Today, our search for the inventive mind takes us
to a great love story. The University of Houston's
College of Engineering presents this series about
the machines that make our civilization run, and
the people whose ingenuity created them.
Who hasn't been torn by the
story of Heloise and Abelard? Yet the story grows
in power when we read it more closely.
Pierre Abelard was born in 1079. He studied
linguistics, logic, and dialectic. His brilliance
flung him to the center of medieval intellectual
life. At 35, he was the reigning gladiator in the
arenas of verbal combat. Angry losers ran him off
from school after school. Then he took a teaching
post at Notre Dame.
There, Fulbert, a canon of the Cathedral, put him
to teaching his brilliant niece, Heloise. They
became lovers, and then they secretly married.
Abelard had lived his life from the neck up. Now,
late in life, he learned to love. He wrote to
When Fulbert found out, he sent his men
to emasculate Abelard.
Take thou this rose, O rose,
Since love's own flower it is,
And by that rose
Thy lover captive is.
After that, Abelard and Heloise both took holy
orders. Their love, far from fading, intensified.
Abelard founded a convent. He called it "Consoling
Spirit." Later, Heloise became the Abbess.
Of course there were two parties to this
arrangement. But it's Abelard who tells us the most
about himself in his writings.
We read the works of a philosopher with a powerful
optimism about the human condition. He believes in
the power of the mind to make sense of a world that
crushes less hope-filled people.
Soon after he became a monk, Abelard was in trouble
again. At the Monastery of St. Denis he condemned
the sloth and worldliness he found there. Later, he
was given charge of a monastery in Brittany. There,
disgruntled monks tried to murder him.
Abelard wrote and wrote. He was in constant hot
water. Church councils condemned his books. The
Pope censured him.
Yet he sailed on with an ebullient belief in the
human mind and the human spirit. He wrote a logical
agenda for scientific inquiry. He argued for
skepticism. He pointed out that scripture had to be
fallible if only because the scribes who copied it
made mistakes. Reason, he told us, was the ultimate
friend of faith -- not its enemy.
So this was the man whose love was unshaken even
when its physical expression was hacked away.
Afterward, Abelard wrote:
But through his anguish shines high
principle and a redeeming belief that the intellect,
fueled by love, can set things right. In the end,
Abelard showed us the creative implements of human
Peace, O my stricken lute!
Thy strings are sleeping.
Would that my heart could still
Its bitter weeping!
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds