Boethius: Philosopher of the Imagination

Acolyte (noun): A. A person assisting the celebrant in a religious service or procession. B. An assistant, follower, or disciple. [Pronounced ake-lite]

Boethian (adjective): Pertaining to the philosophical thought of Boethius. [Pronounced Bo-eth-ius]

Who the heck is Boethius, and why do I cheekily claim to be his acolyte? Hopefully this post will shed some light on these mysteries that have doubtlessly plagued you for so long.

“Boethius” isn’t a name that has recognition among most people today who aren’t medievalists, but you can’t hardly spend five minutes at an academic medieval conference without hearing his name. Even if you’ve never read Dante (author of the Divine Comedy), Geoffrey Chaucer (author of the Canterbury Tales), C.S. Lewis (author of the Chronicles of Narnia), or J.R.R. Tolkien (author of the Lord of the Rings), all of these writers held in common a deep appreciation for Boethius and even regarded him as a model for various aspects of their imaginative creations. The Old English King Alfred and Queen Elizabeth the First both translated him from Latin into the English of their periods, and in fact, in the medieval period, Boethius was used exactly how I use him in my classroom: as a framework for interpreting literature.

The life of Boethius occurred during the failing days of the Roman Empire. In the year 410, Rome had been sacked by Visigoths, and this precipitated Rome extracting their military occupation from England. When Boethius was born in the year 480, his homeland of Italy was under the rule of the Gothic warlord King Odoacer, so Roman political power had already significantly diminished. In 493, when Boethius was a young teenager and being educated to be a senator by his aristocratic stepfather, the Ostrogothic warlord King Theodoric killed Odoacer with a sword to the stomach while the two leaders were having dinner together. Boethius would live the rest of his life with Theodoric as his king, which would turn out to be bad both for Boethius’s and Theodoric’s health.

Even though Theodoric was an Ostrogoth, a Germanic tribe that had migrated from the northern territories, he appreciated Roman culture and recognized the talent and influence of Boethius. In another post I discuss the basics of the liberal arts philosophy; Boethius was a primary figure in establishing what the liberal arts education would actually look like in the classroom. There were seven fundamental liberal arts. The first three arts, grammar, logic, and rhetoric, were referred to as the trivium, because as the comprehensive arts of language, learning all three was necessary for further education. Grammar taught correct use of language; logic taught how to order language for sound reasoning, and rhetoric taught how to make good grammatical and logical language persuasive to specific audiences. The next four arts were arithmetic, music, geometry, and astronomy. Arithmetic was more than the basic subject we think of it now – it was the philosophy of number, and music was the philosophy of number expressed through time. Geometry was the art of studying number expressed through space, and astronomy was the art of studying number expressed through both space and time. So although it certainly involved studying the movements of the heavens, astronomy was a precursor of what we would call physics today. Boethius and his friend Cassiodorus were not only trained to the limits of the knowledge in those disciplines in Rome, but wanted to expand that knowledge further, especially by translating and commenting on liberal arts works found in Greek. Boethius wrote treatises on all three arts of the trivium, including a commentary on Aristotle’s On interpretation that concerned the interpretation of language signs, Aristotle’s and other Greek writers’ works on logic, and contributed original thought to rhetoric in the field of what was called topical argumentation, which was the discovery of the best approach of discussion for a given subject matter. Boethius also wrote a treatise on arithmetic and one on music, the second called On the Fundamentals of Music. We know from letters by Cassiodorus that Boethius had written a textbook on geometry, though unfortunately that was lost. And though there is no indication that Boethius wrote on astronomy, many things he says in The Consolation of Philosophy and other books suggest that he had studied the art carefully. In the liberal arts viewpoint, the different arts were not just separate boxes of knowledge about unrelated subject matter – they believed that the arts needed to be distinguished so that they could be studied clearly, but studying first the trivium, the arts of thought and communication, and then the quadrivium, the arts of conceiving order in the world around you, were necessary stages to learn before entering into larger fields of inquiry such as theology or practical efforts such as politics. The academic life of the mind was designed to prepare you for the public life of action. Boethius followed this path, even though he didn’t really want to be a politician, but his parents, who died when he was young, were aristocratic, and his stepfather Symmachus was also a public figure who had been preparing Boethius for the public life from the moment he adopted him. Symmachus loved Boethius enough that he even had Boethius marry his own daughter, with whom Boethius would have two sons.

In addition to his liberal arts textbooks and scholarship, Boethius had written five theological tracts, two on the Trinity, one on the nature of Christ’s humanity and divinity, one on the relationship of God’s goodness to the goodness of the world, and a final that was a basic statement of Christian faith. We can see here Boethius working to understand the relationship of philosophy and theology, and his conviction that philosophy could help people to better understand complicated aspects of theological doctrine. In Boethius’s view, when trained by the liberal arts, philosophical inquiry could be seen as bringing structural clarity to the revelations of Scripture, a view he had learned from reading the Church Father Augustine. But his theological beliefs was a source of political discomfort, because his king, Theodoric, was an Arian, as most of the Gothic tribes were, which means they rejected the Trinitiarian theology of Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox, believing that Jesus was not fully divine. But despite their theological differences and the tension in Theodoric, as an outsider, ruling over a people which Boethius had been born into the ruling class of, Boethius still accepted Theodoric’s offer to try and build a better Italy, one where both Romans and Goths could be educated and civilized. In 511, Theodoric made Boethius the consul of Rome, and in this role Boethius made himself some enemies among other Roman senators, because he defended farmers and other laborers from high taxes and unjust political persecution. Theodoric used Boethius to investigate a case of counterfeited coins, asked him to handpick a harpist to send as a token of good will to the Emperor in the East, and even called on his skill as a clock maker (both sundials and water clocks) for political purposes. Theodoric was essentially using Boethius both as an ambassador to keep up good relations with the Eastern part of the Roman Empire and as a cultural figurehead to reconcile Romans and Goths living in Italy. He made this position official in 522, when he named Boethius the Master of Offices, the highest honor Theodoric could have given him, a position which gave Boethius tremendous authority to promote his project of studying, preserving, and teaching Roman culture and expanding it with Greek learning. That same year, Theodoric further honored Boethius by making both of his sons consul of Rome. Favored by king and country alike, Boethius had become something of a celebrity – but as we know all too well today, that isn’t necessarily such a good thing.

