Consolation of Philosophy:Summary of Book III Part IX-XII

Summary of Part IX


Philosophy wants to move on to what constitutes true happiness. Happiness is a wholeness that cannot be found in separate pieces. Self-sufficiency is an undivided state, and it includes in its own nature the power, fame, glory, and happiness that people think exist separately. If one pursues wealth without getting power and the other qualities, one will not gain sufficiency. 


Boethius replies that Philosophy must mean “true and perfect happiness is that which makes a man self-sufficient, strong, worthy of respect, glorious and joyful” (p. 65).


Philosophy asks if any of the parts (wealth, power, etc) can bestow the wholeness (self-sufficiency)? Boethius says no. She points out those parts are shadows of the true good. Where then can be found the true good? 


Philosophy sings a hymn to the Lord who is the unmoved Mover, bringing time from timelessness. God orders all the parts to a perfect whole through reason, creating harmony. The soul spreads out in circles from the divine center to embrace all life. Through God’s benign law, all souls emanate from the center and return back again. 


Commentary on Part IX


Philosophy’s Hymn to God is considered the climax of the whole work because it describes the source of the good, what Boethius and all men want. Every soul wants to find happiness by turning back to its source. 


This description of how the individual soul emanates from the divine soul and turns back again to its own source is pictured as a series of concentric circles with God in the center. The farther away from the center, the less the individual is happy. The solution is to turn back to the center, which is whole and undivided. 


Summary of Part X


Philosophy then asks if this perfect good can be found in the natural world? The good is a fountainhead of perfection and therefore even in the imperfection of the world is the pattern of perfection present, although it is somewhat weaker. It is impossible that something that exists could be lacking the pattern of perfection or else it would fall apart. The world is therefore not degenerate but contains the idea of the good within it.


We can reason thus. God is good and perfect; therefore, he cannot create something imperfect. Perfect good is true happiness, so “true happiness is to be found in the supreme God” (p. 69). Boethius agrees with this, but Philosophy says it is necessary to make one more argument. We must avoid the idea that God’s good is from outside his own nature. Goodness is the natural property of God. Therefore, God is the essence of happiness.  Boethius agrees to this.


Philosophy continues that it is impossible to have two supreme goods existing separately, so there is only one good, namely the divinity of God. A corollary is that through the possession of this divinity people become happy. Each happy individual is therefore divine. “While only God is so by nature, as many as you like may become so by participating” (p. 71).


Commentary on Part X


The arguments in this section are important, because they prove the universe is a unity, unified by the goodness of God. It is not the case that good is only found in God and that the world is corrupt, because how could a good God create something bad? There are not two things, good and bad; there is only good.


The diagram of the concentric circles explains that God is the more concentrated essence of good in the center, and the farther away one is, the more diluted the goodness. The pattern of the good, however, is still imprinted in every part of the universe to some degree, and every soul wants to get back to the center. 


Happiness is finding the divine. God is not hoarding it all; everyone can participate in goodness, and to the degree people can find the supreme goodness, they are said to be divine also. The ending poem implies that goodness and happiness shine on us like the sun. 


Those benighted souls who turn away put themselves in the dark. It is not God’s fault. Philosophy thus puts the burden for happiness on the individual. Boethius, like the average person, may complain about being overwhelmed by evil and wonder why God allows this to happen. If the individual turns around and beholds the always shining sun, the supreme and self-sufficient goodness that never stops, that individual can instantly participate in the unity of God’s goodness that upholds the world.


Summary of Part XI


Philosophy asks if Boethius would think it valuable to know the good in itself? Yes, he says, it would be valuable especially if he could see God. The various false things people pursue to find the good (power, money, etc.), when they differ, they are not the good, but when they begin to merge and be one (self-sufficiency), they become good. We can conclude then that through unity, these separate things (power, money, etc.) become good. 


