Blogging the Institutes | 1.16.8 | Wrong Views of Providence

Some criticize my view of providence, claiming that it same view as the Stoics concerning fate. The same charge was brought against Augustine. I am unwilling to argue about words. I don’t use the term “Fate” because it belongs to a class of arguments that Paul tells us to shun—opposing arguments (1 Timothy 6:20). Moreover, the term is used to stigmatize a truth about God. But some claim falsely and maliciously that we teach the Stoic view of fate. We don’t go along with the Stoics, imagining the necessity of a perpetual chain of causes like sometimes happens in nature. We teach instead that God is the ruler of all things. From the remotest eternity, according to his own wisdom, he decreed what he was to do. Now, he executes his decree by his power.

We maintain that by his providence that heaven and earth and the inanimate creatures move exactly in the course he has destined. But also, we maintain that the same thing applies to the wisdom and wills of people. Some may respond and ask, “Does anything happen by chance?” Here’s my reply. I agree with Basil the Great that “fortune” and “chance” are pagan terms. Those ideas should not fill believers’ minds. If all success is a blessing from God, and all calamity and adversity his curse, then there is no place left in human affairs for fortune or chance.

We ought also to be believe Augustine’s words (Retract. lib. 1 cap. 1); “In my writings against the Academics,” says he, “I regret having so often used the term Fortune; although I intended to denote by it not some goddess, but the fortuitous issue of events in external matters, whether good or evil. Hence, too, those words, Perhaps, Perchance, Fortuitously, which no religion forbids us to use, though everything must be referred to Divine Providence. Nor did I omit to observe this when I said, Although, perhaps, that which is vulgarly called Fortune, is also regulated by a hidden order, and what we call Chance is nothing else than that the reason and cause of which is secret. It is true, I so spoke, but I repent of having mentioned Fortune there as I did, when I see the very bad custom which men have of saying, not as they ought to do, ‘So God pleased,’ but, ‘So Fortune pleased.’ ” In short, Augustine everywhere teaches that if anything is left to fortune, then the world moves at random.

In another place (Quæstionum, lib. 83), Augustine declared that all things happened partly by the free will of man, and partly by the providence of God. But what he means is this: All people are ruled by God’s providence. Everything happens according to the will of God. If anything could happen apart from his will, it would be a great absurdity because it would happen at random. He does not believe that different outcomes depend on human will. He believes that no cause happens apart from the will of God. Sometimes he uses the term “permission,” as if God allows, but doesn’t cause, certain things to happen. But he only uses that term in one passage where he proves that the will of God is the supreme and primary cause of all things since nothing happens outside his order or permission (De Trinity. lib. 3 cap. 4). Augustine does not view god as sitting idly in a watchtower when he chooses to permit anything. His will is active but could not be regarded as a cause.

2 thoughts on “Blogging the Institutes | 1.16.8 | Wrong Views of Providence

  1. Pingback: Blogging the Institutes | 1.16.8 | Wrong Views of Providence | Talmidimblogging

  2. Pingback: Blogging the Institutes: List of Posts | Raising Lazarus

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