She stopped speaking and was about to move on to deal with certain other topics when I broke in.
‘Your exhortation is very fitting and appropriate to one of your authority. But you said just now that the question of Providence was bound up with many others, and I want to put it to the test. I want to know whether you think there is such a thing as chance, and what it is.’
‘The promise I made is a debt I owe you and I am ready to repay it,’ she said, ‘and to open the way for you to regain your true home. But useful as it is to know about these other matters, they are somewhat aside from our proposed path, and I am afraid you may be so worn out by digressions that you will be unable to complete the journey.’
‘Don’t worry about that,’ I rejoined. ‘It will be as good as a rest to be able to see the things which most delight me. At the same time, since your argument has stood firm on every side and its trustworthiness has remained undoubted, there need be no doubt about what comes next.’
‘I will obey your wish,’ she said, and began at once as follows.
‘If chance is defined as an event produced by random motion without any causal nexus, I would say that there is no such thing as chance, and that apart from signifying the subject matter of our discussion it is a completely meaningless word. If God imposes order upon all things, there is no opportunity for random events. It is a true maxim that nothing comes out of nothing. None of the ancients denied it, although they used it as an axiom of their natural philosophy with special reference to material objects, not efficient causes. If something does happen for no cause, it obviously arises out of nothing; but if this is impossible, it is impossible, too, for there to be chance of the kind we have just defined.’
‘Well, then,’ I asked, ‘isn’t there anything which can properly be called chance or accidental? Isn’t there something for which these words are appropriate, even though ordinary people don’t recognize it?’
‘My Aristotle’s definition in his Physics,’. 1 she said, ‘is succinct and close to the truth.’
‘In what way?’ I asked.
‘Whenever something is done for some purpose, and for certain reasons something other than what was intended happens, it is called chance. For example, if someone began to dig the ground in order to cultivate a field and found a cache of buried gold. This is believed to have happened fortuitously, but it does not happen as a result of nothing; it has its own causes, the unforeseen and unexpected conjunction of which have clearly effected the chance event. If the cultivator of the field had not been digging, and if the depositor had not buried his money at that point, the gold would not have been found. These, therefore, are the causes of the fortuitous harvest. It is the result of the conjunction of opposite causes, and not of the intention of the doers. Neither the man who buried the gold, nor the man who was tilling the field intended the discovery of the money, but, as I said, it happens as a result of the coincidence that the one began to dig where the other had buried. We may therefore define chance as an unexpected event due to the conjunction of its causes with action which is done for some purpose. The conjunction and coincidence of the causes is effected by that order which proceeds by the inescapable nexus of causation, descending from the fount of Providence and ordering all things in their own time and place.
‘Where Parthians turn to shoot the pressing foe
In flight amid the rough Armenian hills,
The Tigris and Euphrates from one source
Flow forth and part at once their branching streams.
Should they together come and make one course,
All that their waters bear would there unite;
There ships would meet and torn up trunks of trees,
And mingling streams would weave haphazard paths,
The random chance of which the fall of land
And downward flow of water yet would rule.
Thus chance which seems to flit with reins all loose
Endures the bit and heeds the rule of law.’
‘I understand, and I agree it is as you say. But is there room in this chain of close-knit causes for any freedom of the will? Or does the chain of Fate bind even the impulses of the human mind?’
‘There is freedom,’ she said. ‘For it would be impossible for any rational nature to exist without it. Whatever by nature has the use of reason has the power of judgement to decide each matter. It can distinguish by itself between what to avoid and what to desire. But man pursues what he judges to be desirable and avoids that which he thinks undesirable. So that those creatures who have an innate power of reason also have the freedom to will or not to will, though I do not claim that this freedom is equal in all. Celestial and divine beings possess clear sighted judgement, uncorrupted will, and the power to effect their desires. Human souls are of necessity more free when they continue in the contemplation of the mind of God and less free when they descend to bodies, and less still when they are imprisoned in earthly flesh and blood. They reach an extremity of enslavement when they give themselves up to wickedness and lose possession of their proper reason. Once they have turned their eyes away from the light of truth above to things on a lower and dimmer level, they are soon darkened by the mists of ignorance. Destructive passions torment them, and by yielding and giving in to them, they only aid the slavery they have brought upon themselves and become in a manner prisoners of their own freedom. Even so, this is visible to the eye of Providence as it looks out at all things from eternity and arranges predestined rewards according to each man’s merit.
‘‘Homer sings with honied tongue
How the brightly shining sun
All things views and all things hears. 2
And yet with rays too weak to pierce
Far within he cannot see
The bowels of earth or depths of sea.
Not so the Founder of the world
To Whose high gaze is all unfurled,
Matter’s dense solidity,
And cloudy night’s obscurity.