Boethius also agrees with her that everything that is good is good by participating in goodness and that unity and goodness are identical. Philosophy then establishes that unity is the basis of life, for it is only when body and soul come together, we can say there is a living being. Nature tries to give us what we need to keep from dying and coming undone, so the universe is structured as a whole and tries to maintain that wholeness. 


Even inanimate objects like stones try to remain whole by cohering, so self-unity and preservation are the nature of all beings. Providence gives us a reason to live, through self-preservation, and life depends upon unity; therefore, all things desire unity or wholeness. 


Philosophy reminds Boethius that he said in the beginning he did not know the end of all things, but now he knows that the purpose of life is to find goodness. She sings a song about whoever wants to know the good “shall turn unto himself his inward gaze/ Shall bring his wandering thoughts in circle home/ And teach his heart that what it seeks abroad/ It holds in its own treasuries within” (p. 77). 


Commentary on Part XI


Here Philosophy tries to establish that unity is a path to goodness. One cannot even stay alive without the principle of self-unity holding the individual together. When people look for the good in separate pursuits (wealth, power, etc.) they pull themselves away from the unity of life towards separation and alienation from the unified center of goodness. Where is this unified center of goodness? Turn the gaze away from the outward separate objects that do not lead to happiness, and go inward to one’s own center in the heart. That is where one feels most unified with goodness and with one’s own nature. 


Summary of Part XII


Philosophy’s song in the last section ended with a reminder of Plato’s doctrine of recollection. Plato says that the human soul is simply looking for the unity and happiness it once possessed in heaven before birth. It merely needs to recollect its primal wholeness, which it has forgotten by being born. 


Now Philosophy says is the time to remember how the world is governed. Boethius has said the world is ruled by God; does he still agree with this? Yes, he says. 


She points out that the world could not coalesce into one form without one who could unify diversity. There could be no order without the unity God provides. God needs no external help in keeping the world unified because He is self-sufficient. God is the good and rules by himself. Since all things incline to the good, they are willing to be governed by the one who brings this essential harmony so we can survive.


God’s government of the world then is not a yoke forced on the creatures. Creatures cannot preserve themselves if they go against the order that upholds the unity of the good. Boethius agrees to this principle and feels ashamed he complained about his fate, because it is obvious God is omnipotent.


Philosophy goes further and asks, then God cannot do evil? No, he agrees with her that God cannot do evil. Then, she concludes, “evil is nothing” (p. 81). 


Boethius complains that she is weaving arguments all around him from which he cannot find the way out. Each argument is “one internal proof grafted upon another” (p. 82). She replies that her argument imitates the way God moves the whole universe without himself moving at all (the Unmoved Mover). 


Philosophy concludes Book III with a warning to Boethius, who still has doubts. She sings a song about Orpheus, describing how he mourned his dead wife with sad songs. He even persuaded the god of the dead with his singing to give his wife back. Orpheus, however, had to obey the law that was told to him by the god of the dead: he was not allowed to look back to see if Eurydice was coming with him. 


When Orpheus disobeyed and looked back to see if his wife was following him out of the underworld, he broke the taboo, and he lost her to death again. The lesson is “You who seek the upward way” must keep looking up and not turn the gaze the wrong way “Back to darkness” (p. 84). We must not be like Orpheus and turn around when we are on the path; keep looking up to the light.


Commentary on Part XII


Philosophy skillfully leads Boethius to the conclusion that God is ruling the unified universe and therefore he must not believe that there is such a thing as evil as a sort of separate power, or that he has been dealt with in an evil way. 


Boethius has swallowed everything Philosophy has argued until now and has been comforted by her words. When she tries to tell him that there is no such thing as evil, however, he stumbles and accuses her of trapping him with her circular arguments. 


Then she tells him the myth of Orpheus who looked back into the dark of hell’s mouth at the wrong time, suggesting that Boethius must continue his gaze in the right direction, upward, towards unity and happiness, and not lose himself again by believing in evil and looking back at what he has lost.