The “Courtly love” described by Andreas Capellanus is an “instructional” manual on love and romance between a man and a woman. It consists of three books that address the etymology of love, dialogues between a man and a woman of different social classes and instructions on how the romantic process should unfold between people of different social classes (Andreas). The love described in the story between Heloise and Abelard is of a different nature. The discussions between Heloise and Abelard are less about romance and courtship and more about exchanging ideas on the role of women in society, religion, and the running of monasteries and nunneries. In most of the letters exchanged between the two, Heloise was seeking scriptural interpretations from Abelard whom she considered to be more knowledgeable about the scriptures and philosophy. By creating this “manual” of love, a manual that is, in reality, a multivocal “sic et non” treatment of the social and religious institutions of the day, Andreas invites us, as readers, to interrogate the social and religious authorities that construct society by seeing the “natural” as a rhetorical device and all authoritative voices as inherently (self-) contradictory.
The foundation of the love affairs between Heloise and Abelard were divergent from those between the man and the woman depicted in Andreas Treatise on Courtly Love. Andrea presents two people from different social classes (a plebian (gentleman) and a woman of higher nobility) (Andreas). Though from different backgrounds, the two discuss love based on virtues to try and overcome social classes. Abelard and Heloise on the other hand were religious people. The love affair between Abelard and Heloise was characterized by an ad hoc castration of Abelard. When Abelard was a lecturer in theology at a monastery, Heloise his lover was a prioress at a nearby Abby (Abélard, Heloise and Levitan, 12). The communication between Abelard and Heloise which is construed as love letters were indeed letters which detailed the running of an Abbey and were mostly on religious teachings on how women should retain their morality to please God. Heloise wanted to learn from Abelard how to run an Abbey because Abelard was experienced in the running of a monastery.
Andreas describes the social and pragmatic concept of love, romance and courtship while Abelard and Heloise discuss moral issues regarding love and romance while weighing the same against scriptural and philosophical teachings. Andreas in one instance specifies the requirements for love! He states, “for true love men must be at least 18 years old and under 60women must be under 50” (Andreas). In the discussions on love between Abelard and Heloise, the former was unpractical about love and seemed to use his position and knowledge as a philosopher to woo Heloise to love her instead of appealing for her love on virtues and practical expressions of love. Unlike in Andrea’s case where he pleaded to be allowed to show his virtues, Heloise accuses Abelard of holding God’s reverence in low-esteem. She laments, “If nothing else, at least defend the dignity of a philosopher and control this shamelessness with self-respect” (Abélard, Heloise & Levitan, xxii). She has several issues that are unresolved within her and she is unwilling to let them out to Abelard. As such, she comes across an impractical and renders her relationship with Abelard as inherently contradictory.
There is hypocrisy in the expression of love by Abelard to Heloise while transparency and ethics abound in the discussions between the man and woman from different social classes as depicted by Andreas. In one instance, Heloise speaks with disdain when she says “those outward deeds that hypocrites do with greater zeal than any of the righteous” (Abélard, Heloise & Levitan, xxiv). This reference to her character of hypocrisy is unexpected of a nun. In her third letter to Abelard she shows contempt for hypocrisy. She was outwardly a dutiful nun but inwardly devoted not to God but to Abelard. She was outwardly following sexual restraint but was inwardly aware of intense sexual longings (Abélard, Heloise & Levitan, xxv). On the other hand, the man and the woman from different social classes, though they differ in opinions discuss openly and respectfully. In one instance the man states, “if you consider yourself not beautiful, then you should consider me as a true loverlove makes even an ugly woman seem beautiful to her lover” (Andreas). This is a plausible example of transparency that is rare in society and none of the parties discussing about love comes out as hypocritical
Andreas expresses his thoughts on love in a manner devoid of excessive moral, religious and ethical considerations. His thoughts on love, sex and virginity contradict those expressed in the relationship between Heloise and Abelard. In the 12th century which is the setting of the letters of Abelard and Heloise virginity, sex and women’s role in society were hallmarks of moral, religious and ethical considerations. Virgins were highly prized as Abelard states, “the more God is pleased with abstinence and continence which women have dedicated to him, the more willing he will be to grant their prayers” ((Abélard, Heloise & Levitan, 123). Although Abelard pointed out that virginity should be devoted to God, the vast majority of people practice it to please society. Andreas comes across as one who never weighed sex and virginity on the basis of morality, religion or societal expectations but rather on emotions. He states that, “peasants rarely fall in love; they copulate like beasts”. Moreover, his advice does not seem to uphold respect for women, virginity or sex for he says “if one should by any chance fall in love with a peasant woman, praise her elaborately and then if you come upon a convenient place do not hesitate to take what you want by force” (Andreas).
The love between Abelard and Heloise is expressed in terms of their roles and responsibilities to God. The two exchanged letters that contain many Biblical references and quotes from famous people. However their destinies are divergent unlike those of the plebian and the woman of higher nobility presented by Andreas. Abelard and Heloise were in their hearts pursuing different agendas and there was no mutual goal that was to be realized by the two in the long run. While Abelard was castrated and fully dedicated to the service of the monastery, Heloise saw in religion and the nunnery setting the exhausting prospect of the world turned upside down, Justice outraged and certainly denied (Abélard, Heloise & Levitan, xxv). On the contrary to this hopeless situation, Andreas is open to the situation where a people from different social classes can fall in real love. He even lays the foundation if such love and stresses on virtues being the overriding factor to lasting love.
The love relationships between Heloise and Abelard have several differences from that expressed by Andreas in Courtly Love. While Abelard and Heloise are religious and base their relationship on religious teachings, Andreas urges for practicality and acceptance of social issues working on issues such as virtues to build love and overcome social classes. Comparing the two love situations, Andreas creates a “manual” of love, a manual that is, in reality, a multivocal “sic et non” treatment of the social and religious institutions of the day, Andreas invites us, as readers, to interrogate the social and religious authorities that construct society by seeing the “natural” as a rhetorical device and all authoritative voices as inherently (self-) contradictory.
Abélard, Pierre, Héloïse, and William Levitan. The Letters and Other Writings. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub, 2007. Print.
Andreas Capellanus (late 12th cent.) De Amore (1184-86) A Treatise on Courtly Love (Excerpts) web 17 Sep 2013 http://sites.fas.harvard.edu/~chaucer/special/authors/andreas/de_amore.html