Consolation of Philosophy:Summary of Book IV Part V-VII
Summary on Parts V and VI
Boethius agrees with Philosophy that good and bad are their own reward. Still, there is such a thing as good fortune and bad fortune, and no sane man prefers being in prison facing execution to being free and wealthy. Why is justice upside down in the world? Is it due to chance? If God is the supreme power in the universe, what is the difference between His rule and chance?
She replies that if one is ignorant of the principle behind order, life could look like chaos. He does not know the divine plan; yet there is no need to doubt that everything happens as it should: “hidden cause confounds the human heart” (p. 103).
Boethius replies that it is the job of Philosophy to unravel the hidden causes, and he is very disturbed by this phenomenon of injustice. Philosophy says that Doubt is like the mythical Hydra’s heads, which grew back when chopped off. Only “intellectual fire” can combat doubt (p. 103). The topics she will address include providence, fate, chance, free will, and predestination.
Providence is the benign plan of life, the causes that come from the unchanging mind of God. The ancients called this plan Fate, but these two words mean different things. Providence is divine reason itself, which oversees all things, but Fate refers to individual life events.
Providence is an unchanging plan, while Fate refers to “the ever-changing web” in time, of the events that God has planned from his perspective in eternity (p. 105). Fate is thus ultimately subject to Providence. Humans do not have a perspective large enough to see the way God does. The wicked do not control our Fate or represent Fate.
What we see is that the fortunes of both good and bad people alternate between adversity and prosperity. God, however, is “the mind’s guide and physician” who looks out from the “watch-tower of Providence,” seeing whatever is suitable for each person at that particular time (p. 107). Humans see only from their own expectations. Sometimes a good man receives a bad fortune for the purpose of “self discovery through hardship” (p. 108). Providence balances things out for the whole world. God is constantly ordering all things towards goodness.
Commentary on Parts V and VI
Now after confronting the true nature of internal good and evil, Boethius wants to understand external fortune and misfortune. Why does God allow injustice in the world? Does chance rule the universe?
Philosophy begins by explaining the difference between Providence, or the benign ordering of the universe, and Fate, which for the ancients was a sort of harsh necessity, not always seeming to be fair. Fate seemed capricious and cruel to humans. Philosophy denies this and tries to harmonize the idea of Fate and Providence.
Fate is just the human looking up at the incomprehensible turns of Fortune’s Wheel. Fate is how things fall due in time. If we could see from God’s larger timeless view, we would understand how each stroke of Fate is actually part of a benign plan for each person. Perhaps a good person like Boethius, for instance, needed a hardship like this to test his faith in God. She says if you understood God’s plan, you would know there is no evil anywhere.
This idea that God is a benign unity working all apparent evil into a universal good, requires, she says, “purity of mind” (p. 110). Again, she states that it is Love that maintains the unity and order in the world.
Summary of Part VII
Now Philosophy comes to a surprising conclusion based on the previous arguments: “All fortune is certainly good” (p. 111). Boethius wonders how this could be.
Fortune, she says, is used in the divine scheme to work out things for the good of all, so it is just to every person. If something is useful, it is good. A wise man knows that all fortune is a sort of opportunity, and it is a virtue to remain unmoved by whatever fortune befalls. It is in one’s own hands to shape fortune for one’s own good, whatever it may be.
Commentary on Part VII
Philosophy ends Book IV with a poem to illustrate her point. She shows how the Greek heroes Agamemnon, Odysseus, and Hercules were given hard tasks in life, but they did not back down from taking fate into their own hands and shaping their lives. These great examples show us we should not hang back. Hercules even earned a place in heaven by taking on everything given to him to do, no matter how impossible.