Héloïse (abbess)

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I own, to my confusion, I fear more the offending of man than the provoking of God, and study less to please him than you.

Héloïse (1090?/1100–1? – 16 May 1164) was a French nun, writer, scholar, and abbess, most famous for her tragic love affair and correspondence with Peter Abélard.

Quotes[edit]

Tho' length of time ought to have closed up my wounds, yet the seeing them described by your hand was sufficient to make them all open and bleed afresh.

Letters of Abelard and Heloise[edit]

The heart of man is a labyrinth, whose windings are very difficult to be discovered.
Quotes of Héloïse from various translations of her letters to Peter Abélard
  • Domino suo, imo Patri; Conjugi suo, imo Fratri; Ancilla sua, imo Filia; ipsius Uxor, imo Soror; Abaelardo Heloisa, &c. Abel. Op.
    • To her Lord, her Father; her Husband, her Brother; his Servant his Child; his Wife, his Sister; and to express all that is humble, respectful and loving to her Abelard, Heloise writes this.
      • Letter II : Heloise to Abelard, Heading
  • A consolatory letter of yours to a friend happened some days since to fall into my hands. My knowledge of the character, and my love of the hand, soon gave me the curiosity to open it. In justification of the liberty I took, I flattered myself I might claim a sovereign privilege over every thing which came from you nor was I scrupulous to break thro' the rules of good breeding, when it was to hear news of Abelard. But how much did my curiosity cost me? what disturbance did it occasion? and how was I surprised to find the whole letter filled with a particular and melancholy account of our misfortunes? I met with my name a hundred times; I never saw it without fear: some heavy calamity always, followed it, I saw yours too, equally unhappy. These mournful but dear remembrances, puts my spirits into such a violent motion, that I thought it was too much to offer comfort to a friend for a few slight disgraces by such extraordinary means, as the representation of our sufferings and revolutions. What reflections did I not make, I began to consider the whole afresh, and perceived myself pressed with the same weight of grief as when we first began to be miserable. Tho' length of time ought to have closed up my wounds, yet the seeing them described by your hand was sufficient to make them all open and bleed afresh. Nothing can ever blot from my memory what you have suffered in defence of your writings.
    • Letter II : Heloise to Abelard
  • I own, to my confusion, I fear more the offending of man than the provoking of God, and study less to please him than you. Yes, it was your command only, and not a sincere vocation, as is imagined, that shut me up in these cloisters. I fought to give you ease, and not to sanctify myself. How unhappy am I? I tear myself from all that pleases me? I bury myself here alive, I exercise my self in the most rigid fastings; and such severities as cruel laws impose on us; I feed myself with tears and sorrows, and, notwithstanding this, I deserve nothing for all the hardships I suffer. My false piety has long deceived you as well as others. You have thought me easy, and yet I was more disturbed than ever. You persuaded yourself I was wholly taken up with my duty, yet I had no business but love. Under this mistake you desire my prayers; alas! I must expect yours. Do not presume upon my virtue and my care. I am wavering, and you must fix me by your advice. I am yet feeble, you must sustain and guide me by your counsel.
    • Letter IV : Heloise to Abelard
  • What occasion had you to praise me? praise is often hurtful to those on whom it is bestowed. A secret vanity springs up in the heart, blinds us, and conceals from us wounds that are ill cured. A seducer flatters us, and at the same time, aims at our destruction. A sincere friend disguises nothing from us, and from passing a light hand over the wound, makes us feel it the more intensely, by applying remedies. Why do you not deal after this manner with me? Will you be esteemed a base dangerous flatterer; or, if you chance to see any thing commendable in me, have you no fear that vanity, which is so natural to all women, should quite efface it? but let us not judge of virtue by outward appearances, for then the reprobates as well as the elect may lay claim to it. An artful impostor may, by his address gain more admiration than the true zeal of a saint.
    • Letter IV : Heloise to Abelard
  • The heart of man is a labyrinth, whose windings are very difficult to be discovered. The praises you give me are the more dangerous, in regard that I love the person who gives them. The more I desire to please you, the readier am I to believe all the merit you attribute to me. Ah, think rather how to support my weaknesses by wholesome remonstrances! Be rather fearful than confident of my salvation: say our virtue is founded upon weakness, and that those only will be crowned who have fought with the greatest difficulties: but I seek not for that crown which is the reward of victory, I am content to avoid only the danger. It is easier to keep off than to win a battle. There are several degrees in glory, and I am not ambitious of the highest; those I leave to souls of great courage, who have been often victorious. I seek not to conquer, out of fear lest I should be overcome. Happy enough, if I can escape shipwreck, and at last gain the port. Heaven commands me to renounce that fatal passion which unites me to you; but oh! my heart will never be able to consent to it. Adieu.
    • Letter IV : Heloise to Abelard

Quotes about Héloïse[edit]

Almost a thousand years ago, a teacher fell in love with his student. Almost a thousand years ago, they began a torrid affair. ~ Cristina Nehring
They weren't equally strong or passionate or generous. Still, they put their frailties together and begat a perfect myth, as well as something perhaps even more precious — a surprising, splendid, fractured reality. ~ Cristina Nehring
  • Almost a thousand years ago, a teacher fell in love with his student. Almost a thousand years ago, they began a torrid affair. They made love in the kitchens of convents and in the boudoir of the girl's uncle. They wrote hundreds of love letters. When the girl bore a child, they were secretly married, but the teacher was castrated by henchmen of the enraged uncle. At her lover's bidding, the girl took religious orders. He took the habit of a monk. They retreated into separate monasteries and wrote to each other until parted by death.
    The story of Abelard and Heloise hardly resonates with the spirit of our age. Not least, its origins in the classroom offend: teachers, we know, are not supposed to fall in love with their students. Heloise, moreover, is no feminist heroine, despite having been one of the best educated women of her age and writing some of its most affecting prose. Nobody who takes the veil on the command of her husband and swears "complete obedience" to him can hope to sneak into the bastion of feminism. Today, even the high romance of the couple's liaison strikes us as foreign: all that sacrifice and intensity! … The notion that passion might comprise not only joy but pain, not only self-realization but self-abandonment, seems archaic. To admire, as an early-20th-century biographer of Abelard and Heloise does, the "beauty of souls large enough to be promoted to such sufferings" seems downright perverse.
    And yet there's a grandeur to high-stakes romance, to self-sacrifice, that's missing from our latex-love culture — and it's a grandeur we perhaps crave to recover. How else to account for the flurry of new writing on these two ill-fated 12th-century lovers? … Only recently — and miraculously — has a new cache of material turned up, fragments of 113 letters that many scholars believe Abelard and Heloise exchanged before Abelard's castration. Copied in the 15th century by a monk named Johannes de Vespria, discovered in 1980 by Constant J. Mews and finally published as The Lost Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard, these short but eloquent missives present two people vying — with no coyness or gender typecasting whatever — to outdo each other in expressions of adoration. … The love stories that touch us most deeply are punctuated by human frailty. Look at them up close and you see the fault lines, compromises and anticlimaxes. At the beginning of Shakespeare's play, Romeo is just as intemperately in love with a girl called Rosaline as he is later with Juliet. Tristan and Isolde's passion could well be the fruit of substance abuse, of a love potion they drank unknowingly. And Abélard and Heloise? They weren't equally strong or passionate or generous. Still, they put their frailties together and begat a perfect myth, as well as something perhaps even more precious — a surprising, splendid, fractured reality. "There is a crack," the Leonard Cohen lyric goes, "a crack in everything: that's how the light gets in."

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