Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Varieties of Wisdom and the Consolation of Philosophy

Academic journal article Logos: A Journal of Catholic Thought and Culture

The Varieties of Wisdom and the Consolation of Philosophy

Article excerpt


IN HIS CONSOLATION OF PHILOSOPHY, Boethius depicts love as a force that holds the cosmos in balance and order, ruling the sky, setting the limits to the tides, and even uniting hearts in friendship. (1) Like the binding power of love that keeps peace among elements whose nature is to clash, Boethius' Dame Philosophy guides her pilgrim prisoner into a light by which he glimpses the beauty of eternal truth and unravels the mystery of human suffering. By providing him with the wings of self-knowledge that offer healing power to his wound of longing, she sends to his eyes a ray of her own beauty, by which he is drawn upward, home.

For Boethius, philosophical wisdom is an epiphany of divine light quite different from St. Augustine's Christian philosophy, and closer in some ways to the handmaiden of theology that is St. Thomas Aquinas's philosophy. Rather than starting with faith and equating divine wisdom (Sapientia) with Christ, as did Augustine, Boethius prizes her autonomous role as expositor of truths of human nature and the cosmos, as both the Neoplatonic "highest good" (summum bonum) and expounder of sacred mysteries. The Dominican friar saint who joined philosophy to her theological mistress fashioned philosophy as a humble artist who toils like a jeweler, setting glass windows of a great cathedral. With its diamonds, opals, rubies, pulverized sapphires, and cobalt, the colored glass transmits the splendor of an even greater and more intense light. Human wisdom is the handmaid that serves theology in the way an inspired artist crafts his portals to eternity, serving as visions that frame and reflect the glorious play of natural light from above for the delight of the divine Artist and for the eyes they shine upon.

Even more than the handmaiden, Boethius's Dame Philosophy fixes her gaze on the lofty and immaterial riches that lie beyond earthly joys, a wisdom that rests in the peace beyond this world, where we become "as gods." In his first Commentary on Porphyry's Introduction to the Categories of Aristotle, Boethius describes philosophy as the love and pursuit of that wisdom "which lacking in nothing is the enduring mind" and as "the primeval principle of things." (2) While Aquinas clearly limits the scope of human wisdom, Boethius makes God the object of theoretical wisdom, and presses philosophy into the role of expounding the sacred mysteries in the so-called Theological Tractates. For Boethius, both the question of human happiness and Christian doctrines like the Trinity are valid subjects of philosophical reflection, since a common source unites the cognition based on revelation and that based on nature.The selflimitation of philosophy is not yet as acute as it was to become for Aquinas. (3)

This article develops a dual thesis. (4) First, the Consolatio presents a Platonic soteriology of inward purification and self-discovery that has broad thematic parallels with scriptural Wisdom literature, and important differences from it. Second, the Consolatio anticipates Aquinas's concept of the link between faith and philosophy, in distinction from Augustine's credo ut intelligam (I believe so that I may understand). I shall establish these claims in four sections. The first section introduces the question of Augustine's and Boethius's notion of philosophy in relation to scripture. The second section discerns the relationship of the biblical themes of divine governance and love, found in wisdom literature, and similar themes in Boethius's Consolatio. The third distinguishes Platonic philosophical soteriology in Boethius's work from the theodicy of Job. The final section compares Aquinas's and Boethius's concepts of the philosophy-theology nexus, concluding that Boethius's view is closer to Aquinas's than to Augustine's, but has revealing differences from it as well.

I. St. Augustine and Boethius on Scripture and Paganism

In the attempt to discern the religious spirit of the Consolatio, we can note that there are few points on which Boethius and Augustine disagree, and many points of agreement. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.