What is, what was, what is to be,
In one swift glance His mind can see.
All things by Him alone are seen,
And Him the true sun we should deem.’
‘Look,’ I said, ‘there is something even more difficult which I find perplexing and confusing.’
‘Tell me,’ she said, ‘though I can guess what is troubling you.’
‘Well, the two seem clean contrary and opposite, God’s universal foreknowledge and freedom of the will. If God foresees all things and cannot be mistaken in any way, what Providence has foreseen as a future event must happen. So that if from eternity Providence foreknows not only men’s actions but also their thoughts and desires, there will be no freedom of will. No action or desire will be able to exist other than that which God’s infallible Providence has foreseen. For if they can be changed and made different from how they were foreseen, there will be no sure foreknowledge of the future, only an uncertain opinion; and this I do not think can be believed of God.
‘I do not agree with the argument by which some people believe they can cut this Gordian knot. They say that it is not because Providence has foreseen something as a future event that it must happen, but the other way round, that because something is to happen it cannot be concealed from divine Providence. In this way the necessity is passed to the other side. It is not necessary, they say, that what is foreseen must happen, but it is necessary that what is destined to happen must be foreseen, as though the point at issue was which is the cause; does foreknowledge of the future cause the necessity of events, or necessity cause the foreknowledge? But what I am trying to show is that, whatever the order of the causes, the coming to pass of things foreknown is necessary even if the foreknowledge of future events does not seem to impose the necessity on them.
‘If a man is sitting, it is necessary that the opinion which concludes that he is sitting is true; and on the other hand, if the opinion about the man is true, because he is sitting, it is necessary that he is sitting. There is necessity, therefore, in both statements; in the one that the man is sitting, and in the other that the opinion is true. But it is not because the opinion is true, that the man sits; rather, the opinion is true because it is preceded by the man’s act of sitting. So although the cause of the truth proceeds from the one side, there is, nevertheless, a common necessity in either side. Clearly the same reasoning applies to Providence and future events. For even if it is the case that they are foreseen because they are going to happen and not that they happen because they are foreseen, it is nonetheless necessary that either future events be foreseen by God or that things foreseen happen as foreseen, and this alone is enough to remove freedom of the will.
‘But how absurd it is to say that the occurrence of temporal events is the cause of eternal prescience! Yet the opinion that God foresees the future because it is destined to happen is the same as believing that events of a single occurrence are the cause of that supreme Providence.
‘Moreover, just as when I know something is, it is necessary that it be, so when I know that something is to be, it is necessary that it shall be. It comes about, therefore, that the occurrence of the event foreknown cannot be avoided.
‘Finally, if anyone thinks something is different from what it is, not only is it not knowledge, but it is a false opinion very far from the truth of knowledge. So, if something is destined to happen in such a way that its occurrence is not certain and necessary, who could foreknow that it is to happen? For just as knowledge is unalloyed by falseness, so that which is comprehended by knowledge cannot be other than as it is comprehended. Indeed, the reason why there is no deception in knowledge is because it is necessary for things to be exactly as knowledge understands them to be.
‘The question is, therefore, how can God foreknow that these things will happen, if they are uncertain? If He thinks that they will inevitably happen while the possibility of their non-occurrence exists, He is deceived, and this is something wicked both to think and to say. But if His knowledge that they will happen as they do is of such a kind that He knows they may as equally not happen as happen, what sort of knowledge is this, which comprehends nothing sure or stable? How does it differ from that ridiculous prophecy of Tiresias in Horace’s Satire. 3
Whatever I say either will be or won’t?
And how is divine Providence superior to opinion if like men it considers those things uncertain whose occurrence is uncertain? If there can be no uncertainty at that most sure fount of all things, the coming to pass of those things which God firmly foreknows as future events is certain. Therefore, human thoughts and actions have no freedom, because the divine mind in foreseeing all things without being led astray by falseness binds human thoughts and actions to a single manner of occurrence.
‘Once this has been admitted, the extent of the disruption of human affairs is obvious. In vain is reward offered to the good and punishment to the bad, because they have not been deserved by any free and willed movement of the mind. That which is now judged most equitable, the punishment of the wicked and there ward of the good, will be seen to be the most unjust of all; for men are driven to good or evil not by their own will but by the fixed necessity of what is to be. Neither vice nor virtue will have had any existence; but all merit will have been mixed up and undifferentiated. Nothing more wicked can be conceived than this, for as the whole order of things is derived from Providence and there is no room for human thoughts, it follows that our wickedness, too, is derived from the Author of all good.
‘It is pointless, therefore, to hope for anything or pray to escape anything. What can a man hope for, or pray to escape, when an inflexible bond binds all that can be wished for?
