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Boethius: From the ‘Consolation of Philosophy’ – The Acquisition Of Happiness

‘Philosophy conversing with Boethius’,

in the ‘Consolation of Philosophy’. 14th century miniature.

Library of Besançon, France. Cliché IRHT © CNRS.


Another sharing for the day from the Blue House of Via-HYGEIA, the chapter pointed out by Francis Lee in his study about ‘Divine Wisdom’, that is, chapter X from Book III from Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, a. k. a. Boethius’ ‘Consolation of Philosophy’, here translated into English Prose and Verse by Henry Rosher JAMES for Routledge and Sons, London, 1897.


Book III. Chapter X.

‘Since now thou hast seen what is the form of the imperfect good, and what the form of the perfect also, methinks I should next show in what manner this perfection of felicity is built up. And here I conceive it proper to inquire, first, whether any excellence, such as thou hast lately defined, can exist in the nature of things, lest we be deceived by an empty fiction of thought to which no true reality answers. But it cannot be denied that such does exist, and is, as it were, the source of all things good. For everything which is called imperfect is spoken of as imperfect by reason of the privation of some perfection; so it comes to pass that, whenever imperfection is found in any particular, there must necessarily be a perfection in respect of that particular also. For were there no such perfection, it is utterly inconceivable how that so-called imperfection should come into existence. Nature does not make a beginning with things mutilated and imperfect; she starts with what is whole and perfect, and falls away later to these feeble and inferior productions. So if there is, as we showed before, a happiness of a frail and imperfect kind, it cannot be doubted but there is also a happiness substantial and perfect.’

‘Most true is thy conclusion, and most sure,’ said I.

‘Next to consider where the dwelling-place of this happiness may be. The common belief of all mankind agrees that God, the supreme of all things, is good. For since nothing can be imagined better than God, how can we doubt Him to be good than whom there is nothing better? Now, reason shows God to be good in such wise as to prove that in Him is perfect good. For were it not so, He would not be supreme of all things; for there would be something else more excellent, possessed of perfect good, which would seem to have the advantage in priority and dignity, since it has clearly appeared that all perfect things are prior to those less complete. Wherefore, lest we fall into an infinite regression, we must acknowledge the supreme God to be full of supreme and perfect good. But we have determined that true happiness is the perfect good; therefore true happiness must dwell in the supreme Deity.’

‘I accept thy reasonings,’ said I; ‘they cannot in any wise be disputed.’

‘But, come, see how strictly and incontrovertibly thou mayst prove this our assertion that the supreme Godhead hath fullest possession of the highest good.’

‘In what way, pray?’ said I.

‘Do not rashly suppose that He who is the Father of all things hath received that highest good of which He is said to be possessed either from some external source, or hath it as a natural endowment in such sort that thou mightest consider the essence of the happiness possessed, and of the God who possesses it, distinct and different. For if thou deemest it received from without, thou mayst esteem that which gives more excellent than that which has received. But Him we most worthily acknowledge to be the most supremely excellent of all things. If, however, it is in Him by nature, yet is logically distinct, the thought is inconceivable, since we are speaking of God, who is supreme of all things. Who was there to join these distinct essences? Finally, when one thing is different from another, the things so conceived as distinct cannot be identical. Therefore that which of its own nature is distinct from the highest good is not itself the highest good—an impious thought of Him than whom, ’tis plain, nothing can be more excellent. For universally nothing can be better in nature than the source from which it has come; therefore on most true grounds of reason would I conclude that which is the source of all things to be in its own essence the highest good.’

‘And most justly,’ said I.

‘But the highest good has been admitted to be happiness.’


‘Then,’ said she, ‘it is necessary to acknowledge that God is very happiness.’

‘Yes,’ said I; ‘I cannot gainsay my former admissions, and I see clearly that this is a necessary inference therefrom.’

‘Reflect, also,’ said she, ‘whether the same conclusion is not further confirmed by considering that there cannot be two supreme goods distinct one from the other. For the goods which are different clearly cannot be severally each what the other is: wherefore neither of the two can be perfect, since to either the other is wanting; but since it is not perfect, it cannot manifestly be the supreme good. By no means, then, can goods which are supreme be different one from the other. But we have concluded that both happiness and God are the supreme good; wherefore that which is highest Divinity must also itself necessarily be supreme happiness.’

‘No conclusion,’ said I, ‘could be truer to fact, nor more soundly reasoned out, nor more worthy of God.’

