Catholic Encyclopedia
Church Fathers
Classics Library
Church Documents
Prayer Requests
Ray of Hope
Social Doctrine

The Theological Tractates And The Consolation of Philosophy

THOUGH she had ended her verse, yet the sweetness of it made me remain astonished, attentive, and desirous to hear her longer. Wherefore, after a while, I said: “O most effectual refreshment of wearied minds, how have I been comforted with thy weighty sentences and pleasing music! Insomuch that I begin to think myself not unable to encounter the assaults of Fortune. Wherefore, I am not now afraid, but rather earnestly desire to know those remedies, which before thou toldest me were too sharp.” To which she answered: “I perceived as much as thou sayest, when I saw thee hearken to my speeches with so great silence and attention, and I expected this disposition of thy mind, or rather more truly caused it myself. For the remedies which remain are of that sort that they are bitter to the taste, but being inwardly received wax sweet. And whereas thou sayest that thou art desirous to hear; how much would this desire increase if thou knewest whither we go about to bring thee!” “Whither?” quoth I. “To true felicity,” quoth she, “which thy mind also dreameth of, but thy sight is so dimmed with phantasies that thou canst not behold it as it is.” Then I beseeched her to explicate without delay wherein true happiness consisteth. To which she answered: “I will willingly do so for thy sake, but first I will endeavour to declare in words and to give shape to that which is better known unto thee, that, having thoroughly understood it, by reflecting of the contrary thou mayest discover the type of perfect blessedness.

He that a fruitful field will sow,

Doth first the ground from bushes free,

All fern and briars likewise mow,

That he his harvest great may see.

Honey seems sweeter to our taste,

If cloyed with noisome food it be.

Stars clearer shine when Notus’ blast

Hath ceased the rainy storms to breed.

When Lucifer hath night defaced,

The day’s bright horses then succeed.

So thou, whom seeming goods do feed,

First shake off yokes which so thee press

That Truth may then thy mind possess.”

Then, for a while looking steadfastly upon the ground, and, as it were, retiring herself to the most secret seat of her soul, she began in this manner: “All men’s thoughts, which are turmoiled with manifold cares, take indeed divers courses, but yet endeavour to attain the same end of happiness, which is that good which, being once obtained, nothing can be further desired. Which is the chiefest of all goods, and containeth in itself whatsoever is good, and if it wanted anything it could not be the chiefest, because there would something remain besides it which might be wished for. Wherefore, it is manifest that blessedness is an estate replenished with all that is good. This, as we said, all men endeavour to obtain by divers ways. For there is naturally ingrafted in men’s minds an earnest desire of that which is truly good; but deceitful error withdraweth it to that which falsely seemeth such. So that some, esteeming it their greatest good to want nothing, labour by all means to abound with riches; others, deeming that to be good which is most deserving of honour, hunt after preferments, to be respected by their fellow-citizens. Others think it the greatest felicity to have great power and authority, and these will either reign themselves or at least procure to be great with princes. But they who think fame better than all these, make all speed possible to spread their names far and near, by achieving some worthy enterprise either in war or peace. Many measure good by joy and mirth, and their chiefest care is how they may abound with pleasure. Some interchange the ends and means of these things one with the other, wanting now riches for the sake of power and pleasure, now power for the sake of wealth and fame. At these and such other do men’s actions and desires aim, as nobility and popularity, which make men esteemed; wife and children, which bring pleasure and delight. But friendship, that most sacred thing, is rather to be attributed to virtue than to fortune. Other things for the most part are desired either for power or pleasure. And it is an easy matter to reduce all corporal goods to the former heads. For strength and greatness give ability; beauty and swiftness, fame; and health yieldeth pleasure. By all which we manifestly seek for nothing else but happiness. For that which every man seeketh most after, is by him esteemed his greatest good. Which is all one with happiness. Wherefore he esteemeth that estate happy which he preferreth before all other.

And thus thou hast in a manner seen the form of human felicity—riches, honour, power, glory, pleasure. Which Epicurus only considering, consequently took pleasure for his chiefest good, because all the rest seemed to delight the mind. But I return to the careful thoughts of men, whose minds, though obscured, yet seek after the greatest good, but like a drunken man know not the way home. For seem they to err who endeavour to want nothing? But nothing can cause happiness so much as the plentiful possession of all that is good, needing the help of none, but is sufficient of itself. Or do they err who take that which is best to be likewise most worthy of respect? No. For it is no vile or contemptible thing which almost all men labour to obtain. Or is not power to be esteemed good? Why, then, is that to be accounted feeble and of no force, which manifestly surpasses all other things? Or is fame to be contemned? But it cannot be ignored that the most excellent is also most famous. For to what purpose should I say that happiness is not sad or melancholy, or subject to grief and trouble, when even in smallest matters we desire that which we delight to have and enjoy? And these be the things which men desire to obtain, and to this end procure riches, dignities, kingdoms, glory, and pleasures, because by them they think to have sufficiency, respect, power, fame, delight, and joy. Wherefore, that is good which men seek after by divers desires, in which the force of nature is easily descried, since though there be many and different opinions, yet they agree in choosing for their end that which is good

How the first reins of all things guided are

By powerful Nature as the chiefest cause,

And how she keeps, with a foreseeing care,

The spacious world in order by her laws,

And to sure knots which nothing can untie,

By her strong hand all earthly motions draws—

To show all this we purpose now to try

Our pliant string, our musick’s thrilling sound.

Although the Libyan lions often lie

Gentle and tame in splendid fetters bound,

And fearing their incensed master’s wrath,

With patient looks endure each blow and wound,

Yet if their jaws they once in blood do bathe,

They, gaining courage, with fierce noise awake

The force which Nature in them seated hath,

And from their necks the broken chains do shake;

Then he that tamed them first doth feel their rage,

And torn in pieces doth their fury slake.

