Bernard's Defence of Evangelical Truth against Abelard.
THE merits of the controversy between these two great men, can scarce be appreciated, without some previous review of the life and transactions of the latter. Peter Abelard was born in Britanny, in the year 1079.* He was, doubtless, a man of genius, industry, and learning. In early life, he was put under the tuition of Roscelin, an acute logician, already mentioned, who, incorporating his philosophical subtilities with christian ideas, departed from the simplicity of the faith, and was condemned for tritheism, toward the close of the foregoing century.
Abelard needed not the instructions of such a master, in order to learn the arts of selfsufficiency. Confident and presumptuous by nature, elated with applause, and far too haughty to submit to the simple truth, as it is revealed in scripture, he was, from the moment that he applied himself to the study of the sacred writings, ardently disposed to embrace heretical singularities. After he had appeared in a very splendid light in the schools of philosophy, and had been equally distinguished by his acuteness and by his contentious spirit, he attended the lectures of f Anselm in divinity. What sort of lectures they were, we are not told, but I have not the worse opinion of them from the supercilious contempt with which Abelard spake of them. He himself had given very little attention to the sacred books, and yet very speedily de
• I have been obliged to Mr. Berington's history of this man, for the arrangement of certain facts and circumstances. I scarce need to say, that I am constrained to differ, toto ccclo. from him in sentiments. Nor is it possible, that it should be otherwise, where two persons have scarce one common principle of theology, in which they agree.
f This person must not be confounded with the famous archbishop of Canterbury of that name.
Vol. III. 42
cided against his teacher, pronounced him void of reason and common sense, and declared, that, with the assistance of an easy expositor, the scriptures were perfectly intelligible to any one, who had the smallest pretensions to literature. " Are you equal to the work of expounding the scriptures?" said his companions. " I am ready," said he: '*cnoose any book, which you please, from the old or new testament, and allow me a single commentator." They instantly fixed on the most difficult of all the prophets, Ezekiel. He studied that night, and next morning declared, that he was prepared to expound the prophet: " for it is not by leisure," said he, " but by energy of genius, that I undertake to master the sciences." He exhibited himself in public, lectured repeatedly on Ezekiel, and was admired by his ignorant auditories.
Hitherto every thing seems to be a modern scene. The same juvenile confidence, supported by the same ignorance of themselves and the same depraved nature, has formed many socinian and pelagian preachers ajjd writers in our times, who, between the age of twenty and thirty, have despised the wisdom of antiquity, and the authority of men most justly renowned for good sense, learning, and holiness, and have committed themselves to the direction of plausible and presumptuous innovators, who are often sufficiently artful in beguiling the unwary. One of their most successful devices is, they pretend to teach young students of divinity how to think for themselves. It is remarkable, however, that we very seldom find any of those, who have gone to visit the sick lion, to return from his den. A selfconfident spirit naturally leads the mind into opinions the most daringly subversive of the gospel, as well as into a course of life the most opposite to its precepts. And when a man has begun to despise the influence of the holy Spirit, he is awfully left at large to his own dark designs, and to the crafts of the prince of darkness. The connexion between doctrines and practice is close and exact. He, who thought highly of himself, was easily disposed to think
meanly of divine grace; and the best uses of the story of this miserable man are these, to teach youth to be modest, and to inform mankind, whether young or old, that the scriptures should ever be studied with reverence, humility, and prayer.
Abelard had the baseness to seduce a young woman, named Eloisa, who was brought up in Paris by her uncle. The names of both these persons are familiar to those who have read our poet Pope, and it would be far remote from the plan of this history, to enlarge on scenes of so flagitious a nature. The real principles of grace, I constantly find, are alone productive of holy practice. He, who has not seen the evil of sin in his own nature, and the preciousness of i the grace of Christ, even while he boasts of his regard to moral virtue, will play with iniquity, and call evil good, and good evil. The unhappy woman herself learned to glory in her shame, and professed that she thought it an honour to become the harlot of so renowned a person as Abelard. Sin deceives and hardens the heart incredibly; even holy David, for a season, felt its fascinating power, and nothing less than the influence of divine grace can subdue it. Blinded by lust, Abelard and Eloisa felt no remorse for their monstrous treatment of her uncle, whose confidence they abused, and whose kindness they repaid with the . most vile and wicked ingratitude. In the mean time, Abelard studied and expounded the prophets, and continued to preach, not the Lord, but himself, as he had ever done. Happy had it been for the christian world, if there had been no more such theologians. But thus it is with men, who speculate on religion at their ease, and make it a vehicle for their own advancement, honour, and wealth. With shameless versatility, they can at one time undertake to explain the scriptures, at another gratify the lusts of the flesh. With men truly serious for their own souls it is not so: they may be slow in their advances in christian science; but their steps are safe; and, while religion
is by them brought to the test of experience, their conduct is preserved in uprightness.
I throw a veil over the particulars of the shameful story. Suffice it to say, that, in the issue, Abelard's projects of ecclesiastical ambition were disappointed, and that both he and the unhappy woman retired into monastic obscurity.