‘Then, further,’ said she, ‘just as geometricians are wont to draw inferences from their demonstrations to which they give the name “deductions,” so will I add here a sort of corollary. For since men become happy by the acquisition of happiness, while happiness is very Godship, it is manifest that they become happy by the acquisition of Godship. But as by the acquisition of justice men become just, and wise by the acquisition of wisdom, so by parity of reasoning by acquiring Godship they must of necessity become gods. So every man who is happy is a god; and though in nature God is One only, yet there is nothing to hinder that very many should be gods by participation in that nature.’

‘A fair conclusion, and a precious,’ said I, ‘deduction or corollary, by whichever name thou wilt call it.’

‘And yet,’ said she, ‘not one whit fairer than this which reason persuades us to add.’

‘Why, what?’ said I.

‘Why, seeing happiness has many particulars included under it, should all these be regarded as forming one body of happiness, as it were, made up of various parts, or is there some one of them which forms the full essence of happiness, while all the rest are relative to this?’

‘I would thou wouldst unfold the whole matter to me at large.’

‘We judge happiness to be good, do we not?’

‘Yea, the supreme good.’

‘And this superlative applies to all; for this same happiness is adjudged to be the completest independence, the highest power, reverence, renown, and pleasure.’

‘What then?’

‘Are all these goods—independence, power, and the rest—to be deemed members of happiness, as it were, or are they all relative to good as to their summit and crown?’

‘I understand the problem, but I desire to hear how thou wouldst solve it.’

‘Well, then, listen to the determination of the matter. Were all these members composing happiness, they would differ severally one from the other. For this is the nature of parts—that by their difference they compose one body. All these, however, have been proved to be the same; therefore they cannot possibly be members, otherwise happiness will seem to be built up out of one member, which cannot be.’

‘There can be no doubt as to that,’ said I; ‘but I am impatient to hear what remains.’

‘Why, it is manifest that all the others are relative to the good. For the very reason why independence is sought is that it is judged good, and so power also, because it is believed to be good. The same, too, may be supposed of reverence, of renown, and of pleasant delight. Good, then, is the sum and source of all desirable things. That which has not in itself any good, either in reality or in semblance, can in no wise be desired. Contrariwise, even things which by nature are not good are desired as if they were truly good, if they seem to be so. Whereby it comes to pass that goodness is rightly believed to be the sum and hinge and cause of all things desirable. Now, that for the sake of which anything is desired itself seems to be most wished for. For instance, if anyone wishes to ride for the sake of health, he does not so much wish for the exercise of riding as the benefit of his health. Since, then, all things are sought for the sake of the good, it is not these so much as good itself that is sought by all. But that on account of which all other things are wished for was, we agreed, happiness; wherefore thus also it appears that it is happiness alone which is sought. From all which it is transparently clear that the essence of absolute good and of happiness is one and the same.’

‘I cannot see how anyone can dissent from these conclusions.’

‘But we have also proved that God and true happiness are one and the same.’

‘Yes,’ said I.

‘Then we can safely conclude, also, that God’s essence is seated in absolute good, and nowhere else.’


Hymn of Chapter X

The True Light.

Hither come, all ye whose minds

Lust with rosy fetters binds—

Lust to bondage hard compelling

Th’ earthy souls that are his dwelling—

Here shall be your labour’s close;

Here your haven of repose.

Come, to your one refuge press;

Wide it stands to all distress!

Not the glint of yellow gold

Down bright Hermus’ current rolled;

Not the Tagus’ precious sands,

Nor in far-off scorching lands

All the radiant gems that hide

Under Indus’ storied tide—

Emerald green and glistering white—

Can illume our feeble sight;

But they rather leave the mind

In its native darkness blind.

For the fairest beams they shed

In earth’s lowest depths were fed;

But the splendour that supplies

Strength and vigour to the skies,

And the universe controls,

Shunneth dark and ruined souls.

He who once hath seen this light

Will not call the sunbeam bright.