The bird shut up in an unpleasing cage,

Which on the lofty trees did lately sing,

Though men, her want of freedom to assuage,

Should unto her with careful labour bring

The sweetest meats which they can best devise,

Yet when within her prison fluttering

The pleasing shadows of the groves she spies,

Her hated food she scatters with her feet,

In yearning spirit to the woods she flies,

The woods’ delights do tune her accents sweet.

When some strong hand doth tender plant constrain

With his debased top the ground to meet,

If it let go, the crooked twig again

Up toward Heaven itself it straight doth raise.

Phoebus doth fall into the western main,

Yet doth he back return by secret ways,

And to the earth doth guide his chariot’s race.

Each thing a certain course and laws obeys,

Striving to turn back to his proper place;

Nor any settled order can be found,

But that which doth within itself embrace

The births and ends of all things in a round.

You also, O earthly creatures, though slightly and as it were in a dream acknowledge your beginning, and though not perspicuously yet in some sort behold that true end of happiness, so that the intention of nature leadeth you to the true good, and manifold error withdraweth you from it. For consider whether those things, by which men think to obtain happiness, can bring them to their desired end. For if either money, or honour, or any of the rest be of that quality that they want nothing which is good, we will also confess that they are able to make men happy. But if they neither be able to perform that they promise, and want many things which are good; are they not manifestly discovered to have a false appearance of happiness? First then, I ask thee thyself, who not long since didst abound with wealth; in that plenty of riches, was thy mind never troubled with any injuries?” “I cannot remember,” quoth I, “that ever my mind was so free from trouble but that something or other still vexed me.” “Was it not because thou either wantedst something which thou wouldst have had, or else hadst something which thou wouldst have wanted?” “It is true,” quoth I. “Then thou desiredst the presence of that, and the absence of this?” “I confess I did,” quoth I. “And doth not a man want that,” quoth she, “which he desireth?” “He doth,” quoth I. “But he that wanteth anything is not altogether sufficient of himself?” “He is not,” quoth I. “So that thou feltest this insufficiency, even the height of thy wealth?” “Why not?” quoth I. “Then riches cannot make a man wanting nothing nor sufficient of himself, and this was that they seemed to promise. But this is most of all to be considered, that money hath nothing of itself which can keep it from being taken from them which possess it, against their will.” “I grant it,” quoth I. “Why shouldst thou not grant it, since that every day those which are more potent take it from others perforce? For from whence proceed so many complaints in law, but that money gotten either by violence or deceit is sought to be recovered by that means?” “It is so indeed,” quoth I. “So that every man needeth some other help to defend his money?” “Who denies that?” quoth I. “But he should not need that help, unless he had money which he might lose?” “There is no doubt of that,” quoth I. “Now then the matter is fallen out quite contrary; for riches, which are thought to suffice of themselves, rather make men stand in need of other helps. And after what manner do riches expel penury? For are not rich men hungry? Are they not thirsty? Or doth much money make the owners senseless of cold in winter? But thou wilt say, wealthy men have wherewithal to satisfy their hunger, slake their thirst, and defend themselves from cold. But in this sort, though want may be somewhat relieved by wealth, yet it cannot altogether be taken away. For if ever gaping and craving it be satiated by riches, there must needs always remain something to be satiated. I omit, that to nature very little, to covetousness nothing is sufficient. Wherefore it riches can neither remove wants, and cause some themselves, why imagine you that they can cause sufficiency?

Although the rich man from his mines of gold

Dig treasure which his mind can never fill,

And lofty neck with precious pearls enfold,

And his fat fields with many oxen till,

Yet biting cares will never leave his head,

Nor will his wealth attend him being dead.

But dignities make him honourable and reverend on whom they light. Have offices that force to plant virtues and expel vices in the minds of those who have them? But they are not wont to banish, but rather to make wickedness splendid. So that we many times complain because most wicked men obtain them. Whereupon Catullus called Nonius a scab or impostume though he sat in his chair of estate. Seest thou what great ignominy dignities heap upon evil men? For their unworthiness would less appear if they were never advanced to any honours. Could so many dangers ever make thee think to bear office with Decoratus, having discovered him to be a very varlet and spy? For we cannot for their honours account them worthy of respect whom we judge unworthy of the honours themselves. But if thou seest any man endued with wisdom, canst thou esteem him unworthy of that respect or wisdom which he hath? No, truly. For virtue hath a proper dignity of her own, which she presently endueth her possessors withal. Which since popular preferments cannot do, it is manifest that they have not the beauty which is proper to true dignity.

In which we are farther to consider that, if to be contemned of many make men abject, dignities make the wicked to be despised the more by laying them open to the view of the world. But the dignities go not scot-free, for wicked men do as much for them, defiling them with their own infection. And that thou mayst plainly see that true respect cannot be gotten by these painted dignities, let one that hath been often Consul go among barbarous nations; will that honour make those barbarous people respect him? And yet, if this were natural to dignities, they would never forsake their function in any nation whatsoever; as fire, wheresoever it be, always remaineth hot. But because not their own nature, but the deceitful opinion of men attributeth that to them, they forthwith come to nothing, being brought to them who esteem them not to be dignities.

And this for foreign nations. But do they always last among them where they had their beginning? The Praetorship, a great dignity in time past, is now an idle name, and an heavy burden of the Senate’s fortune. If heretofore one had care of the people’s provision, he was accounted a great man; now what is more abject than that office? For as we said before, that which hath no proper dignity belonging unto it sometime receiveth and sometime loseth his value at the users’ discretion. Wherefore if dignities cannot make us respected, if they be easily defiled with the infection of the wicked, if their worth decays by change of times, if diversities of nations make them contemptible, what beauty have they in themselves, or can they afford to others, worth the desiring?