Ambition and the force of an active genius soon engaged Abelard again in theological inquiries- Of all the ancient fathers, Origen most suited his taste; and, mindful of the instructions of Roscelin, he began to philosophize in public on the doctrines of the gospel, and composed, in three books, his introduction to theology; in which he attempted to render the mysteries of Christianity more agreeable to reason, than they had been represented by the ancient fathers. The trinity, in particular, he describes as a doctrine known to the ancient schools of philosophers, and revealed to them, in- recompense of their virtues. This is certainly a language very different from that of the scriptures, which never mention philosophers, except with a view to guard against their seductions, and always represent their views as extremely abhorrent from the doctrines of the gospel. The modern historian of Abelard is large and diffuse in describing the treatment which his hero met with, but desultory and indistinct in the account which he gives of his real sentiments. He asserts, however, that Abelard was persecuted without cause; that his book really contained nothing that was expressly heterodox; and, while he positively and decidedly condemns the conduct of his adversaries, he gives his readers no sufficient data, by which they may judge for themselves. But thus it is, that heresy has ever been defended. While its Words Do Eat As A Canker, and gradually pervert the minds of the unwary, every charitable attempt to counteract the poison is treated as bigotry, illiberality, and fanaticism. The praise of good sense and sound argument is considered as appropriate to the heretic. He, at least, is allowed and encouraged to spread his doc
trines with freedom, and to asperse the orthodox with the keenest invective; while all, who undertake to defend the plain sense of scripture, are stigmatized as persecutors. Scenes of this nature, have, to the disgrace of human nature, been renewed from age to age: and so low and mean are the ideas of charity inculcated by those, who call themselves liberal, that the real spiritual benefit of thousands seems to them scarce an object of any magnitude, compared with the personal reputation of the applauded heretic.
Let us then endeavour to give, from the best evidences, a distinct view of the leading sentiments of Abelard, that we may be enabled to form a just idea of the controversy, which at present engages our attention. I have drawn them from the history of Alexander Natalis;* and the testimonies both of Abelard himself, and of Bernard his opponent, are introduced into this account.
1. Abelard distinguished the persons of the trinity in this manner. He described God the Father to be FUll Power, the Son to be a Certain Power, the holy Spirit to be No Power. He said, " the Son was to the Father as a Certain Power to power, as spe-' cies to genus, as materiatum to materia, as man to an animal, as a brazen seal to brass."
I suppose, were I to translate the Latin words of this passage, for the sake of the less learned reader, I should make no addition to his stock of knowledge.
2. He represented the holy Spirit to have proceeded from the Father and the Son, but not from the substance of the Father and the Son. Let this article pass as an unintelligible subtilty, if the reader please. The next speaks plainly a sentiment, which strikes at the root of christianity.
3. He denied that the devil ever had any legal authority over man, and therefore he denied that the Son assumed flesh, for the sake of freeing man from the devil. God appeared, said he, in flesh, for no other
* Alexand. Nat. l'Jlh cent.
end, than for our instruction by word and example, nor did he suffer and die for any other reason, than to show and recommend his love towards us. I scarce need to say, that this is the very essence of socinianism.
That I have not mistaken the meaning of Abelard, will farther appear from a view of his reasonings against the doctrine of atonement. " How is it possible, that God should be reconciled to us by the death of his son, since, in all reason, he ought to have been more incensed against men for the murder of his son, than for the violation of his precept by the eating of a single apple? If Adam's sin could not be expiated but by the death of Christ, what expiation could be ' made for the horrid crime of murdering Christ himself"? Could the death of an innocent son be so pleasing to God, that he would be reconciled to us men on the commission of it? Who does not see, that it is cruel and unjust, that any one should require the blood of the innocent? How much less could God be so pleased with such an action, as to be reconciled on account of it to the whole world?" Thus far Abelard.* Socinians have never said any thing more specious. To those, who know how to reverence divine wisdom, and to submit to the express word of God, such reasonings will appear unworthy of an answer. What I am concerned for at present is, to state the fact that Abelard was an heretic, that Bernard did not accuse him either unjustly or precipitately, and that the assertion of the historian of Abelard,f namely, that his hero " was not guilty of a single error," is altogether unfounded.
It may be proper to add, that Abelard, having set aside the scripture doctrine of an atonement, gives it as his opinion, that the real cause and design of Christ's incarnation was, that he might illuminate the world with the light of his wisdom, and inflame it to the love of God.
• Bern. vol. i. 647.
t History of Abelard and Eloisa, p. 2T8.
4. He affirmed, that the holy Spirit was the soul of the world. A phrase much used by the philosophers.
5. He asserted, that Christ, God and man, is not a third person in the trinity, and that God is not properly to be called man.
6. That by freewill, without the help of grace, we can both will and perform that which is good, in direct contradiction to the seventh chapter to the Romans.
7. That in the sacrifice of the altar, there remains, in the air, the form of the former substance.
8. That not the fault but the penalty of original sin is derived from Adam.
9. That there is no sin, except in the full consent of the man, and that consent attended with or implying a contempt of God.
10. That no sin is committed by concupiscence, inward delight in evil, or ignorance. Howe\er obscurely he expresses himself, he evidently lessens the demerit of sinful thoughts.
11. That diabolical suggestions are made, in a natural way on men, by the contact of stones and herbs, as the sagacious malice of evil spirits knows how to suit the various efficacy of these things to the production of various vices.
12. Faith, he called an estimation or opinion of things not seen. " As if," says * Bernard, " a man might think and speak, in matters of faith, what he pleases, or, as if the sacraments of our faith were not sure and certain in their nature. The spirit itself beareth witness with our spirits, that we are children of God. The whole object of faith is divinely confirmed by prophecies and miracles, established and consecrated by the incarnation, bloody death, and glorious resurrection of the redeemer. How can any man give to so divine a principle as the faith of the gospel, so low and mean a title as an opinion, except
* I anticipate the sentiments of Bernard in this place: more of his arguments against Abelartl will be ghien, when we come to the account of his opposition to the heretic.
one, who hath not received the holy Spirit, or, who is ignorant of the gospel, or, who looks on it as a fable?" The difference between divine and human faith in the christian religion is here not improperly stated by Bernard.
