ABEL (better Abell), THOMAS (d. 1540), an English priest who was martyred during the reign of Henry VIII. The place and date of his birth are unknown. He was educated at Oxford and entered the service of Queen Catherine some time before 1528, when he was sent by her to the emperor Charles V. on a mission relating to the proposed divorce. On his return he was presented by Catherine to the living of Bradwell, in Essex, and remained to the last a staunch supporter of the unfortunate queen. In 1533, he published his Invicta Veritas (with the fictitious pressmark of Luneberge, to avoid suspicion), which contained an answer to the numerous tracts supporting Henry’s ecclesiastical claims. After an imprisonment of more than six years, Abel was sentenced to death for denying the royal supremacy in the church, and was executed at Smithfield on the 30th of July 1540. There is still to be seen on the wall of his prison in the Tower the symbol of a bell with an A upon it and the name Thomas above, which he carved during his confinement. He was beatified by Pope Leo XIII.
ABELARD, PETER (1079–1142), scholastic philosopher, was born at Pallet (Palais), not far from Nantes, in 1079. He was the eldest son of a noble Breton house. The name Abaelardus (also written Abailardus, Abaielardus, and in many other ways) is said to be a corruption of Habelardus, substituted by himself for a nickname Bajolardus given to him when a student. As a boy, he showed an extraordinary quickness of apprehension, and, choosing a learned life instead of the knightly career natural to a youth of his birth, early became an adept in the art of dialectic, under which name philosophy, meaning at that time chiefly the logic of Aristotle transmitted through Latin channels, was the great subject of liberal study in the episcopal schools. Roscellinus, the famous canon of Compiègne, is mentioned by himself as his teacher; but whether he heard this champion of extreme Nominalism in early youth, when he wandered about from school to school for instruction and exercise, or some years later, after he had already begun to teach for himself, remains uncertain. His wanderings finally brought him to Paris, still under the age of twenty. There, in the great cathedral school of Notre-Dame, he sat for a while under the teaching of William of Champeaux, the disciple of St Anselm and most advanced of Realists, but, presently stepping forward, he overcame the master in discussion, and thus began a long duel that issued in the downfall of the philosophic theory of Realism, till then dominant in the early Middle Age. First, in the teeth of opposition from the metropolitan teacher, while yet only twenty-two, he proceeded to set up a school of his own at Melun, whence, for more direct competition, he removed to Corbeil, nearer Paris. The success of his teaching was signal, though for a time he had to quit the field, the strain proving too great for his physical strength. On his return, after 1108, he found William lecturing no longer at Notre-Dame, but in a monastic retreat outside the city, and there battle was again joined between them. Forcing upon the Realist a material change of doctrine, he was once more victorious, and thenceforth he stood supreme. His discomfited rival still had power to keep him from lecturing in Paris, but soon failed in this last effort also. From Melun, where he had resumed teaching, Abelard passed to the capital, and set up his school on the heights of St Geneviève, looking over Notre-Dame. From his success in dialectic, he next turned to theology and attended the lectures of Anselm at Laon. His triumph over the theologian was complete; the pupil was able to give lectures, without previous training or special study, which were acknowledged superior to those of the master. Abelard was now at the height of his fame. He stepped into the chair at Notre-Dame, being also nominated canon, about the year 1115.
Few teachers ever held such sway as Abelard now did for a time. Distinguished in figure and manners, he was seen surrounded by crowds—it is said thousands—of students, drawn from all countries by the fame of his teaching, in which acuteness of thought was relieved by simplicity and grace of exposition. Enriched by the offerings of his pupils, and feasted with universal admiration, he came, as he says, to think himself the only philosopher standing in the world. But a change in his fortunes was at hand. In his devotion to science, he had hitherto lived a very regular life, varied only by the excitement of conflict: now, at the height of his fame, other passions began to stir within him. There lived at that time, within the precincts of Notre-Dame, under the care of her uncle, the canon Fulbert, a young girl named Heloise, of noble extraction, and born about 1101. Fair, but still more remarkable for her knowledge, which extended beyond Latin, it is said, to Greek and Hebrew, she awoke a feeling of love in the breast of Abelard; and with intent to win her, he sought and gained a footing in Fulbert’s house as a regular inmate. Becoming also tutor to the maiden, he used the unlimited power which he thus obtained over her for the purpose of seduction, though not without cherishing a real affection which she returned in unparalleled devotion. Their relation interfering with his public work, and being, moreover, ostentatiously sung by himself, soon became known to all the world except the too-confiding Fulbert; and, when at last it could not escape even his vision, they were separated only to meet in secret. Thereupon Heloise found herself pregnant, and was carried off by her lover to Brittany, where she gave birth to a son. To appease her furious uncle, Abelard now proposed a marriage, under the condition that it should be kept secret, in order not to mar his prospects of advancement in the church; but of marriage, whether public or secret, Heloise would hear nothing. She appealed to him not to sacrifice for her the independence of his life, nor did she finally yield to the arrangement without the darkest forebodings, only too soon to be realized. The secret of the marriage was not kept by Fulbert; and when Heloise, true to her singular purpose, boldly denied it, life was made so unsupportable to her that she sought refuge in the convent of Argenteuil. Immediately Fulbert, believing that her husband, who aided in the flight, designed to be rid of her, conceived a dire revenge. He and some others broke into Abelard’s chamber by night, and perpetrated on him the most brutal mutilation. Thus cast down from his pinnacle of greatness into an abyss of shame and misery, there was left to the brilliant master only the life of a monk. The priesthood and ecclesiastical office were canonically closed to him. Heloise, not yet twenty, consummated her work of self-sacrifice at the call of his jealous love, and took the veil.
It was in the abbey of St Denis that Abelard, now aged forty, sought to bury himself with his woes out of sight. Finding, however, in the cloister neither calm nor solitude, and having gradually turned again to study, he yielded after a year to urgent entreaties from without and within, and went forth to reopen his school at the priory of Maisoncelle (1120). His lectures, now framed in a devotional spirit, were heard again by crowds of students, and all his old influence seemed to have returned; but old enmities were revived also, against which he was no longer able as before to make head. No sooner had he put in writing his theological lectures (apparently the Introductio ad Theologiam that has come down to us), than his adversaries fell foul of his rationalistic interpretation of the Trinitarian dogma. Charging him with the heresy of Sabellius in a provincial synod held at Soissons in 1121, they procured by irregular practices a condemnation of his teaching, whereby he was made to throw his book into the flames and then was shut up in the convent of St Médard at Soissons. After the other, it was the bitterest possible experience that could befall him, nor, in the state of mental desolation into which it plunged him, could he find any comfort from being soon again set free. The life in his own monastery proved no more congenial than formerly. For this Abelard himself was partly responsible. He took a sort of malicious pleasure in irritating the monks. Quasi jocando, he