A senator named Albinus, one of Boethius’s friends, was accused of a treasonous plot to overthrow the King and bring the Eastern emperor’s rule back to Italy. Boethius, in a misplaced but loyal act of rhetorical flourish, testified that if Albinus was guilty, then even he could be accused and so could the senate – the point being of course that such a charge was preposterous. This verbal gaffe was Boethius’s undoing. Immediately his political enemies, bitter over the obstacle he had been as consul to their agendas, came out of the woodwork and accused Boethius of treason – ironically using as evidence his role as an ambassador, which Theodoric had assigned him to, as a sign of his treason. They threw every charge at him they possibly could – they even resorted to accusing him of practicing magic, a standard charge levied against intellectuals cloistered away in libraries reading old books. Of course, Boethius thought the charge preposterous enough that we find him joking about it in The Consolation of Philosophy. In spite of his own feelings about it, though, Boethius’s commitment to Trinitarian theology, his nostalgic affection for all things Roman, and the prospective danger he posed if he should set himself against the king, as popular as he was, proved enough incentive to kindle the spark of Theodoric’s royal jealousy into an inferno. Even though he refused to confess his guilt when subjected to the torture of having a rope tied around his face to the point that his eyes are described by Roman historians as bulging out, Boethius was stripped of his political power and thrown in prison without so much as a trial.

With a single gust of political wind, Boethius went from star of the show to a cast aside political pawn. As he sat in his jail cell, reflecting on his commitment to the welfare of the very kingdom that had so unjustly treated him, upon his commitment to a supposedly loving God who had allowed him to be the victim of such obvious injustice, and especially his dedication to the liberal arts education that had fueled both of those commitments and led to this unhappy imprisonment, Boethius was thrown into a true dark night of the soul. His freedom, his political influence, his access to his family, his plans for contributing to the Roman intellectual tradition – all of it was taken away in what seemed like a stroke of bad luck. How could life be so capricious? He certainly would have been justified to simply mourn his fate in his cell, or to perhaps pen an angry invective against his wrongdoers. Instead, Boethius drew upon the worldview he had been building his whole life, and funneled the sum of his liberal arts education, his theological insights, and his political experience to write The Consolation of Philosophy, unquestionably the masterpiece of the sixth century and one of the finest pieces of literature in the period of late antiquity. To produce such a work in the face of such adversity strikes me as a life well lived.

Shortly after Boethius completed The Consolation of Philosophy, sometime in 524 or 525, he was executed by King Theodoric. Because his political fears were motivated by paranoia about a Trinitarian plot to reunite the Western and Eastern Churches, Theodoric’s killing of Boethius is often interpreted as, to some extent, an example of religious persecution. Naturally, after Boethius was killed, Theodoric’s paranoia only exploded – because after all, he had just had killed Rome’s favorite son right before Rome’s eyes, a bloody execution at thirty strokes of the sword. So he went on a rampage, taking down Boethius’s stepfather Symmachus, as well as Pope John the First, probably the person for whom Boethius had written his theological writings for. This shocked writers of the day in the East like Procopius, who had enormous respect for Boethius, and harmed relationships between Theodoric and the Eastern Byzantian empire. A year or two after Boethius died, Theodoric himself died during a massive bout of diarrhea. Perhaps he was being given the same divine affliction that killed Arius, the founder of his Arian beliefs, or more likely Theodoric’s political enemies had finally caught up with him, poisoning him to avenge people like Boethius who had died in the wake of his unhinged paranoia.

The Consolation of Philosophy thus became a favorite text for people subjected to religious or political persecution, and it also became popular with monarchs who wished to distinguish themselves as good – sort of like hey, we read Boethius, so we’re good kings – not like that Theodoric fellow! It’s a challenging text to read, all the more impressive when we consider the physically uncomfortable and mentally distressing circumstances under which Boethius wrote the Consolation, because he didn’t know at the time whether he would be imprisoned for life, exiled, or executed. Writing in the carefully trained Latin of a Roman liberal arts philosopher, Boethius designed the text as a prosimetrum, which is a piece of writing that alternates between prose and poetry. If you read The Hobbit, for example, that book is also a prosimetrum because when its characters recite poetry, the story shifts from regular prose into poetry. Boethius’s Consolation is unusual because of how strict its prosimetric style is: there are 39 passages of prose and 39 passages of poetry, one after the other. This structure is important to pay attention to because it is significant for Boethius’s understanding of literature, which is one of the things we are trying to understand this. Notice that most of the poems are dialogue, which means they are a response of a character to a situation or to another character. The first book begins with poetry; books two through four all begin in prose and end in poetry, while the fifth and final book begins and ends in prose. It’s also important to think about whose voice we are supposed to imagine when each prose or poetry section is under way, and with the poetry in particular. The Consolation is mostly a conversation between the imprisoned Boethius and Lady Philosophy, a personification of the subject he had studied and valued for most of his life. We begin with imagining Boethius writing a poem, and then Lady Philosophy stops him from writing and has her speak with him – although this conversation will of course actually happen in the real Boethius’s writing. She recites 35 of the other 39 poems; of the remaining three, one will be a description of the narrator telling the reader about his mental state when he first interacts with Lady Philosophy, and the other two will be Boethius’s attempts to express his distress to her as they discuss difficult concepts like political injustice and the relationship between God’s knowledge and free will.