13. In commenting on-the epistle to the Romans, Abelard thus expresses himself. " Since the divine compassion, by bare intuition, could have freed man from the devil, what necessity, what reason, or what need was there, that, for our redemption, the son of God should assume our nature, should sustain so many and so great miseries, and the painful and ignominious death of the cross? To us the reason seems to be as follows: that our justification by his blood and our reconciliation to God, consisted in this singular grace exhibited to us, namely, in his taking upon him our nature, and in his persevering by word and example, even to death, in instructing us,*
"- Thus he drew his true disciples the more closely to himself by love. Our redemption, therefore, consists in that great love excited in us by the passion of Christ, which not only frees us from the servitude of sin, but gives us the liberty of the sons of God."
In another place, he says, " Though our doctors, since the days of the apostles, are of different sentiments, 1 think the devil had no legal power over man, except a permissive power from God, as a gaoler,f nor did the son of God assume flesh, that he might free men from slavery."
14. He asserts, that fresh continued influences of divine grace are not necessary to the production of every single good action, contrary to the plain sense of
* Observe how the idea of atonement is excluded, to make way for that of instruction, while evangelical terms are still used. Some of the other articles are nugatory or obscure: this is palpably plain, and of essential importance in the controversy. In the same light the opposition, which he makes, in a great degree, to the work of the holy Spirit, is to be considered.
| He plainly misrepresents the ancient doctors; none of whom assign any other sort of power to Satan: but, by this misrepresentation, he speciously introduces his opposition to the doctrine of the atonement.
the parable of the vine and its branches, and our Lord's own explication of it in John, xv.
I might add also another sentiment of Abelard, namely, "that God does no more for him, who is saved, than for him, who is not saved." He argues, that " if man be naturally more prone to evil than to good, his sins merit no blame; nay, that * God himself seems blamable for making him so weak and frail." Humble and intelligent christians know how to answer: " nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?" And, moreover, they will, with great truth, contend, that such men as Abelard ought not to complain, that the character of humble and sincere christians is denied to them, and that their invectives against their opponents are not only unfounded, but also prove themselves to be void of integrity and candor, because they endeavour to impose on mankind by pretending to be what they are not.
On the whole, it seems impossible, that a man, who had known any thing of the power of native depravity, should have advanced such sentiments as Abelard published to the world. Still, if he had kept his thoughts to himself, or had even been a modest inquirer, and proposed his doubts for the sake of information from persons better versed than himself in theological inquiries, his sentiments would have been no proper object of an ecclesiastical council. But Abelard had proceeded to assume the character of a teacher; and what fundamental doctrine of christianity had he not opposed? The views of the trinity had been either perverted under his hands, or confounded with the speculations of philosophers. The atonement of Christ, on which alone the hope and comfort of real christians, in all ages, depends, had, in effect, been denied: the efficacious influence of divine grace had been asserted to be, in many cases at least, unnecessary; and th« fallen state of man by nature had been excluded from his creed. If he had renounced the christian name, at
the same time that he renounced the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, he would have merited the character of an honest man; and, by separating himself from christian society, would have prevented the weak and the unwary from being imposed on by his notions. But such candor and frankness seldom belong to the character of heretics: strict truth and plain dealing in religious matters are scarcely to be expected from any but those, who are humble before God, and sanctified by his truth. Why Abelard chose still to call himself a christian is obvious; his schools would have been deserted, if he had acted openly and honestly. Unless then it can be proved, that there are no fundamental truths of scripture, or, that all sentiments are equally insignificant, it behooved the rulers of the church, from every principle of piety and charity, to take cognisance of the growing heresy.
A council was called at Soissons, and Abelard was summoned to appear. He was charged with tritheism, and with having asserted, that God the Father was alone almighty. He was ordered to burn his volumes, and to recite the symbol of Athanasius. He obeyed both the mandates, and, after a short confinement, was set at liberty. I am not disposed to approve of all the steps taken by this council. I only maintain, that the principle of their proceedings was just and equitable. Every person, who is a member of any society, religious or civil, would own, if a similar occasion presented itself, that he had a right to require the treacherous member, who had laboured to subvert that society, either publicly to retract his sentiments, or to submit to a decree of expulsion.
But Abelard, in his own account of the transaction, largely descants on the iniquity and imperiousness of the synod. The acrimonious invective, the airs of triumph on occasion of little advantages gained by himself in the course of the debate, the shrewdness of his cavils, and, above all, the dextrous evasion of the main points on which the controversy rests, these things appear on the face of his narrative, and are so exactly similar to the conduct of modern heretics, much better known to the world, that I may well be spared the recital of them. Moreover, want of sincerity as well as of temper, are so evident in the narrative of Abelard, that his authority is rendered defective; and so much so, that we can lay no decisive stress on his testimony in things, with which his own character is concerned. Indeed the want of honesty and veracity appears to have been most striking features in this ingenious and learned disputant.
A commentary on the epistle to the Romans was also published by'Abelard, to which, in an introductory preface, he has prefixed an observation on the comparative value of the gospels and the epistles. " The former, he thinks, are designed to teach those things, which every christian ought to*know; the latter, to inculcate a strict attention and obedience to them; these last," says he, " contain some wholesome documents and advice, which though they appertain not to the essence of belief, may serve to embellish the christian establishment, and to develop its tenets." This is the method of speaking, usual with socinians, namely, to undervalue the authority of some parts of scripture, compared with others, as if holy men of God did not speak, as they were moved by the Holyghost, with equal authority through the whole of the sacred volume. It is not necessary to give any other account of the commentary than that, which the reader may conjecture for himself from the view already stated of the leading sentiments of the author.