Though fierce arid lustful Nero did adorn

Himself with purple robes, which pearls did grace,

He did but gain a general hate and scorn.

Yet wickedly he officers most base

Over the reverend Senators did place.

Who would esteem of fading honours then

Which may be given thus by the wickedest men?

But can kingdoms and the familiarity of kings make a man mighty? Why not, when their felicity lasteth always? But both former and present times are full of examples that many kings have changed their happiness with misery. O excellent power, which is not sufficient to uphold itself! And if this strength of kingdoms be the author of blessedness, doth it not diminish happiness and bring misery, when it is in any way defective? But though some empires extend themselves far, there will still remain many nations out of their dominions. Now, where the power endeth which maketh them happy, there entereth the contrary which maketh them miserable, so that all kings must needs have less happiness than misery. That Tyrant, knowing by experience the dangers of his estate, signified the fears incident to a kingdom, by the hanging of a drawn sword over a man’s head. What power is this, then, which cannot expel nor avoid biting cares and pricking fears? They would willingly have lived securely, but could not, and yet they brag of their power. Thinkest thou him mighty whom thou seest desire that which he cannot do? Thinkest thou him mighty who dareth not go without his guard; who feareth others more than they fear him; who cannot seem mighty, except his servants please? For what should I speak of kings’ followers, since I show that kingdoms themselves are so full of weakness? Whom the power of kings often standing, but many times falling, doth overthrow. Nero compelled Seneca, his familiar friend and master, to make choice of his own death. Antoninus called Papinianus, who had been long a gallant courtier, to be cut in pieces with his soldiers’ swords. Yet they would both have renounced their power, yea Seneca endeavoured to deliver up his riches also to Nero, and to give himself to a contemplative life. But their very greatness drawing them to their destruction, neither of them could compass that which they desired. Wherefore what power is this that the possessors fear, which when thou wilt have, thou art not secure, and when thou wilt leave, thou canst not avoid? Are we the better for those friends which love us not for our virtue but for our prosperity? But whom prosperity maketh our friend, adversity will make our enemy. And what plague is able to hurt us more than a familiar enemy?

Who would be powerful, must

His own affections check,

Nor let foul reins of lust

Subdue his conquered neck.

For though the Indian land

Should tremble at thy beck,

And though thy dread command

Far Thule’s isle obey,

Unless thou canst withstand

And boldly drive away

Black care and wretched moan,

Thy might is small or none.

As for glory, how deceitful it is oftentimes, and dishonest! For which cause the tragical poet deservedly exclaimeth: “O glory, glory, thou hast raised to honour and dignity myriads of worthless mortals!” For many have often been much spoken of through the false opinions of the common people. Than which what can be imagined more vile? For those who are falsely commended must needs blush at their own praises. Which glory though it be gotten by deserts, yet what adds it to a wise man’s conscience who measureth his own good, not by popular rumours, but by his own certain knowledge? And if it seemeth a fair thing to have dilated our fame, consequently we must judge it a foul thing not to have it extended. But since, as I showed a little before, there must needs be many nations to which the fame of one man cannot arrive, it cometh to pass that he whom thou esteemeth glorious, in the greater part of the world seemeth to have no glory at all. And here now I think popular glory not worth the speaking of, which neither proceedeth from judgment, nor ever hath any firmness. Likewise, who seeth not what a vain and idle thing it is to be called noble? Which insofar as it concerneth fame, is not our own. For nobility seemeth to be a certain praise proceeding from our parents’ deserts. But if praising causeth fame, they must necessarily be famous who are praised. Wherefore the fame of others, if thou hast none of thine own, maketh not thee renowned. But if there be anything good in nobility, I judge it only to be this, that it imposeth a necessity upon those which are noble, not to suffer their nobility to degenerate from the virtue of their ancestors.

The general race of men from a like birth is born.

All things one Father have, Who doth them all adorn,

Who gave the sun his rays, and the pale moon her horn,

The lofty heaven for stars, low earth for mortals chose;

He souls fetched down from high in bodies did enclose;

And thus from noble seed all men did first compose.

Why brag you of your stock? Since none is counted base,

If you consider God the author of your race,

But he that with foul vice doth his own birth deface.

Now what should I speak of bodily pleasures, the desire of which is full of anxiety, and the enjoying of them breeds repentance? How many diseases, how intolerable griefs bring they forth in the bodies of their possessors, as it were the fruits of their own wickedness! I know not what sweetness their beginnings have, but whosoever will remember his lusts shall understand that the end of pleasure is sadness. Which if it be able to cause happiness, there is no reason why beasts should not be thought blessed, whose whole intention is bent to supply their corporal wants. That pleasure which proceedeth from wife and children should be most honest; but it was too naturally spoken, that some tormentor invented children, whose condition, whatsoever it be, how biting it is, I need not tell thee, who hast had experience heretofore, and art not now free from care. In which I approve the opinion of Euripides, who said that they which had no children are happy by being unfortunate.

All pleasure hath this property,

She woundeth those who have her most.

And, like unto the angry bee

Who hath her pleasant honey lost,

She flies away with nimble wing

And in our hearts doth leave her sting.

