Saints of the Day – Severinus Boëthius

Blessed Severinus BoethiusArticle

Born at Rome c.480; died at Pavia, 524; canonized by Pope Leo XIII in 1883.

“In other living creatures the ignorance of themselves is nature, but in men it is vice.” – Severinus Boëthius

Anicius Manlius Torquatus Severinus Boëthius was the scion of an illustrious and Christian Roman family. His father Flavius Manlius Boëthius, who was consul in 487, died and left Boëthius young orphan. He became the ward and then friend of the noble Aurelius Symmachus, whose daughter Rusticiana he eventually married.

By the age of 30, the man who is best known as Boëthius was renowned for his learning, and he is recognized as one of the makers of the Christian West. This is partly through his translation from the Greek of the works of Plato, Aristotle, Pythagoras ‘the musician,’ Euclid, Ptolemy the astronomer, but also his own contributions to theology, logic, music, mathematics, and even applied scientific engineering as in his designs for improved timepieces.

Under the Ostrogoth Emperor Theodoric in the West, Severinus Boëthius became a consul, and in due course his two sons were elevated into the consulship. But so high and influential a position in public and political life was not to be maintained. Suspicion, whether rightly or wrongly, that some of the Roman senators were conspiring with Justin, the Eastern emperor at Constantinople, the aged Theodoric charged an ex-consul named Albinus. Boëthius publicly defended him in court, and for this quite proper proceeding in Roman law, he was thrown into prison at Ticinum (Pavia). (Delaney says that Boëthius himself was charged with treason and sacrilege for allegedly using astronomy for impious purposes. Bentley states that he was accused of being a magician and of writing letters subversive of good order.)

During his 9-month imprisonment, he wrote his most famous work, The Consolation of Philosophy. Only his father-in-law Symmachus was brave enough to speak for him and, after torture, he was brutally beheaded.

Theodoric was an Arian, and this, combined with Saint Severinus’s stand for justice in public life, led to his acclaim as a martyr. His relics are enshrined in the church of Saint Peter in Ciel d’Oro at Pavia. His feast is also kept at the church of Santa Maria in Portico, Rome.

His extant writings include the notable de sancta Trinitate, a treatise attacking the heresies of Eutyches and Nestorius, and three other theological works. He also wrote on arithmetics and music. He translated books by Aristotle and Porphyry, as well as writing commentaries on Aristotle and Cicero.

But his loved and revered Consolation of Philosophy (which has had many translators, including King Alfred the Great, Geoffrey Chaucer, and Queen Elizabeth I), remains his masterpiece. Its five books are filled with snatches of poetry.

He recounts how suffering has brought him to a premature old age. But that he takes comfort that God rules the world. He begins to learn the true nature of himself. Evil, philosophy tells him, can have no real existence, since the all-powerful God does not wish it. Vice never goes ultimately unpunished. Virtue in the end is rewarded. And true happiness can be found only in God Himself.

Fairly recent attempts to show that this could not have been composed by a ‘practicing’ Christian have proven ephemeral (Attwater, Bentley, Delaney, Encyclopedia).

MLA Citation

  • Katherine I Rabenstein. Saints of the Day, 1998. CatholicSaints.Info. 5 August 2020. Web. 28 November 2020. <>