Even though this is a philosophical text, it’s one that is highly imaginative – Lady Philosophy is a personification, which is a product of imagination, since of course philosophy is not a strikingly beautiful woman who can sing, play music, and talk about how beautiful nature is. She has a depth of personality even while she represents her intellectual namesake, and she will even create a personification of Lady Fortune. She invites Boethius to use his imagination in relationship to historical figures, philosophical concepts, and his own circumstances, and in particular seems to disapprove of the use of imagination we see in his initial poem. This means that the poetry she recites is, in a sense, poetry approved by the philosophical imagination, or another way to put it: her poetry is an example of the type of imagination which Boethius the author thinks is appropriate to being philosophical, which is why Lady Philosophy recites them to the distressed prisoner. Boethius is a master of the philosophical poetic mode, and is a cornerstone figure to contemplate how literature and philosophy can speak to each other, and so speak all the more powerfully to us. That’s why I think he deserves at least one acolyte, performing the ceremony of philosophical imagination necessary to open a window into his life and thought.

This is a partial transcript, with some alterations, of a lecture I gave on Boethius’s life and his final work, The Consolation of Philosophy. The recorded version of the lecture is here:

Not by Shield or Helmet: Spiritual Warfare and the Pursuit of Peace in the life of St. Martin of Tours

Composed for the Feast Day of St. Martin of Tours in 2015.

In light of the tragic loss of life in the wake of brutal terrorism in Paris that transpired recently, it is fitting to consider the testimony left to us of St. Martin of Tours, who is held as a patron saint of France. He was bishop in Tours for some thirty years, and his brave military service and commitment to compassion and peace inspires us to place our final hope in the irresistible grace of Jesus Christ, not in the promises of politicians or weapons of war.

The Life of St. Martin was composed by Sulpicius Severus, who not only lived in St. Martin’s time, but also spoke with those who witnessed his Christ-centered life and even interviewed him personally in the process of writing Martin’s hagiography. This brief summary is therefore based primarily in Severus’s depiction of the saint. It is a remarkable life – by the grace of God, St. Martin served in the Roman army, then entered clerical orders, debated with the Devil and spoke with angels, performed numerous miracles, showed compassion to those in poverty, and even converted a robber to Christianity after that robber had kidnapped him and held him hostage.

St. Martin’s close relationship with the Lord began at the age of 10, but at 18 he was required by law to enter military service. While on duty in the dead of winter, he saw a poor man on the side of the road dying from the extreme cold. Despite the fact that his service would keep him in the cold as well, Martin took pity on the man, and used his sword to cut his own coat in two. He gave half of the coat to the man, saving his life, and then endured the mockery of his fellow men at arms for how foolish his half-coat looked.

That night, Christ appeared to St. Martin in a dream wearing the half of a cloak Martin had given to the poor man. Christ, commander of the heavenly host, announces to the multitude of angels: “Martin, who is still but a catechumen, clothed me with this robe.” This vision prompted Martin to leave military service so that he could pursue a new vocation, as a priest and leader of spiritual warfare. Caesar Julian wished to block Martin’s exit from the military force, but Martin told him: “I have served you as a solider; allow me now to become a soldier to God.” Furious, the emperor accused him of cowardice, to which St. Martin replied: “If this conduct of mine is ascribe to cowardice, and not to faith, I will take my stand unarmed before the line of battle tomorrow, and in the name of the Lord Jesus, protected by the sign of the cross, and not by shield or helmet, I will safely penetrate the ranks of the enemy.”

This fearless commitment to God’s calling marked St. Martin’s incredible ministry. By Severus’s account, the Holy Spirit granted Martin the ability to see the Devil in whatever form he was present. When the Devil threatened him that he would resist Martin at every turn, he replied, “The Lord is my helper; I will not fear what any can do unto me.” And the Devil fled from him.

During his ministry as Bishop of Tours, St. Martin confronted pagans who were worshiping an ancient pine tree, exhorting them to cut their idol down. They agreed on one condition: that Martin would show faith in his God by standing in the path of the falling tree. With his terrified followers watching, St. Martin stood as the pagans felled the ancient pine. As it rushed towards him with deadly speed, St. Martin made the sign of the cross, and suddenly the tree spun and fell harmlessly to the side. Many of the unbelievers there, amazed, committed themselves to Christ that very day.

Like St. Martin wearing his half-cloak, we may be mocked by wearing the outward sign of our Christianity. We should not shy from the conflicts of spiritual warfare, but we should, like St. Martin, starkly separate the practical necessity of military service from the peaceful sharing of Christ’s Gospel. When we put our steadfast faith first in the help of the Lord, not in mortal shields and helmets, then we can share in the compassion and confidence with which St. Martin, by the grace of God, encountered the perils of the world. As we pray for Paris and Beirut and any others who endure the dangers of terrorism, we must remember with gratitude the sacrifice of those in the military who strive to keep their fellow citizens, whether Christians or non-Christians, safe. In both times of peace and of war, Christians must always share the Gospel peacefully and with confidence, remembering that true peace comes not from government, but from God.

By Anthony G. Cirilla

5 Great Boethian Woman Writers

I wrote a post some time ago where I discussed great male Boethian authors. Today, I am looking at five spectacular women writers who were deeply informed by Boethius and merit consideration today, both for literary skill and intellectual acuity. This list is, of course, in no way intended to be exhaustive!

Queen Elizabeth I

Easily the most famous individual on this list, Queen Elizabeth translated The Consolation of Philosophy late in life as a personal devotional practice (though the personal was of course always charged with political in those times). Elizabeth was deeply embroiled in the politically charged controversies of the day – leading as she did the Elizabethan Religious Settlement that helped to establish “Anglican” identity out of the chaotic Church of England. A superb Latinist with a rich devotional life, Elizabeth’s shrewd intellectual powers are on full display in her translation of Boethius’s most famous work. One can readily see how translating the Consolation, a text devoted to finding God in the midst of political turmoil, spoke to the monarch.