Original Latin

Prosa 10
1 Quoniam igitur quae sit imperfecti, quae etiam perfecti boni forma uidisti, nunc demonstrandum reor quonam haec felicitatis perfectio constituta sit. 2 In quo illud primum arbitror inquirendum an aliquod huius modi bonum quale paulo ante definisti in rerum natura possit exsistere, ne nos praeter rei subiectae ueritatem cassa cogitationis imago decipiat. 3 Sed quin exsistat sitque hoc ueluti quidam omnium fons bonorum, negari nequit; omne enim quod imperfectum esse dicitur id imminutione perfecti imperfectum esse perhibetur. 4 Quo fit ut, si in quolibet genere imperfectum quid esse uideatur, in eo perfectum quoque aliquid esse necesse sit; etenim perfectione sublata unde illud quod imperfectum perhibetur exstiterit ne fingi quidem potest. 5 Neque enim ab deminutis inconsummatisque natura rerum cepit exordium, sed ab integris absolutisque procedens in haec extrema atque effeta dilabitur. 6 Quodsi, uti paulo ante monstrauimus, est quaedam boni fragilis imperfecta felicitas, esse aliquam solidam perfectamque non potest dubitari. — Firmissime, inquam, uerissimeque conclusum est.

7 — Quo uero, inquit, habitet, ita considera. Deum, rerum omnium principem, bonum esse communis humanorum conceptio probat animorum; nam cum nihil deo melius excogitari queat, id quo melius nihil est bonum esse quis dubitet? 8 Ita uero bonum esse deum ratio demonstrat ut perfectum quoque in eo bonum esse conuincat. 9 Nam ni tale sit, rerum omnium princeps esse non poterit; erit enim eo praestantius aliquid perfectum possidens bonum, quod hoc prius atque antiquius esse uideatur; omnia namque perfecta minus integris priora esse claruerunt. 10 Quare ne in infinitum ratio prodeat, confitendum est summum deum summi perfectique boni esse plenissimum; sed perfectum bonum ueram esse beatitudinem constituimus: Ueram igitur beatitudinem in summo deo sitam esse necesse est. — Accipio, inquam, nec est quod contra dici ullo modo queat. 11 — Sed quaeso, inquit, te, uide quam id sancte atque inuiolabiliter probes quod boni summi summum deum diximus esse plenissimum. — Quonam, inquam, modo? 12 — Ne hunc rerum omnium patrem illud summum bonum quo plenus esse perhibetur uel extrinsecus accepisse uel ita naturaliter habere praesumas quasi habentis dei habitaeque beatitudinis diuersam cogites esse substantiam. 13 Nam si extrinsecus acceptum putes, praestantius id quod dederit ab eo quod acceperit existimare possis; sed hunc esse rerum omnium praecellentissimum dignissime confitemur. 14 Quod si natura quidem inest sed est ratione diuersum, cum de rerum principe loquamur deo, fingat qui potest quis haec diuersa coniunxerit. 15 Postremo, quod a qualibet re diuersum est id non est illud a quo intellegitur esse diuersum; quare quod a summo bono diuersum est sui natura, id summum bonum non est; quod nefas est de eo cogitare, quo nihil constat esse praestantius. 16 Omnino enim nullius rei natura suo principio melior poterit exsistere; quare quod omnium principium sit id etiam sui substantia summum esse bonum uerissima ratione concluserim. — Rectissime, inquam. 17 — Sed summum bonum beatitudinem esse concessum est. — Ita est, inquam. — Igitur, inquit, deum esse ipsam beatitudinem necesse est confiteri. — Nec propositis, inquam, prioribus refragari queo et illis hoc inlatum consequens esse perspicio.

18 — Respice, inquit, an hinc quoque idem firmius approbetur, quod duo summa bona quae a se diuersa sint esse non possunt. 19 Etenim quae discrepant bona non esse alterum quod sit alterum liquet; quare neutrum poterit esse perfectum, cum alterutri alterum deest. Sed quod perfectum non sit id summum non esse manifestum est; nullo modo igitur quae summa sunt bona ea possunt esse diuersa. 20 Atqui et beatitudinem et deum summum bonum esse collegimus: Quare ipsam necesse est summam esse beatitudinem quae sit summa diuinitas. 21 — Nihil, inquam, nec reapse uerius nec ratiocinatione firmius nec deo dignius concludi potest. 22 — Super haec, inquit, igitur ueluti geometrae solent demonstratis propositis aliquid inferre, quae porismata ipsi uocant, ita ego quoque tibi ueluti corollarium dabo. 23 Nam quoniam beatitudinis adeptione fiunt homines beati, beatitudo uero est ipsa diuinitas, diuinitatis adeptione beatos fieri manifestum est. 24 Sed uti iustitiae adeptione iusti, sapientiae sapientes fiunt, ita diuinitatem adeptos deos fieri simili ratione necesse est. 25 Omnis igitur beatus deus. Sed natura quidem unus; participatione uero nihil prohibet esse quam plurimos. 26 — Et pulchrum, inquam, hoc atque pretiosum siue porisma siue corollarium uocari mauis. 27 — Atqui hoc quoque pulchrius nihil est quod his adnectendum esse ratio persuadet. — Quid? inquam. 28 — Cum multa, inquit, beatitudo continere uideatur, utrumne haec omnia unum ueluti corpus beatitudinis quadam partium uarietate coniungant an sit eorum aliquid quod beatitudinis substantiam compleat, ad hoc uero cetera referantur? 29 — Uellem, inquam, id ipsarum rerum commemoratione patefaceres. — Nonne, inquit, beatitudinem bonum esse censemus? — Ac summum quidem, inquam.

