Love is The Cause of Your Being: Incarnation and The Odyssey o f Boethius


The Consolation of Philosophy is a literary narrative in which Boethius, a downtrodden man, journeys from despair to hope. As Odysseus had Athena, so also Boethius has Lady Philosophy to help him recollect those truths that will empower him to overcome the seduction of the whore’s song and escape his own self-imposed exile. In this paper, I will argue that Lady Philosophy shows us a model for loving those in despair that is founded on embodiment compassion and an understanding of God’s immanent love.

Lady Philosophy is not a ghost for ghosts have no need for clothing and Lady Philosophy is clothed in “the most delicate threads” made by “the most exquisite workmanship” and wears a robe torn by “the hands of violent men.” (book 1, prose 1. )It is important to establish this understanding of Lady Philosophy as one who has a body, for before she even begins to offer intellectual insight, she ministers to Boethius through bodily action. “She gently laid her hand on my breast” and “she dried my tear-filled eyes with a fold of her robe” (book two, prose 2.)

Lady Philosophy recognizes that love must manifest itself physically not just intellectually and she acknowledges that body and soul are enmeshed when she says, “to bring you to your senses, I shall quickly wipe the dark cloud of mortal things from your eyes” (book 1, prose 3.) The word “senses” here is an intriguing play on words (at least in this translation, if perhaps not in the original text): contextually it seems that senses refers both to its material meaning as well as to our conceptual understanding of the faculty of conscious thought (intellect). There is obviously not a literal dark cloud on Boethius’ literal eye which means her language here metaphorically describes Boethius’ intellectual state and yet she really does wipe the material tear from the material eye of the material man with the material robe she wears and in doing so, she begins Boethius’ healing. Lady Philosophy touches Boethius, both physically and metaphorically, and as a result, Boethius finds that his eyes (contextually: metaphorical) “regained their former strength” and, having had the cloud removed, are now able to see the sun (book 1, poem 3.)

Lady Philosophy could certainly have made herself immanent without the limitations of embodiment. After all, she points out to Boethius that she is not in need of his library; her place is not found contained within glass walls or even the black ink of a text but rather is found in his mind (book 1, prose 5.) But, respecting the narrative as narrative, we see that Boethius did not conjure up Lady Philosophy; he is passively visited by her. She is found in his mind, yes, but she also transcends him and the limitations of his own mind. If it were not so, Boethius would have remained enslaved to the Muses. That Lady Philosophy manifests herself immanently through embodiment is a conscious choice that she makes and we might speculate that she made this choice because she knew Boethius needed a gentle hand on his bosom as much as a wise word in his ear.

This understanding of Lady Philosophy’s choice to love through immanence underscores the narrative’s depiction of the Creator’s relationship with the created world and we who are His creatures. We are told that it is love which rules the Heavens and we are also told that souls are happy when they are ruled by that same love (book two, poem eight.) Boethius, in his despair, still recognizes the sovereignty of God in governing the world (book 1 prose seven)but he has forgotten the quality of that sovereignty, namely that it is lovingly providential and immanent. Because Boethius has forgotten the quality of God’s sovereignty, he mistakes Fortune’s reversal as God’s displeasure (Lady Philosophy explores this misstep in Book 2) and this leads him to forget his telos (book 1 prose 6) which is to be supremely happy (as shown in Book 3.)

This language of Love’s ordering of the world and the willing soul is Davidic: “Boethius,” we can imagine the Psalmist saying, “your Creator loved you when He knit you together in your mother’s womb and He loves you now as He sustains you in your suffering.” The language the narrative uses also focuses on God as the Cause of everything that is and this is the language of Aristotle. God is the efficient cause of everything: God is the “love [that] governs their [the heavens] external movement”: God is the Cause which impels “the flowering year” to breath “out its odors in warm spring; hot summer dries the grain and autumn comes in burdened with fruit; then falling rain brings in wet winter” (book 4, poem 6.)

One might argue that this movement of the seasons is merely the result of the Watchmaker winding up the clock at the beginning of time and now letting it tick. Such an argument is immediately refuted by the next part of the poem which says: “the Creator sits on high, governing and guiding the course of things.” Further, the poem says that the Creator is always actively intervening in the created world to recall things to their true paths and “set them again on their circling courses” and maintains that without this providential care “all things that the stable order now contains would be wrenched from their source and perish.” Finally, at the end of this poem, we are again reminded that this sovereignty is love: “This is the common bond of love by which all things seek to be held to the goal of good. Only thus can things endure: drawn by love they turn again to the Cause which gave them being.”

I’ve now demonstrated that Lady Philosophy’s immanent love of Boethius mirrors the narrative’s claims about how the Creator loves the created world. But nothing in Lady’s Philosophy’s dialogues concerning the Creator makes mention of any kind of embodied love on the part of the Creator. This is a troubling absence if my thesis is correct that without Lady Philosophy’s embodied (as opposed to just immanent) love, Boethius would not have been healed. It seems, then, that to complete this consolation of Boethius, we need something that looks like God embodied in love. Of course, at the center of the Christian worldview that shaped this narrative is the mystery of the Incarnation, but that is a theological truth not a philosophical truth (that is to say it is divinely revealed truth that cannot be acquired through mere human reason alone.) Lady Philosophy, as an image of philosophical if not theological incarnation, thus carries Boethius to the limits of philosophy, thereby preparing him to respond to the divine revelation that is Jesus Christ.

In conclusion, we have seen that in caring for the despondent Boethius, Lady Philosophy provides healing through body and intellect. She first wipes the tears from his eyes and then reminds him of the truths that can set him free. Her message to him is one that can heal us also: Love caused you to be; Love sustains you in your existence; Love affirms that your existence is good; Love reminds you that your existence has purpose; Love alone can provide your soul with the happiness you were created to desire.

Source: Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy; (Richard Greene, 1962 Macmillan Publishing Company)

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