Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Medieval Wheel of Fortune

Lent is an opportune time to practice detachment from selfishness, material things and habitual sin. Before Fr. Robert Barron was as famous as he is now, I caught him by chance on EWTN giving a lecture on something called The Medieval Wheel of Fortune that strongly relates to the idea of detachment. I was very intrigued since it comes out of the middle ages and yet seemed so timeless.


It goes something like this; the Roman goddess Fortuna was the goddess of fortune and the personification of luck. Fortuna was said to govern the circle of life. Imagine we are firmly attached to the edge of a circle or wheel being helplessly spun around by Fortuna; a wheel containing 4 stages of life.

• Stage 1: I Reign – A zenith or climax. You are on top of the world.
• Stage 2: I Have Reigned – Things begin to unravel or are in decline
• Stage 3: I Have No Kingdom – All is lost. This is rock bottom.
• Stage 4: I Shall Reign Again – Positive signs return. There is hope.

A modern day example:
Medieval Wheel of Fortune
• Stage 1: We’re on spring break having the time of our life. Woo Hoo!
• Stage 2: We are tired and sunburned as we pack for the trip home. Darn!
• Stage 3: We arrive home late at night in the freezing cold to find two feet of snow in our driveway. D’OHH!!!
• Stage 4: We soon being planning next year’s vacation. Cool!
After the fall of Rome, the medievals took this wheel of life and Christianized it. What happens as you move closer to the center of a spinning wheel? It spins slower. What happens at the absolute center? It does not move at all. What would happen if we put Christ in the absolute center of the wheel; at the absolute center of our life? We would experience peace, become centered and detached from the fast edge of the wheel; life’s ups and downs would no longer control us, no longer exhaust us.

Stain glass rose windows seen in
medieval cathedrals come from this concept.
Theologically, we can say that we are either moving our souls toward God or toward “Self”. Moving toward God ultimately becomes Heaven. Moving toward “Self” ultimately becomes Hell. In the context of the wheel, we could say that we are either moving our souls toward the center of all things with Christ or out to the edge in an ever expanding circle of madness.
Fr. Barron brilliantly linked all this to an interpretation of the beatitudes that is all about detachment:
Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those detached from material things.
Blessed are they who mourn…Blessed are those not addicted to “feeling good”.
Blessed are the meek…Blessed are those not self-centered.
Blessed are those who thirst for righteousness…Blessed are those detached from sin.
Blessed are the merciful…Blessed are those who are detached from revenge.
Blessed are the clean of heart…Blessed are those detached from evil thoughts.
Blessed are the peacemakers…Blessed are those free from hatred.
Blessed are YOU when they insult & persecute you and utter every kind of evil against you because of me …Blessed are YOU if you don’t care what people think!
Since I find visuals so helpful, I created a visual of what I learned. Click on the wheel below for a PDF version of The Medieval Wheel of Fortune.


  1. I found your blog from your comments on Mark Shea's blog (I posted as kml). Thank you for directing me here and for your thoughtful posts and comments! Looking forward to reading more. : )

    1. You're welcome and thanks! Stay tuned. We can't post as often as Mark Shea, but we do what we can.

  2. I came across a sermon by Bishop Barron and he mentions the wheel of fortune. Learning about it has shaped a huge part of my faith. I tell all my fellow Catholics about it. I just came across this page and it explains it so well!! Good work and God bless!