By Lodi Nauta
The Platonic Tradition in the Middle Ages. A Doxographic Approach, eds. S. Gersh & M. Hoenen (Walter de Gruyter: Berlin 2002)
Introduction: The popularity of Boethius’s Consolatio has always been so overwhelming that we may forget how exceptional this in fact was. For one can hardly think of another book that was translated and commented on so many times over a period of more than thousand years. No other book, except the Bible, attracted the attention of kings, the nobility, clerks, monks and the laity alike, and influenced major writers such as Dante, Jean de Meun, and Chaucer. It was an important source in scholastic debates on free will and divine foreknowledge, and stimulated discussions on natural nobility at the courts of Western Europe.
The Consolatio thus was a key text in the shaping of medieval thought, offering a Christianised version of a Platonic worldview in combination with a Stoic morality of resignation in the face of misfortune. As a kind of theodicy, it tried to find an answer to the question how evil can be understood in a universe created by an omnibenevolent God, as well as answers to such perennial philosophical questions as how human freedom can be reconciled with divine foreknowledge, and what the relationship is between an eternal God, existing outside time, and a world ruled by time.