A Twelfth Century Love Letter: Heloise Remembers Abelard

abelard_and_heloiseAn amazing passage from a letter of Heloise to Abelard, those twelfth-century lovers who ended up in a nunnery and a monastery after their affair was discovered. Strip away the contemporary details (their religiosity and its attendant guilt, etc.), and Heloise might be writing a blog today:

In my case, the pleasures of lovers which we shared have been too sweet–they can never displease me, and can scarcely be banished from my thoughts. Wherever I turn they are always there before my eyes, bringing with them awakened longings and fantasies which will not even let me sleep. Even during the celebration of the Mass, when our prayers should be purer, lewd visions of those pleasures take such a hold upon my unhappy soul that my thoughts are on their wantonness instead of on prayers. I should be groaning over the sins I have committed, but I can only sigh for what I have lost. Everything we did and also the times and places are stamped on my heart along with your image, so that I live through them all again with you. Even in sleep I have no respite. Sometimes my thoughts are betrayed in a movement of my body, or they break out in an unguarded word. In my utter wretchedness, that cry from a suffering soul could well be mine: “Miserable creature that I am, who is there to rescue me out of the body doomed to this death?” Would that Jesus in truth I could go on: “The grace of God through Jesus Christ our Lord.” This grace, my dearest, came upon you unsought–a single wound [Abelard’s castration] of the body by freeing you from these torments has healed many wounds in your soul. Where God may seem to you an adversary he has in fact proved himself kind: like an honest doctor who does not shrink from giving pain if it will bring about a cure. But for me, youth and passion and experience of pleasures which were so delightful intensify the torments of the flesh and longings of desire, and the assault is the more overwhelming as the nature they attack is the weaker. Men call me chaste; they do not know the hypocrite I am.

The Letters of Abelard & Heloise, tr. Betty Radice, 133