Wednesday, January 19, 2011

The Tao of Boëthius

Alongside Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching and Thomas à Kempis's The Imitation of Christ, I'd rank Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius's The Consolation of Philosophy as an essential practical guide to dealing with the trials and travails of this earthy life, and for the self-cultivation to which Confucius and other sages call us.

This book, "written in the period leading up to his brutal execution," "is a dialogue of alternating prose and verse between the ailing prisoner and his 'nurse' Philosophy." She offers the author "instruction on the nature of fortune and happiness, good and evil, fate and free will," so as to "restore his health and bring him to enlightenment." Her counsel here calls to mind not only Taoism but also the Book of Job:
    It is a strange thing that I am trying to say, and for that reason I can scarcely explain myself in words. I think that ill fortune is of greater advantage to men than good fortune. Good fortune is ever lying when she seems to favour by an appearance of happiness. Ill fortune is ever true when by her changes she shews herself inconstant. The one deceives; the other edifies. The one by a deceitful appearance of good things enchains the minds of those who enjoy them: the other frees them by a knowledge that happiness is so fragile. You see, then, that the one is blown about by winds, is ever moving and ever ignorant of its own self; the other is sober, ever prepared and ever made provident by the undergoing of its very adversities. Lastly, good fortune draws men from the straight path of true good by her fawning: ill fortune draws most men to the true good, and holds them back by her curved staff.
Blessed Severinus Boethius's very Taoist Prayer for Help to Contemplate God:
    Father, enable our minds to rise to your ineffable dwelling place. Let us find the light and direct the eyes of our soul to you. Dispel the mists and the opaqueness of the earthly mass, and shine out with your splendor. You are the serene and tranquil abode of those who persevere in their goal of seeing you. You are at the same time the beginning, the vehicle, the guide, the way and the goal. Amen.

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Blogger Matthew the Curmudgeon said...

TAO and CONSOLATION I get; never could get IMITATION. I think it's the word 'imitation' that I find so annoying thus making the whole unhelpful.

9:39 AM  

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Omnes Sancti et Sanctæ Coreæ, orate pro nobis.