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Augustine, Abelard and Heloise Essay

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Updated: Nov 30th, 2021

Medieval philosophy evolved in close connection with the development of Christianity and theology. Therefore, the philosophers of the Middle Ages paid great attention to such issues as the place of a human being in the world, the nature and sources of the good and evil and ethics in interpersonal relationships including those between a man and a woman. The present paper discusses the recent release of the film “Lovely Bones” through the lens of medieval philosophy. According to St.Augustine, the film shows the perversion of free will and the fall to the inferior level of God’s creation, Abelard would note that the true justice is executed in the film, whereas Heloise would focus on the emotion aspect of death and bereavement and note that the girl returned from heaven out of love and sympathy for her family.

The release of the film “Lovely Bones” is a cultural event for which a number of Americans have been waiting after reading the novel of the same name by Alice Sebold. Although the major event in the film is cruel murder of a 14-year-old girl, the dominant themes are love and justice. According to the plot, Susie is killed by her neighbor, but after her death she comes back to the earth as an observer of her relatives’ life. In addition, she tries to help them find the keys to solve the mystery of her murder. As Scott writes, “She is, in any case, obsessed with the lives that go on without her, in particular with the ways her siblings and friends and father (Mark Wahlberg, agonized) and mother (Rachel Weisz, narcotized) deal with losing her, something the audience never has to endure” (Scott, 2009, at nytimes.com). As one can assume, the members of her family are equally obsessed and distressed. Furthermore, according to Ansen, the film puts forth an idea that heaven or afterlife for a specific person is created in the basis of fantasies they had when being alive. However, the girl is not able to stay in the “other world”, as her murder haunts her and she wants all the details to be revealed. Finally, her abuser is punished and dies in a terrible accident.

As Abelard writes in the letter to his friend, justice requires giving an eye for an eye. After Fulbert maimed him for the romantic relationship with his niece Heloise, Fulbert learned that the villain underwent the same punishment and shame, and believes the suffering of the victim returned to the perpetuator: “So cruel an action escaped not justice, the villain suffered the same mutilation, poor comfort for so irretrievable an evil” (Abelard, Letter 1, p.16, at sacred-texts.com). However, as one can understand, most heinous crimes are irreversible and even the most painful punishment cannot bring back the victim or restore the health of a disabled person. The main character of the film, either explicitly or implicitly, seeks revenge, and so do her grief-stricken parents. However, both in the novel and the film the death of her murderer years after his crime is kept secret because this news is not likely to console her family, but rather will open the old wounds in their souls, associated with the loss of the girl. Most importantly, as Abelard wisely notes, revenge and torments of the villain will not resurrect the murdered child. However, the overall concept of justice as balance and “life for a life” can be traced in both Abelard’s letter and the film.

In Book VII, Augustine reflects upon the nature of evil. Firstly, he supposes that free will is a source of evil, as it is not clear why humans choose evil instead of God if God is omnipotent: “Who made me? Was it not my God, who is not only good, but goodness itself? Whence came I then to will to do evil […]?” (St. Augustine, XVII- 5, at newadvent.org/). However, once upon a time Augustine has a vision and for receives the ability to see God with his mind. He realizes that God holds the world in truth, and everything is good only because it exists (St. Augustine, XVII-21, at newadvent.org/). And all objects, living beings and all phenomena fit their place according to God’s design. In this structure, sinners are less close to God and are therefore are placed at the lower levels of His creation. So evil refers to perverted will , or the attempts to reach the inferior parts of God’s creation instead of striving for the superior (St. Augustine, XVII-22, at newadvent.org/). Therefore, when commenting on the shocking crime committed against the girl Augustine would probably assume that the perpetuator was originally good, similarly to all other people. God created him equal to others and gave him a chance to approach Him and organize his life in accordance with the Biblical principles. Instead, the man began to make wrong choices and misused his free will, thus moving away from God. This path once brought the man to such poor outcome as murder. However, even through sinners occupy the lower levels of God’s creation; they are nevertheless not evil, in God’s “understanding”. Thus, they have a chance to improve their condition by using their free will to abide to His teachings.

In her letters to Abelard, Heloise discusses the difficulties of losing the loved one. In particular, in letter IV she reproaches Abelard for talking about the arrangements associated with his funeral, while both of them are alive. In particular, she states that they have a strong emotional connection which cannot be torn without causing pain. Each of them is a source of support and empowerment for the other (Heloise, Letter IV, p.61, sacred-texts.com). Furthermore, the woman assumes they share so many happy remembrances, which will cause grief to her after Abelard dies because she will be aware that these events never happen again. To great extent, these ideas explain why the girl decided to come back. In the earthly love, she grew up in a warm family atmosphere, so her soul could not vanish from this world and break these psychological bonds. In addition, her soul probably sympathized with the feelings of her nearest and dearest, so she believed they have to feel her presence.

As one can conclude, in the analysis of the event St.Augustine would pay more attention to the nature of the immoral and criminal act, namely the murder, Heloise would point out how strong love and attachment between humans can be, whereas Abelard would discuss the event from the perspective of justice and punishment fitting the crime.

Works cited

St.Augustine. , Book XVII.



Scott, O. New York Times.

Ansen, D. “ . Newsweek, 2009.

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