St. Severinus Boethius (480-524) was no stranger to Fortune, good or bad. Having risen to fame as a preeminent scholar and statesman, he was later imprisoned and then executed for daring to defend the Roman Senate against the raging tyrant, Theodoric.
In his Consolation of Philosophy, Lady Philosophy helps Boethius to recognize the benefits of getting to know her competitor, Lady Fortuna, in both of her guises.
Strange as it is to say, “Fortune is of more benefit when she is adverse than when she brings prosperity.”
This is because “happy Fortune uses her allurements to draw men astray from the true Good, but adverse Fortune, for the most part, uses her claw to drag men back to the things that are good.”
Can this lady be serious? Sensing our disbelief, Philosophy continues:
“Do you think it should be considered a small thing that this bitter and horrible Fortune has uncovered for you the hearts of your friends who are faithful?”
How much would Boethius, wealthy and powerful, have paid to know who truly meant him well, and who was merely using him for his temporal advantages?
In the event, this information cost him every penny in his possession, and more. Since genuine friends are “the most precious form of riches,” however, the bargain turned out well, enabling him to die a truly wealthy man.
Those of us accustomed to living in an age of wealth and liberty are beginning to get acquainted with the other side of fickle Fortune. God willing, the fate of our civilization may yet prove happier than the Boethius’s earthly end.
If so, however, it will only be because we were finally disabused of certain delusions about whom to trust, and whom to regard as foes.
For teaching this invaluable lesson, we may also incur a substantial debt to our good friend, bad Fortune.
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