Tuesday, October 24, 2017


BOETHIUS LAY ON HIS BED, overwhelmed by gloom. Born to wealth, he now slept on dirty straw. Where formerly he had spent hours in an ivory library, he now stared at stone walls. Once a consul in Rome, he was now the toy of cruel soldiers. The greatest mind of his age was in jail. 
How could this be? When Boethius was born late in the fifth century, the Ostrogoths had conquered the Roman Empire. His father died when he was seven. Boethius was reared by an aristocrat named Symmachus and married his daughter. In love with learning, he set about translating Greek works into Latin and designing an educational system. 
In 493, Theodoric the Ostrogoth became king of Italy. Boethius accepted a position at court and rose in favor. But suspicion and intrigue were at work. An orthodox Christian, Boethius not only accepted the doctrine of the Trinity, but wrote tracts defending it, whereas Theodoric was an Arian who considered Christ a created being. The king feared that his orthodox subjects would side with the orthodox Byzantine Empire against him. He accused a senator, Albinus, of plotting with Byzantine rulers in Constantinople. Courageously, Boethius defended the accused man. 
As a public servant, Boethius had stood against many corrupt office-holders. They now slandered him to Theodoric, who jailed and tortured him. A frightened senate declared Boethius guilty. Symmachus’ defense of his son-in-law earned him a death sentence, too. 
While on death row, Boethius pondered his fall. What would Lady Philosophy say about all this, he wondered? He imagined her entering his cell dressed in splendor, seating herself at the end of his bed and addressing him. The result was his greatest book, The Consolation of Philosophy, beloved for centuries. It wrestles with questions of right and wrong, foreknowledge and time. 
Although the Consolation does not mention Christ, it speaks often of God as creator and father, and Philosophy utters a beautiful prayer at Boethius’ request. It shows earthly glories as illusory, sin as the most dangerous bondage, and life and death in an eternal, even joyful, perspective. 
On this day, 23 October 524,* executioners tortured Boethius by tightening a rope around his head. They then crushed his skull with a club, destroying one of the noblest minds that ever lived.

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