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Book 3, Chapters 8 & 9

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

Book 3, Chapters 8 & 9

Postby magpie » 17 Oct 2005, 20:49

Philosophy begins Chapter 8 by once more explaining why riches, honor, power, fame, and pleasure cannot bring true happiness. (She does like to repeat herself!) Then she takes yet another swipe at any possible value to be found in one's body.
It is not your nature which makes you seem fair but the weak eyes of those who look at you. You may esteem your bodily qualities as highly as you like as long as you admit that these things you admire so much can be destroyed by the trifling heat of a three-day fever.
I am beginning to wonder if this was a particular issue with Boethius or if it was simply an easy target to attack because it was not his personal issue. Not knowing the man (obviously), I cannot tell, but to paraphrase Hamlet, "Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much." Moreover, his final contrast of "false" human happiness to "the star-filled heavens" seems to be a comparison of apples and oranges.

Chapter 9 opens with a dialogue by which Philosophy leads Boethius to the conclusion that
although the names of sufficiency, power, fame, reverence, and joy are different, in substance all are one and the same thing,
and that lesser goods cannot satisfy because they are mere pieces of the true good.
Human depravity, then, has broken into fragments that which is by nature one and simple; men try to grasp part of a thing which has no parts and so get neither the part, which does not exist, nor the whole, which they do not seek.
Thus lesser joys must ultimately remain unattainable because
each is connected with the others, and whoever seeks one without the other cannot get even the one he wants.
It would appear that you cannot "have it all," but I question this "all-or-nothing" approach to human feliticy.

This argument does, however, finally lead Boethius to give a definintion of true happiness.
For, unless I am mistaken, true and perfect happiness is that which makes a man self-sufficient, powerful, worthy of reverence and renown, and joyful. And, to show that I have understood you, I acknowlegde that whatever can truly provide any one of these must be true and perfect happiness, since all are one and the same.
But while he is basking in the satisfaction of having given his teacher the "right answer," she quickly deflates him,
Do you imagine that there is any mortal and frail things which can bring about a condition of this kind?
and concludes
Then these false causes of happiness are mere appearances of the true good and merely seem to give certain imperfect goods to mortal men; but they cannot give true and perfect good.


All this serves as a preparation for Poem 9 which is a long prayer of invocation to "God, Maker of heaven and earth." The ensuing description of God is one which could easily be acceptible to any pagan philosopher. Indeed as Boethius himself reveals, its source lies in Plato's Timaeus. This complete lack of any Judeo/Christian point of reference seems a bit startling in a medieval writer, especially one who had previously written on various theological subjects, and leads me to an interesting question.

Even though he has been condemned at the hands of King Theodoric on trumped up charges of treason for supporting the Senate in opposition to the throne, in his earlier diatribe against his enemies he cited only the Senate itself with nary a mention of the king. It is interesting to note that this king was an Arian while Boethius had always supported a Trinitarian theology. Might his avoidance of Incarnational references be a means of avoiding further irritation to this monarch whom he might still, consciously or unconsciously, hope to placate? After all, as they say, "Where there's life, there's hope." This is, of course, mere speculation since it is a question for which we can find no answer.
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re: Book 3, Chapters 8 & 9

Postby Air of Winter » 22 Oct 2005, 01:52

magpie wrote:Then she takes yet another swipe at any possible value to be found in one's body.
It is not your nature which makes you seem fair but the weak eyes of those who look at you. You may esteem your bodily qualities as highly as you like as long as you admit that these things you admire so much can be destroyed by the trifling heat of a three-day fever.
I am beginning to wonder if this was a particular issue with Boethius or if it was simply an easy target to attack because it was not his personal issue. Not knowing the man (obviously), I cannot tell, but to paraphrase Hamlet, "Methinks the gentleman doth protest too much." Moreover, his final contrast of "false" human happiness to "the star-filled heavens" seems to be a comparison of apples and oranges.

Lewis used that image of how unlovely Alcibiades would have appeared to someone with X-ray eyes in a very different way -- very nearly contra Philosophy's point here, it seems to me -- in the The Pilgrim's Regress. In the story John is in the clutches of a denigratory philosophy (Freudianism and other ideas) that makes the body and natural things in general seem vile by puporting to lay bear their inner workings -- there's a philosophical giant with X-ray eyes that causes everything he looks at to become transparent in the outer layers, so that it shows its innards (and looks hideous). But Reason comes in and breaks the sway of the giant by pointing out that this X-ray view is in fact not a view of nature and the body as they are, but of nature and the body as they are not -- as they only appear in an unnatural view, in an unnatural state.

