Reader_Lecture_15 - Medieval University Readings Peter...

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Medieval University Readings Peter Abelard: Prologue to Sic et Non (excerpts) Translated by W. J. Lewis (aided by the helpful comments and suggestions of S. Barney) from the Internet History Sourcebooks Project Peter Abelard (1079-1142) was one of the great intellectuals of the 12th century, with especial importance in the field of logic. His tendency to disputation is perhaps best demonstrated by his book Sic et Non, a list of 158 philosophical and theological questions about which there were divided opinions. This dialectical method of intellectual reflection - also seen in Gratian’s approach to canon law - was to become an important feature of western education and distinguishes it sharply from other world cultures such as Islam and the Confucian world. Abelard’s mistake was to leave the questions open for discussion and so he was repeatedly charged with heresy. For a long period all his works were included in the later Index of Forbidden Books. Prologue to Sic et Non hen, in such a quantity of words, some of the writings of the saints seem not only to differ from, but even to contradict, each other, one should not rashly pass judgment concerning those by whom the world itself is to be judged, as it is written: “ The saints shall judge nations ” (cf. Wisdom 3: 7-8), and again You also shall sit as judging ” (cf. Matthew 19:28). Let us not presume to declare them liars or condemn them as mistaken – those people of whom the Lord said “ He who hears you, hears me; and he who rejects you, rejects me (Luke 10:16). Thus with our weakness in mind, let us believe that we lack felicity in understanding rather than that they lack felicity in writing –- those of whom the Truth Himself said: “ For it is not you who are speaking, but the Spirit of your Father who speaks through you (Matthew 10:20). So, since the Spirit through which these things were written and spoken and revealed to the writers is itself absent from us, why should it be surprising if we should also lack an understanding of these same things? W (11-18) The unfamiliar manner of speech gets very much in the way of our achieving understanding, as well as the different meanings these words very often have when a given word is used with a particular meaning only in that particular manner of speech,. Indeed, each man is as well- stocked with words as he is with sense. And since according to Cicero (De Invent. I, 41, 76), “A sameness in all things is the mother of weariness” (that is, it gives rise to distaste), it is fitting to vary these words used on the same topic and not to strip everything bare with casual and common words. Such topics, as blessed Augustine said, are veiled for this reason, lest they become cheap, and the greater the effort it takes to discover them and the more difficult it is to master them, the more precious they are. (18-43) Likewise, it is often appropriate to change the
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Reader_Lecture_15 - Medieval University Readings Peter...

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