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Thread: Peter Abelard - sin and intent

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Jan 2015

    Peter Abelard - sin and intent

    God is a sinner and the Church metes out punishment despite the rhetoric saying otherwise.

    "Know Thyself[1][2]

    Note: Instead of using the translation of Abelard's Ethics in HW as assigned (which has the Prologue and chapters 1-3, 7-8, 11-12), the translation in Luscombe's "Peter Abelard's Ethics" was used. Page numbers in square brackets refer to the odd number pages (i.e., those pages in English) in Luscombe's translation.

    1. What differentiates moral vices and virtues from non-moral vices and virtues?

    Abelard considers morals to be "vices and virtues of the mind which make us prone to bad or good works" [3]. This characterization places two qualifications on vices/virtues: a) that is of the mind, and b) that which makes us prone to bad or good works. The former eliminates any physical attribute from the moral realm. Even those physical qualities that might be considered instrumentally good or bad (e.g., strength/weakness, swiftness/sluggishness, upright/limpness, and vision/blindness) are not good or bad in the moral sense. The latter qualification eliminates any mental quality that does not by itself make one prone to good or bad acts. Although mental qualities such as ignorance, dullness, and forgetfulness seem to affect our ability to choose good or bad acts, they themselves do not make us prone towards good or bad works and as such are not in the moral realm [3]. Knowledge of what is good and bad is irrelevant to moral virtues and vices. Even newborn babies, unaware of God and religious teaching, are capable of having moral virtues and vices[3].

    A fuller characterization, that does not use the terms `good' or `bad', would be that morals are that which make us prone to consent to the contempt or reverence of God.

    Moral vices include such things as lust, gluttony, irascibility, and the desire to kill.

    2. What is sin?

    Sin is allowing ourselves to consent to contempt against God [5]. A more humanistic characterization would be that sin "is acting against our conscience" [Gilson. p.140]. Sins come in degrees from some damnable sins such as those considered criminal to venial sins that include those lustful dreams and when we forget ourselves and drink too much [69-71]. The key to committing a sin is consenting to vice, even if we do not have that vice (e.g., the unwilling killing of the cruel lord (see below)), where vices are the contempt for the wishes of God.

    3. Why is the presence of evil will or desire neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for sin?

    Evil will is not a necessary condition for sin as it is possible to unwillingly sin. The example that Abelard gives is an innocent man who unwillingly kills his cruel lord in order to stop the lord from killing him. It is unwilling as he does not want to kill his lord, and yet a sin as he consents to kill him [7-9].

    Evil will is not a sufficient condition for sin as it is possible to have evil will and yet not sin. A continent person can have the evil will of lusting after a woman, yet not consent to the lusting. What is damnable is the consent of the will for sex, and not the will itself. The desire to do what is against the wishes of God itself is "by no means to be called a sin, but rather… the consent itself." [15]

    4. Is sin voluntary?

    In Scito Te Ipsum, Abelard refines his earlier position[4] that `every sin is voluntary' to that by which `some sins are involuntary'. A counter-example of the former is that it is possible to lust after a married woman in which lusting after her would be permitted if she was single. The lusting is consented towards the woman, yet the consent itself is unwanted because she is married [17]. The fact that makes it a sin is that it is unwanted.

    5. What is the relation between sin and pleasure?

    Abelard rejects asceticism, that is, the idea that one should act in such a way that one gets no pleasure, as that practice makes unreasonable demands of people. It would be absurd to do acts, such as sex and eating pleasurable food, in a manner that is wholly without pleasure, as they would "be done in a way in which they cannot be done at all" [21]. To deny pleasure is to deny the acts altogether or put people in the untenable position that they have to sin. Abelard's God would not be so cruel so to make food tasty in order to make us sin.

    An example Abelard gives is of a man that is chained down and pleasured without consent. Since this man does not give into consent, he should not be faulted for that he feels a pleasure made necessary by nature [19-21].

    While pleasure is not necessarily sinful, Abelard does not discuss whether sin is or is not necessarily pleasurable.

    6. Why is the presence of an action neither a necessary nor a sufficient condition for sin?

    The presence of an action is not a necessary condition for sin, as it is possible to sin without performing an action. For someone to sin, they merely have to consent to the contempt of the wishes of God. They do not have to act upon their consent. Moreover, the act adds nothing to the sin [15] and action is irrelevant to whether someone has sinned or not.

