Augustine and Boethius, Memory and Eternity

Seamus O'Neill

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In the crypt of San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro in Pavia, the same church in which Augustine’s remains are interred, lies the tomb of Boethius. The influence of Augustine on this great synthesizer of Hellenic and Christian thought, despite claims to the contrary, should be clear to anyone reading the Consolation of Philosophy. The similarity between both thinkers’ attempts to conceive divine eternity is a case in point. Throughout the Confessions, we observe Augustine espousing the limits of the human’s ability to know God qua God and appealing to analogy and image, which his theology of the Trinity and philosophy of the soul require. So too does Boethius claim that all things are known according to the capacity of the knower, a claim now referred to as the “Modes of Cognition Principle.” For both Augustine and Boethius, there is an appropriate, though always limited way for the human to understand the divine. While, any human conception of divine eternity will always be limited, imperfect, and incomplete, both in Boethius’ Consolation and in Augustine’s Confessions one finds that divine eternity is best conceived from our limited human point of view in terms of an all-encompassing present.

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