Bernard, paying a visit to the nunnery of the Paraclete, over which Eloisa presided, was heard from the pulpit by the abbess and her nuns, with admiration. He read and approved of their laws and institutes, which had been drawn up by Abelard. He objected only to one phrase in their repetition of the Lord's prayer. For the common expression Daily, in the petition, " Give us this day our daily bread," they had been taught to say, supersubstantial bread. Abelard, it seems, had literally followed the etymology of
the Greek word;* seduced, I suppose, by the aristotelian chimeras, which relate to substance. The plain mind of Bernard, attending to sense and utility, rather than to sound and glitter, revolted against the innovation ; and, while he spake with a respectful deference of the man, and commended every thing else relating to the nunnery, he expressed his disapprobation of the unusual term. When Abelard heard of it, his pride took fire; he wrote to Bernard a warm expostulation, and, by undertaking to show the superior authority of St. Matthew to St. Luke, he endeavoured to support the propriety of the term supersubstantial. Here again appeared the socinian mode of undervaluing one part of scripture, in comparison of another. This is the first instance recorded of an open altercation between Bernard and Abeiard. For I find, at least, no decisive proof of any opposition made, as yet, by the former to the publications of the latter. On the contrary, Bernard was hitherto far from being clear in his own judgment, concerning the real theological character of Abelard; and of his caution and charity we shall presently see abundant proofs. The little story which has been told, is trifling in its own nature, if any thing can be called trifling, which illustrates the human character, and displays the connexion between doctrine and disposition, which was never more apparently exhibited than in the transactions of Abelard.
The council of Soissons had been held in the year 1121. It was a long time after this, that Bernard took any particular notice of Abelard. Either he had heard little of the controversy, or had not thought himself called on to deliver his sentiments. Abelard, however, notwithstanding his retractations, persevered in teaching his heresies; and it became, at length, impossible for his errors to escape the observation of the abbot of Clairval.
About the year 1139,f William, abbot of St. Thierry, alarmed at the growing progress of Abelard's
t Bern. Opera. vol. i. p. 303.
doctrine, wrote to Geofry, bishop of Chartres, and to Bernard, intreating them to undertake the defence of divine truth. " God knows I am confounded," said he, " when I, who am " no man,"* am compelled to address, on a subject of urgent importance, you and others, whose duty it was to speak, though hitherto ye have been silent. f For when I see the faith of our common hope to be grievously and dangerously corrupted without resistance,and without contradiction,the faith which Christ hath consecrated for us with his blood, for which apostles and martyrs contended even to death, which holy teachers defended with much labour and fatigue, and which they transmitted entire and uncorrupt to these dregs of time, I feel a distress which constrains me to speak for that faith, for which I could wish to die, if it were necessary. They are no small objects which I lay before you: the faith of the holy trinity, the person of the mediator, the holy Spirit, the grace of God, the sacrament of our common redemption, are the subjects which engage my attention. For Peter Abelard again teaches and writes novelties: his books cross the seas, and pass over the Alps; and his new sentiments concerning the faith are carried into provinces and kingdoms, are preached to crowded audiences, and are openly defended; they are even said to have made their way into the court of Rome. I say to you both, your silence is dangerous, both to yourselves, and to the church of God; I tell you, this monster is as yet in labour; but if he be not prevented, he will eject a poisonous serpent, for which no charmer can be found.
" I lately met with ' The Theology of Peter Abelard.' I confess this title made me curious to read. I have sent you the books with my remarks; whether there is a just cause for my apprehensions, judge ye. As new terms and new ideas disturbed my spirit, and I had no one before whom I could freely unbosom my
• Psalm, xxii.
f Hence it is evident, that Bernard had not yet distinguished himself in this controversy, though it must have been of above eighteen years standing. A plain proof of his caution and modesty.
thoughts, I have applied myself to you, and implore you to defend the cause of God and the whole Latin Church. The man fears you, and dreads your authority. For, indeed, almost all the champions of divine truth being deceased, a domestic enemy hath invaded the defenceless state of the church, and hath betaken himself to a singular method of teaching; dealing with scripture, as he used to do with logic, by introducing his own inventions and novelties: a censor, not a disciple of the faith; a corrector, not a follower."
He then mentions the heads of the heresy, which he had discovered, and which were much the same as those which have already been described, and he promises to enlarge in writing on the same argument, " with the help of Him, in whose hand are both we and our words; nor," says he, " do I value your being offended at my language, provided I please you in the doctrine. If I can convince you that I am justly moved, I trust you also will be moved, and, in an important cause like this, will not fear to part with him, though he be a foot, an hand, or even an eye. I myself have loved him, and wish to do so still, God is my witness: but in this cause I see neither relation nor friend."
Bernard read the book which William sent, and returned this answer. " I think your zeal both just and necessary: that it was not idle, the book, which you have sent me, demonstrates. In this book you effectually stop the mouths of gainsayers: not that I have given it that accurate survey, which you desire; but I own I am pleased with it, even from a cursory reading, and I think the arguments solid and convincing. But as I have not been accustomed to trust to my own judgment, especially in things of so great importance, I believe the best way would be for you and me to meet, and talk over the subject. Yet even this, I think, cannot be done till after Easter, lest the devotions of the holy season be distracted. But I must beseech you to have patience with me, in regard to my silence on the subject, since I was hitherto ignorant of most, if not all the particulars. As to that which you exhort me to, God is able to inspire me with his good spirit through your prayers."
Bernard, having, at length, made himself master of the subject, and, being impressed with its magnitude, resolved to exert himself on the occasion. He first held a private conference with Abelard, and admonished him, in a friendly manner, to correct his errors. But this first attempt being fruitless, he took two or three persons with him, according to the precept of the gospel; and, in their presence, expostulated with the innovator.* Finding his endeavours to be unsuccessful, and observing, on accurate inquiry, how much the evil spread, it now became a question with Bernard, whether he ought to sacrifice the honour of God and the good of souls to the humor of an artful and obstinate heretic. As a conscientious spirit, like his, was obliged to decide this question in the negative, and as he had sufficiently exculpated himself from the charge of personal malice, or blind precipitation, he began to warn the disciples of Abelard against the errors of their master, and to guard, as far as in him lay, the christian world against the growing heresy.
