The philosophy of happiness: Boethius


FOR a little space Philosophy was silent, and then she thus began again.

"I would now lead thee to felicity. The supreme good which men seek is happiness; at this they aim in various ways. Some seek it through wealth. Now, wealth cannot make its possessor independent and free from all want; yet this is what it seems to promise. Every day the stronger wrest it from the weaker without his consent. So the wealth which a man thought would make him independent, actually puts him in need of further protection.

"Other men imagine that they can secure felicity by means of rank, for official dignity clothes him to whom it comes with honour and reverence. Have, then, offices of state such power as to plant virtue in the minds of their possessors and to drive out vice? Nay, they are rather wont to signalise iniquity than to chase it away. Thus, Catullus calls Nonius 'an ulcer-spot,' though 'sitting in the curule chair.' And even where high office brings dignity, does their repute last? Why, the prefecture, which was once a great power, is now but an empty name--a burden merely on the senator's fortune. The commissioner of the public corn was once a personage--now what is more contemptible than this office?

"But you may ask, Boethius, if the happiness of kings does not last? Well, antiquity is full of examples, as are these days also, of kings whose happiness has turned to calamity. There must needs be a balance of wretchedness in the lot of a king. The tyrant Damocles, who had made trial of the perils of his condition, figured the fears that haunt a throne under the image of a sword hanging over a man's head."

"Indeed," said I, "I see clearly enough that neither is independence to be found in wealth, not power in sovereignity, nor reverence in dignities, nor true joy in pleasures."

"Having set forth the form of false happiness, the next step is to show what true happiness is," said she. "That which is simple and indivisible by nature, human error separates, and transforms from the true and perfect to the false and imperfect. Happiness must not be sought in these things which severally are believed to afford only some of the blessings most to be desired. That is the true and perfect happiness which crowns one with the union of independence, power, reverence, renown and joy. It now remains that thou shouldst learn from what source this true happiness is to be sought. Since, as Plato maintains in the Timaeus, we ought, even in the most trivial matters, to implore the divine protection, what thinkest thou should we now do in order to deserve to find the seat of that highest good?"

"We must invoke the Father of all," said I, "for without this no enterprise sets out from a right beginning."

"THOU sayest well," said she. "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. 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. Remember this, that the good is the sum and source of all desirable things, and that the essence of absolute good and of happiness is one and the same. But we have seen that God and true happiness are one and the same. Then we can safely conclude that God's essence is seated in absolute good, and nowhere else."

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