So in the course of a discussion the story of the Rich Young Man came up somehow. This is the famous story of Jesus from Matthew, Book 19:

The Rich Young Man.

Now someone approached him and said, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” He answered him, “Why do you ask me about the good? There is only One who is good. If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

He asked him, “Which ones?” And Jesus replied, “You shall not kill; you shall not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.’”

The young man said to him, “All of these I have observed. What do I still lack?” Jesus said to him, “If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Amen, I say to you, it will be hard for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said,“ For human beings this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” 

This story is often talked about for what it says about soteriology, which is the contemplation about just what are the means by which Christians expect to receive salvation. Here is where we get into the discordant chorus of debates about the Solas — Sola scriptura? Sola fide? Sola gratia? Solus Christus? Soli de Deo Gloria? Meaning, are you saved by scripture alone? or by faith alone? or by grace alone? or by Christ alone, or by the Glory of God alone? And then from the foaming words that swirl about the room, somebody meekly asks, “Well what about works?” and then, well you can imagine. All these things questions are good to contemplate, but please put them all aside.

Put them aside because there’s more to the story, and also because there is more to life than seeking personal salvation. Here the Rich Young Man follow the commandments, the set of rules that good men follow, but does that provide sustainment and succor? Is that enough? The Rich Young Man seems not to think so. He follows the rules but also must perceive something lacking because he asks “What do I still lack?” as he presses the question for the third time! He is impetuous, is he not? He got his answer twice already, but keeps on pressing. The final answer given him is to follow goodness. That is how to overcome his sense of lacking. Christ himself is goodness, as he asserted at the top of the story (“there is only One who is good”). Commitment to the pursuit of goodness is also required (“sell what you have and give to the poor”). 

His situation isn’t unlike Boethius in his cell — pursuit of goodness fulfills what is lacking. 

 

 

Now! At the top of the world! Then now, imprisoned, condemned. What can be learned? Should one even bother to learn now or why not give in to despair? These were the questions of one Anicius Manius Severinus Boethius. Or just “Boethius” as he is known.

He is the Last of the Mohicans in his way. He’s the last of the Ancient Romans, his Latin writings are the last ones we see from the Roman Age. The Roman emperors were already “a thing of the past” when Boethius came along. He became a Roman noble celebrated for his learning, in the service to the famous Ostrogoth King, Theodoric the Great. Boethius de facto ran the place! But from this height he fell out of favor and found himself imprisoned awaiting death.  From here, Boethius uncorked his great literary work, The Consolation of Philosophy. It would become one of the most important texts for the next thousand years. St. John’s Revelations appears at end of the Bible, The Consolation of Philosophy appears at the end of Roman Literature. These two works are each a terminus, and they are both the two greatest and most influential examples in world history of “prison literature”.

Donald Trump along with his 75,000,000 or so supporters track with Boethius. As does the fate of anybody who might call himself today “a Heritage American.” Why? Because of the fall! From such a height to such a depth, from favor and power to isolation and even persecution (don’t dare deny the persecution, neoliberal!). We can learn from the fate and sublime writing of Boethius! 

Prison literature here we come, baby!!! Much ink has been spilt already from St. John’s side and discussions of his text, and much, much more is sure to follow! So let’s talk about Boethius!

The basic concept is simple. Boethius in his cell reaches for his quill and calls upon the poetic muses, those of the arts and of the sensual. But then a woman appears and she is Philosophy, who banishes the passionate muses and nourishes Boethius. Philosophy calls Boethius back to the pursuit of goodness, back to the cause of virtue. 

Forget revenge! Forget your anger! Forget your sorrow! The passions don’t matter and they pass.

Forget riches! Forget power! The worldly things don’t matter.

Pursue goodness and virtue!!! The point of it is, you’ve got to do work on yourself. Empowered with this faith, you set to work on reason. Re-evaluate yourself, re-focus yourself on the good.

Even in a prison cell, even with nothing left to you, you can do this. 

And you must! St. John’s commenters will exhort you to pray. And that is good and well met! But do more. 

Heed Boethius. 

Work on thyself!