The rain lifted after 48 hours and I was able to leave my musty hotel room for a walk. I stepped out onto the wet pavement with my mind frozen on the last words of a book I spent the weekend reading. It read:
“Avoid vice, Therefore, and cultivate virtues; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope, and put forth humble prayers on high. A great necessity is laid upon you, if you will be honest with yourself, a great necessity to be good, since you live in the sight of a judge who sees all things.”
I’d never had even a verse from the Bible strike me so directly. The words were all at once exciting and encouraging, humbling and convicting, paralyzing and invigorating. These words encompassed many past lessons and yet were teaching me something new. Within the sentences was something old but still extremely relevant.
I wondered more about why I was just now discovering this book. The work was so beautiful and powerful it seemed to me strange I had not been pressed to read it by a teacher, a professor, a pastor or peer at some point in my 44 years. The work was written around 500 AD so there was plenty of opportunity for this book to presented.
My pace picked up and my shoes were growing damp as my thoughts passed to other incredible phrases.
“Unity and goodness are identical....everything subsists as long as it is one, but perishes when its unity ceases.”
“...the most precious of all riches - friends who are true friends.”
“You cannot impose anything on a free mind, and you cannot move from its state of inner tranquility a mind at peace with itself and firmly founded on reason.”
How could one book be so full of ways to approach the big ideas and provide such direction for practical living be so far back on library bookshelves?
The sun was setting and as the sky cleared the remaining clouds turned a magical pink. I realized I had encountered the thoughts of a dying man, an educated man, a leader about to suffer cruelly at the hands of his enemies for nothing more than a false accusation or contorted half-truth.
This man known as “the last true Roman” was one of the last consults of the crumbling Roman Empire. He was a devoted servant to Theodoric The Great and a true Roman in its tradition. He was educated in the classics and committed to the current. His family was noble and his sons would follow in his footsteps as leaders.
This author was later placed as one of the twelve sages in Dante’s Paradisio of the Divine Comedy next to Albert Magus, Solomon and Bonaventura.
Here was this incredible man who in his last days envisions a conversation with Philosophy. Knowing his death is coming he writes to offer the world clarity in our pursuit of the meaning of life, and because his work was saved he was sitting in my hotel room for two days compelling me to think, wanting me to ask questions and tasking me to live well. I was as close to this man as Dante who admired him, as C.S. Lewis who revered him, and as thousands of others who also discovered his work from the mere mention of a friend.
At the end of the road was a local cathedral which remained opened to visitors throughout the day. I walked inside and thanked God for giving me a friendship and a challenge from a man who died 1,500 years ago. I was so grateful to have met Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius.
Boethius would not be the last ancient I met that challenged my thinking or my actions, but he would be the most important in my life. Added to him would be: Cicero, Plato, Aristotle, Virgil, Seneca, Xenophon, Plutarch, Homer and countless others.
Why did it take so long for me to meet these men in their own words? I heard their names in movies with an occasional reference in a text book, but somehow, I failed to discover their works were alive and still influencing the world whether read or not.
I took an Ethics course in college, but how did the minor introduction to Socrates not set my mind on fire with intrigue? Was I the only one to blame or was there a systemic failure in the education I had received? How could I find more of the ancients and learn from their wisdom? How could I help others discover them? How could I show others their great value and how they speak from the grave to offer answers to modern questions and problems?
I’m not an academic. Maybe this retarded my discoveries, but these works are for everyone. They can help a person serve their neighbor, help a blue-collar worker understand the political world, help a business person avoid traps, help a person grow old well, help a person flee vice, help a person face death, help us better teach our children, and help us better love one another.
These ancient books where written in a difference world, yet one thing was the same, our humanity. Our needs, loves, hates, pains were similar, our societies quite different, but once we dig deep into the words one discovers extensive similarities and solutions long contemplated before our arrival in space and time.
Boethius lit a fire in me. He rejuvenated my faith and at the same time opened my mind to questions. He understood my struggles and offered me solutions. He lifted me a thousand feet over my head and let me look back down at myself so I could see my place in this world. This ancient man did what no pastor, mentor, or friend could. I discovered who I was in the pages of the Consolation of Philosophy.
“Now I know the other cause, or rather the major cause of your illness: you have forgotten your true nature.” - Boethius “Consolation of Philosophy” 520 AD, Penguin Classics, Pg. 51