‘And so the one and only means of communication between man and God is removed, that is hope and prayer – if indeed we do obtain for the price of due humility the inestimable return of divine grace. And this is the only way by which it seems men can talk with God and join themselves to that inaccessible light before they obtain it, by means of supplication. And if admitting the necessity of future events means believing that hope and prayer have no power, what way will there be left by which we can be joined and united to that supreme Lord of the world? Cut off and separated from its source, the human race, as you were singing just now, will be destined to grow weak and exhausted.
‘‘What warring cause does thus disjoin
The bonds of things? What God has set
Such enmity between two truths,
That things established separately
Refuse to bear a common yoke?
Or is there no discord of truths
Which ever sure in union join?
Is mind, oppressed by members blind,
In lesser brightness powerless
To see the slender links of things?
Why burns it then with love so great
To learn the secret signs of truth?
Perhaps it knows already what it seeks
To learn? But who still seeks to learn things that
He knows? And if the mind knows not, what does
It then in blindness seek? For who could search
In ignorance for anything, or who
Could look for that which was unknown to him,
And where could he discover it? When found
Could ignorance discern the hidden form?
When once the mind beheld the mind of God
Did it both sum and separate truths perceive?
Now hidden in the body’s density
It does not lose all memory of itself.
The many separate truths are lost, yet still
It holds the sum. Therefore who seeks the truth
In neither state will be: he does not know,
And yet he is not wholly ignorant.
So he reflects upon the sum retained
And kept in mind, and thinks of what on high
He saw, that he may add the parts forgot
To that which he retains.’
Then Philosophy spoke. ‘This is an old complaint about Providence. Cicero attacked it vigorously in his treatise. On Divinatio., 4 and you yourself have investigated it at great length. But up to now none of you has explained it with sufficient care and rigour. The reason for this blindness is that the operation of human reasoning cannot approach the immediacy of divine foreknowledge. If this immediacy could be understood by some means, all uncertainty would be removed. Later on I will try to explain it and make it clear, once I have first dealt with the matters that are disturbing you.
‘Take the case of those who believe that foreknowledge does not impose necessity upon the future, and that freedom of the will is not infringed by foreknowledge. I would like to know why you consider their reasoning ineffective. For the only source of your proof of the predestination of the future is your belief that what is foreknown cannot but happen. Therefore, if – as you were only just now saying –if foreknowledge does not impose any predestination on the future, why is it that acts of the will are forced to be predestined?
‘But for the sake of argument, so that you may see what follows, let us say that there is no foreknowledge. In this case, actions of the will are not forced to be predestined, are they?’
‘Again, let us say that there is foreknowledge, but that it does not impose any predestination on things; the same freedom of the will remains, I think, absolute and uninfringed.
‘But, you will say, even if it is not the same as predestination of the future, foreknowledge is a sign that the future will inevitably happen. In this case, even if there were no foreknowledge, everyone would agree that the occurrence of the future is predestined, since signs represent what they denote but don’t cause it.
‘So the first thing to do is to show that nothing happens other than of necessity, so that foreknowledge may be seen as a sign of this necessity; otherwise, if there is no necessity, that foreknowledge, too, cannot be a sign of something that does not exist. But we all agree that we cannot deduce a proof firmly founded upon reason from signs or arguments imported from without: it must come from arguments that fit together and lead from one to the next.
‘It cannot be that what is foreseen as a future event does not come to pass. It would be as if we believed that what Providence foreknows as future events is not going to happen, instead of believing that although they happen, they were not predestined in their own nature. You will easily be able to see it in this way; we see many things before our eyes as they happen, like the actions we see charioteers performing in order to control and drive their chariots, and other things of this sort. But no necessity forces any of them to happen in this way, does it?’
‘No, for if they all happened of necessity the exercise of skill would be futile.’
‘Therefore, all those things which happen without happening of necessity are, before they happen, future events about to happen, but not about to happen of necessity. For just as the knowledge of present things imposes no necessity on what is happening, so foreknowledge imposes no necessity on what is going to happen.
‘But this, you will say, is the very point in question – whether there can be any foreknowledge of things whose occurrence is not inevitable. There seems to be a contradiction here, and you think that the necessity of events is consequent upon their being foreseen, while if there is no necessity, they cannot be foreknown, because you believe that nothing can be comprehended by knowledge unless it is certain. If events of uncertain occurrence are foreseen as if they were certain, it is only clouded opinion, not the truth of knowledge; for you believe that to have opinions about something which differ from the actual facts is not the same as the fulness of knowledge.