Wherefore there is no doubt but that these ways to happiness are only certain by-paths, which can never bring any man thither whither they promise to lead him. And with how great evils they are beset, I will briefly show. For what? Wilt thou endeavour to gather money? But thou shalt take it away from him who hath it. Wilt thou excel in dignities? Thou shalt crouch to the giver, and thou who desirest to surpass others in honour shalt become vile by thy baseness in begging. Wishest thou for power? Thou shalt be in danger of thy subjects’ treacheries. Seekest thou for glory? But, drawn into many dangers, thou shalt lose thy safety. Wilt thou live a voluptuous life? But who would not despise and neglect the service of so vile and frail a thing as his body? Now they who boast of the habilities of their body, upon how unsteadfast a possession do they ground themselves! For can you be bigger than elephants, or stronger than bulls? Or swifter than tigers? Look upon the space, firmness, and speedy motion of the heavens, and cease at length to have in admiration these base things. Which heavens are not more to be admired for these qualities than for the manner of their government. As for the glittering of beauty, how soon and swiftly doth it vanish away! As suddenly decaying and changing as the frail flowers in the spring. And if, as Aristotle saith, men had Lynceus’s eyes, that they could see through stone walls, would not they judge that body of Alcibiades, seeming outwardly most fair, to be most foul and ugly by discovering his entrails? Wherefore not thy nature but the weakness of the beholders’ eyes maketh thee seem fair. But esteem the goods of the body as much as you will, so that you acknowledge this, that whatsoever you admire may be dissolved with the burning of an ague of three days. Out of which we may briefly collect this sum; that these goods, which can neither perform that they promise, nor are perfect by having all that is good, do neither, as so many paths, lead men to happiness, nor make men happy of themselves.

Alas, how ignorance makes wretches stray

Out of the way!

You from green trees expect no golden mines

Nor pearls from vines,

Nor use you on mountains to lay your net

Fishes to get,

Nor, if the pleasant sport of hunting please,

Run you to seas.

Men will be skilful in the hidden caves

Of the ocean waves,

And in what coasts the orient pearls are bred,

Or purple red,

Also, what different sorts of fishes store

Each several shore.

But when they come their chiefest good to find,

Then are they blind,

And search for that under the earth, which lies

Above the skies.

How should I curse these fools? Let thirst them hold

Of fame and gold,

That, having got false goods with pain, they learn

True to discern.

“Let it suffice that we have hitherto discovered the form of false felicity, which if thou hast plainly seen, order now requireth that we show thee in what true happiness consisteth.” “I see,” quoth I, “that neither sufficiency by riches, nor power by kingdoms, nor respect by dignities, nor renown by glory, nor joy can be gotten by pleasures.” “Hast thou also understood the causes why it is so?” “Methink I have a little glimpse of them, but I had rather thou wouldst declare them more plainly.”

“The reason is manifest, for that which is simple and undivided of itself, is divided by men’s error, and is translated from true and perfect to false and unperfect. Thinkest thou that which needeth nothing, to stand in need of power?” “No,” quoth I. “Thou sayest well, for if any power in any respect be weak, in this it must necessarily stand in need of the help of others.” “It is true,” quoth I. “Wherefore sufficiency and power have one and the same nature.” “So it seemeth.” “Now thinkest thou, that which is of this sort ought to be despised, or rather that it is worthy to be respected above all other things?” “There can be no doubt of this,” quoth I. “Let us add respect then to sufficiency and power, so that we judge these three to be one.” “We must add it if we confess the truth.”

“What now,” quoth she, “thinkest thou this to be obscure and base, or rather most excellent and famous? Consider whether that which thou hast granted to want nothing, to be most potent, and most worthy of honour, may seem to want fame, which it cannot yield itself, and for that cause be in some respect more abject.” “I must needs confess,” quoth I, “that, being what it is, this is also most famous.” “Consequently then we must acknowledge that fame differeth nothing from the former three.” “We must so,” quoth I. “Wherefore that which wanteth nothing, which can perform all things by its own power, which is famous and respected, is it not manifest that it is also most pleasant?” To which I answered: “How such a man should fall into any grief, I can by no means imagine. Wherefore if that which we have said hitherto be true, we must needs confess that he is most joyful and content.” “And by the same reason it followeth that sufficiency, power, fame, respect, pleasure have indeed divers names, but differ not in substance.” “It followeth indeed,” quoth I. “This then, which is one and simple by nature, man’s wickedness divideth, and while he endeavoureth to obtain part of that which hath no parts, he neither getteth a part, which is none, nor the whole, which he seeketh not after.” “How is this?” quoth I. “He who seeketh after riches,” quoth she, “to avoid want, taketh no thought for power, he had rather be base and obscure, he depriveth himself even of many natural pleasures that he may not lose the money which he hath gotten. But by this means he attaineth not to sufficiency, whom power forsaketh, whom trouble molesteth, whom baseness maketh abject, whom obscurity overwhelmeth. Again, he that only desireth power, consumeth wealth, despiseth pleasures, and setteth light by honour or glory, which is not potent. But thou seest how many things are wanting to this man also. For sometimes he wanteth necessaries, and is perplexed with anxieties, and being not able to rid himself, ceaseth to be powerful, which was the only thing he aimed at. The like discourse may be made of honours, glory, pleasures. For since every one of these things is the same with the rest, whosoever seeketh for any of them without the rest obtaineth not that which he desireth.” “What then?” quoth I. “If one should desire to have them all together, he should wish for the sum of happiness, but shall he find it in these things which we have showed cannot perform what they promise?” “No,” quoth I. “Wherefore we must by no means seek for happiness in these things which are thought to afford the several portions of that which is to be desired.” “I confess it,” quoth I, “and nothing can be more true than this.” “Now then,” quoth she, “thou hast both the form and causes of false felicity; cast but the eyes of thy mind on the contrary, and thou shalt presently espy true happiness, which we promised to show thee.” “This,” quoth I, “is evident, even to him that is blind, and thou showedst it a little before, while thou endeavouredst to lay open the causes of the false. For, if I be not deceived, that is true and perfect happiness which maketh a man sufficient, potent, respected, famous, joyful. And that thou mayest know that I understood thee aright, that which can truly perform any one of these because they are all one, I acknowledge to be full and perfect happiness.” “O my scholar, I think thee happy by having this opinion, if thou addest this also.” “What?” quoth I. “Dost thou imagine that there is any mortal or frail thing which can cause this happy estate?” “I do not,” quoth I, “and that hath been so proved by thee, that more cannot be desired.” “Wherefore these things seem to afford men the images of the true good, or certain unperfect goods, but they cannot give them the true and perfect good itself.” “I am of the same mind,” quoth I. “Now then, since thou knowest wherein true happiness consisteth, and what have only a false show of it, it remaineth that thou shouldst learn where thou mayest seek for this which is true.” “This is that,” quoth I, “which I have long earnestly expected.” “But since, as Plato teacheth (in Timaeus), we must implore God’s assistance even in our least affairs, what, thinkest thou, must we do now, that we may deserve to find the seat of that sovereign good?” “We must,” quoth I, “invocate the Father of all things, without whose remembrance no beginning hath a good foundation.” “Thou sayest rightly,” quoth she, and withal sung in this sort.

