The most interesting thing to me about today’s CoPhi subject, Boethius, is that he could find any “consolation” at all in “Philosophy’s” theodicy. His Comfort Woman convinced him of the divine necessity of his own brutal sacrifice, for the greater good – or Good, in the Platonic perfectionist sense. He had to accept the notion that some must give all, in an unjust and irreparable cause, and moreover that this is part of a perfect plan. I don’t think I could do that, though it surely would make those last hours pass more peaceably. (Of course there’s also the objection that it probably isn’t true.)
It’s difficult not to take Boethius more as a late Stoic (his anti-Stoical protestations notwithstanding) than an early Christian. He doesn’t brandish the latter identity at all in his final testament, as might have been expected of one whose time on earth is nearly up. If he anticipated waking, post-torture, in a personal heaven, he didn’t let on. “Consolation of Philosophy makes references solely to ancient Greeks and Romans – not a single Christian author or figure appears in it, not even Jesus.” (The Cave and the Light)
Bertrand Russell could not “think of any European man of learning so free from superstition and fanaticism… He would have been remarkable in any age; in the age in which he lived, he is utterly amazing.”
The other thing especially noteworthy about Boethius is his focus, right to the end, on human happiness as the point of existence, a form of divinity in which all may participate. As Russell notes, that almost sounds pantheistic. Lots of things had to be glozed over, about Boethius, to turn him into a Christian martyr.
But he’s still an admirable figure, more admirable even than his big fan Ignatius J. Reilly realized.
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