He wrote to pope Innocent in these terms. " Another foundation is laid, than that which has been laid for us. A new creed is coined in France: virtues and vices are discussed, not according to rules of morality: the sacraments are treated unfaithfully; and the mystery of the holy trinity is investigated, not in simplicity and sobriety, but in a manner contrary to that, which we have received. Our theologian, with Arius disposes of the trinity by degrees and measures; with Pelagius prefers freewill to grace; with Nestoriusdivides Christ, and excludes the man Christ Jesus from all connexion with the trinity."f
To another bishop he wrote thus. " The dragon had been silent many days; but, when he was silent in Britain,}: he conceived iniquity in France. The man
• Bern. Opera- vol. i. p. 310 f H. p. 306.
t He alludes to the pelagian heresy, which had flourished in Britain.
boasts, that he hath infected the court of Rome with the poison of his novelty; that he hath dispersed his books among the Romans: and he assumes those as the patrons of his error, by whom he ought to be condemned. May God defend that church for which he died, that he may present it to himself, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing."*
Let this suffice for a specimen of the glowing language of Bernard; too vehement perhaps, but surely kindled by the fire of charity. Those, however, alone can judge of the spirit of the man with candor and equity, who feel the importance of divine truth Humanly speaking, the errors of Abelard, aided by the propensities of our depraved nature, might in a silent and gradual manner have pervaded all Europe, and the propagation of socinianism might have been matured six centuries ago, if the mischief had not been thus vigorously opposed.
In the archiepiscopal city of Sens, a superstitious ceremony, namely, the translation of a saint's body into the cathedral church was to be performed in the year 1140. Abelard, incensed at the open and repeated opposition of Bernard, challenged him to make good his charges of heresy at this solemn assembly. Undoubtedly he proceeded regularly in the formality of the challenge. For he implored the archbishop of Sens to cite his accuser before the assembly, and promised to meet him. The archbishop wrote to Bernard accordingly, and named the day on which he should expect to see him. Bernard seems to have been considerably embarrassed at this step. His good sense enabled him to see the difference between popular preaching, and close scholastical argumentation. He had been habituated to the former; with the latter he was unacquainted: and, he knew that Abelard excelled all men in the arts of controversy, in which also age and experience would give him a great advantage over a young antagonist. Bernard, therefore, at first
refused to appear. M I was but a youth," says he, in his own account of this matter, " and he a man of war from his youth.* Besides, I judged it improper to commit the measures of divine faith, which rested on the foundations of eternal truth, to the petty reasonings of the schools. I said, that his own writings were sufficient to accuse him, and that it was not my concern, but that of the bishops, to decide concerning his tenets."
Elated at the apparent pusillanimity of Bernard, Abelard collected his friends, spake in a strong tone of victory, and appealed to many concerning the justice of his cause. " What things he wrote of me to his scholars," says Bernard, " I love not to relate. He took care to spread the news every where, that he would answer me at Sens on the day appointed. I yielded, however, though with tears and much reluctance, to the advice of my friends. They saw that all men were going, as it were, to the spectacle, to behold the combatants. What would they say, if one of them did not appear? The people would stumble, the adversary would triumph, and error would grow stronger, if none should appear to answer and to contradict. Moved by these reasons, I determined at length to meet Abelard at the time and place, with no other preparation than that scripture promise, do not premeditate, how you may answer; for it shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall say; and that other, the Lord is my helper, I will not fear what man can do unto me."f
The assembly was splendid. Lewis VII. was there with his nobles; the archbishop with the bishops of his diocese, many abbots, professors, and in general all the learned of France were present.
The superstitious ceremony being performed on the first day, on the second the two abbots appeared, and every eye was fixed on them. The whole assembly was suspended in expectation of the contest. Ber
nard arose, and in a modest and diffident manner, declared; " I accuse not this man; let his own works speak against him. Here they are, and these are the propositions extracted from them. Let him say, I wrote them not, or let him condemn them, if they be erroneous, or let him defend them against my objections." He then delivered the charges to the promoter, who began distinctly to read them. He had not read far, when Abelard arose. " I appeal," said he, " to the pope," and refusing to hear any more, began to leave the assembly. The assembly was astonished at the unexpected step. " Do you fear," said Bernard, "for your person? you are perfectly secure: you know that nothing is intended against you: you may answer freely, assured of a patient hearing."* "I have appealed to the court of Rome," cried the appalled heretic, and withdrew.
Bernard, in writing the account of these transactions, to the pope, gives it as his opinion, that the procedure of Abelard was unjustifiable, to appeal from judges, of whom he had himself made choice, f
If the issue of the conference between these two renowned antagonists has been such as to disappoint the reader's expectations, something, however divinely instructive, may be learned from the narrative. I know nothing in Bernard's history more decisively descriptive of his character, than his conduct in this whole transaction. By nature, sanguine and vehement; by grace and selfknowledge, modest and diffident, he seems, on this occasion, to have united boldness with timidity, and caution with fortitude. It was evidently in the spirit of the purest faith in God, as well as in the most charitable zeal for divine truth, that he came to the contest; while Abelard, who, presumptuous through a long course of scholastic honours, came elated and sclfconfident, drooped in the very crisis, which called for his eloquence and resources. His courage seems to have failed him; or, did the con
sciousness of real heresy make him incapable of standing before a distinct and orderly examination? At any rate, the humble was exalted, and the proud was disgraced, according to the maxims of the gospel; and the conduct of the men was a precise, counterpart of the doctrines which they severally espoused.
The bishops of France wrote to the pope an account of the procedure; and, in their words, I shall recite the little that remains to be mentioned of the acts of the assembly.
