The Parish Church of St George the Martyr, Waterlooville

In the early part of the 12th century lived a priest of outstanding learning. A theologian, philosopher and teacher, he was pre-eminent in the scholarship of the times. He fell from grace and caused a scandal in social and religious circles on account of his excessive preoccupation with one of his students. The two were besotted with one another and the relationship led to a strange turn of events. The priest was Peter Abelard and the girl whom he loved was Héloïse d’Argenteuil.

Héloïse, an intellectually gifted young woman, in the wardship of Canon Fulbert (her uncle), sought to improve her education. It appeared that only one teacher was up to the standard to fulfil this task. On their meeting, not only were their intellects mutually intertwined but they became passionate for one another on the physical level. They lost no opportunity to sustain their desires until the redoubtable Canon Fulbert discovered their trysts.

Inevitably, Héloïse became pregnant. The couple fled to Brittany. They were discovered and a secret marriage was arranged. Fulbert had his thugs attack Abelard in Paris, who was ‘unmanned’ forcefully. Héloïse fled to a convent at Argenteuil. A son called Astrolabe was born. The future of the boy is not known.

Héloïse became a nun and for the next 20 years the pair were in correspondence with each other. Peter Abelard founded the monastery of the Oratory of the Paraclete at Ferreux-Quincey. He gave control of this monastery to Héloïse, with the title of Abbess. She successfully ran the Benedictine order there until her death. She frequently received advice from Peter Abelard as to the correct interpretation of the rules of the order. It is recorded that during the latter years, the two were briefly re-united at a ceremony in Paris. They discovered that their love for each other had been sustained - despite being physically unrequited.

The term ‘Paraclete’ is from the Greek. It means essentially ‘one who consoles’. This may be a fitting outcome for the activities of the lovers. Extension of the definition includes ‘advocate’ - as occurs in the letter of John. In Ch.2.1 the reference is; ‘we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous, and he is the propitiation for our sins’. This form of words is to be found in the BCP communion service and appears to be referring to Jesus Christ. Other texts, identifying Paraclete with ‘Comforter’ seem to refer to the Holy Spirit. Whatever the definition it is comforting etymologically to use the term ‘Paraclete’ as Called to the Lord’s side’.

Rod Dawson

Easter 2015

Héloïse and the Paraclete