    When someone goes to commit adultery and the intended partner refuses, the intended's refusal should not effect whether the first has sinned or not. Abelard follows Matthew 5:28, "`whosoever shall look on a woman to lust after her,' that is, whosoever shall look in such a way as to fall into consent to lust, `hath already committed adultery in his heart', although he has no committed the deed of adultery, that is, he is already guilty of sin although he is still without its outcome." [25]

    The presence of an action is not a sufficient condition for sin, as it is possible to perform a naughty action without sinning. These actions can be done, not by consent, but by ignorance, coercion, and under some other circumstances. While the Bible[5] forbids having sex with siblings, it is sometimes not known that they are your siblings. Similarly, Oedipus did not sin when he took his mother as this was done under ignorance. When a married man rapes a woman, she has not sinned as the act was done by coercion [25]. Although the bible[6] also says `Thou shalt not kill', it is not prima facie obvious that people have committed sin if they have killed. It is one's will and consent that relevant to sin, not action [27].

    Furthermore, if one were to place fault by action alone, then one would say that God, Jesus, and Judas committed the same sin as all three delivered up Jesus. Abelard would not claim that these similar deeds were equivalent.

    7. What is the function of punishment?

    Vices, sins and actions are irrelevant to punishment on earth; instead, it is for the appearance of naughty actions that people are punished. Abelard's system of punishment is not distributive, retributive, or corrective; it is merely used, preventatively, to discourage future naughty acts. That a person has appeared to commit an unlawful act is sufficient for punishment, even if it was done without vices, sin, or action.

    A mother who accidentally smothers a baby has not committed a sin, but is punished nonetheless. (That is, there is no necessary condition of sin for punishment.) Furthermore, she is given a heavy punishment in order to for her and subsequent women to be more careful. (That is, there is no real relationship between the enormity of the crime and the punishment.) If an innocent man is given a trial in which the judge knows to that he is innocent and yet cannot rebut the false witnesses, then the judge ought to punish him. Abelard puts it succidently, "he ought to punish him who ought not be punished" [39]. (That is, there is no real relationship between an action and the punishment.)

    The function of punishment is to provide knowledge of the law, by example, to discourage people from committing naughty acts. The mother did the crime out of the non-moral vice of ignorance, and the punishment is given in order to promote the non-moral virtue of knowledge. The innocent man is punished, not by any merit, but in order to inform people that they should not commit the act he was wrongly accused of doing. Abelard's theory of punishment is amoral.

    Punishment is "in accordance not so much with the obligation of justice as with the practicalities of government, so as to ensure, as we have said, the common utility by preventing public injuries. Therefore we often punish the smallest sins with the largest penalties, not so much considering with the fairness of justice what fault went before, as thinking with the wisdom of foresight how much trouble can arise if they are punished lightly" [45]. That is, punishment is utilitarian in nature and the intentions of the accused are irrelevant.

    Any concern for the faults of the mind are left to God. God will distributes everyone's punishment by fault, and equally for equal contempt [45]. Man is not concerned with fault when punishing, and will punish a monk harder than a layman.

    8. What criteria can we use for assessing a) intentions and b) actions?

    An intention is good "when, believing that one's objective is pleasing God, one is in no way deceived in one's own estimation" [55]. That is, beyond doing what seems to be good, one must also have the correct belief in what pleases God. One must use the dialectic (roughly, logic) to figure out what the correct belief is. One must know that they have, for instance, the correct interpretation of St. Paul.

    An action is good only when it "proceeds from good intention" [53]. The same action can once be good and another time bad, depending on the corresponding intention. An analogy used is that the proposition `Socrates is seated' is sometimes true and sometimes false depending on whether he is seated or not."

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Abelard and his promotion of education was a huge advance on what went on before him. The questions and assertions may seem trivial and obviously biased but they are a first step to re-engagement of the human potential which had been utterly destroyed in most places. Is it all that much better today?

    [1] "This essay was originally written for an undergraduate class in mediaeval philosophy. I like to thank Jenny Ashworth for her comments on the earlier draft.