Marguerite Porete

Deemed a heretic at first only reluctantly, given how popular she was, Marguerite was eventually burned at the stake when she persisted in defying the council that put her through a lengthy trial. Marguerite’s most famous work, The Mirror of Simple Souls, draws on Boethian imagery in its meditation on the soul’s intimacy with God, integrating the so-called “heresy of the Free Spirit” and Christian mysticism with the philosophical meditations of the Consolation. Although many scholars interpret Marguerite as rejecting Boethian rationalism, arguably she sees a mystical thread in Boethian thought often missed by the scholastic tradition built around him. Much influence is also present from another influential Boethian text, The Romance of the Rose, meditating on the themes of love present in both texts. Writing in Old French, Marguerite witnesses a very different legacy of Boethianism than ordinarily considered – and, however theologically problematic, one which is quite stirringly and beautifully written.

Christine de Pizan

The Margaret Fuller of the 19th century, Christine de Pizan shares with Marguerite the medieval French legacy of Boethian thought. Her controversy is less theological than sociological however: the placement of women in society. Christine draws upon the powerful vindication of women latent in Boethius’s personification of a wise woman, producing personified mentors who help her to meditate on the nature of Christian identity for women in a society where the male perspective tended to dominate, critiquing the stereotypes that limit women’s potential. The Book of the City of Ladies shows a Lady Reason leading Christine to imagine a perfect Christian civilization where women are given their due place in society, while The Treasure of the City of Ladies provides more practical instruction for the pursuit of feminine virtue. Christine is in my opinion a far superior Boethian to her predecessor, Jean de Meun (author of the second and longer part of The Romance of the Rose), and her vivid writing still speaks to our concerns about gender today.

Margaret Drabble

Drabble’s work as a novelist is replete with literary learning, so it is not surprising that Boethius found its way into her repertoire. Her most Boethian novel is The Ice Age, a reflection on the property crisis in the 60s and 70s of Britain, from the perspective of Anthony Keaton, a former BBC producer struggling with fame in a manner Boethius’s discourse on the subject applies, as explicit reference to Boethius throughout shows. (It is reminiscent, for this reason, to the film 24-Hour Party People, which likewise utilizes Boethius heavily while analyzing a major figure in the media from the time, Tony Wilson.) Drabble’s work is a truly fine example of the modern legacy of Boethius.

Jill Paton Walsh

Walsh is herself a creative literary scholar of Dorothy Sayers, a figure also deeply relevant to this list. Dorothy Sayers was a continual proponent of the classic liberal arts, a system which Boethius played no small part in fashioning for the Middle Ages. Walsh completes a series of novels by Sayers surrounding her Sherlock Holmes figure, Lord Peter Wimsey. The drama of her last Lord Wimsey novel, The Last Scholar (a compressed reference to Boethius as the “last of the Romans and first of the scholastics”), concerns the drama of a codex including The Consolation of Philosophy with possible marginalia from King Alfred himself. As Walsh is the suitable figure to carry on the legacy of Sayers, her work with Sayers fittingly concludes with a meditation on the self-reflexive relationship of Boethian thought to the life of the mind in its practical, realistic manifestations.

So there you go – you’ve got a lot of Boethian reading to do!

Overcoming the Earth: The Life and Works of Our Blessed Martyr, Severinus Boethius

Boethius’s feast day is October 23rd, and these remarks commemorate a figure who, once so well known to people of faith, has become obscure to the modern Church. With Hallowtide approaching, it is fitting to reflect on exemplary lives of faith such as that lived by Boethius.

Unlike many medieval saints, Boethius was never ordained, never entered the ministry, and never entered monastic orders. He was a scholar and a politician in early sixth century Rome working under the rule of the Germanic barbarian, King Theodoric. Theodoric recognized the talents of Boethius, and both admired and feared him. He admired Boethius for his learning in the seven liberal arts, the academic curriculum of the time, and for his skill at reconciling differences between politicians of both church and state. Theodoric’s admiration led him to install Boethius as consul of Rome in 510, and he gave the same honor to Boethius’s sons in 522. That same year, Theodoric made Boethius Master of Offices, which gave him executive power over affairs both foreign and domestic.

But Theodoric feared Boethius’s close ties to the Emperor Justinian and the Eastern Church. As an Arian who denied the doctrine of the Trinity, Theodoric feared that Boethius’s attempts to reconcile eastern and western Trinitarian disputes might lead to a Roman rebellion that might seek help from Byzantium to regain independence from Ostrogothic rule. So when the Senate falsely accused Boethius of treason, an accusation that stuck only as a result of political enemies Boethius had made defending the public welfare, Theodoric had Boethius imprisoned on false charges and brutally executed with no trial.

Among other works, Boethius had written five theological tracts for his friend, Pope John I, referred to collectively as the Opuscula Sacra, where Boethius used his training in logic and philosophy to defend the Christian faith. Two of these argued for the rationality of the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity, and one of these includes his formulation of personhood as “an individual substance of a rational nature,” a definition still in use by modern theologians. A third treatise defended the orthodox view of Christ’s nature as God and man, and a fourth explained how the goodness of creation, including human goodness, logically depends upon the goodness of God. The final treatise, On the Catholic Faith, explicates general foundational doctrines for all Christian believers.

However, Boethius wrote his most important work, The Consolation of Philosophy, while imprisoned and on death row. Admitting his despair at the loss of his former life and freedoms, Boethius portrays himself in dialogue with Lady Philosophy, his lifelong object of study. Philosophy reminds him that earthly goods come and go, but the only value of earthly goods is in their power to turn our sights to the Father of Heavenly Lights, from whom comes every good and perfect gift and does not alter like the shifting shadows. He reminds himself and us that nothing in this world can yield satisfaction to our longing for happiness, and seeking after such frail goods will only lead to despair. Philosophy means the Love of Wisdom, and true wisdom resides in conforming our broken desires to the only essential source of happiness: the light of Divine Love which orders all things and grants all earthly gifts their true meaning.

