Consolation of Philosophy
Seeking truth in the heart
Whoever deeply searches out the truth
And will not be deceived by paths untrue
Shall turn unto himself his inward gaze
Shall bring his wandering thoughts in circle home
And teach his heart that what it seeks abroad
It holds in its own treasure chest within.
What error’s gloomy clouds have veiled before
Will then shine clearer than the sun himself
Not all its light is banished from the mind
By body’s matter which makes men forget.
The seed of truth lies hidden deep within
And teaching fans the spark to take new life
Why else unaided can man answer true
Unless deep in the heart the touchwood burns?
And if the muse of Plato speaks the truth
Man but recalls what once he knew and lost.
Leaving earth’s chains behind
Happy the man whose eyes once could
Perceive the shining fount of good,
Happy he whose unchecked mind
Could leave the chains of earth behind.
Once when Orpheus sad did mourn
For his wife beyond death’s bourn
His tearful melody begun
Made the moveless trees to run.
Made the rivers halt their flow
Made the lion, hind’s fell foe,
Side by side with her to go
Made the hare accept the hound
Subdued now by the music’s sound.
But his passions unrepressed
Burned more fiercely in his breast
Though his songs all things subdued
It could not calm the master’s mood.
Complaining of the gods above
Down to hell he went for love.
There on sweetly sounding strings
Songs that soothe he plays and sings
Life in the sight of the Heavenly Judge
The Consolation of Philosophy was written in 523 CE during a one-year imprisonment when Boethius was awaiting trial for alleged treason under the barbarian king Theodoric, military ruler of all Italy.
Boethius who was head of the civil service in Rome, was suspected of sympathy with the rival Byzantine Empire in the east, and was executed in 525. Imprisonment and his impending death inspired Boethius to contemplate how evil can exist in a world governed by a just God, and how happiness is still possible if we live a virtuous life.
The book is composed as a conversation between the philosopher Boethius and Lady Philosophy who comforts Boethius by describing the impermanent nature of fame and wealth, and the ultimate superiority of things of the mind, which she calls the “one true good”.
Happiness comes from within us, and virtue is all that we can truly call our own because it does not depend on fortune or circumstances, says Philosophy.
The book is extremely influential in Western thinking, but contrary to popular perception, it does not talk about Christianity, which is no more than one of the many competing religions in Europe.
At the close of the conversation, Philosophy consoles Boethius with these words:
“God, who has foreknowledge of all things, still looks down from above, and the ever-present eternity of His vision concurs with the future nature of all our acts, and dispenses rewards to the good and punishment to the bad.
“Our hopes and prayers also are not placed on God in vain, and when they are of the right kind, they will be effective. Therefore, avoid vice and cultivate virtue; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope; and offer humble prayers to Heaven. A great necessity is placed upon you to do good, since all your actions are done before a Judge who sees all things.”
Lady Philosophy and Boethius discuss the nature of chance vs. Providence