Having given an account of the conduct of Bernard, perfectly agreeable to that which we have heard from the abbot himself, they observe, that " he certainly appeared at Sens, inflamed with pious fervour, nay, unquestionably with the fire of the holy Spirit."* And they proceed as follows: " As Abelard's sentiments were read over and over in public audience, and as the arguments of Bernard, partly built on the most solid reasons, partly on the authorities of Augustin and other holy fathers, convinced the synod, that the tenets, which he opposed, were not only false, but also heretical, we, sparing the man out of deference to the apostolic see, condemned the opinions. We intreat you to confirm our decrees, and to impose silence on the author of the books, in order to prevent the pernicious consequences with which his errors may be attended."
In what manner Bernard disproved the tenets of Abelard before the council, may be judged from the following brief review of his long epistle to the pope. f
" The new theologist of France is one, who scorns to be ignorant of any thing in heaven above, or in earth below; to one point only, himself and his own ignorance, he is perfectly blind. While he is prepared to give a reason for every thing, he presumes things above reason, and contrary both to reason and to faith. We ought to consider, that Mary is recommended, because she prevented reasoning by faith,J and that
Zachariah was punished, because he tempted a faithful God by reasonings. Abraham also is extolled, who believed in hope against hope."
But our theologist says, " what does it profit, if, what we teach, cannot be rendered intelligible?" Thus promising, perfectly to explain mysterious things, he places degrees in the trinity, measures in the divine majesty, and numbers in eternity. In the very entrance on his work, he defines faith to be " an estimation or an opinion." But christian faith has no such limits. Let estimation and opinion belong to the academics, whose character it is to doubt of all things; to know nothing. I shall follow the sentiments of the apostle of the gentiles, and know that I shall not be confounded. His definition of faith, I own, is agreeable to me: Faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen. Substance of things hoped for; not a fancy of empty conjectures. The idea of substance is connected with something certain and fixed. Faith is not estimation, but certainty. I shall not dwell upon a number of nugatory speculations, in which, while he labours to make Plato a christian, he makes himself a pagan. I come to more weighty matters. I have read in a certain book of his sentences, and in his exposition of the epistle to the Romans, that he holds an original sentiment concerning the mystery of our redemption; namely, that the ancient doctors were unanimous in their mode of interpretation concerning the subject, that they all held in such a manner; but, that he holds in a different manner. And art thou he, who constructest for us a new gospel? Thou hast discovered, it seems, that the son of God did not assume flesh, that he might free man from the devil. Let them give thanks, says the psalmist, whom the Lord hath redeemed from the hand of the enemy.* This thou wouldst not deny, if thou wert not under the power of the enemy. Thou canst not give thanks with the redeemed, who art not
thyself redeemed. That man seeks not for redemption, who lgiows not himself to be a captive. But those, who do know, cry to the Lord; and the Lord hears them, and redeems them from the hand of the enemy. Hear an apostle: "If God, peradventure, may give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth, and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will."* Hearest thou, At His Will, and dost thou deny the power of the devil. Hear the Lord himself. He is called by him the prince of this world,f and the
STRONG MAN ARMED, AND THE POSSESSOR OF
Goods;:}: and dost thou say, that he has no power over men? This power of Satan was known to him, who said, " who delivered us from the powers of darkness, and translated us into the kingdom of his dear son."§ Let him learn, therefore, that the devil has not only power, but a just power over men. Though the devil himself, who invaded us, is not just; but God, who exposed us to him, is just.
Man was then justly enslaved, but mercifully delivered: with such mercy, however, that justice appeared even in his deliverance. For what could man do of himself, to recover lost righteousness, being now a bond slave of the devil? Another's righteousness is therefore assigned to him, who had lost his own. The prince of this world came, and found nothing in Christ; || and, when he still would lay violent hands on the innocent, most justly he lost the captives, whom he possessed; and that Being upon whom death had no just claim, having injuriously suffered the pains of death, by this voluntary submission justly freed, from the debt of death, and from the dominion of the devil, him who was legally obnoxious to both. Man was the debtor: man also paid the debt. For, if one died for all, then were all dead,1f that the satisfaction of one might be imputed to all, as he alone bore the sins of all; and now he, who offended, and he, who satisfi
ed divine justice,. are found the same; because the head and the body is one Christ. The head then satisfied for the members, Christ for his own bowels; since, according to St. Paul's gospel, which fully confutes the error of Abelard, God hath quickened us together with him, who died for us, having forgiven us all trespasses, blotting out the handwriting of ordinances, nailing it to his cross, and spoiling principalities and powers.* May I be found among those spoils of which adverse powers are deprived! If I be told, your father enslaved you, I answer, my brother hath redeemed me. Why may not I have another's righteousness imputed, since I have another's sin imputed to me? Is there sin in the seed of the sinner, and not righteousness in the blood of Christ? As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. The fault has truly laid hold of me, but grace has also visited me. If the judgment was by one to condemnation, the free gift was of many offences to justification.f Nor do I fear, being thus freed from the powers of darkness, to be rejected by the father of lights, since I am justified freely by the blood of his son. He, who pitied the sinner, will not condemn the just. I call myself just, but it is through his righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness,^ and he is made of God for us righteousness.§ Thus is man made righteous by the blood of the redeemer; though Abelard, this man of perdition, thinks this the only use of his coming; namely, to deliver to us good rules of life, and to give us an example of patience and charity. Is this then the whole of the great mystery of godliness, which any uncircumcised and unclean person may easily penetrate? What is there in this beyond the common light of nature? But it is not so: for the natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God; || thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent;1T and, if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them, that are lost.** He asks, had the devil domi
• Coloss. ii. 13. + Rom. v. 16. f Rom. x. 4.