Boethius reminds us that the mind of God is not limited to human perceptions of time and space, that all existence depends on his loving sustenance, for it is in God in whom we live, and move, and have our being. Boethius reminds us that our vision can be transformed to understand the world from this God-centered perspective. “Superata tellus sidera donat” – “Overcome the earth, and you will be given the stars,” Lady Philosophy tells the imprisoned Boethius. Despite his prison walls, Boethius remembered that true freedom comes from God, and regardless of station or situation in life, that freedom is available to all who turn from the misery of self-rule, and instead obediently remember that we live in the sight of a just and moral judge who sees all things.


Paradiso (2007)

“…it has come as auxiliary to another favorite Speculation of mine, that we shall enjoy ourselves here after by having what we calle happiness on Earth repeated in a finer tone and so repeated—And yet such a fate can only befall those who delight in sensation rather than hunger as you do after Truth…” –John Keats

You already know the story I am going to tell you. You have heard this a million times before. In fact, this whole thing may have nothing new or useful for you at all. But it is all I know, all I have to say, and I do not demand that you listen to me. I am simply going to tell you what the truth is. You may not want to hear it, which is fine. But stay with me, if you are brave. Try to stop hiding from the pain of what you know, or nothing here will mean anything to you.

Our planet is called Paradiso, as it has for some years. After the mantra of Nietzsche grew popular, the star-ward gaze was abandoned and we got to calling earth heaven. Holy Science has salvaged our world, welded it like a casket impregnable to grave robbers. Huge bridges, like the cables of a spider’s web, have joined the continents, and Pangea is an apt name of the world-wide nation.

There is no hunger on Paradiso, as Pangea’s official records prove. The machines have pumped the life from the soil, and every human mouth is fed. There is no labor but luxury, for pursuits of the mind are the commandment of Pangea. Everyone is stylized a scholar, and violence is strictly and rigorously forbidden. There are no wars between factions, because Pangea says that every person is equally unique, and all individuality is carefully apportioned by the officials. The differences of the old world, we are taught, only cause pain, so we are relieved of dangerous heritage.

Disease is a fairytale on Paradiso, a story, told by the historians we call physicians. Medicine is kept in museums once known as hospitals. Life is longer now, and they say immortality will be on the market some day soon. The harder we work, the longer we are allowed to live, and Pangea is praised as a perfect government for how well we run its stipulations.

They call the old world Inferno in the texts. A place of horror where people found themselves unable to agree on the simplest beliefs and blood was spilt over things they thought mattered. Now we can be happy, free of their fanaticism. We no longer have to worry about the dangers posed by notions of immaterial truth. We have happiness meticulously manufactured, and the assurances that it is more than enough.

And happy we truly are. No one dies an untimely death, and everyone pursues what they should want. They – we – are blissful, as only ignorance can allow.

I was given the name Faustus, as part of my duty of recalling the infernal days of old. But of course this is not a story about me – it is a story about us, and the Pangean Paradise. For we are a people of peace. The citizens of the disunified Inferno would have been jealous at our widespread, global, organized machine of perfect utility. Pleasure is for nearly every human on Paradiso all that is known; there are no smiles tinted by sadness. Except for those proud few, who bear the sadness which comes with the joy of sacrifice.

Ah, you hoped that I would pass over in silence the secret to Paradiso’s success. I knew you knew what it was. But you almost forget it, absorbed as you are in your delights. This is understandable, and it couldn’t be helped anyway. But I will remind you.

At birth, I was assigned the task of Deliverer. There is a class on Paradiso known as the Champions. The highest of Champions, most honored, are the Heroes. They are the heartbeat, the source, of Pangea’s culture machine. Then there are the Attendants. Finally, there is my class. The Deliverers, we live between. We see and live in two worlds. We see the peace of Paradiso, and we see the small microcosm, the world entirely created by Pangea: Purgatorio. That is the realm of the Heroes.

I will familiarize you again with what merely slipped from your mind, occupied as it is with the meaningful demands of your business. As the Deliverer, I watch every child born into my assigned district. I mark them silently, and according to the criteria, carefully discern who are to be Heroes. I write this down in my personal files, and meet the parents clandestinely. I inform them, and console them with an understanding of the high honor Pangea proscribes.

At the proper age, I take the child from their parents. The Her is taken at its first lie. Usually in Paradiso this is not until very old, for humans are raised to strict codes of behavior. But Heroes are different. Lying is in their genes.

I remember my first Hero. Her lie was reported on a cool Monday morning—not too cool, for weather is carefully supervised—and I arrived to apprehend her at seven thirty a.m. Her lie was that she enjoyed waking early. Her personal diary, recorded orally, testified that early mornings made her unhappy. I took her from her parents at eight fifteen a.m. She was three and a half years old.

I took her to the Attendants. She held her storybook close, scared but brave. Her parents had told her they were proud of her. Their ashen faces told her that they were scared. I felt proud for her fortitude. I know why she is a Hero.

For six months she was prepared in Purgatorio. I am not an Attendant, so I had nothing more to do with her. Pangean code suggests Deliverers watch little or nothing of the process after one or two viewings, although the code is not enforced. After that first time, I seldom ever watched.

The child is put on a healthy but strict diet and put through extensive exercise during those six months. Heroes are expected to be in excellent physical condition. She was no different. At the end of the sixth month she was taken from the outer hall of the Purgatorio, to where the final steps are taken inside.

The child is stripped of outer garments, though left with decency and dignity. All hair is removed, down to each eyelash. Then a careful process removes the thinnest layer of skin across the body. This heightens the sensitivity. The instruments are brought out, and the attendant sets to work. The child is given something to bite on.

Usually the damage to the internal organs and the shock of pain kills the Hero within an hour. The process is necessary. It is the only way to generate enough innocent pain. The sciencists tap into the karma program, and for many years enough pain is generated, and enough energy, to produce relief across Pangea. Paradiso is a land of utter pleasure, thanks to the efforts of our noble Heroes. The machine runs on blood, but thankfully just a little is enough, every once in a while.

You seem upset. The emotion in your eyes seems defensive, as if you wish to remind me of all the lives this makes better. You want to point out that this process causes planet-wide healing. You want to ask, isn’t it reasonable to make the entire world better by means of this occasional, routine sacrifice?