    [2] Besides our text Hyman and Walsh's Philosophy in the Middle Ages. (2nd edition, 1973, Indianapolis: Hackett),Paul Vincent Spade's A Survey of Mediaeval Philosophy (Version 2, 1985, hard copy), Luscombe's Peter Abelard's Ethics (1971, London: Oxford University Press), Sikes's Peter Abailard (1965, New York: Russell & Russell), Windelband's A History of Philosophy (1914 [1901], Norwood, Mass: Norwood Press), and Gilson's Heloise and Abelard (1972 [1960], Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press) were consulted.

    [3] Abelard says that infants should not have "no fault arising from contempt of God" [23] which implies that they are at least capable of vices, above being subject to original sin.

    [4] Luscombe claims that in earlier works (which I have not read), "Abelard wrote that every sin is voluntary, i.e., freely chosen" [16-7.f1].

    [5] Deut 27:22; Lev 20:17. Referred from Luscombe p. 26-7.

    [6] Deut 5:1, 20. Referred from Luscombe p. 26-7."

    I like to see all the free material on the web, and yet I see so much old dogma sometimes I wonder if it would be better if we had to pay to get the proselyte lie into the hands of sheep. To suggest Christian Monasteries were anything other than a hotbed of depraved indifference to the welfare of people is a joke. To imagine a world so deranged that we celebrate the art and artists forced to portray the vile imagery is beyond reprehensible, and yet I have to admit it was an improvement.

    "Role of Christian Monasticism in Western Civilization


    During the age of Charlemagne, Christianity and the church experienced a tremendous revival in the West (Butt, 2002, p. 194). At the same time, arts, music, literature, and education were revived. Although the death of Charlemagne and the partition of his empire resulted in deterioration of many political and social institutions, the church, arts, and education lived on into the 11th century when they experienced full recovery. Even with the attempts to destroy education during the 10th century including the burning of books and destruction of libraries, they did not result in extinction of literature and education, as was the case in the 7th century. This essay explores the role of Christian monasticism in the development of arts and education between the ages of Charlemagne and peter Abelard.

    Christian Monasticism and Arts

    Christian monasteries played a central role in the recovery of education and arts in the post-Charlemagne period. The monasteries maintained the organization and structure adopted during the age of Charlemagne (Medieval wall, 2010, para 3). Most of the architectural designs used during the age of Charlemagne lived throughout the High Middle Ages. The monasteries contributed to arts recovery by restoring monumental architecture. Several outstanding church structures were built in the design of basilicas including St. Emmeram’s Abbey, Imperial Abbey and St. Denis Abbey. Perhaps the largest of these monumental basilicas was the Palatin Chapel completed in 805. It was Charlemagne’s spiritual Court and remained in use until early the 15th century.

    Apart from the monumental buildings, monasteries played an important role in the preservation of sculptures and paintings. Sculpture was not fully developed during this period. Sculptures of human figures were made using gold and ivory. Some of these sculptures were preserved in monasteries as alters such as the Vuolvinio in St. Ambrogio Basilica in Milan. Monasteries also participated in producing and preserving miniature painting. However, the main themes represented in the paintings were not necessarily sacral (Medieval wall, 2010, para 4)."
    Last edited by R_Baird; 04-02-2016 at 08:50 AM. Reason: typo

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    Do you find it interesting that Abelard is now best known for his dalliance with Heloise a person he was hired to tutor? Did his castration cause him to tell Heloise to enter the convent?

    "Peter Abelard

    by Jay Atkinson
    1079-1142. Abelard was a French philosopher and theologian whose fame as a teacher and intellectual made him one of the most renowned figures of the 12th century. Born in Le Pallet, Brittany, his French name was Pierre Abélard. The scandalous romance of Abelard and Heloise is better known these days than his writings. He was a magnificent and popular lecturer and because of his distinction as a dialectician (using rational argument to discover truth) and his drawing so many students, he is considered the founder of the University of Paris. He saw theology as the "handmaiden" of knowledge, and believed that through reason, man could gain a greater knowledge of God. Abelard has to his merit having solved the centuries old philosophical question of universals and the resolution of the debate between the realists and the nominalists. In the 19th century he was hailed as a forerunner of Protestantism.
    "By doubting, we come to inquire and by inquiry we arrive at truth".

