she wrote that “she did not seek to gratify her own pleasures or desires, but only his…to her ears the name of mistress always sounded sweeter or….the name of concubine or whore. Also, she kept calling Abelard as “the only loved” though being called “dearest sister” by him, and admitted that the only reason why she believed in God was to please him, and this religious life was “he alone decided they should do”. In her letter, she revealed her love feelings expressively, “begging” him to show his love for her. When Abelard put her name first in his greetings, she even seriously pointed out that it was wrong to do so, since “in writing to inferiors, those who take precedence in rank should take precedence in the order of writing”, proofing that she considered men superior to women.

Granted, though Abelard and Heloise did not stand for gender equality, they indeed acknowledged the strength of women, and considered women as more spiritually connected with the divine God. Specifically, Abelard admitted that “it is a well-established privilege of wives to have greater power of intercession with their lords than other members of their households”. He firmly believed that it was addressed right that he wrote Heloise’s name in front of his own name, since “she became superior…. when she became his lady and were made the bride of his lord”. To some extent, he had shown respect for women as he stated that “consult the pages of the Old and New Testaments, people will find that the greatest miracles of resurrection have been displayed on or chiefly to women”. Therefore, it is reasonable to conclude that Abelard and Heloise held partly different opinions about gender issues concerning the spiritual status.

To sum up, from what have been discussed above, the gender views in “The Letters of Abelard and Heloise” is complicated, as they supported the traditional medieval gender perspectives while displaying some opposing gender concepts at the same time.