How can a person accept unpleasant situations that are “out of their hands”?
Augustine and Boethius were Roman thinkers and authors who lived almost a century apart. Augustine wrote The City of God and Boethius wrote Consolation of Philosophy in response to events that were taking place around them. To what events was each author writing in response? What was their reaction to these events? For Augustine, what can a person take comfort in when it seems that the world is “coming to an end”? According to Boethius, how can a person accept unpleasant situations that are “out of their hands”?
Augustine was a Christian philosopher and a bishop who lived through the tumultuous times of the decline of the Roman empire. Living in North Africa territory under Roman rule, his writings criticize Roman society and its ideology. In his book ‘The City of Gods’ he presented two major criticism of the roman society: The first one was the Roman notion of happiness on earth and the second was their belief that Rome was just an empire. The Romans believed that they could control nature with technology to meet their needs.
The Romans also thought that their empire was an example of a just social system where people could rise to a position because of their ability and intellect. Wealth and fame were considered a virtue and honor. Contradicting these notions Augustine proposed the idea of original sin where he explained that humans as descendants of Adam were crooked and sinful. Humans have a desire to control and dominate and therefore harm everyone and everything around them.
According to Augustine, humans can do nothing as the world around them is already fated to crumble. The world around us is imperfect and men could build just and virtuous societies. Failure, poverty, and defeat are part of human life and men should judge anyone because of these.
Boethius writer of the Consolation of Philosophy was an Italian living in 6th-century Europe. Coming from an affluent background and living a comfortable life he joined politics considering it a civic duty. He was accused of treason and imprisoned and this is where he wrote his masterpiece. His book describes that humans are not in control of their destiny rather it is in the hands of the fickle Roman goddess Fortuna.
In a moment take away everything that we hold dear or consider as a source of our happiness can be taken away from us. He says that men should not put their trust in things that they can not control such as love, family, reputation, career, and also be prepared in case these are taken away. So philosophical people do not rely on the gifts of fortune but rely on themself, their power of reasoning reveling in the mysteries of the world. He also writes that a person can survive difficult times by becoming indifferent to their fate and rising above their circumstance. Boethius suggests that rather than pinning our happiness on these factors of chance we should change our perspective and consider them a major reason for our instability and unhappiness (O’Neill, 2014).