“O Thou, that dost the world in lasting order guide,

Father of heaven and earth, Who makest time swiftly slide,

And, standing still Thyself, yet fram’st all moving laws,

Who to Thy work wert moved by no external cause:

But by a sweet desire, where envy hath no place,

Thy goodness moving Thee to give each thing his grace,

Thou dost all creatures’ forms from highest patterns take,

From Thy fair mind the world fair like Thyself doth make.

Thus Thou perfect the whole perfect each part dost frame.

Thou temp’rest elements, making cold mixed with flame.

And dry things join with moist, lest fire away should fly,

Or earth, opprest with weight, buried too low should lie.

Thou in consenting parts fitly disposed hast

Th’ all-moving soul in midst of threefold nature placed,

Which, cut in several parts that run a different race,

Into itself returns, and circling doth embrace

The highest mind, and heaven with like proportion drives.

Thou with like cause dost make the souls and lesser lives,

Fix them in chariots swift, and widely scatterest

O’er heaven and earth; then at Thy fatherly behest

They stream, like fire returning, back to Thee, their God.

Dear Father, let my mind Thy hallowed seat ascend,

Let me behold the spring of grace and find Thy light,

That I on Thee may fix my soul’s well clearéd sight.

Cast off the earthly weight wherewith I am opprest,

Shine as Thou art most bright, Thou only calm and rest

To pious men whose end is to behold Thy ray,

Who their beginning art, their guide, their bound, and way.

Wherefore since thou hast seen what is the form of perfect and imperfect good, now I think we must show in what this perfection of happiness is placed. And inquire first whether there can be any such good extant in the world, as thou hast defined; lest, contrary to truth, we be deceived with an empty show of thought. But it cannot be denied that there is some such thing extant which is as it were the fountain of all goodness. For all that is said to be imperfect is so termed for the want it hath of perfection. Whence it followeth that if in any kind we find something imperfect, there must needs be something perfect also in the same kind. For if we take away perfection we cannot so much as devise how there should be any imperfection. For the nature of things began not from that which is defective and not complete, but, proceeding from entire and absolute, falleth into that which is extreme and enfeebled. But if, as we showed before, there be a certain imperfect felicity of frail goods, it cannot be doubted but that there is some solid and perfect happiness also.” “Thou hast,” quoth I, “concluded most firmly and most truly.” “Now where this good dwelleth,” quoth she, “consider this. The common conceit of men’s minds proveth that God the Prince of all things is good. For, since nothing can be imagined better than God, who doubteth but that is good than which is nothing better?, And reason doth in such sort demonstrate God to be good that it convinceth Him to be perfectly good. For unless He were so, He could not be the chief of all things. For there would be something better than He, having perfect goodness, which could seem to be of greater antiquity and eminence than He. For it is already manifest that perfect things were before the imperfect. Wherefore, lest our reasoning should have no end, we must confess that the Sovereign God is most full of sovereign and perfect goodness. But we have concluded that perfect goodness is true happiness, wherefore true blessedness must necessarily be placed in the most high God.” “I agree,” quoth I, “neither can this be any way contradicted.” “But I pray thee,” quoth she, “see how boldly and inviolably thou approvest that which we said, that the Sovereign God is most full of sovereign goodness.” “How?” quoth I. “That thou presumest not that this Father of all things hath either received from others that sovereign good with which He is said to be replenished, or hath it naturally in such sort that thou shouldst think that the substance of the blessedness which is had, and of God who hath it, were diverse. For if thou thinkest that He had it from others, thou mayest also infer that he who gave it was better than the receiver. But we most worthily confess that He is the most excellent of all things. And if He hath it by nature, but as a diverse thing, since we speak of God the Prince of all things, let him that can, invent who united these diverse things. Finally, that which is different from anything, is not that from which it is understood to differ. Wherefore that which is naturally different from the sovereign good, is not the sovereign good itself. Which it were impious to think of God, than whom, we know certainly, nothing is better. For doubtless the nature of nothing can be better than the beginning of it. Wherefore I may most truly conclude that which is the beginning of all things to be also in His own substance the chiefest good.” “Most rightly,” quoth I. “But it is granted that the chiefest good is blessedness?” “It is,” quoth I. “Wherefore,” quoth she, “we must needs confess that blessedness itself is God.” “I can neither contradict,” quoth I, “thy former propositions, and I see this illation followeth from them.”

