Boethius: The Consolation of Philosophy

BOOK 2 POEM 5

“Men were most happy in former ages, content with the yield of fertile fields, and not yet ruined by indolent luxury.  Their hunger was easily satisfied by acorns.  They did not know the potent mixture of wine and honey; they had not learned to color fine silk of Syria with Tyrian dye.  They slept soundly on the soft grass, drank from the running streams, and rested in the shade of the high pines.  (Translated by Richard Green).

Boethius was born about 480 into the distinguished Roman family of Anicii. 

A.D. 510
BOETHIUS (A.D. 475 – 524)
Boethius was a Roman scholar and mathematician and attempts to document the speed of light. In 525 King Theodoric orders him decapitated for treason and magic.

Anicus Manlius Severinus Boethius

V – FREE WILL AND GOD’S FOREKNOWLEDGE

SHE was about to pass on to other matters, when I broke in, saying, “I am even now experiencing one of the many difficulties which beset the question of Providence. I want to know whether thou deemest that there is any such thing as chance, and, if so, what it is?”

She made answer, “If chance be defined as a result produced by random movement without any link of casual connexion, I roundly affirm that there is no such thing as chance at all. What place can be left for random action when God constraineth all things to order? For ex nihilo nihil is sound doctrine which none of the ancients gainsaid. Now, if a thing arise without causes, it will appear to have arisen from nothing. With our good Aristotle , we may define what men commonly call chance as being an unexpected result flowing from a concurrence of causes where several factors had a definite end. But the meeting and concurrence of these causes arise from that inevitable chain of order which disposes all things in their due time and place.”

“I agree that it is as thou sayest. But in this series of linked causes is there any freedom left to our will, or does the chain of Fate bind also the very motions of our souls?”

“There is freedom,” said she; “nor, indeed can any creature be rational unless he be endowed with free will. For that which has the natural use of reason, of itself distinguishes what is to be shunned or desired. Now, everyone seeks what he judges desirable and avoids what he thinks should be shunned. Wherefore, beings endowed with reason possess also the faculty of free choice and refusal.”

Then I said, “But now I am perplexed by a problem yet more difficult. If God foresees everything and can in no wise be deceived, that which He foresees to be about to happen must come to pass.”

She answered, “Without doubt all things will come to pass which God foreknows as about to happen, but of these certain proceed of free will. The freedom of men’s will stands unshaken and laws are not unrighteous, since their rewards and punishments are held forth to wills unbound by any necessity. God, Who foreknoweth all things, still looks down from above, and the ever-present eternity of His vision concurs with the future character of all our acts, and dispenses to the good, rewards, to the bad, punishments. Our hopes and prayers also are not fixed on God in vain. Therefore, withstand vice, practice virtue, lift up your souls to right hopes, offer humble prayers to Heaven. Great is the necessity of righteousness laid upon you if ye will not hide it from yourselves, seeing that all your actions are done before the eyes of a Judge who seeth all.”

The remains of Boethius are probably in the church of San Pietro Ciel d’Oro in Pavia.

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