Boethius Executed for Treason

Dan Graves, MSL

Boethius Executed for Treason

The courage with which one man faced torture and death in old Rome became a source of inspiration to all of Christendom for centuries. Boethius lived when the Ostrogoths had conquered the Roman Empire. His father died when he was seven, and he was reared by an aristocrat named Symmachus.

Boethius loved learning and set himself the task of translating the greatest Greek works into Latin with comments. He hoped to reconcile apparent contradictions in Aristotle and Plato. His death for treason cut that project short, but the translations he finished formed the basis for learning in the Middle Ages. It was Boethius who named the quadrivium, a course of study required of all students in those troubled years.

Theodoric became king of Italy. Boethius rose high in his favor, serving him as a consul in 510. The king honored him even more by appointing his two young sons as consuls in 522.

Politics and religion got Boethius into hot water. He not only accepted the trinity, but wrote a stout defense of it, whereas Theodoric was an Arian who considered Christ a created being. Theodoric feared that his orthodox subjects would side with Byzantium against him. He accused Senator Albinus of plotting against him with the Byzantine court. Boethius bravely defended the accused man. Theodoric jailed Boethius and had him tortured. Like dominoes falling, Symmachus defended Boethius, but was sentenced to death, too.

While on death row, Boethius questioned the events that had befallen him. He, the innocent, was tortured, while Theodoric suffered no harm. The book he wrote, called The Consolation of Philosophy, was the most influential Latin book of the Middle Ages. In it he wrestled with profound questions of right and wrong, foreknowledge and time.

C. S. Lewis wrote about The Consolation, "Until about two hundred years ago it would, I think, have been hard to find an educated man in any European country who did not love it." Perhaps the reason The Consolation was so beloved is because it put life and death in eternal perspective. Earthly glories are seen as illusory. It helped Boethius face disgrace and death. On this day, October 23, 524, he was executed for treason by a cruel and torturous method.


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Last updated April, 2007.

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