In this post I’ll be giving a snapshot of the life and thought of Anicius Boethius, a figure who lived around the 6th century AD and has been described as the last of the Romans and also the first of the scholastic philosophers.
Who Was He?
Generally regarded as one of the most important philosophers of the Middle Ages, Boethius was imprisoned for some time by Theoderic the Great, who was King of Italy for a time and controlled a stretch of the Roman Empire. Boethius was accused of plotting to overthrow Theoderic, who eventually executed him, but not before he wrote his most famous work entitled Consolation of Philosophy.
Stylistically similar to some of the Socratic dialogues of antiquity, the book features a dialogue between Boethius and the spirit of philosophy personified as a woman. The work was translated into old English by King Alfred the Great in the 9th century (although some scholars dispute Alfred’s part in the translation), and later by the famous English poet Geoffrey Chaucer.
What’s the Big Idea?
In the Consolation of Philosophy Boethius argues that there is a higher power and that all suffering serves a purpose. He wrote that true happiness cannot be gained through the pursuit of money and power, but is found through philosophical detachment and the acceptance of hardship.
I think we all wonder at one time or another whether our suffering serves a purpose. In some religions, such as Hinduism, we are seen as responsible for our suffering due to the karmic consequence of our prior actions either in this lifetime or previous lifetimes. Within Christianity, suffering for the sake of the gospel is seen as honouring to Christ and to the glory of God.
I believe God is in control of all our suffering, and contrary to the perspective of many atheists, I would agree with Boethius that the suffering God brings us through serves a higher purpose. There have been times in my life when I have been truly broken by suffering, but without fail God has always turned my life around and brought me into a place of greater clarity and healing. I’m sure many of you reading this can relate.
I believe God is working out a plan for all His creatures, that may not make sense in this lifetime. When faced with life’s trials, the rather stoic acceptance of hardship recommended by Boethius can be seen as admirable, although I would add that we need a tremendous amount of grace in order to be able to see suffering, which at times can seem gratuitous, in a positive light.
In next week’s Friday Philosophy post I’ll be profiling Saint Anselm, whose ontological argument for the existence of God has been highly influential in the history of philosophy. If you’d like to receive an email with every new post, please consider subscribing. Thank you for reading!