The pursuit of happiness is the pursuit of divinity

In Book III of Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, Lady Philosophy says:

What all men want, although they seek it by different routes and through different activities, is to be happy. That is the summum bonum, the supreme good, the one that leaves room for no others, for if there were anything further to want it could not be the highest good. Something beyond it or outside it would remain to be desired. So happiness is necessarily that state that is perfect and that includes within it everything a man could want. Now, all men strive for this condition, although they do so by various means. The desire for happiness is inborn, instinctive in the minds of men. But they are led astray by false ideas of the good.

Lady Philosophy proceeds to tell Boethius that men confuse the highest good with lesser goods, such as “wealth, honor, power, fame, and voluptuary pleasure.” After establishing that God is the highest good, wherein lies our true happiness, she applies mathematical and logical reasoning to her argument:

And just as geometricians can draw corollaries from their theories, so there is a corollary that can be drawn here. Since men want happiness, and since happiness is in itself divinity, then it follows that men in the pursuit of happiness are actually in the pursuit of divinity. But as in their efforts to pursue justice they become just, and in the pursuit of wisdom they become wise, this logic would lead us to conclude that in the pursuit of divinity they would become gods, which is awkward because God, by his nature, is singular. Still, there is nothing that prevents the acquisition of divinity by participation in his divinity.

I puzzled over the above passage with my friend. Together, we recognized that the awkwardness of this argument resides in the wording. Notice, first, how Lady Philosophy’s two examples in her syllogism use the language of becoming rather than being (“become just”, “become wise”). What this suggests is that the acquisition of justice or wisdom is always partial – not complete. Notice, second, how her examples use adjectives rather than nouns: (“just”, “wise”). Why, then, does Lady Philosophy not keep her wording consistent in the conclusion? Where she says “in the pursuit of divinity they would become gods,” she ought to say “in the pursuit of divinity they become divine”: a noun (“gods”) has been substituted for an adjective (“divine”). It seems Boethius’ teacher has intentionally varied her wording to make a rhetorical point. The pursuit of divinity does not mean any one of us will ever “become gods” because only God is God, owing to his singular nature. Nevertheless, God summons us to participate in his nature, which the western church has called “sanctification” (2 Cor. 7:1) or “imitation” (Eph. 5:1) and the eastern church has called “deification” (Ps. 82:6). The telos of the Christian life is to “be conformed to the image of Christ” (Rom. 8:29), as C. S. Lewis puts it in Mere Christianity: “Every Christian is to become a little Christ. The whole purpose of becoming a Christian is simply nothing else.”


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