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The most popular book in Europe for a thousand years was The Consolation of Philosophy, by Boethius. Boethius was born around 480, a member of one of the oldest Roman families, the Anicia. His father was a consul of the Western Empire. His uncle was a pope. He was a scholar. Naturally bookish and inquisitive he amassed a large personal library. He was expert in several languages. He read Greek and Hebrew, perhaps the only man of his generation who had mastered both Biblical languages. He wrote textbooks on Astronomy, Mathematics, Music Theory, and Natural Science. He was a Christian.
When the Ostrogoths conquered the Western Empire in 510, Theodoric made Boethius a consul. It was a political choice. Boethius, a Christian from an ancient family, was no politico – he was a scholar, and thus no threat to Theodoric. Because he was no politico, he ended up blundering into some palace intrigue, and was arrested in 522. For two years he was held in the palace of Pavia. He was denied access to his library, but allowed writing material. During those two years he produced The Consolation of Philosophy. In 524 he was bludgeoned to death.
The Consolation of Philosophy is a book which celebrates wisdom. Like the biblical book of Proverbs, it begins and ends with wisdom personified as a woman. It communicates Christian values – particularly sacrifice, reverence, self-control, humility, and gratitude. It is a compendium of quotes of classical authors, all made from memory. He quotes Cicero, Catullus, Claudian, Euripides, Ovid, Seneca, Sophocles, Virgil, and Horace among others. He does not quote the Bible – not even once.
Thus, many question whether it should be considered a Christian book at all. It has a biblical structure. It communicates Christian values. It is by a Christian. However, many secular and Christian scholars regard The Consolation of Philosophy a piece of Classical scholarship. These scholars are right. The Consolation of Philosophy is an amazing piece of scholarship, and an inspiring read – but it is not a Christian book.
I wonder how many “Christian” books published each year would compare to Boethius’ masterpiece. I think a browse through the most popular Christian titles will make that ancient Roman seem quite modern. Replace the quotations from Marcus Aurelius, and Euripides with humorous anecdotes and inspiring stories, leave out the Bible, and you have a best-seller (especially if you get a jacket-blurb from an athlete or recording artist).
Some writers (and preachers) use the Word as a garnish – decorating their message with a catch-phrase, or slogan from the Bible. Some use the Word as a condiment – sprinkling a verse or two here or there to give their message a real “biblical” flavor. I believe this to be an insidious form of pandering and disrespect – to the Word, and those to whom we communicate it.
I believe the Word is the entrée. I believe everyone who writes or preaches as a Christian should conform to the standard established by Ezra:
For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel. Ezra 7.10
Anything we have to offer is inferior to what the Bible offers and always will be. If we share the Word, purely and simply, we will have given the best there is. I remember the fuss raised when the Department of Education declared, back during the Reagan administration, that ketchup could count as a vegetable in school lunches. The fuss was justified. Ketchup is a condiment, not a nourishment.
I wish more of us would raise a similar fuss about our spiritual diet.