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Book 1, Chapter 5

One chapter per week study of a book that profoundly influenced C. S. Lewis.

Book 1, Chapter 5

Postby magpie » 27 May 2005, 16:07

In Poem 5, Boethius compares the glorious order and harmony of creation to human perversity which allows the innocent to be punished and the guilty to flourish. I was especially moved by his concluding prayer which seems so relevant in our day as well.
O God, whoever you are who joins all things in perfect harmony, look down upon this miserable earth! We men are no small part of Your great work, yet we wallow here in the stormy sea of fortune. Ruler of all things, calm the roiling waves and, as You rule the immense heavens, rule also the earth in stable concord.


In Prose 5, Philosophy responds, not with "consolation," but by blaming him for his misery.
You have not been driven out of your homeland; you have willfully wandered away. Of, if you prefer to think that you have been driven into exile, you yourself have done the driving, since no one else could do it.
That seems to me a bit harsh. I understand at an intellectual level that our attitudes have great power over our feelings. Nonetheless, those feelings also have their reality which Philosophy discounts or even completely ignores. Perhaps one clue to her response might be found in the distinction often make between pain and suffering. (One might note here the treatment which Lewis gives this in The Problem of Pain.) Pain is a physical sensation while suffering is our interpretation of a situation. A football player injured on the game-winning play experiences real pain, but in the joy of victory is probably not suffering. Conversely, Boethius is suffering from his social, economic, and political downfall, but is not yet in physical pain. (The execution came later.)

Still I question whether the intellect alone can negate emotional and spiritual suffering. Theoretically it might be possible, but actual experience (both my own and that of others) leads me to doubt Philosophy's effectiveness in a variety of situations. What do you think? Are we ultimately responsible for experiencing our own suffering?
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Re: Book 1, Chapter 5

Postby Air of Winter » 19 Jul 2005, 03:30

O God, whoever you are who joins all things in perfect harmony, look down upon this miserable earth! We men are no small part of Your great work, yet we wallow here in the stormy sea of fortune. Ruler of all things, calm the roiling waves and, as You rule the immense heavens, rule also the earth in stable concord.


This reminds me of those sections of The Discarded Image in which Lewis discusses the unchanging perfection of the Heavens, and the changeableness and imperfection of the Earth. If Fortune is a strumpet, it's the way of things below the Inconstant Moon. Boethius must have wondered why God did not put the Earth into more perfect order.

I think Lewis took this idea and ran with it in the Space Trilogy. On every planet but Earth the perfect order of the Heavens reaches to the ground. But on Earth the order is bent.

Still I question whether the intellect alone can negate emotional and spiritual suffering. Theoretically it might be possible, but actual experience (both my own and that of others) leads me to doubt Philosophy's effectiveness in a variety of situations. What do you think? Are we ultimately responsible for experiencing our own suffering?


Philosophy's response seems harsh to me also -- it has from the beginning, when she chased the Muses away.

I'm all too well acquainted with the need sometimes to cease contemplating something because it's becoming a poisoned passion, growing as it feeds upon itself. But not every passion -- not every agony -- has that cancerous quality. And I haven't found it either possible or desirable to shunt aside every pain by force of mind and will. Refusing to feel or to deal with something consciously for a time is not the same thing as causing it not to exist and removing its effects.

I'm not sure Philosophy's comments are an adequate statement of the Christian position, in that they're not balanced. Yes, there are comments about rejoicing in suffering in the New Testament, but Jesus was not imperturbable either on the cross, or in Gethsemane. A time for every purpose under Heaven includes a time to weep.

On further reflection, it seems to me that part of what we're looking at is a very Classical insistence that reason (which includes the moral sense) should rule the emotions and the appetites. Perhaps some of Philosophy's argument against passion is that Boethius' passions are presently ruling his mind, rather than the other way around.

I'll note also Boethius telling himself that he's responsible for his own suffering is one thing -- and that's basically what's happening here. But if Philosophy were a real person and not a personification, this would, in many cases, be a very bad way to counsel a friend. A real person doing this would come across like Job's comforters.
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Re: Book 1, Chapter 5

Postby magpie » 20 Jul 2005, 18:42

Air of Winter wrote:
O God, whoever you are who joins all things in perfect harmony, look down upon this miserable earth! We men are no small part of Your great work, yet we wallow here in the stormy sea of fortune. Ruler of all things, calm the roiling waves and, as You rule the immense heavens, rule also the earth in stable concord.


This reminds me of those sections of The Discarded Image in which Lewis discusses the unchanging perfection of the Heavens, and the changeableness and imperfection of the Earth. If Fortune is a strumpet, it's the way of things below the Inconstant Moon. Boethius must have wondered why God did not put the Earth into more perfect order.

I think Lewis took this idea and ran with it in the Space Trilogy. On every planet but Earth the perfect order of the Heavens reaches to the ground. But on Earth the order is bent.


This certainly makes sense. Since Lewis openly acknowledged the influence of Boethius on his own thought, this would be an excellent illustration of that debt. It is also a question which lies at the core of theological speculation, past and present, a question which still awaits a satisfying answer (even though Boethius attempts to give one later on in this work).
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Re: Book 1, Chapter 5

Postby magpie » 20 Jul 2005, 18:59

Air of Winter wrote:I'm not sure Philosophy's comments are an adequate statement of the Christian position, in that they're not balanced. Yes, there are comments about rejoicing in suffering in the New Testament, but Jesus was not imperturbable either on the cross, or in Gethsemane. A time for every purpose under Heaven includes a time to weep.

On further reflection, it seems to me that part of what we're looking at is a very Classical insistence that reason (which includes the moral sense) should rule the emotions and the appetites. Perhaps some of Philosophy's argument against passion is that Boethius' passions are presently ruling his mind, rather than the other way around.


I was very interested in your observation about the classical stress on reason. Even though Boethius was a professed Christian and had previously written on theological issues, a number of commentators have indicated that they regard The Consolation of Philosophy as an essentially pagan work. I had not been able to see this, but reading your comments, I now understand how they might have come to such a conclusion. It does seem far more Stoic than Christian in many of its premises, and the illustrations are almost entirely taken from classical mythology and literature rather than from scripture.

It would be intriguing (and of course impossible) to know exactly why Boethius wrote this work. Was he writing simply to soothe himself in his "solitary confinement" or did he intend for it to be made public? And if the latter case is true, what audience did he have in mind?
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Re: Book 1, Chapter 5

Postby Air of Winter » 24 Jul 2005, 03:55

Perhaps it influenced the later medieval Christian-Classical synthesis by being a seminal example.

I'd guess that he was probably writing it for himself. A man in such a strait has need of consolation.
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Re: Book 1, Chapter 5

Postby magpie » 25 Jul 2005, 16:24

Air of Winter wrote:Perhaps it influenced the later medieval Christian-Classical synthesis by being a seminal example.


Well, it certainly did that! One of the writers who was significantly influenced by Boethius was Dante, not only in the Comedia but even more in the Convivio.

And of course, his work as a student of Aristotle was also appreciated by the Scholastics who were reacting against some of the later interpretations of Augustine's neo-platonism. And Augustine in turn was part of the foundation for western Christianity as understood by Boethius. Round and round we go!
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Re: Book 1, Chapter 5

Postby Rafi » 05 Oct 2006, 21:34

His misary came apone him for a reason. He gave himself the misary.
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