Boethius (470-524)

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Boethius, a Christian, was an important Neoplatonist philosopher who helped craft the theology and philosophy of the early medieval church. He was born in Rome around 470, the son of a Roman consul and the heir to a powerful family line whose ranks included the emperor Olybrius. Raised for public service, Boethius was educated in the imperial city during its final days. He fulfilled his duties both as a consul and as a senator, but his real love was philosophy. His life's goal was to complete the translation of Aristotle's works into Latin, but he was not able to accomplish it. Highly concerned with the split between the Arians and the Orthodox believers, Boethius tried to resolve the dispute by resorting, in Aristotelian fashion, to precise definitions of matter, mind, and spirit. Around 520, he was instrumental in healing a schism that had developed between Constantinople and Rome, but King Theodoric grew suspicious. An Arian himself, the king was not pleased with the renewed friendship of the Orthodox clergy of East and West, and he feared the claims of the Eastern emperor to his dominion. Shortly after Boethius completed his mission, the king had him arrested. He was executed in 524.

During his detention Boethius wrote the work for which he is most remembered, De consolatione philosophiae (The consolation of philosophy), which argues that despite the seeming injustice of the world, there is, in Platonic fashion, a higher realm, the summum bonum, or the "highest good," and that all else is subordinate to that divine Providence. Boethius believed that free will is not negated by God's omniscience and that virtue in this life never goes unrewarded. Happiness, he contended, is to be found only in the pursuit of wisdom and the love of God. De consolatione philosophiae influenced later thinkers, especially during the Renaissance revival of Neoplatonic thought.


Works by the Author

Boethius. Tractates Consolation. Translated by H. F. Stewart and E. K. Rand. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1918.

Works about the Author

Durr, Karl. The Propositional Logic of Boethius. Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Co., 1951.


The biographical material about the author originally appeared on The Goodrich Room: Interactive Tour website.

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