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One of the many issues facing women's monastic life in the twelfth century was governance, both its principle and implementation. (1) The debate concerning governance, and its subsequent realization, was carried out in the contexts of a variety of monastic experiments (for example, at Fontevraud and Premontre), papal and episcopal constraints on nunnery life, the enterprises of individual communities, and the commitments of some remarkable women. The spiritual requirements of nuns necessitated their interaction with male religious, and in many cases women's communities were expected to accept male oversight of their practical affairs. Alternatively, local monks or small linked houses of canons had, for centuries, attended to the spiritual needs of individual women's communities. However, interactions between male and female religious were perceived to create situations that might imperil the spiritual welfare of all concerned. This seemingly irreconcilable situation was at the heart of ongoing processes that endeavoured to structure a form of enclosed life for nuns that answered to the spiritual expectations of both women and men. This very complex history has been variously considered by scholars and will not be revisited here. Rather, a discrete sequence of events in this history will be examined: the exploration of the idea of governance for nunneries, and its formulation, in the context of the Paraclete community between the settlement of the sisters in 1129 and the recording of their customs between c. 1142-47. This exploration was encompassed in three texts: Heloise's request for a suitable rule (Letter 6), Abelard's response (Letter 8), and Heloise's own formulation for the expanding Paraclete congregation, the Institutiones Nostrae. In these texts, Heloise and Abelard pondered the bases from which they perceived women's monasticism to spring, and, of particular concern here, their implications for governance. Whilst apostolic and eremitic models were intrinsic to their monastic thought, the fundamental principle for their monastic ideals was Benedictine. This is not always recognized, particularly as Heloise couched Letter 6 in terms of the unsuitability of the Benedictine Rule for women's monastic praxis. One particular situation in the complicated developments for nunnery life in the twelfth century was that of the community of the Paraclete where Heloise and her sisters lived according to the Benedictine Rule. In a letter she wrote to Abelard sometime between 1132 and 1135, she criticized that Rule as inappropriate for the suitable formulation of monastic life for women. She was, therefore, asking Abelard to 'write for us a rule which shall be suitable to women' (2) and which would allow for them to live a monastic life which they perceived as authentic, whilst also enabling them to fulfil scriptural and apostolic ideals. In response, Abelard wrote a long treatise on the monastic life in which he emphasized that there was indeed very little in the Benedictine Rule that was not suitable for women. He adapted some elements of the Rule which, as Heloise herself had emphasized, Benedict had left to the discretion of the abbot, and which she had also dismissed as indifferent to salvation. In these matters, their understandings of the monastic life for women were shared. However, Abelard exceeded Heloise's brief in his complex formulation for the governance of a nunnery. His letter has been described by some commentators as a rule though its discursive nature is unsuitable for systematic implementation, (3) and, as the letter insists that the Benedictine Rule is the basis for enclosed monastic life for both men and women, (4) it seems unlikely that he intended it to be considered a replacement for the Rule. However, whatever his perception of the nature of his text may have been, it was not adopted at the Paraclete. Nevertheless, some elements of it informed the Institutiones Nostrae, (5) a set of institutes written somet

January 1
Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies

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