    The church has never quite understood Abelard to the fullest, or known what to do with him. Should the church condemn his writings or revere him as a saint? He was a man of spectacular gifts and intellectual talent but the fundamentalism of today despises his intellectualism, appeal to reason and philosophic attitude. He possessed like passions as other men and his view of the trinity bordered on tri-theism. Calvin would have had him burned at the stake in his day.

    Abelard's teaching was condemned at Soursouns in 1121 and his first theological work had been burned as heretical. He followed Plato in theology and his best teachings emphasized Aristotle's dialectic, holding that the system of logic and dialectical method of intellectual reflection could be applied to the truths of faith, this pre-dated Thomas Aquinas and the scholastics by a century. His concept of ethics maintained that an act is to be judged by the intention of the doer.

    In his most influential and controversial book, Sic et Non (yes and no) in 1123, Abelard maintained that truth must be arrived at by carefully weighing all sides of any issue. In those days, theologians tended to prove their points chiefly by quoting statements from the Church Fathers. In his book he collected a list of 158 philosophical and theological questions and produced quotations from the Fathers on one side, next to contradictory quotations from the Fathers on the other side. He then proceeded to harmonize the contradictions, pointing out that language is vague and depends on the context. Abelard pointed out the foolishness of relying on authorities and showed the most respected theological authorities to be hopelessly at odds with each other. Abelard left these questions open for discussion and thereby left himself open to charges of heresy. For quite some time the Church had included his writings in the Index of Forbidden Books.

    {Might I suggest his overuse of alchemical dialectics was what also leads to the ban on truth about Plato, Aristotle and Socrates being alchemists.}

    For many years, intellectual pursuits and debate would consume the passions of Abelard, but soon a new fondness would arrive. In 1117 Abelard managed to get accepted as a boarder at the house of Canon Fulbert of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame in Paris who was the uncle and guardian of Heloise and a great admirer of Abelard. Abelard began tutoring Heloise, he saw her, they fell in love and she became pregnant. She had been entrusted to him as a private student and by becoming physically intimate he abused his position. No matter what fascination this has inspired in the minds of romantics since, it is still the story of a middle-aged man seducing his teen-age student. Abelard was not a priest or monk and was not sworn to celibacy, but he was a canon of Notre Dame Cathedral. If he got married he would lose his job and his privileged position. He wanted to marry her, but she argued that his work as a great philosopher destined to change the intellectual history of the world, was far too important to be jeopardized by the restraints of marriage. Abelard went on to persuade Heloise to take holy vows. Eventually, they did marry, secretly after Heloise gave birth to a son and over Heloise's objections - she would rather have been a lover than a wife, because of the lessening of his reputation. Now the problem was how to tell her uncle. To keep Fulbert happy, Abelard must tell him that they were married, but to keep his job, Abelard had to keep it a secret.

    In due course, Heloise's enraged uncle decided that Abelard had lied to him, ruined his niece and was preparing to abandon her. Despite the marriage, her uncle took his revenge by hiring some thugs who broke into Abelard's lodgings at night and castrated him. Humiliated and remorseful, Abelard retreated to a monastery at the Abbey of St. Denis and became a monk: "It was, I confess, confusion springing from shame rather than devotion or the result of conversion which drove me to the refuge of the monastic cloister". He admonished Heloise to enter a convent and become a nun, which she did under protest. She eventually ended in the abbess and became one of the most literate women of her time, living an exemplary and pure life as an able administrator. For some time she continued to protest and at about 1132 Abelard and Heloise began their famous correspondence that stands as a pillar of romantic classics."

    The confrontation with Bernard of Clairvaux may be one of the most important continuing debates in the church. I have suspicions about Bernard being a double or triple agent along with other Cistercians. I agree there is a place for reason and heart but I am not sure the word faith as employed in the church is anything less than outright imposition of BELIEF and destruction of a person and their ability to BE.
    Last edited by R_Baird; 01-28-2016 at 01:33 PM.

  4. #4
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    Jan 2015
    Heloise and Peter made romance seem worthwhile and that too is a good thing, the Cathar people did more to help raise the place of actual caring and loving equal relationships but these two were important as well. The letters are available for viewing at his web site.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    The new SINS are good window dressing for the sin (s) of those who continue to keep people at each other's throats.