§ 1 Cor. i. 30. || 1 Cor. ii. Matt. xi. 25. " 2 Cor. iv. 3.
nion over Abraham and the other elect? No; but ho would have had, if they had not been freed by faith in him that was to come. As it is written, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness; and Abraham rejoiced to see my day; he saw it, and was glad. It was the blood of Christ, which distilled, as the dew on Lazarus, in the parable, that he should not feel the flames of hell, because he believed on him, who was to suffer. We must believe of all the elect of that time, that they were born, as we are, under the powers of darkness, but were thence delivered before they died; and that only by the blood of Christ.
He asks, why so tedious and painful a mode of deliverance, since Christ could have effected it by a mere volition? Who affirms that the Almighty was limited to this mode? But the efficacy of this method, which he preferred to all other possible ones, is surely demonstrable from that very preference: and, perhaps, its excellence may hence appear, that the grievous sufferings of our redeemer afford us an admonition of the strongest and most impressive nature concerning our own fallen and miserable condition. But no man knows, nor can know to the full, what precious benefits, what wisdom, what propriety, what glory the unsearchable depth of this mystery contains in itself. But, though we may not search out the mystery of the divine will, we may feel the effect of its execution, and reap the fruits of its goodness: and what we may know, we ought not to conceal. When we were yet sinners, we were reconciled to God by the death of his son. Where reconciliation is, there is remission of sins. In what then lies remission of sins? This cup is the new testament in ray blood, which is shed for you, for the remission of sins,* Why by blood, say you, what he might have done by a bare word? Ask God himself. 1 may know that it is so: why it is so, I may not. Shall the potter say to him. that formed him, why hast thou made me thus?
Strange, says he, that God should be reconciled to men by the death of his son, which ought to have incensed him the more against them. As if in one and the same transaction, the iniquity of wicked men might not displease, and the piety of the sufferer please God. What, says he, can expiate the guilt of the murder of Christ, if nothing less than that murder could expiate the sin of Adam? We answer briefly, that very blood which they shed, and the intercession of him, whom they slew. Not simply the death, but the voluntary obedience unto death of the redeemer was well pleasing to God; of the redeemer I say, who by that death destroyed death, wrought salvation, retrieved innocence, triumphed over principalities and powers, reconciled all things in heaven and in earth, and restored all things. And because this precious death, which was fo be spontaneously undergone, could not take place but through the sin of men, he, not delighted indeed with their wickedness, but taking occasion from it to execute the purposes of his own benevolence, by death condemned death. This blood was able to expiate the guilt which shed it, and therefore left no doubt of its expiating the first original sin. In answer to his tragical complaints of the cruelty of this dispensation, we say, God did not thirst for blood, but for salvation, which was to be effected by blood. Salvation we say, and not as he writes, the mere display of love, and the exhibition of useful instruction and a powerful example. For what avails instruction without recovery? How useless the finest lessons, unless the body of sin be destroyed in us! At this rate the whole harm of Adam's sin lies in the exhibition of an evil example, since the medicine must be adapted to the quality of the wound. For, if we be christians and not pelagians, we must confess the sin of Adam to be derived to us, and by sin death; and that righteousness is restored to us by Christ, not by instruction, but by regeneration; and by righteousness life; that, as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation, even so, by the righteous
ness of one, righteousness came upon all men to justification of life.* If, as he says, the design of the incarnation was illumination, and a powerful incentive to love, we may own these things came from Christ; but, from whom came redemption and deliverance?
As far as in him lies, he, who attributes the glory of redemption not to the cross of Christ, but to our proficiency in holy conversation, renders void and of none effect the mystery of the divine dispensation. But God forbid, that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection.
I see, indeed, three capital objects in this work of our salvation, the form of humility by which the son of God made himself of no reputation, the measure of love which he extended even to the death of the cross, and the mystery of redemption, in which he suffered death. The two former, exclusive of the latter, are as if you painted on a vacuum. Great and necessary indeed was the example of humility; great and worthy of all acceptation, was the example of his charity; but remove redemption, and these have no ground to stand upon. I would follow the humble Jesus, I desire to embrace with the arms of love him who loved me, and gave himself for me; but—I must Eat the Paschal Lamb. Unless I eat his flesh and drink his blood, I have no life in me. It is one thing to follow Jesus, another to embrace, another to feed upon him. To follow, is wholesome counsel; to embrace, is solemn joy; to feed upon him, is an happy life. For his flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed. The bread of God is he that cometh down from heaven, and giveth life to the world.f What room is there for counsel or for joy, without life? they are mere pictures and shadows, without a solid ground and substance. Therefore, neither examples of humility, nor displays of charity, are any thing without redemption."
If the reader has attentively considered the argu
• Rom. v. 18. f John, vi.
ments of Abelard, and the answer of Bernard, he has seen what weight ought to be laid on a fashionable sentiment of this day, namely, that in consequence of the improvements in reasoning and philosophy, a person is now capable of expounding the scriptures much better than the ancients could do. If the observation be supposed to be applicable to the essential doctrines of salvation, I ask, how does this appear to be the case? In subjects of human art and science, indeed, new discoveries may be expected; but with what pertinency can the remark be applied to divinity? The whole system of divine truth is not more perfectly revealed now than it was seventeen hundred years ago. The scriptures are the same: common sense is the same: the influence of the holy Spirit is the samer and human wants are the same: and if men search and pray in humility and seriousness; if they cry after knowledge, and lift up their voice for understanding; if they seek her as silver, and search for her as for hid treasures, what is there to hinder them from understanding the fear of the Lord, and finding the knowledge of God, in one age as well as in another?* Is not God said to be willing to show, in the ages to come, the exceeding riches of his grace, in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus?t And will any man say, that, in some particular periods, he is not willing to unfold these inestimable riches? It is not to be denied, but that by skill in learned languages, by study, and by general cultivation of the human mind, much light may be thrown on several doubtful passages of holy writ: their connexion and meaning may be rendered clearer, and so far improvements may be made in the interpretation of scripture; but when this is admitted, we must still maintain that no new discoveries are to be expected in regard to the essential and fundamental truths of divine wisdom and holiness, and to these truths this whole remark is exclusively confined. These, wherever the Bible can be had in an
intelligible language, seem to lie open to the view of all humble and serious inquirers in every age. What can modern socinianism say more than Abelard has done? And does not Bernard answer it in the same manner as evangelical divines do now? Even in the darkness of the twelfth century we have seen the light as clear and full in the main, as it can be at this day. Old errors may be revived and dressed up anew, but they are the same errors still. Even the praise of original genius will be denied to the modern heretic, by him, who carefully investigates antiquity. The whole circle of human sciences, however they be cultivated and improved in our days, can add nothing to the stock of spiritual understanding. In every age God has not been wanting to his church; and divine truth has ever appeared the same, and has brought forth the same holy fruits in those, who fear God, and believe the gospel of his son.
