Providence and fate

In Book IV of The Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius finds himself stuck in “a morass of difficulties – the singleness of providence, the vicissitudes of fate, the haphazardness of events, God’s plan, predestination, free will.” Lady Philosophy tries to dislodge him from this morass by, first, distinguishing providence from fate and then, second, picturing their relationship geometrically. While it may be imprudent for a Christian thinker to baptize the pagan idea of fate, I nonetheless appreciate the rigor of thinking below, which employs definitions, mathematical axioms, and logical syllogisms.

Providence is divine reason itself, established by the highest ruler of all things, the reason that orders everything that exists. But fate is the disposition that is inherent in each of these things, through which providence binds all things together, each in its proper order. Providence embraces all things together, even though they are infinite in number and different from one another, but fate arranges the motions of separate things, distributed in various places, forms, and times. The unfolding of the order of time is united in the foresight of the mind of God, but that unity when distributed among things in the unfolding of time is what the ancients called fate.

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Some things are immovable and fixed, ordered by providence directly, and above the course of fate. These are things that are close to God and beyond the realm of fate’s movable nature. Think of a number of spheres revolving about a central point: the innermost point is a kind of pivot for the rest and it has the simplicity of centrality, moving the least, while those farther out move more, traveling over a greater circumference and separated from the immovability and indivisibility of the central point. Anything located at the center is less movable. Those things that are farther out and further separated from the divine mind are more subject to the complications of fate. As a thing gets closer to the center, it is less and less subject to fate. If it reaches the center, it is not subject to fate at all but it clings to the divine mind, which is motionless and above the vicissitudes of fate. So, as reasoning is to understanding, and as becoming is to being, and as time is to eternity, or the circle is to its center, so is the motion of fate to the unmoving simplicity of providence.


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