Remembering Boethius

23 October – St Severinus Boethius


Today is a special day. I spent four years in Pavia as graduate student and postdoctoral researcher, and Boethius’s mortal remains in San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro became a constant, intimate presence during that time. There would be plenty of reason for which Boethius should be duly celebrated in this day. He is the ‘noble’ father of medieval philosophy, and his writings and translations shaped the philosophical debate for centuries. As a man of letters, his Consolatio has been the basis on which myriads of pupils will study, through the Middle Ages and up to the present time. As a learned intellectual, he felt the urgency to contribute to the Christian theological debate, and he did so by writing memorable pages that marked a milestone for the subsequent history of theology and philosophy.  And finally, as a statesman, his intellectual honesty costed his own life.

Let’s just recall the famous metrum 9 of De consolatione philosophiae, III, possibly one of the most significant texts of the whole history of medieval philosophy and literature, with a pervasive history of the effects:

O qui perpetua mundum ratione gubernas,
Terrarum caelique sator, qui tempus ab aeuo
Ire iubes stabilisque manens das cuncta moueri,
Quem non externae pepulerunt fingere causae
Materiae fluitantis opus uerum insita summi
Forma boni liuore carens, tu cuncta superno
Ducis ab exemplo, pulchrum pulcherrimus ipse
Mundum mente gerens similique in imagine formans
Perfectasque iubens perfectum absoluere partes.
Tu numeris elementa ligas, ut frigora flammis,
Arida conueniant liquidis, ne purior ignis
Euolet aut mersas deducant pondera terras.
Tu triplicis mediam naturae cuncta mouentem
Conectens animam per consona membra resoluis;
Quae cum secta duos motum glomerauit in orbes,
In semet reditura meat mentemque profundam
Circuit et simili conuertit imagine caelum.
Tu causis animas paribus uitasque minores
Prouehis et leuibus sublimes curribus aptans
In caelum terramque seris, quas lege benigna
Ad te conuersas reduci facis igne reuerti.
Da, pater, augustam menti conscendere sedem,
Da fontem lustrare boni, da luce reperta
In te conspicuos animi defigere uisus.
Dissice terrenae nebulas et pondera molis
Atque tuo splendore mica; tu namque serenum,
Tu requies tranquilla piis, te cernere finis,
Principium, uector, dux, semita, terminus idem.

I like to think that after all the disgraces that Boethius suffered in his life, he finally had the occasion to see the Maker of the world, as Dante imagines in his Divina Commedia:

Per vedere ogni ben dentro vi gode
l’anima santa che ‘l mondo fallace
fa manifesto a chi di lei ben ode.

Lo corpo ond’ella fu cacciata giace
giuso in Cieldauro; ed essa da martiro
e da essilio venne a questa pace.

Is Thomas Aquinas talking to Dante and showing him how Boethius and the souls of many other philosophers (Isidore of Seville, Richard of St Victor, Peter Lombard, Bede) are enjoying God’s vision in the first crown of the wise spirits. And it’s worth noting that the last soul mentioned by Aquinas is the very Siger of Brabant, with whom Aquinas had a tough controversy:

Questi onde a me ritorna il tuo riguardo,
è ‘l lume d’uno spirto che ‘n pensieri
gravi a morir li parve venir tardo:

essa è la luce etterna di Sigieri,
che, leggendo nel Vico de li Strami,
silogizzò invidiosi veri.

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