You are not yet ready for strong medicines, I’m afraid, so we shall begin with something milder, so that the sore and angry places may be softened and soothed. Then we can perhaps begin the real treatment of your complaints. (I,v, p. 22)
There is something puzzling about the Consolation of Philosophy: Boethius, a Christian writer, finishes his argument about obtaining happiness without ever having mentioned Christianity. Why would he fail to mention Christianity, which could potentially be the ultimate consolation? The Consolations does, in fact, end very abruptly, as though no final answer has been reached.
Christianity and Philosophy
Authors typically write with specific audiences in mind, much like the authors of the four Gospels; each book is written for the respective writer’s community. Perhaps Boethius wrote for a specific audience consisting of those who are using their reason to understand the human condition, regardless of their religious affiliation.
For some, Christianity is the instrument through which faith is achieved, and they find happiness without knowing anything about philosophy. Although these individuals are able to believe almost instantaneously, many other people have to struggle along the path of understanding before they arrive at faith. Philosophy may be a different path to the same goal of faith by exploring and emphasizing human reason as opposed to religion. The path is long and wandering, and the Consolation is a necessary step for those who are traveling the path because it provides them with a better understanding of how Philosophy can work in their lives.
What Boethius seems to be saying is that there is no single path to faith, thus both Christianity and Philosophy are journeys to the same destination. Philosophy, then, could also serve as the preparation for faith. Taken this way, the Consolation would be comparable to first seven books of St. Augustine’s Confessions in which we meet a young, misguided Augustine, who is restless, navigating through life without clear purpose. He ventures into questionable practices and pursuits as he becomes engulfed in the material world. As his autobiography progresses, he begins to doubt the moral value of his life and seeks answers regarding the deeper truths of life with the tools of philosophy. Augustine’s growth parallels the tumultuous mental state of imprisoned Boethius as he wrestles with the questions and circumstances of his own life. By the end of Book VII, Augustine reaches a similar point to that reached at the end of Consolation. Although Augustine is certain of the presence of God, he has only “but glimpsed at it like a tantalizing reflection in a mirror” (Confessions VIII.i.1). Perhaps Boethius ends his book quite suddenly to suggest that for some people, Philosophy cannot provide sufficient assistance. Like Augustine, they must complete the rest of the journey through Christianity.
Even Augustine’s writings might also be considered incomplete because they are still only a part of the path to faith. Although Christianity is the answer for many, some Christians can even lose their faith. There is no evidence in the text to suggest this, but perhaps in moments of despair, Boethius himself questioned his Christian faith and found solace in Philosophy. In this way, neither the Consolation of Philosophy nor the Confessions can provide complete explanation and guidance to faith. The metaphorical path continues onward past Confessions: all of us must find our own way to venture ahead.
Pretend you yourself are on this journey, starting out with total disbelief. Guided by Boethius, you travel along the path of Philosophy. At the end of the Consolation, however, you are left with a void that was not totally filled by Philosophy. Or perhaps you have not previously found Christianity satisfying? Where do you turn next? Perhaps Philosophy will bring you further along the road. Perhaps Boethius does not mention Christianity anywhere in his Consolation because it is only one way that may or may not be able to guide you all the way through your journey.
To recap all of what we’ve just thrown at you: there are three main points about the relationship between Philosophy and Christianity. First, the Consolation of Philosophy is necessary for some people, in order to understand what Philosophy is and how it works in their lives. However, Philosophy is not sufficient for others; for them faith and Christianity are also an essential part of the path. The last, and perhaps most important point, is that perhaps neither Philosophy nor Christianity is a complete line of reasoning. Although each path has important ideas that figure into the process of belief, neither of the two doctrines is an absolutely essential path to faith. As with Plato’s theory of recollection, both Christianity and Philosophy are human tools that may, in one way or another, awaken the faith that lies deep within us all.
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