Introduction to Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy

"Did you not read my title? I wrote philosophically, not religiously, because I had chosen the consolations of philosophy not those of religion as my subject. You might as well ask why a book on arithmetic does not use geometrical methods."

--C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

 

Background

Boethius (ca. 475-525) was a Christian politician (consul) in the Roman hierarchy. He served under the Ostrogoth emperor, Theodric, but sided with the Eastern emperor against the Arianism of Theodric. Through a series of trumped up charges, Boethius was imprisoned on charges of sedition, tortured while in prison, and eventually executed. During his imprisonment, he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy, an exploration based on classical philosophy of the problem of evil.

Summary

  1. Providence and Fate are two related elements in God's sovereign control of the universe. Providence is the unified, divine perspective and rational ordering of the cosmos. It exists in a timeless state and beholds all things in a simple unity. Fate, on the other hand, is the time-bound, sequential unfolding of Providence . Fate controls human and natural actions because it represents a causal chain which is itself unchangeable.
  2. God's wisdom directs all things together for his ultimately good purposes. Human understanding, on the other hand, is limited. What appears as the prosperity of the wicked and the suffering of the righteous can only truly be understood from the perspective of God who sees a life's entire context and outcome.
  3. Therefore, evil (as a permanent, separate force) does not exist since nothing can finally exist outside God's providence and wisdom.
  4. But this, then, raises the question of free will. If God orders all things, how can human beings be held accountable for their actions?
  5. More specifically, if God has perfect foreknowledge of the future, then doesn't that suggest that by necessity our actions are already determined?
  6. No, because human beings dwell and make choices in time, while God exists in a timeless eternal state outside time. God, in a sense, sees all things in eternal present. God's eternally present view of all things does not dictate human choices, so we are still responsible.
  7. [God's Providence allows for human free will even as it controls the major events to his will and purpose.]

Truth about Christian Living & Application for Today

  • Trust in God's benevolent insight in the face of the problem of evil is still an important, if partial, answer to suffering and atrocity.
  • Balancing and affirming BOTH human free will and God's sovereignty over creation are necessary elements in the Christian life.
  • The question of God and Time is still a live and real issue (e.g. process theology; Openness of God theology; contemporary philosophy of religion--middle knowledge, time and free will, etc.)
 

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding