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The Saint vs. the Scholar

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As a medievalist I have long known about Peter Abelard and teach him in my class.  I also know of Bernard of Clairvaux but have never read a book that compares the two so well as this one.  Abelard was beloved of his students and nearly a celebrity in Paris.  Bernard was always known as "saintly" and will influence church history.  
Bernard accused Abelard of heresy which provoked a battle of wills between the two.  This is the story of faith versus reason, which still echoes down the centuries to our world today.
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Wow. I have puzzled on the divide between reason and faith, how so few seem to be able to bring the two together comfortably. Here, Sweeney gives us what may be the earliest vision of that divide: a personal and professional struggle between Bernard and Peter Abelard.
I found tremendous value in this narrative. It is contemplative at its deepest core, taking nobody's side and not seeking to draw a conclusion other than the plea for the greater good in a thoughtful faith. The story is far from simple, woven among the context of personal experience and tragedy, and the end result is two men who could have had so much more in common if they had allowed a civilized conversation to enter into their intersections.
The conclusion rings as true today as it did then: faith and reason need not part ways. Where these conversations take place between real people, there is a strong need for them to really hear one another. It may result in surprising enrichment both ways.
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This book examines the rivalry between Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard using the 1140 Council of Sense as a framing device and placing it in the context of the church and crusade politics of the 12th century. I very much enjoyed this book, however I feel that it may only appeal to a very specific audience and requires some understanding of the church politics of the day.
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About 150 years before Thomas Aquinas united philosophy and theology in his great works, Peter Abelard wrote books that took a philosophical approach to theological questions. So much so that you could almost consider him the proto-Scholastic.

Unhappily for Abelard the theologians of the day, led by Bernard of Clairvaux, objected and he was thoroughly condemned for the in a hearing in the French city of Sens. The dichotomy of faith vs. reason continues to this day. 

In this short book Sweeney explores the hearing, the lives and thoughts of both men and their implications. At the end he also proposes a "third way" that takes both views into account.

It was a well-written book that did a good job of encapsulating the lives and thought of both men. That's particularly good because we tend to know only the headlines of their lives.

The author has a good command of both the period and the works of these two men. Where he is on more shaky ground is when he talks about classical philosophy and on other writers, such as Dante. While I would have preferred greater accuracy here, these matters are beside his main point.
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Using the 1140 Council of Sense as the framing device, Sweeney traces the rivalry between Bernard of Clairvaux and Peter Abelard and places it in the context of the church and crusade politics of the 12th century.  This is written in a popular style, so the result is an odd book unsure of its audience--someone interested enough to want to read about medieval philosophy and church semantics doesn't need the extensive background, while someone coming to it because of a connection to Eleanor of Aquitaine or having visited a cathedral will be pretty much lost.
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The Saint vs. the Scholar

The Fight between Faith and Reason
by Jon M. Sweeney

Franciscan Media

Christian , History

Pub Date 28 Apr 2017

I am volintarily reviewing a copy of The Saint vs. the Scholar through Franciscan Media and Netgalley:

Peter Abelard was born in 1079, and was Brittany born but mostly Parisian, prescholastic philosopher.

Bernard of Clairvaux was born in 1090 and was a rural French monk and abbot, and theologian who was in many ways like Peter.

William of Champeaux was born in 1070, a philospher, then monk, then Bishop who clashed with and was humiliated by Peter Aberlard.  William died in 1122.

Pope Innocent the Second was born in 1075, and was the Holy Pontiff between 1130 and 1143.  He was forced to flee Rome after a dubias Papal election that involved Bernard.

Pope Eugenius the third was born in 1080, a monk, then an abbot in the Montasarey of Clairvaux.  He would become the first Cisterian Pope in History.  He was Holy Father between (1145-1153).

Peter the Venerable was born in 1092, he was the Abbott of the Benectine Abbey of Cluncy, the largest and most powerful religious house of the world.  Bernegard born around 1055 was Peter's Father.

Bernerard of Pottiers was born around 1120, and was one of Peter's students in Paris, and one of his defenders after the episode with Bernard in Sens.

Heloise was born around 1100 was a brilliant French scholar, then nun, Abe's, and writer who is sadly most remembered for the affair she had with Peter of Aberlad twenty years before the events in the story take place.

Hildegard of Bingen was born in 1098, she was a Rhineland Mystic who was not understood by many during her lifetime, but is now recognized as a model of faith, reason and spiritual understanding.  She never met or corespondended with Peter, but we did with Bernard.

In the opening of this story Peter has already entered his seventh decade, he is being slandered from Cologne to Rome and asks for a public forum to defend himself.

Peter Abelard eventually finds himself at Peter the Venerable's Abby despite the fact that he once publicly denounced him.

Bernerards appearance was a study in contrasts.  He had a large forehead, resting above shallow cheeks he hard large eyes, and a large nose, but a small mouth.  He was a mystic of the highest order.

Berneard often worked secretly even dishonestly, trying to frighten those he wrote too.  Berneard and Peter were two men who truly did not like one another.  They shared some things in common like both being from the privileged class, and being raised with certain advantages, and they were both literate in a time when that was rare, but they did not see eye to eye.  Peter taught with creativity and improvising his lectures were not written or shared, and when they were occasionally written down in a manuscuprit culture centuries before the printing press.

Heloise sadly would become most well known for her affair with Peter. Peter and Heloise left Paris so Heloise could give birth quietly in Brittany.

In a time when parents would send children off to work for others to help with provisions, Berneard's parents provided him with what he needed.

I give The Saint Vs the Scholar five out of five stars for a well researched, well written book.

Happy Reading.
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