Overview of The Consolation Essay

Overview of The Consolation Essay

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Overview of The Consolation



The Consolation was written while Boethius was in prison awaiting execution. The work is cast in the form of a dialog with Philosophy, who explains to him the true nature of happiness, why the wicked appear to prosper while the good suffer, and many other difficulties. By the end, Boethius sees clearly the goodness and sovereignty of God. (Section numbers follow those in Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, New York: Penguin, 1969.)

Things to Think About as You Read

1. Boethius constructs a harmony between classical and Christian ideas about God and human nature, showing in part the unity of truth and philosophy (classical and Christian wisdom being so similar) and in part the support that classical philosophers provide for Christian truth.

2. Similarly, Boethius carefully bases his argument on reason rather than Christian revelation, to show first how reasonable a base Christianity ultimately rests upon and second to show that there are rational, intellectually satisfying answers to the sufferings of the human condition. (Perhaps this work could be considered as "pre-evangelism" for intellectuals.)

3. Boethius relies substantially on Platonic and Neoplatonic thought. If you are familiar with the ideas of Plato, look for echoes here.

Notes and Questions

Book I

Poem 1 through Prose 5: Boethius' complaint to Philosophy. He tells her about his unhappiness.

Poem 1. The poem reflects Boethius' complaint: a hopeless, self-absorbed grief, because Fortune has turned against him.

Prose 1. Boethius says that entertainment is not a medicine for sorrow. Is he right or wrong? Note also the startling reversal from our typical mindset, influenced by romantic-era thinking in his c...


... middle of paper ...


...osophy say that "good men have power but evil men are impotent"?

Prose 3, Poem 3. What is the punishment that afflicts the evil?

Prose 4. Philosophy argues that for the evil to be successful makes them more unhappy than if they failed at their goals. Why?

Prose 6.. How does Philosophy explain the apparent prosperity of the wicked?

Prose 7. Philosophy eventually tells Boethius, in effect, "Stop being a wimp; life is supposed to be hard, for your own good."

Think back on Book IV. How satisfying is Boethius' explanation of the problem of evil?

Book V

Prose 1. Does chance exist?

Prose 3-Prose 6. Boethius here raises another common and important issue in theology, which is the question of free will, predestination, and the omniscience (include foreknowledge) of God. How does Philosophy settle the conflict between free will and God's foreknowledge?

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