“Consider,” saith she, “if the same be not more firmly proved hence, because there cannot be two chief goods, the one different from the other. For it is manifest that of those goods which differ, the one is not the other, wherefore neither of them can be perfect, wanting the other. But manifestly that which is not perfect, is not the chiefest, wherefore the chief goods cannot be diverse. Now we have proved that both blessedness and God are the chiefest good, wherefore that must needs be the highest blessedness which is the highest divinity.” “There can be nothing,” quoth I, “concluded more truly than this, nor more firmly in arguing, nor more worthy God himself.” “Upon this then,” quoth she, “as the geometricians are wont, out of their propositions which they have demonstrated, to infer something which they call porismata (deductions) so will I give thee as it were a corollarium. For since that men are made blessed by the obtaining of blessedness, and blessedness is nothing else but divinity, it is manifest that men are made blessed by the obtaining of divinity. And as men are made just by the obtaining of justice, and wise by the obtaining of wisdom, so they who obtain divinity must needs in like manner become gods. Wherefore everyone that is blessed is a god, but by nature there is only one God; but there may be many by participation.” “This is,” quoth I, “an excellent and precious porisma or corollarium.” “But there is nothing more excellent than that which reason persuadeth us to add.” “What?” quoth I.

“Since,” quoth she, “blessedness seemeth to contain many things, whether do they all concur as divers parts to the composition of one entire body of blessedness, or doth some one of them form the substance of blessedness to which the rest are to be referred?” “I desire,” quoth I, “that thou wouldst declare this point, by the enumeration of the particulars.” “Do we not think,” quoth she, “that blessedness is good?” “Yea, the chiefest good,” quoth I. “Thou mayest,” quoth she, “add this to them all. For blessedness is accounted the chiefest sufficiency, the chiefest power, respect, fame, and pleasure. What then? Are all these—sufficiency, power, and the rest—the good, in the sense that they are members of it, or rather are they referred to good as to the head?” “I understand,” quoth I, “what thou proposest, but I desire to hear what thou concludest.” “This is the decision of this matter. If all these were members of blessedness, they should differ one from another. For this is the nature of parts, that being divers they compose one body. But we have proved that all these are one and the same thing. Wherefore they are no members, otherwise blessedness should be compacted of one member, which cannot be.” “There is no doubt of this,” quoth I, “but I expect that which is behind.” “It is manifest that the rest are to be referred to goodness; for sufficiency is desired, because it is esteemed good, and likewise power, because that likewise is thought to be good. And we may conjecture the same of respect, fame, and pleasure. Wherefore goodness is the sum and cause of all that is desired. For that which is neither good indeed, nor beareth any show of goodness, can by no means be sought after. And contrariwise those things which are not good of their own nature, yet, if they seem such, are desired as if they were truly good. So that the sum, origin, and cause of all that is sought after is rightly thought to be goodness. And that on account of which a thing is sought, seemeth to be the chief object of desire. As if one would ride for his health, he doth not so much desire the motion of riding, as the effect of health. Wherefore, since all things are desired in respect of goodness, they are not so much wished for as goodness itself. But we granted that to be blessedness for which other things are desired, wherefore in like manner only blessedness is sought after; by which it plainly appeareth, that goodness and blessedness have one and the self-same substance.” “I see not how any man can dissent.” “But we have showed that God and true blessedness are one and the self-same thing.” “It is so,” quoth I. “We may then securely conclude that the substance of God consisteth in nothing else but in goodness.

Come hither, all you that ace bound,

Whose base and earthly minds are drowned

By lust which doth them tie in cruel chains:

Here is a seat for men opprest,

Here is a pert of pleasant rest;

Here may a wretch have refuge from his pains.

No gold, which Tagus’ sands bestow,

Nor which on Hermus’ banks doth flow,

Nor precious stones which scorched Indians get,

Can clear the sharpness of the mind,

But rather make it far more blind,

And in the farther depth of darkness set.

For this that sets our souls on work

Buried in caves of earth doth lurk.

But heaven is guided by another light,

Which causeth us to shun the dark,

And who this light doth truly mark,

Must needs deny that Phoebus’ beams are bright.”

“I consent,” quoth I, “for all is grounded upon most firm reasons.” “But what account wilt thou make,” quoth she, “to know what goodness itself is?” “I will esteem it infinitely,” quoth I, “because by this means I shall come to know God also, who is nothing else but goodness.” “I will conclude this,” quoth she, “most certainly, if those things be not denied which I have already proved.” “They shall not,” quoth I. “Have we not proved,” quoth she, “that those things which are desired of many, are not true and perfect goods, because they differ one from another and, being separated, cannot cause complete and absolute goodness, which is only found when they are united as it were into one form and causality, that the same may be sufficiency, power, respect, fame, and pleasure? And except they be all one and the same thing, that they have nothing worth the desiring?” “It hath been proved,” quoth I, “neither can it be any way doubted of.” “Those things, then, which, when they differ, are not good and when they are one, become good, are they not made good by obtaining unity?” “So methink,” quoth I. “But dost thou grant that all that is good is good by partaking goodness?” “It is so.” “Thou must grant then likewise that unity and goodness are the same. For those things have the same substance, which naturally have not diverse effects.” “I cannot deny it,” quoth I. “Knowest thou then,” quoth she, “that everything that is doth so long remain and subsist as it is one, and perisheth and is dissolved so soon as it ceaseth to be one?” “How?” “As in living creatures,” quoth she, “so long as the body and soul remain united, the living creature remaineth. But when this unity is dissolved by their separation, it is manifest that it perisheth, and is no longer a living creature. The body also itself, so long as it remaineth in one form by the conjunction of the parts, appeareth the likeness of a man. But if the members of the body, being separated and sundered, have lost their unity, it is no longer the same. And in like manner it will be manifest to him that will descend to other particulars, that everything continueth so long as it is one, and perisheth when it loseth unity.” “Considering more particulars, I find it to be no otherwise.” “Is there anything,” quoth she, “that in the course of nature, leaving the desire of being, seeketh to come to destruction and corruption?” “If,” quoth I, “I consider living creatures which have any nature to will and nill, I find nothing that without extern compulsion forsake the intention to remain, and of their own accord hasten to destruction. For every living creature laboureth to preserve his health, and escheweth death and detriment. But what I should think of herbs, and trees, and of all things without life, I am altogether doubtful.”