30 — Addas, inquit, hoc omnibus licet. Nam eadem sufficientia summa est, eadem summa potentia, reuerentia quoque, claritas ac uoluptas beatitudo esse iudicatur. 31 Quid igitur, haecine omnia, bonum, sufficientia, potentia cetera que, ueluti quaedam beatitudinis membra sunt an ad bonum ueluti ad uerticem cuncta referuntur? 32 — Intellego, inquam, quid inuestigandum proponas, sed quid constituas audire desidero. 33 — Cuius discretionem rei sic accipe. Si haec omnia beatitudinis membra forent, a se quoque inuicem discreparent; haec est enim partium natura ut unum corpus diuersa componant. 34 Atqui haec omnia idem esse monstrata sunt. Minime igitur membra sunt; alioquin ex uno membro beatitudo uidebitur esse coniuncta, quod fieri nequit. 35 — Id quidem, inquam, dubium non est, sed id quod restat exspecto. 36 — Ad bonum uero cetera referri palam est. Idcirco enim sufficientia petitur, quoniam bonum esse iudicatur; idcirco potentia, quoniam id quoque esse creditur bonum; idem de reuerentia, claritudine, iucunditate coniectare licet. 37 Omnium igitur expetendorum summa atque causa bonum est; quod enim neque re neque similitudine ullum in se retinet bonum id expeti nullo modo potest. 38 Contraque etiam quae natura bona non sunt tamen si esse uideantur quasi uere bona sint appetuntur. Quo fit uti summa, cardo atque causa expetendorum omnium bonitas esse iure credatur. 39 Cuius uero causa quid expetitur id maxime uidetur optari, ueluti si salutis causa quispiam uelit equitare, non tam equitandi motum desiderat quam salutis effectum. 40 Cum igitur omnia boni gratia petantur, non illa potius quam bonum ipsum desideratur ab omnibus. 41 Sed propter quod cetera optantur beatitudinem esse concessimus; quare sic quoque sola quaeritur beatitudo. 42 Ex quo liquido apparet ipsius boni et beatitudinis unam atque eandem esse substantiam. — Nihil uideo cur dissentire quispiam possit. 43 — Sed deum ueramque beatitudinem unum atque idem esse monstrauimus. — Ita, inquam. — Securo igitur concludere licet dei quoque in ipso bono nec usquam alio sitam esse substantiam.’

Metrum 10
1 Huc omnes pariter uenite capti,
2 quos fallax ligat improbis catenis
3 terrenas habitans libido mentes:
4 Haec erit uobis requies laborum,
5 hic portus placida manens quiete,
6 hoc patens unum miseris asylum.
7 Non quicquid Tagus aureis harenis
8 donat aut Hermus rutilante ripa
9 aut Indus calido propinquus orbi
10 candidis miscens uirides lapillos
11 inlustrent aciem magisque caecos
12 in suas condunt animos tenebras.
13 Hoc, quicquid placet excitatque mentes,
14 infimis tellus aluit cauernis;
15 splendor quo regitur uigetque caelum
16 uitat obscuras animae ruinas;
17 hanc quisquis poterit notare lucem
18 candidos Phoebi radios negabit.

‘Philosophy giving wings to Boethius’, in the ‘Consolation of Philosophy’. 14th century miniature. Library of Besançon, France. Cliché IRHT © CNRS.



The Translator

Henry Rosher James (1862-1931).


More about Boethius here: 🌿English translation source: 🌿Latin text source: 🌿We also warmly recommend the Loeb Classical Library edition:
Boethius: From the ‘Consolation of Philosophy’ – The Acquisition Of Happiness

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