Monday, October 23, 2006

The Consolation of Philosophy

Today is the traditional anniversary of the death of Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus Boethius; he was killed by King Theodoric, the Ostrogoth, on charges of treason and sacrilege. Early on there sprang up a tradition, which may or may not be true, that the charges were trumped up and that he was really executed for being an orthodox Catholic. It is actually somewhat plausible -- Theodoric was an Arian who is known to have had a number of struggles with his nominal superior (Justinian I in Byzantium) and his subjects over the issue of Arianism -- but we lack clear information to confirm the tradition. While in prison Boethius wrote his most famous work, The Consolation of Philosophy. And what consolation did Philosophy bring Boethius in prison? There are a lot of different interpretations on this point, but I think the work is fairly straightforward about it. The governing theme of the book is divine providence; Boethius raises questions or misconceptions about providence, and Philosophy answers or corrects him. And the final conclusion of it all is this: We do not pray in vain. The consolation brought by Philosophy to a despairing man in prison is that prayer is worthwhile. In Philosophy's own words (as translated by W.V. Cooper):

Thus, therefore, mortal men have their freedom of judgment intact. And since their wills are freed from all binding necessity, laws do not set rewards or punishments unjustly. God is ever the constant foreknowing overseer, and the ever-present eternity of His sight moves in harmony with the future nature of our actions, as it dispenses rewards to the good, and punishments to the bad. Hopes are not vainly put in God, nor prayers in vain offered: if these are right, they cannot but be answered. Turn therefore from vice: ensue virtue: raise your soul to upright hopes: send up on high your prayers from this earth. If you would be honest, great is the necessity enjoined upon your goodness, since all you do is done before the eyes of an all-seeing Judge.'

You can find Cooper's 1902 translation online.

(P.S. By the way, if anyone is able to help me with a puzzle, I would appreciate it. All the information I have been able to gather on whether Boethius has been canonized by the Catholic Church is conflicting. There are a number of places that straightforwardly say he is canonized; others say he was beatified. His cultus seems to have been confirmed in 1883; while this is a different process, confirmation of cultus is often considered to be equivalent to beatification. It's basically a shortcut (if it can be called that) in the process for people who have been considered to be saints 'from time immemorial' (in practice, prior to 1540, which condition is easily met by Boethius), particularly if they were martyrs or confessors. There's some ambiguity in Boethius's case, since it isn't clear whether Boethius was really martyred; but it's a very fine ambiguity, and much less of an obstacle in his case than in other cases where Rome has clearly decided for martyrdom -- Maria Goretti (killed during a rape) and Edith Stein (killed at Auschwitz by the Nazis for being a Jew) being good instances of this sort of ambiguity. To some extent it doesn't matter -- Catholic beatification indicates sainthood, it just doesn't indicate sainthood in the sense required for a particular kind of role in the liturgical devotions of the Church. But I still would like to know how far Boethius's cause has progressed, just for the knowing. If anyone can point me to actual documents, that would be appreciated.)

1 comment:

  1. branemrys12:49 AM

    Because people occasionally come to this post to answer the question of whether Boethius is canonized, the answer is: He is in the Roman Martyrology, which is a list of saints officially recognized by the Church, and this suffices for canonical status as a saint.


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