    Vatican Includes Drugs and Wealth in New Sin List

    Updated May 14, 2008·4:19 PM ET In National Public Radio

    Published March 11, 2008·8:35 PM ET

    Listen to the Story

    In an effort to appeal to the modern Catholic, the Vatican has announced a list of seven new mortal sins. Some of the new don'ts: thou shalt not pollute and thou shalt not have too much money.

    Madeleine Brand speaks with Father James Martin, acting publisher of the Jesuit magazine America, about the importance of updating the 1,500-year-old sin list.

    "I think it's to remind people that sins are not just individual," he says referring to the Catholic church's old seven deadly sins — lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy and pride. "There's also social sins .. .sins that affect the community at large and sins that an institution can engage in."

    The New Mortal Sins

    1.) genetic modification

    2.) carrying out experiments on humans

    3.) polluting the environment

    4.) causing social injustice

    5.) causing poverty

    6.) becoming obscenely wealthy

    7.) taking drugs

    In June of 2007, the Vatican also released "Guidelines for the Pastoral Care of the Road." The list extols the benefits of using a vehicle for family outings, getting the sick to the hospital and laments a host of ills associated with automobiles.

    The "Drivers' Ten Commandments"

    1.) You shall not kill.

    2.) The road shall be for you a means of communion between people and not of mortal harm.

    3.) Courtesy, uprightness and prudence will help you deal with unforeseen events.

    4.) Be charitable and help your neighbor in need, especially victims of accidents.

    5.) Cars shall not be for you an expression of power and domination, and an occasion of sin.

    6.) Charitably convince the young and not so young not to drive when they are not in a fitting condition to do so.

    7.) Support the families of accident victims.

    8.) Bring guilty motorists and their victims together, at the appropriate time, so that they can undergo the liberating experience of forgiveness.

    9.) On the road, protect the more vulnerable party.

    10.) Feel responsible toward others.

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2015
    If you watch this video you can reach many possible conclusions about a god and sin. Sin is self-inflicted nonsense and if man created god with some intent as Peter Abelard describes sin then man is indeed a sinner. For only this god is this sinful. The video suggests Satan could be responsible but the very word Satan and that concept is only in the New Testament written by Romans to blame the original scripture authors (Jews and Christians by some definitions). Yes, in translations you get a devil of some sort which was an angel created by this god which seems all too interested in humans and does rape immaculate and aborts life or authors abominations galore.

    Pulpit pounders will talk about Lucifer (the morning star) as if that is this devil, but it is not. That is a way to scape-goat people who knew the morning star was important to all life on Earth as it traces the effects of the sun. And since the Bible is not original in any way (borrowed from many earlier sun worship systems - Ra, Ba'al, Lugh, Mithras etc.) as the Father of Biblical Archaeology assures us (and any student can easily see) it is a "Phoenician literary legacy"; I question whether these pulpit pounders ever study the origins of Christianity or gnosis (wisdom). It also intrigues me how evangelicals claim the USA is a Christian nation when it's founders or the leading lights thereof are dead set against that religion of rape, war, misogyny and worse.

    Paine - “One good schoolmaster is of more use than a hundred priests.”

    Ingersoll - “Give me the storm and tempest of thought and action, rather than the dead calm of ignorance and faith! Banish me from Eden when you will; but first let me eat of the fruit of the tree of knowledge!”

    Voltaire - “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.”

    Whitman - “I like the scientific spirit—the holding off, the being sure but not too sure, the willingness to surrender ideas when the evidence is against them: this is ultimately fine—it always keeps the way beyond open—always gives life, thought, affection, the whole man, a chance to try over again after a mistake—after a wrong guess.”

    Edison - "Moral teaching is the thing we need most in this world, and many of these men could be great moral teachers if they would but give their whole time to it, and to scientific search for the rock-bottom truth, instead of wasting it upon expounding theories of theology which are not in the first place firmly based. What we need is search for fundamentals, not reiteration of traditions born in days when men knew even less than we do now."

    Camus - “Men are never convinced of your reasons, of your sincerity, of the seriousness of your sufferings, except by your death. So long as you are alive, your case is doubtful; you have a right only to their skepticism.”
    Last edited by R_Baird; 04-17-2016 at 09:04 AM.

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