Good, that reaction is as expected. You will make an excellent Attendant, just as the culture machine predicted.

The Bells are Ringing: Available On Amazon

The first part of The Saturn Files, “The Bells are Ringing,” is now available as an ebook through Amazon. The story is the last confession of Gerald Portinari, a public relations officer for the Department of Interstellar Research and Development (the unfortunately acronymed DIRT), who sets out to gather information about mining operations on Saturn’s moons. Jerry finds that he might have more than he bargained for by undertaking the expedition when he catches wind that the space station on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, might be haunted, and learns that Freebooters, a criminal syndicate of space pirates, are sometimes a threat even this far out. All of this has been in the news before, but his journal entry reveals memories that suggest Saturn’s profound secret.

A preview is available on Amazon’s site:

If you get a copy and enjoy the story, I would appreciate your honest review!

“The Bells are Ringing” appeared originally in Of Gods and Globes in 2018. The sequel to “The Bells are Ringing,” called “Overcoming the Earth,” will publish in Of Gods and Globes 2 in the Spring of 2020. A prequel to “Bells” and a novella following “Overcoming the Earth” are also under way, so if you like the story there will be more to come in this sci-fi/fantasy world!

A Meditation on Our Communion with the Angels

September 29th is the Feast Day of St. Michael and All Angels.

Angels are mentioned throughout the Old and New Testament, often as hosts or unnamed representatives of the Lord. The Greek word angelos means messenger, and this is the role we see given to Gabriel, who foretells the birth of Christ (Luke 1:26-38) and John the Baptist (Luke 1:5-25), and gives guidance to Daniel (Daniel 8:16). Angels are created beings, made before man, with incorporeal, spiritual bodies. Much of the angelic life is only hinted at in scripture, and although belief in them is required of the Christian, it is also wise not to place excessive emphasis on them in our thoughts, which may lead to superstition and idolatry. Their presence is a comfort and encouragement to us in our Christian walk: Psalm 91:11 tells us, “For he shall give his angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways,” and again we read in the epistle to the Hebrews, “Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation?” This role of protector is seen in the archangel Michael, who is not placed simply in the role of messenger, but as a warrior, who fights against a demon in order to help a messenger angel reach Daniel, and who leads the assault against the Dragon in the Book of Revelation. Angels, like saints, are servants of the Lord, and therefore it is fitting that in our liturgy, as we stand to profess that heaven and earth are full of God’s glory, we acknowledge that we worship our Creator in communion “with Angels and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven.”

Of course, we know of fallen angels, the demons, of whom Saint Peter says in his second epistle, “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell.” The leader of these is Satan the Devil, who appears three times in the Old Testament, once lying about God’s nature in the Book of Genesis, once accusing Job of being incapable of true love for God, and once accusing Joshua the high priest of being an unsuitable intercessor in the book of Zechariah. This provides a negative or distorted view of what angels do: They eternally testify to the glory of God, they witness to God’s love for us and assist in our service to Him in ways unseen, and they vindicate Christ as our High Priest and Redeemer.

Christ was tempted by Satan in the three ways he tempted man in the Old Testament: with food at the expense of true worship, with physical safety at the expense of an honest relationship with the Lord, and with worldly power at the expense of his rightful place as Son of God and Savior of Mankind. Satan thus not only tempted Christ with the full means he has to tempt man, but also demonstrated in his treatment of Christ his total fall from his angelic duties. So it is fitting that after our Lord’s trial, the angels came to minister to him.

Angels are fellow witnesses of Christ’s glory, secret helpers in our commitment to Christian service, and warriors who hold demonic forces at bay. Although they cannot provide the Redemption of Our Savior, Jesus Christ, they do provide sinless models of believers in the Lord: like Gabriel, we are to testify the divinity of Christ and announce that he did come into the world. But like Michael, whose feast day was this past week, we must remain steadfast and resilient in the face of adversity. With persecution of Christians on the rise in the world, we can take comfort in knowing that God equips us with the same power of the Holy Spirit that he used to create his righteous warrior and servant, Michael the Archangel.

The Collect for St Michael and All Angels

O EVERLASTING God, who hast ordained and constituted the services of Angels and men in a wonderful order; Mercifully grant that, as thy holy Angels always do thee service in heaven, so, by thy appointment, they may succour and defend us on earth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Comfort of Repentance: A Brief Introduction to the Life of Saint Cyprian

St. Cyprian’s Feast day is today, September 13th.

The year 250 AD was a dark moment for Christians living under the Emperor Decius. He declared that Christians must sacrifice to pagan gods, and demanded that they sign a statement affirming this worship, or face execution. Many Christians were killed, but many committed idolatry to ensure their own safety. When Saint Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, exhorted his Christian brethren to formally repent of this public sin, many refused, and thus Cyprian had to shepherd a flock both persecuted and heretical. Pastoral duties have not gotten easier since the time of Saint Cyprian, whether the challenge is simply getting Christians to come to air-conditioned worship in the relative safety of the western world, or the devastating persecution happening in the Middle East. Saint Cyprian is a reminder that the challenges we face now are the same ones the Church has always faced, and by the grace of God has always overcome.

Cyprian was well prepared for his duties as priest and bishop of Carthage. Before converting to Christianity, he was trained in law and oratory and taught rhetoric, and after his baptism at the age of 35 he immediately gave a significant portion of his wealth away. Until Saint Augustine and Saint Jerome, Cyprian was known as the most eloquent and practical of the church fathers, using his training in rhetoric and scripture to craft beautiful homilies and epistles targeted to address the real concerns of his flock.

Almost a decade after the persecution lead by Emperor Decius, Emperor Valerian led a new, even more bloodthirsty persecution, and Cyprian was ordered to cease leading worship and performing his priestly duties. He refused, and for his crimes of celebrating Holy Communion, worshiping with and ministering to his Christian brothers and sisters, he was executed. When the Roman official pronounced his death sentence, Saint Cyprian replied only, “Thanks be to God.”

