Consolation of Philosophy, The


'Dost thou, then, see the consequence of all that we have said?'

'Nay; what consequence?'

'That absolutely every fortune is good fortune.'

'And how can that be?' said I.

'Attend,' said she. 'Since every fortune, welcome and unwelcome alike, has for its object the reward or trial of the good, and the punishing or amending of the bad, every fortune must be good, since it is either just or useful.'

'The reasoning is exceeding true,' said I, 'the conclusion, so long as I reflect upon the providence and fate of which thou hast taught me, based on a strong foundation. Yet, with thy leave, we will count it among those which just now thou didst set down as paradoxical.'

'And why so?' said she.

'Because ordinary speech is apt to assert, and that frequently, that some men's fortune is bad.'

'Shall we, then, for awhile approach more nearly to the language of the vulgar, that we may not seem to have departed too far from the usages of men?'

'At thy good pleasure,' said I.

'That which advantageth thou callest good, dost thou not?'


'And that which either tries or amends advantageth?'


'Is good, then?'

'Of course.'

'Well, this is their case who have attained virtue and wage war with adversity, or turn from vice and lay hold on the path of virtue.'

'I cannot deny it.'

'What of the good fortune which is given as reward of the good—do the vulgar adjudge it bad?'

'Anything but that; they deem it to be the best, as indeed it is.'

'What, then, of that which remains, which, though it is harsh, puts the restraint of just punishment on the bad—does popular opinion deem it good?'

'Nay; of all that can be imagined, it is accounted the most miserable.'

'Observe, then, if, in following popular opinion, we have not ended in a conclusion quite paradoxical.'

'How so?' said I.

'Why, it results from our admissions that of all who have attained, or are advancing in, or are aiming at virtue, the fortune is in every case good, while for those who remain in their wickedness fortune is always utterly bad.'

'It is true,' said I; 'yet no one dare acknowledge it.'

'Wherefore,' said she, 'the wise man ought not to take it ill, if ever he is involved in one of fortune's conflicts, any more than it becomes a brave soldier to be offended when at any time the trumpet sounds for battle. The time of trial is the express opportunity for the one to win glory, for the other to perfect his wisdom. Hence, indeed, virtue gets its name, because, relying on its own efficacy, it yieldeth not to adversity. And ye who have taken your stand on virtue's steep ascent, it is not for you to be dissolved in delights or enfeebled by pleasure; ye close in conflict—yea, in conflict most sharp—with all fortune's vicissitudes, lest ye suffer foul fortune to overwhelm or fair fortune to corrupt you. Hold the mean with all your strength. Whatever falls short of this, or goes beyond, is fraught with scorn of happiness, and misses the reward of toil. It rests with you to make your fortune what you will. Verily, every harsh-seeming fortune, unless it either disciplines or amends, is punishment.'

The Hero's Path.

Ten years a tedious warfare raged,
Ere Ilium's smoking ruins paid
For wedlock stained and faith betrayed,
And great Atrides' wrath assuaged.
But when heaven's anger asked a life,
And baffling winds his course withstood,
The king put off his fatherhood,
And slew his child with priestly knife.
When by the cavern's glimmering light
His comrades dear Odysseus saw
In the huge Cyclops' hideous maw
Engulfed, he wept the piteous sight.
But blinded soon, and wild with pain—
In bitter tears and sore annoy—
For that foul feast's unholy joy
Grim Polyphemus paid again.
His labours for Alcides win
A name of glory far and wide;
He tamed the Centaur's haughty pride,
And from the lion reft his skin.
The foul birds with sure darts he slew;
The golden fruit he stole—in vain
The dragon's watch; with triple chain
From hell's depths Cerberus he drew.
With their fierce lord's own flesh he fed
The wild steeds; Hydra overcame
With fire. 'Neath his own waves in shame
Maimed Achelous hid his head.
Huge Cacus for his crimes was slain;
On Libya's sands Antæus hurled;
The shoulders that upheld the world
The great boar's dribbled spume did stain.
Last toil of all—his might sustained
The ball of heaven, nor did he bend
Beneath; this toil, his labour's end,
The prize of heaven's high glory gained.
Brave hearts, press on! Lo, heavenward lead
These bright examples! From the fight
Turn not your backs in coward flight;
Earth's conflict won, the stars your meed!



CH. I. Boethius asks if there is really any such thing as chance. Philosophy answers, in conformity with Aristotle's definition (Phys., II. iv.), that chance is merely relative to human purpose, and that what seems fortuitous really depends on a more subtle form of causation.—CH. II. Has man, then, any freedom, if the reign of law is thus absolute? Freedom of choice, replies Philosophy, is a necessary attribute of reason. Man has a measure of freedom, though a less perfect freedom than divine natures.—CH. III. But how can man's freedom be reconciled with God's absolute foreknowledge? If God's foreknowledge be certain, it seems to exclude the possibility of man's free will. But if man has no freedom of choice, it follows that rewards and punishments are unjust as well as useless; that merit and demerit are mere names; that God is the cause of men's wickednesses; that prayer is meaningless.—CH. IV. The explanation is that man's reasoning faculties are not adequate to the apprehension of the ways of God's foreknowledge. If we could know, as He knows, all that is most perplexing in this problem would be made plain. For knowledge depends not on the nature of the thing known, but on the faculty of the knower.—CH. V. Now, where our senses conflict with our reason, we defer the judgment of the lower faculty to the judgment of the higher. Our present perplexity arises from our viewing God's foreknowledge from the standpoint of human reason. We must try and rise to the higher standpoint of God's immediate intuition.—CH. VI. To understand this higher form of cognition, we must consider God's nature. God is eternal. Eternity is more than mere everlasting duration. Accordingly, His knowledge surveys past and future in the timelessness of an eternal present. His foreseeing is seeing. Yet this foreseeing does not in itself impose necessity, any more than our seeing things happen makes their happening necessary. We may, however, if we please, distinguish two necessities—one absolute, the other conditional on knowledge. In this conditional sense alone do the things which God foresees necessarily come to pass. But this kind of necessity affects not the nature of things. It leaves the reality of free will unimpaired, and the evils feared do not ensue. Our responsibility is great, since all that we do is done in the sight of all-seeing Providence.

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