Chapter 9 opens with a dialogue by which Philosophy leads Boethius to the conclusion that
although the names of sufficiency, power, fame, reverence, and joy are different, in substance all are one and the same thing,
and that lesser goods cannot satisfy because they are mere pieces of the true good. .... It would appear that you cannot "have it all," but I question this "all-or-nothing" approach to human feliticy.

This argument does, however, finally lead Boethius to give a definintion of true happiness.
For, unless I am mistaken, true and perfect happiness is that which makes a man self-sufficient, powerful, worthy of reverence and renown, and joyful. And, to show that I have understood you, I acknowlegde that whatever can truly provide any one of these must be true and perfect happiness, since all are one and the same.
But while he is basking in the satisfaction of having given his teacher the "right answer," she quickly deflates him,
Do you imagine that there is any mortal and frail things which can bring about a condition of this kind?
and concludes
Then these false causes of happiness are mere appearances of the true good and merely seem to give certain imperfect goods to mortal men; but they cannot give true and perfect good.

I was having considerable trouble following this at first, until I read Poem 9, and then I realized that Boethius must be drawing a picture of God as the Prime Mover: that is, the ultimate good that causes all things to move and to act and to try to draw toward it by being the Ultimate End, or the Great Desire, or whatever you want to call it. When I first heard the phrase 'Prime Mover' long ago, being innocent of Aristotelian philosophy, I thought it was a reference to God as the first (efficient) cause of motion and action in the universe. It wasn't until I read The Discarded Image that I realized that the idea was rather of God as the chief Final Cause of all things animate, that which they were seeking.

All this serves as a preparation for Poem 9 which is a long prayer of invocation to "God, Maker of heaven and earth." The ensuing description of God is one which could easily be acceptible to any pagan philosopher. Indeed as Boethius himself reveals, its source lies in Plato's Timaeus. This complete lack of any Judeo/Christian point of reference seems a bit startling in a medieval writer, especially one who had previously written on various theological subjects, and leads me to an interesting question.


I don't completely understand Poem 9. First we get a description of God as Prime Mover, and also as causing the correct ordering of all Creation and the elements. Then this:

Boethius wrote:Thou joinest and diffusest through the whole,
Linking accordantly its several parts,
A soul of threefold nature, moving all.
This, cleft in twain, and in two circles gathered,
Speeds in a path that on itself returns,
Encompassing mind's limits, and conforms
The heavens to her true semblance. Lesser souls
And lesser lives by a like ordinance
Thou sendest forth, each to its starry car
Affixing, and dost strew them far and wide
O'er earth and heaven. These by a law benign
Thou biddest turn again, and render back
To thee their fires.


I think I understand the last part here, beginning with 'lesser souls'. I think these are the Planetary Intelligences ("each to its starry car") and perhaps intelligences in the stars themselves -- the Oyeresu, if you will -- that wheel round the heavens and render to God their fires.

The first part is a bit more problematic. It sounds as if he's saying that all Nature itself (or the Primum Mobile?) has a soul of threefold nature. This is reminding me of an idea I came across in medieval occultism, in which Nature is called the Macrocosm and Man the Microcosm, and Man is sort of a tiny image of Nature -- likewise ensouled, and containing all the elements in due proportion. (When you add the 'As above, so below' dictum, you have a philosophical reason for why the magical arts were thought to work: the intentional action of the Microcosm (that is, a man) would be mirrored in the Macrocosm.) So far as I can tell, Boethius is apparently referring to a conception of all Nature as being ensouled, of having a great anima. But what does it mean to say that this soul is cleft in twain? Or does he merely mean that Nature is cleft in twain, and are the two circles the usual divide between the sublunar and the translunar?

And why do footnotes on works like this never explain the stuff I really need footnotes for, anyway? (I know, I know. It's because I'm pretending to be able read philosophy when I'm really a rude mechanical.)

Even though he has been condemned at the hands of King Theodoric on trumped up charges of treason for supporting the Senate in opposition to the throne, in his earlier diatribe against his enemies he cited only the Senate itself with nary a mention of the king. It is interesting to note that this king was an Arian while Boethius had always supported a Trinitarian theology. Might his avoidance of Incarnational references be a means of avoiding further irritation to this monarch whom he might still, consciously or unconsciously, hope to placate? After all, as they say, "Where there's life, there's hope." This is, of course, mere speculation since it is a question for which we can find no answer.