“But there is no cause why thou shouldst doubt of this, if thou considerest first that herbs and trees grow in places agreeable to their nature, where, so much as their constitution permitteth, they cannot soon wither and perish. For some grow in fields, other upon hills, some in fenny, other in stony places, and the barren sands are fertile for some, which if thou wouldst transplant into other places they die. But nature giveth every one that which is fitting, and striveth to keep them from decaying so long as they can remain. What should I tell thee, if all of them, thrusting as it were their lips into the ground, draw nourishment by their roots, and convey substance and bark by the inward pith? What, that always the softest, as the pith, is placed within, and is covered without by the strength of the wood, and last of all the bark is exposed to the weather, as being best able to bear it off? And how great is the diligence of nature that all things may continue by the multiplication of seed; all which who knoweth not to be, as it were, certain engines, not only to remain for a time, but successively in a manner to endure for ever? Those things also which are thought to be without all life, doth not every one in like manner desire that which appertaineth to their own good? For why doth levity lift up flames, or heaviness weigh down the earth, but because these places and motions are convenient for them? And that which is agreeable to everything conserveth it, as that which is opposite causeth corruption. Likewise those things which are hard, as stones, stick most firmly to their parts, and make great resistance to any dissolution. And liquid things, as air and water, are indeed easily divided, but do easily also join again. And fire flieth all division. Neither do we now treat of the voluntary motions of the understanding soul, but only of natural operations. Of which sort is, to digest that which we have eaten, without thinking of it, to breathe in our sleep not thinking what we do. For even in living creatures the love of life proceedeth not from the will of the soul, but from the principles of nature. For the will many times embraceth death upon urgent occasions, which nature abhorreth; and contrariwise the act of generation, by which alone the continuance of mortal things is maintained, is sometimes bridled by the will, though nature doth always desire it. So true it is that this self-love proceedeth not from any voluntary motion, but from natural intention. For providence gave to her creatures this as the greatest cause of continuance, that they naturally desire to continue so long as they may, wherefore there is no cause why thou shouldst any way doubt that all things which are desire naturally stability of remaining, and eschew corruption.”

“I confess,” quoth I, “that I now see undoubtedly that which before seemed very doubtful.” “Now that,” quoth she, “which desireth to continue and remain seeketh to have unity. For if this be taken away, being itself cannot remain.” “It is true,” quoth I. “All things then,” quoth she, “desire unity.” I granted it to be so, “But we have showed that unity is the same as goodness.” “You have indeed.” “All things then desire goodness, which thou mayest define thus: Goodness is that which is desired of all things.” “There can be nothing imagined more true. For either all things have reference to no one principle and, being destitute as it were of one head, shall be in confusion without any ruler; or if there be anything to which all things hasten, that must be the chiefest of all goods.” “I rejoice greatly O scholar,” quoth she, “for thou hast fixed in thy mind the very mark of verity. But in this thou hast discovered that which a little before thou saidest thou wert ignorant of.” “What is that?” quoth I. “What the end of all things is,” quoth she. “For certainly it is that which is desired of all things, which since we have concluded to be goodness, we must also confess that goodness is the end of all things.

He that would seek the truth with thoughts profound

And would not stray in ways that are not right,

He to himself must turn his inward sight,

And guide his motions in a circled round,

Teaching his mind that ever she design

Herself in her own treasures to possess:

So that which late lay hidden in cloudiness

More bright and clear than Phoebus’ beams shall shine.

Flesh hath not quenchéd all the spirit’s light,

Though this oblivion’s lump holds her opprest.

Some seed of truth remaineth in our breast,

Which skilful learning eas’ly doth excite.

For being askt how can we answer true

Unless that grace within our hearts did dwell?

If Plato’s heavenly muse the truth us tell,

We learning things remember them anew.”

Then I said that I did very well like of Plato’s doctrine, for thou dost bring these things to my remembrance now the second time, first, because I lost their memory by the contagion of my body, and after when I was oppressed with the burden of grief. “If,” quoth she, “thou reflectest upon that which heretofore hath been granted, thou wilt not be far from remembering that which in the beginning thou confessedst thyself to be ignorant of.” “What?” quoth I. “By what government,” quoth she, “the world is ruled.” “I remember,” quoth I, “that I did confess my ignorance, but though I foresee what thou wilt say, yet I desire to hear it more plainly from thyself.” “Thou thoughtest a little before that it was not to be doubted that this world is governed by God.” “Neither do I think now,” quoth I, “neither will I ever think, that it is to be doubted of, and I will briefly explicate the reasons which move me to think so. This world could never have been compacted of so many divers and contrary parts, unless there were One that doth unite these so different things; and this disagreeing diversity of natures being united would separate and divide this concord, unless there were One that holdeth together that which He united. Neither would the course of nature continue so certain, nor would the different parts hold so well-ordered motions in due places, times, causality, spaces and qualities, unless there were One who, Himself remaining quiet, disposeth and ordereth this variety of motions. This, whatsoever it be, by which things created continue and are moved, I call God, a name which all men use.”