Saint Cyprian reminds us of the urgent need to earnestly repent of our sins for our spiritual health, and of the mystical union of Christ’s church as the refuge where we seek God’s grace. I close with words that he wrote to his friend Donatus:

“When I was still lying in darkness and gloomy night, I used to regard it as extremely difficult and demanding to do what God’s mercy was suggesting to me… I myself was held in bonds by the innumerable errors of my previous life, from which I did not believe I could possibly be delivered….

“But after that, by the help of the water of new birth, the stain of my former life was washed away, and a light from above, serene and pure, was infused into my reconciled heart… a second birth restored me to a new man. Then, in a wondrous manner every doubt began to fade…. I clearly understood that what had first lived within me, enslaved by the vices of the flesh, was earthly and that what, instead, the Holy Spirit had wrought within me was divine and heavenly.”

The Collect for the Feast day of St. Cyprian

ALMIGHTY God, who didst give thy servant Cyprian boldness to confess the Name of our Saviour Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we likewise may ever be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for his sake; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Seeking in Faith: A Brief Introduction to Saint Augustine

Saint Augustine’s feast day is observed on August 28th in western Christianity. This brief introduction was read in part at St. Stephen’s Anglican Church on August 30th, as a reminder of the church father’s exemplary intellectual contributions to the literature of our faith. We share this synopsis with woeful recognition of the difficulty of summarizing the life and works of such an inspiring example of Christian intellectualism, but with the hope that it will encourage reading of some of Augustine’s key works.

Augustine converted to Christianity from Roman paganism (specifically Manicheanism), and was a bishop in North Africa. He founded a monastery and composed for it a monastic rule of life, and wrote about 93 books and 400 sermons. Augustine was a forefather of the medieval scholasticism that culminated in figures such as Thomas Aquinas and a profound influence on Protestant Reformers such as Martin Luther and John Calvin. He has therefore relevance to all Christian believers, and is an edifying figure for Anglicans in particular to study because of our “via media” perspective of the catholicity of the Christian faith. The widespread impact of Augustine on the Christian tradition in general, and upon Anglicanism in specific, can hardly be overstated. Among well-known Anglican writers who admired Augustine are C.S. Lewis, George Berkeley, T.S. Eliot, Dorothy Sayers, and William Wordsworth.

Throughout his life, Augustine rigorously dedicated his intellectual abilities to seek in Scripture, tradition, and reason the meaning of Christ’s Incarnation for human history. He once wrote, “We are presently seeking in faith what we shall then share joyfully in vision.” Concerning the first commandment to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind, Augustine sets a powerful example for the Christian life of the mind, but has much to edify the heart and soul as well.Four books from Augustine’s extensive writings can be especially fruitful for the modern Christian, each summarized briefly here.

First, Augustine’s intensely personal Confessions provides an amazing autobiographical look into the life of this church father. We are given a window into the heartfelt struggles Augustine experienced with sin, including stealing, adultery and fornication. All Christians can benefit from recognizing that one of the best known figures of our faith struggled as earnestly as we do, and can profit as well from the way Augustine shows his readers that reading and interpreting Scripture should become a part of each Christian’s biography. C.S. Lewis’s own autobiography, Surprised by Joy, is an example of the influence of the model for Christian testimony provided by this work.

The sequel to the Confessions is The City of God, a long book in which Augustine powerfully presents the uniqueness, rationality, and soundness of the Scriptural portrayal of God, as opposed to pagan ideas about Him. It also deals with topics such as the proper affiliation between a Christian church and secular state, the relationship between predestination and free will, and the perennial problem of why an all-powerful, all good, all-loving God allows evil, or, simply, why bad things happen to good people. Anglican apologetic writings, such as Berkeley’s Alciphron, or the Minute Philosopher and C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity, have been greatly influenced by this grand example of theological discourse.

Third, in On Christian Education Augustine discusses the importance of church tradition in arriving at reliable interpretation of Scripture and the rigorous programs of education necessary to become a teacher of God’s truth. Augustine’s faith that the final authority of the Bible is compatible with regard for the life of the mind, and the traditions of the Church Militant, provides an excellent resource for Anglicanism. Augustine’s discussion in the final section of this book, that eloquence should match the subject of discourse, can help Christians who value liturgical worship to understand and to articulate the value we see in the reverential language found, for example, in The Book of Common Prayer.

Finally, Augustine’s treatise “On the Trinity,” remains today one of the greatest explanations of the biblical revelation of the Triune God ever written. It has provided a model and touchstone for many expositions of the doctrine, including Dorothy Sayers’ essay, “Idea, Energy, Power,” in The Mind of the Maker.

Augustine’s restless seeking for God in Scripture, reason, and tradition, in worship, and in his life makes him an example for our own pursuit of God through the powers of the mind that the Lord gave to all of us. In prayer and in exhortation, Augustine wrote in The Confessions, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

By Anthony G. Cirilla, October 29th, 2015

Review: Ravenwood: A Morningstar Series Anthology

The Prodigal is crewed by bounty hunters, led by Talon McLeod, a gruff, Captain Malcom Reynolds meets JK Simmons figure, who are trying to bring in just enough bounty to keep their space faring vessel in the sky. Devon Chase, a trusted member of McLeod’s crew, convinces McLeod to consider Kale Ravenwood for a new crew member, but the head of the bounty hunters finds himself unsure as to whether hiring the man was a good idea when he can’t seem to stop himself from killing the bounty. In three short stories, A.C. Williams puts her full craft on display as a master of dialogic imagination by creating three distinct voices and perspectives on the enigma that is Kale Ravenwood.