I shall not now need to give an abstract of the other letters, which Bernard wrote on this occasion. In them all he sees the true ground of Abelard's errors. While this heretic undertook to comprehend all that God is, by mere human reason, while nothing seemed to escape his penetration either in heaven above or in the depth beneath, he was totally ignorant of himself.* He was ignorant of nothing, but of himself, f Such is the language of Bernard, concerning him, while he cautions the pope and other dignitaries of the' Roman church against the seductions of heresy, and informs them how much Abelard presumed on the expectation of finding patrons at Rome, where his books had been dispersed.^
The influence of Bernard's labours in this cause on the minds of the christian world was very great, and decisively defeated the designs of the enemy. Gaufredus, one of the writers of Bernard's life, observes: " Blessed be God, who gave to us a better- master, by whom he confuted the ignorance of the former, and
• Vol. I. p. 184., 185. t186- tVo1' *-3,2
quashed his arrogance, by whom Christ exhibited to us three special objects in his sufferings, an example of virtue, an incentive of love, and a sacrifice of redemption."*
Roused by the exhortations of Bernard, the pope pronounced a definitive sentence against Abelard, ordered his works to be burned, and the heretic to be confined in some monastery, at the discretion of the leaders of the council, which had condemned his doctrine. We have, however, better authority than that of the pope for pronouncing his sentiments heretical. And though the decisions of the pope deserve no attention from christians, it was matter of sincere pleasure to all, who loved the souls of men, that Abelard was stripped of the power of doing mischief. As for the rest, he was treated with as great lenity as the nature of ecclesiastical government at that time, which was certainly absurd and arbitrary in many respects, would admit. He was permitted to end his days in the monastery of Cluni, over which Peter the venerable presided, who treated him with much compassion and friendship. An interview was also promoted by the good natured offices of Peter, and of another abbot, between the two champions, the particulars of which are not known. Only it appears, that Bernard declared himself satisfied with Abelard's orthodoxy. I suppose the latter would, in conversation, retract, or soften, or explain his thoughts in the same manner as he did in an apology, which he published at this time. But the reader remembers, that this was not the first time of his submitting himself to the judgment of the church. Whether he was sincere or not, it belongs not to man to determine. The charity of Bernard, however, is incontestable, because he dropped the accusation, as soon as Abelard had ceased to vent heretical sentiments. Not personal malice, but christian zeal seems to have influenced the abbot of Clairval in this whole transaction. s
• Vol. ii. 1074.
If it be asked, what benefit resulted from the scene, which we have reviewed? it is answered, either Abelard's retraction was sincere or not. If the former, the advantage was great to the heretic himself; if the latter, he doubtless added hypocrisy to his other crimes, though he was prevented from making himself accessory to the ruin of others. But the guilt of hypocrisy was properly and solely his own. If his opponents contracted any guilt on the account, it would be unlawful to oppose error at all, for fear of possible consequences. To this I add, that the benefit resulting to the whole church for ages, is unquestionably evident; a consideration worthy the attention of those, who, in their charity for single heretics, seem to forget the mercy and charity due to the souls of thousands. Abelard, however, continued after these events in quiet obscurity till his death, which took place in the year 1142.
Eloisa survived this extraordinary man many years. Their correspondence still remains, and I have examined it with a view to discover, whether there be any evidences of genuine conversion in the unhappy couple. That they were sorry for their past follies is certain; that the latter part of their lives was outwardly decent and regular is no less evident; but of real repentance, genuine faith in Christ, and the true love of God, I cannot discern any satisfactory proofs.
I have now enabled the reader, by an orderly statement of facts, to decide for himself what candor and justice there is in the declaration of a learned historian, that " Bernard misunderstood some of the opinions of Abelard, and wilfully perverted others. For," continues he, " the zeal of this good abbot too rarely permitted him to consult, in his decisions, the dictates of impartial equity; and hence it was, that he almost always applauded beyond measure, and censured without mercy."* Wilful perversions, and by a good man too! what inconsistency of language! Or is Bernard called a good man ironically? Or did this writer feel a
• Mosheim, p. 601. vol I quarto
sympathy with one of these great men, and an antipathy to the other? Certainly, whoever, like Bernard, defends the real truth, as it is in Jesus, with the simplicity of a christian, even though he preserve modesty, caution, and charity, must expect no mercy from the criticisms of men more zealous for the honour of what they improperly call rational religion, than for that of Jesus Christ. The world will Love Its Own: the carnal mind is enmity against God; and he, who m charity supports evangelical truth, and, under God, is made wise to win souls to real humility and holiness, shouldcommit himself to him that judgeth righteously, and patiently wait his decision.
If Mosheim do not altogether deserve the censure implied in these observations, undoubtedly he is not to be acquitted of uncharitableness, temerity, and selfsufficiency.