I have no idea, but that does seem like a curious omission. Perhaps he has gone too far with this Pagan philosophy, so that he's always thinking about the unworthiness of earthly things? Is there a greater divide between East and West than one might think, at this still-comparatively-early date? The Orthodox are wont to talk of the Incarnation less in terms of God becoming Man, than as the taking of Manhood into God -- of apotheosis, as the elevation and transformation of humanity. It's not sounding as if this kind of idea is prominent in Boethius' thinking.
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re: Book 3, Chapters 8 & 9

Postby magpie » 26 Oct 2005, 17:08

Air of Winter wrote:Lewis used that image of how unlovely Alcibiades would have appeared to someone with X-ray eyes in a very different way -- very nearly contra Philosophy's point here, it seems to me -- in the The Pilgrim's Regress. In the story John is in the clutches of a denigratory philosophy (Freudianism and other ideas) that makes the body and natural things in general seem vile by puporting to lay bear their inner workings -- there's a philosophical giant with X-ray eyes that causes everything he looks at to become transparent in the outer layers, so that it shows its innards (and looks hideous). But Reason comes in and breaks the sway of the giant by pointing out that this X-ray view is in fact not a view of nature and the body as they are, but of nature and the body as they are not -- as they only appear in an unnatural view, in an unnatural state.
I am intrigued by your comparison of Philosophy's attitude toward the body with that of Lewis, that latter being in my estimation a far healthier position. This would tie in with your final observation about Boethius' avoidance of Incarnational references.
I have no idea, but that does seem like a curious omission. Perhaps he has gone too far with this Pagan philosophy, so that he's always thinking about the unworthiness of earthly things? Is there a greater divide between East and West than one might think, at this still-comparatively-early date? The Orthodox are wont to talk of the Incarnation less in terms of God becoming Man, than as the taking of Manhood into God -- of apotheosis, as the elevation and transformation of humanity. It's not sounding as if this kind of idea is prominent in Boethius' thinking.
In his theology Lewis always emphasized the Incarnation, and in both Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters seems much closer to the Orthodox position than to the dualism of Western Medievalism. This does not surprise me because a number of Anglicans have had an affinity for the EOC, and some such as the Fellowship of St. Alban and St. Sergius have even explored closer bonds.

I was having considerable trouble following this at first, until I read Poem 9, and then I realized that Boethius must be drawing a picture of God as the Prime Mover: that is, the ultimate good that causes all things to move and to act and to try to draw toward it by being the Ultimate End, or the Great Desire, or whatever you want to call it. When I first heard the phrase 'Prime Mover' long ago, being innocent of Aristotelian philosophy, I thought it was a reference to God as the first (efficient) cause of motion and action in the universe. It wasn't until I read The Discarded Image that I realized that the idea was rather of God as the chief Final Cause of all things animate, that which they were seeking.
Is God the First Cause or the Final Cause? My own answer is "Yes." There is a deliberate circularity in this, much like the current understanding of the shape of the universe which is almost flat yet continuous and without edges, a kind of multidimensional moblius strip, or as in the Hebrew, the eternal "I Am" which in its progressive tense can be rendered as "I Am Perpetually Being."

Boethius wrote:
Thou joinest and diffusest through the whole,
Linking accordantly its several parts,
A soul of threefold nature, moving all.
This, cleft in twain, and in two circles gathered,
Speeds in a path that on itself returns,
Encompassing mind's limits, and conforms
The heavens to her true semblance.

It sounds as if he's saying that all Nature itself (or the Primum Mobile?) has a soul of threefold nature. ... So far as I can tell, Boethius is apparently referring to a conception of all Nature as being ensouled, of having a great anima. But what does it mean to say that this soul is cleft in twain? Or does he merely mean that Nature is cleft in twain, and are the two circles the usual divide between the sublunar and the translunar? And why do footnotes on works like this never explain the stuff I really need footnotes for, anyway?
I agree that this passage is rather obscure. The triple soul of Nature would appear to be a reflection derived from the Triune Creator, but why is it cleft? Is this an oblique allusion to the two natures which are united in the Incarnation? Is Boethius making an attempt to fly under the Arian radar? (Maybe the writer of the footnote doesn't know either.) As the King of Siam would say, "Tis a puzzlement."
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
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