“Since,” quoth she, “thou art of this mind, I think with little labour thou mayest be capable of felicity, and return to thy country in safety. But let us consider what we proposed. Have we not placed sufficiency in happiness, and granted that God is blessedness itself?” “Yes truly.” “Wherefore,” quoth she, “He will need no outward helps to govern the world, otherwise, if He needed anything, He had not full sufficiency.” “That,” quoth I, “must necessarily be so.” “Wherefore He disposeth all things by Himself.” “No doubt He doth,” quoth I. “But it hath been proved that God is goodness itself.” “I remember it very well,” quoth I. “Then He disposeth all things by goodness: since He governeth all things by Himself, whom we have granted to be goodness. And this is as it were the helm and rudder by which the frame of the world is kept steadfast and uncorrupted.” “I most willingly agree,” quoth I, “and I foresaw a little before, though only with a slender guess, that thou wouldst conclude this.” “I believe thee,” quoth she, “for now I suppose thou lookest more watchfully about thee to discern the truth. But that which I shall say is no less manifest.” “What?” quoth I. “Since that God is deservedly thought to govern all things with the helm of goodness, and all these things likewise, as I have showed, hasten to goodness with their natural contention, can there be any doubt made but that they are governed willingly, and that they frame themselves of their own accord to their disposer’s beck, as agreeable and conformable to their ruler?” “It must needs be so,” quoth I, “neither would it seem an happy government, if it were an imposed yoke, not a desired health.” “There is nothing then which, following nature, endeavoureth to resist God.” “Nothing,” quoth I. “What if anything doth endeavour,” quoth she, “can anything prevail against Him, whom we have granted to be most powerful by reason of His blessedness?” “No doubt,” quoth I, “nothing could prevail.” “Wherefore there is nothing which either will or can resist this sovereign goodness.” “I think not,” quoth I. “It is then the sovereign goodness which governeth all things strongly, and disposeth them sweetly.” “How much,” quoth I, “doth not only the reason which thou allegest, but much more the very words which thou usest, delight me, that folly which so much vexed me may at length be ashamed of herself.”

“Thou hast heard in the poets’ fables,” quoth she, “how the giants provoked heaven, but this benign fortitude put them also down, as they deserved. But wilt thou have our arguments contend together? Perhaps by this clash there will fly out some beautiful spark of truth.” “As it pleaseth thee,” quoth I. “No man can doubt,” quoth she, “but that God is almighty.” “No man,” quoth I, “that is well in his wits.” “But,” quoth she, “there is nothing that He who is almighty cannot do.” “Nothing,” quoth I. “Can God do evil?” “No,” quoth I. “Wherefore,” quoth she, “evil is nothing, since He cannot do it who can do anything.” “Dost thou mock me,” quoth I, “making with thy reasons an inextricable labyrinth, because thou dost now go in where thou meanest to go out again, and after go out, where thou camest in, or dost thou frame a wonderful circle of the simplicity of God? For a little before taking thy beginning from blessedness, thou affirmedst that to be the chiefest good which thou saidst was placed in God, and likewise thou provedst, that God Himself is the chiefest good and full happiness, out of which thou madest me a present of that inference, that no man shall be happy unless he be also a God. Again thou toldest me that the form of goodness is the substance of God and of blessedness, and that unity is the same with goodness, because it is desired by the nature of all things; thou didst also dispute that God governeth the whole world with the helm of goodness, and that all things obey willingly, and that there is no nature of evil, and thou didst explicate all these things with no foreign or far-fetched proofs, but with those which were proper and drawn from inward principles, the one confirming the other.”

“We neither play nor mock,” quoth she, “and we have finished the greatest matter that can be by the assistance of God, whose aid we implored in the beginning. For such is the form of the Divine substance that it is neither divided into outward things, nor receiveth any such into itself, but as Parmenides saith of it:

In body like a sphere well-rounded on all sides,

it doth roll about the moving orb of things, while it keepeth itself unmovable. And if we have used no far-fetched reasons, but such as were placed within the compass of the matter we handled, thou hast no cause to marvel, since thou hast learned in Plato’s school that our speeches must be like and as it were akin to the things we speak of.

Happy is he that can behold

The well-spring whence all good doth rise,

Happy is he that can unfold

The bands with which the earth him ties.

The Thracian poet whose sweet song

Performed his wife’s sad obsequies,

And forced the woods to run along

When he his mournful tunes did play,

Whose powerful music was so strong

That it could make the rivers stay;

The fearful hinds not daunted were,

But with the lions took their way,

Nor did the hare behold with fear

The dog whom these sweet notes appease.

When force of grief drew yet more near,

And on his heart did burning seize,

Nor tunes which all in quiet bound

Could any jot their master ease,

The gods above too hard he found,

And Pluto’s palace visiting.

He mixed sweet verses with the sound

Of his loud harp’s delightful string,

All that he drank with thirsty draught

From his high mother’s chiefest spring,

All that his restless grief him taught,

And love which gives grief double aid,

With this even hell itself was caught,

Whither he went, and pardon prayed

For his dear spouse (unheard request)

The three-head porter was dismayed,

Ravished with his unwonted guest,

The Furies, which in tortures keep

The guilty souls with pains opprest,

Moved with his song began to weep.

Ixion’s wheel now standing still

Turns not his head with motions steep.

Though Tantalus might drink at will,

To quench his thirst he would forbear.

The vulture full with music shrill

Doth not poor Tityus’ liver tear.

‘We by his verses conquered are,’

Saith the great King whom spirits fear.

‘Let us not then from him debar

His wife whom he with songs doth gain.

Yet lest our gift should stretch too far,

We will it with this law restrain,

That when from hell he takes his flight,

He shall from looking back refrain.’

Who can for lovers laws indite?

Love hath no law but her own will.

Orpheus, seeing on the verge of night

Eurydice, doth lose and kill

Her and himself with foolish love.

But you this feigned tale fulfil,

Who think unto the day above

To bring with speed your darksome mind.

For if, your eye conquered, you move

Backward to Pluto left behind,

All the rich prey which thence you took,

You lose while back to hell you look.”

Copyright ©1999-2018 e-Catholic2000.com