The Structure of Subjectivity in the Boethian Itinerarium

Eriugena's Periphyseon is a cosmogony before it is, and in order that it might be, the saving itinerarium of the soul. The homo in which all is created is universal. In order to see how creative subjectivity works in the journey of an individual to salvation, and in order to establish one of the elements of our comparison, we must return to the Consolation.

In Boethius philosophy is a way of life which brings repose and freedom (Boethius 1973, 1.4, p. 144, lines 1-4: Quisquis composite serenus aevo/Fatum sub pedibus egit superbum/Fortunamque tuens utramque rectus/ Invictum potuit tenere vultum. See Hankey, 1998c, 34-35). In an explicit reiteration of the Platonic conversion of the soul, the prisoner in his cell, like the prisoner in Plato's cave, by sitting up, turning around, moving and standing erect, represents his passage through ever higher modes of knowing (Hankey 1997c, 245-47). As in the mediaeval itineraria which follow it, the passages from one form of cognition to another are explicitly stages in the pilgrimage of human beings on their way towards or away from God (Inglis 1998, 12, see also 241, 242, 252, and 258).

The conversion takes place by a recovery of true self-knowledge and freedom. The initial books of the Consolation are devoted to stripping the self and restoring its poise at its center so that it is able to turn (Hankey 1997c, 245-46). In the third and fourth books, what had been placed outside the simplified self become aspects of its interior complexity, i.e. its different and mutually related aspects. The reward and punishment of humans are in the choices they make. These choices lie within them and within their power because, in truth, they are choices between selves (Boethius 1973, 2.5, p. 204, lines 75-89). Humans choose to live in accord either with their lower or their higher aspects. Reason, the power of mind to which choice belongs, may conform to the intellectual above it or to the sensual below it. Turning to intellect, and to the unity of the Good, which intellect knows, results in power and self-sufficiency. Turning to sense leads to subservience to the multiple objects beneath us, themselves governed by an order beyond them, and so results in fatal weakness (Boethius 1973, 2.5-7, 3 and 4, passim).

Saving the freedom which belongs to human reason is essential both to the whole theodicy of the Consolation and to preserving prayer, without which there is no human access to the simple First Principle.

The conclusion of the Consolation is an exhortation to prayer, already discovered to be necessary and already invoked. Unless the human, defined by ratio (Boethius 1973, 1.6, p. 168, lines 35-6) which divides the One when knowing,12 can reach beyond itself by the prayer which also fulfills it, there would be no consolation. It is by this reaching, which must be at once within and beyond the human, that the human can be carried to the intellectus which understands the simple Good. Ultimately, the prisoner's consolation is an itinerarium to the changeless center, the still point of secure repose and simple intellection around which all else moves. This intellection is the perspective of Providence (Boethius 1973, 3.9, pp. 264-70; see Hankey 1997c, 246-47).

By the end of Book Four the consoling itinerarium has twice carried the prayerful prisoner to the Providential view by which all things are seen in the unity of the Good. First, in Book Three, having made a positive beginning from the prisoner's dream of happiness, the argument moves until all is seen in the light of the simple Good (Boethius 1973, 3.1, p. 230, lines 17-18: He will be led "Ad veram...felicitatem, quam tuus quoque somniat animus. ..."). In the penultimate Book, all is looked at from the same perspective but this time, the beginning is negative: the prisoner's unforgotten grief, the apparent existence and the apparent triumph of evil.13 But this twice secured result creates a problem: the vision of all things from the perspective of the Good seems to destroy the subjective freedom by which the prisoner reached his journey's end. Unless the problem is solved, the argument would deconstruct itself; the ladder marked on the dress of Lady Philosophy, of which the prisoner is finally reaching the top, would collapse.14

The perspective of Providence which consoles the prisoner is that of a simple, pure and stable intelligence which governs and disposes all things. This position is beyond the alteration of choice. Since the intellect which infallibly governs all is changeless, it would seem that the order it knows and determines must be equally changeless and so totally necessitated.15

There is a solution: in the final Book, the argument according to which the certainty of the divine knowledge of future events would depend upon their being necessitated by Providence, is overcome by the distinction between reason's knowing, on the one hand, which is temporal, and an eternal intellectual knowing, on the other hand. The apparent destruction of human freedom of choice occurred because human reason had imposed its mode upon the realm of Providence which can only, in fact, properly be understood intellectually. Thus, Boethius finally introduces the fundamental principle which has in fact governed the entire argument. As Aquinas, will put it, "an intelligence understands according to the mode of its own substance."16

Evidently, for this principle to solve the problem, it is not enough that there should be different modes of knowledge and that they not be confused. If freedom is actually to exist in a sphere of substantial existences with their own inherent principles of motion, different kinds of reality must conform to the different modes of knowing. So, our principle about the conformity of what is known to the knower has ontological consequences. Indeed, it has two kinds of consequences and its operation has two sides.

Because a knower existing in one mode of substance conforms to a thing in a different substantial mode to the knower's mode, there is a transformation of the object in the subject. The effects of this transformation can be epistemological only or also (as most notoriously in Eriugena) the effects can be both ontological and epistemological. In the latter case, conforming something in one mode to a different mode actually causes its being in the new mode. When being in intellectu and in re are more sharply separated and truth alone is at issue, this principle requires the knower to recognise and respect the difference between the mode of the knower and the mode of the object.

The determinism in the Consolation was produced by confusion. Reason reduced the object known properly by the divine simple intellection to its own mode. Reason pictured eternity as if it were at the beginning of a temporal process, a process it had to determine infallibly in order to ensure the certainty of its knowing. The solution is to distinguish the modes of knowing, to purge the structures which belong to reason and imagination from our understanding of eternity, and to recognise that, as the forms of knowing differ, so also do the realities themselves. Thus, Boethius saves his book by saving ratio and its reality, the reality of individual substances with their own motions. The realm of reason and of individual substances with inherent self-motion is no more to be collapsed into intellectus and its unity than intellectus is to be destroyed by being conceived according to the divided and dividing structures of ratio.

Ultimately, the Boethian solution requires system: system in which all the possible differences, both subjective and ontological, are developed and known. All the forms of knowing, and thus of reality, must be known and all the relations between them must pass into knowledge. Self-sufficient enjoyment of the simple Good is human happiness, but the simple Good cannot be understood adequately and possessed in itself by us. Rather the simple Good is known in what is other than it, in its difference from these lower modes of existence, in the relations by which everything from top to bottom is connected, and in the human movement between the different modes. This system the Consolation suggests in its portrait of Lady Philosophy. Its best image is the diverse concentric motions by which the kinds of reality and their correlative modes of apprehension are related (Boethius 1973, 1.1, p. 132, lines 8-22; 3.9 (meter), pp. 270-272; 4.6, pp. 360ff; 5.4 & 5.5, pp. 410ff). But if this complex of inter-related and different spiritual motions brings to mind Plotinus, as developed in the line of lamblichus, Proclus, Dionysius and Eriugena,17 Anselm's dialectic is rather that of Plotinus and Augustine. All else is concentrated in the knowledge of God and the soul (Hankey 1999a, 117-122).

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