Peter Abelard

On the Elements

Introduction by CJ Mews

Peter Abelard says: “Therefore, by examining the immensity of the depth of Genesis through a threefold exposition, namely historical, moral and mystical, we invoke the spirit by whose dictation these things were written; so that He who gave words to the prophet may also open the knowledge of them to us. So, first, just as he granted, or rather as he imparted, let us establish the truth of the things done as though it were an historical basis.”

Original Latin

The Primacy of the Elements

Abelard wrote a commentary about the six days of creation as told in Genesis for Heloise. Unlike many of his clerical contemporaries, Abelard had made his reputation through reflecting on theological questions, above all about the Trinity, rather than as a commentator on the Bible. In these extracts, however, he demonstrates his strong interest in the importance of interpreting the opening chapters of Genesis for both its scientific teaching and his exposition of divine wisdom, underpinning creation.

Abelard was not as original in scientific thinking as he was in his analysis of language and logic. Nonetheless, he reflects on how the account in Genesis accords with scientific thinking about the primacy of the four core elements (earth, air, fire, and water) because they were created from nothing, over living creatures (like man) that were formed out of something already in existence.