This past Spring semester, I taught a course on the British novel, and I had my students read Bakhtin’s essay, The Discourse in the Novel. Bakhtin’s central thesis is that the value of the novel is its capacity to help readers develop our dialogic imagination: to become aware that the language we speak inhabits many different communities of language, that we have a family language, a friend language, an on the job language, a religious language, an at school language, etc etc, and the feeling that through all of this we speak only one language (English or whatever) is only grammatically true. The reality of the multiplicity of languages we inhabit runs much more deeply, and this manifests itself when we try to talk with our family about, for example, the value of our career choices. Language is shot through with values, assumptions, intuitions, and basic components of personality in ways that require us to have a dialogic imagination not only with others but with the many identities which we inhabit as well. As I tell my students, we are less like characters in novels and more like novels ourselves. That’s why great novels are challenging to read: so are we.

Bringing to life in deft prose the challenges of communication, Ravenwood: A Morningstar Series Anthology is a series of short stories which introduces characters in A.C. Williams’s series of novels, the Destiny Trilogy. I have not read the Destiny Trilogy yet, but after reading Ravenwood, I fully intend to do so now. Williams’s writing style puts on full display the power of well-crafted prose to bring to life the dialogic imagination of truly different characters. Ashes, Rise, and Burn each present a vision of Kale Ravenwood as well as the tenor of the Prodigal crew as a team. What’s impressive is that each story is delivered in an overall unified style, the hard-boiled, tough-as-nails mentality necessary to survive the bounty hunter life shared by all of the characters, and yet each narrator speaks with a voice authentic to his or her own identity. As Bakhtin believed narrative prose was best suited to do, the short stories in the anthology beautifully represent how complicated actual communication between people is when they think they are speaking the same language, but really aren’t.

With dialogue worthy of Joss Whedon himself, Ravenwood reads like a creative fusion of Cowboy Bebop and Firefly (and maybe a hint of Riddick via Kale Ravenwood), introducing a science fiction world of space travel and artificially produced atmospheres that is artfully rendered without the barest hint of info-dumping. The action is vividly portrayed and the characters are so compelling that you can easily miss how naturally Williams derives plot from personality rather than the other way around. The use of the present tense, a tactic used by other science fiction writers (including Terry Brooks in Street Freaks) contributes to the concentrated immediacy of the stories. Once you get through Ravenwood, you’ll want to get your hands on the Destiny trilogy immediately. That’s what I am doing!

Gems of Hope: Poems and Devotionals for those who have Suffered Personal Loss: A Review

Whatever one’s worldview, whether Christian or otherwise, the problem of evil is a reality every individual must face. Sometimes, Christians can be so eager to assure each other and themselves of their hope in Christ, that they forget to express the human sympathy for the grief of loss that Jesus himself showed when he wept before he rose Lazarus from the dead.

Gems of Hope: Poems and Devotionals for those who have Suffered Loss strikes a biblical balance in the comfort it offers for grieving Christians. Rather than ignoring or dismissing the suffering with easy platitudes, Gems of Hope acknowledges through Camarie’s personal story the tragedies which people face and the comfort which the Gospel yields in the midst of those tragedies.

The style of Gems of Hope is unique in a modern context: poetry on the left-hand page is accompanied by devotionals with Scripture verses on the right-hand page. This combination of two genres is mirrored as well in the larger plan of the anthology as a whole, with the first half offering general comfort for Christians regardless of their particular circumstances, and the second offering insight into the particular circumstances which led Camarie to seek comfort by writing poetry and devotionals in response to her heartbreaking trials.

The poems are elegant and vivid, reminiscent of the Psalms and the poetry of George Herbert and the imagination of John Bunyan. The prose of the devotionals is written in a straightforward and earnest manner, delivering their prayerful reflections in a fashion that remind me of Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest. Camarie’s vocabulary is rich and expressive in both genres, and share God’s eternal truths from Scripture with a fresh and sincere faith.

The combination of prose and poetry in a single text is, although perhaps unusual to us now, a common ancient genre called the prosimetrum, and in fact one we see in Scripture. The Bible as a whole is prosimetric, mirroring the commands of God in prose with the corresponding beauty to which those commands point: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” in the Ten Commandments is mirrored by “This is the day which the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it” in Psalm 118. But many books of the Bible have a prosimetric style: First Samuel has the Song of Hannah in chapter 2, Deuteronomy has the Song of Moses in chapter 32, and the Book of Hebrews is periodically prosimetric in its reference to the Psalms. Camarie’s Gems of Hope brings this Scriptural pattern to life in her own writing. For example, Camarie’s poem “Your Light” reads, “Lord, fill my pathway with your light; Make it to shine unto the perfect day. Until Your Victory ends the fight, Illumine every step with a guiding ray.” She admits in the corresponding devotional, based on 1 John 1:5, Psalm 89:15 and Proverbs 4:18, that “we cannot make sense of our circumstances and may feel skeptical about what God might be doing in our lives because we are relying on our own vision,” but if we know “that God is light and has called us to walk in His Light,” we can find peace which passes understanding.

Through prayer and poetry, Camarie has let her gifts be used by God to turn her wounds into scars, as she contemplates in her poem “Every Scar.” She closes the accompanying devotional with the profound thought that when “we see our scars in light of God’s purpose, we can embrace those scars rather than resent them.” If you are hoping to turn your wounds into scars and your scars into a reminder that God is, as Camarie puts it in her poem, “the Lord of your past,” whatever you are going through, I hope you will get a copy of Gems of Hope and take comfort in her words.

I should note, by the way, that I had no idea that Camarie would be my wife when I met her as Camarie Colbert in 2017 and read her book which she gave to me on our second date. It seemed like a very strange coincidence that I, a Boethius scholar who studied Boethius’s influence through his book called The Consolation of Philosophy (a devotional narrative interspersed with poetry) on the prosimetric tradition of consolatory Christian writing, would meet a Christian who had written a prosimetric consolation in the form of poetry and devotions. Camarie wrote a poem in this collection entitled “I see it now,” in her words, “to express my joy in being able to recognize some of God’s providential workings that I was unable to see beforehand.” No kidding.

If you’re interested, you can get a copy off of Amazon or the Barnes and Noble website below: