This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

October 23 -- Feast of Blessed Boethius

Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus Boethius has been called the last of the Roman philosophers and the first of the Scholastic philosophers.  That makes him a bridge that's about five centuries long, but that's okay.  As they said in Braveheart, some men are longer than others.

Boethius' family claimed descent from a couple of Roman emperors on each side and a couple of popes on the paternal side.  Dad served as a consul, as did Boethius himself, and his sons, Symmachus and Boethius the Younger.  [Consul, by the way, was the top constitutional office in classical Rome, even though it was eclipsed by the position of Emperor.]  

Boethius in better days, teaching some attentive pupils. 
Although his dad died while he was young, he was afforded an excellent education by his father's friend.  This education not only introduced him to his future wife (the tutor's daughter, Rusticana), but it gave him the knowledge and interest to write translations, commentaries, and original works.

Aware of Boethius' brilliance as a writer, translator, theologian, philosopher, and administrator, Theodoric the Great (King of the Ostrogoths) invited him to Ravenna to be Magister Officium (Master of Offices, i.e. Chief of Staff).  Like Galileo taking a job in Florence when he would have been safer but less well paid in Venice, Boethius should have found a way to say no.

He wasn't there long before he was imprisoned without trial and condemned.  The reasons offered for this vary, and are not mutually exclusive.  

1.  He was an Orthodox Christian, like the Emperor in Constantinople, and Theodoric was an Arian.  Perhaps Theodoric thought his Magister Officium was conspiring to subordinate him to Justin I, the Eastern Emperor, and impose Orthodoxy.

2.  Perhaps he backed (or was perceived as backing) Theodahad, nephew of the King, to be the heir apparent following the death of the King's son-in-law, Eutharic. 

3.  Perhaps, and this was Boethius' own suspicion, he was the victim of slanders by rivals for position in Theodoric's court.

Boethius and Philosophia talk in prison -- She might have worn a little more for a Platonic dialoge
Whatever the case, while he was under arrest, Boethius wrote his most famous work De Consolatio Philosophiae (On the Consolation of Philosophy).   Sidenote: Saint Alfred the Great translated De Consolatio Philosophiae into English, which was very thoughtful of him.  In it, Philosophia is personified as a female visitor to his cell.  Through their Platonic dialogue, Boethius explores the sum of his philosophical thinking, in which the rise and fall of all human endeavor is subject to the grand design of a benevolent deity.  Thus, by the time of his execution, Boethius is more resolved to his death than disheartened by it.  Good for him, since one account has him being clubbed to death, which I must say would be a distressing way to go.

Some eighteenth and nineteen century scholars see this work as the collapse of his Christian faith and reversion to paganism.  True, he does talk about the Wheel of Fortune, but I don't see any reason to take that as anything but metaphor.  It is also true that he was more imbued with the Stoic theories of Cicero and the Greeks than he was with Paul and the Gospels, but that was his classical training and professional life.  His decision to dwell on a unified philosophical theory rather than to expound on theology does not negate his acceptance of that theology; it only means that it didn't have his attention. 

In Tom Wolfe's novel A Man in Full, two protagonists become converts to Boethius' form of stoicism, embracing his book like a fifth Gospel.  In fact, the book itself is a sort of exposition on the Consolation of Philosophy for our time.  And since that is the one I actually have read, I can and do recommend it.  As for the other, it's on the list.

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