‘The cause of this mistake is that people think that the totality of their knowledge depends on the nature and capacity to be known of the objects of knowledge. But this is all wrong. Everything that is known is comprehended not according to its own nature, but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing. Let us make it clear with a brief example; the same roundness of shape is recognized in one way by the sight and in another way by the touch. The sight remains at a distance and sees the whole simultaneously by means of rays of light passing from the eye, while the touch coming close to and grasping the sphere perceives its roundness part by part. Similarly man himself is beheld in different ways by sense-perception, imagination, reason and intelligence. 5The senses examine his shape as constituted in matter, while imagination considers his shape alone without matter. Reason transcends imagination, too, and with a universal consideration reflects upon the species inherent in individual instances. But there exists the more exalted eye of intelligence which passes beyond the sphere of the universe to behold the simple form itself with the pure vision of the mind. 6
‘The point of greatest importance here is this: the superior manner of knowledge includes the inferior, but it is quite impossible for the inferior to rise to the superior. The senses cannot perceive anything beyond matter; imagination does not consider universal species; and reason does not comprehend simple form; but intelligence as though looking down from above, first perceives form and then distinguishes all things that are under it, but in such a way that it comprehends the form itself which could not be known to any other. It knows reason’s knowledge of universals, imagination’s knowledge of shape, and the senses’ knowledge of matter without using reason, imagination, or the senses, but by the single glance of the mind according to the form, so to speak, as it looks out at all things. Reason, too, when it looks at some universal, without using imagination or the senses, comprehends the imaginable and sensible objects of both. Reason it is that so defines the universal concept; man is a biped rational animal. Since this is a universal concept, everyone knows it is a concept which can be both imagined and perceived by the senses, while reason considers it not through imagination or the senses, but through rational comprehension. Imagination, too, may have taken its original power to see and form figures from the senses, yet in the absence of the senses it can still survey all sensible objects not through sensory but through imaginative perception.
‘So you see, in their manner of knowing they all use their own capacity to know rather than the capacity to be known of the objects of their knowledge. And this is quite proper. For since every judgement is an action of the one who judges, it is necessary that each should perform its work by its own power and not another’s.
‘The Stoics of the Painted Porch 7
Once taught obscure philosophers
To think of things the senses learn
As images impressed upon
The mind from bodies round about;
Just as with swiftly moving pen
It was the custom once to print
Upon the spreading sea of wax
Untouched as yet by mark or scratch
Written letters deep impressed.
But if the active mind of its
Own power can nothing learn or find,
But lies all passive to receive
The imprint of bodies from without;
If like a mirror it reflects
The empty images of things;
Whence comes to minds this concept strong
Which thus discerns and sees all things?
What power can individuals see,
Whence comes this powerful understanding
That all things sees and all discerns?
Able to see particulars,
To analyse that which it sees
Then synthesize analysis
And by alternate paths progress?
False things with true things overthrow?
This is a cause more powerful,
More forceful and effectual
Than that which passively awaits
The print of matter from without:
And yet passivity in things
That live precedes the calling forth
And stirring of the power of mind;
As when light strikes upon the eye
Or voices clatter in the ear:
The active power of mind then roused
Calls forth the species from within
To motions of a similar kind;
And fitting them to marks impressed
From outside, mingles images
Received with forms it hides within.’
‘But if in the perception of corporeal phenomena external stimuli strike and impinge on the instruments of the senses, and corporeal passivity precedes mental activity – a passivity which stimulates mental activity and calls up the dormant forms in the mind – if, I say, in perceiving corporeal phenomena the mind is not passively affected, but judges of its own power the experience subjected to the body, consider the case of beings which in their mode of perception are free from all corporeal influence. They can rouse their mind to activity without having to react to external stimuli in order to perceive things. By this argument, therefore, a multiplicity of kinds of knowledge has been given to different substances. Mere sensation without any other kind of knowing has been given to animals that have no power of movement, like mussels and other shellfish which grow on rocks. Imagination has been given to animals which do have the power of movement and which appear to have some will to choose or avoid things. Reason belongs only to the human race, just as intelligence belongs only to divinity. The result is that that kind of knowing transcends the others which of its own nature knows not only its own objects, but also the objects of the other kinds of knowing.
‘Suppose, then, the senses and the imagination opposed reason and said that the universal that reason thought she could see was nothing at all, on the grounds that what is sensible or imaginable cannot be universal; and that either therefore the judgement of reason was true, and that there was nothing sensible, or, since reason knew that many things were objects of the senses and the imagination, reason’s manner of knowing was worthless, because it thought of that which was sensible and individual as a kind of universal. If, moreover, reason should reply in answer that in considering what was universal she kept in sight that which was comprehended by the senses and that which was comprehended by the imagination, but that the senses and the imagination could not rise to the recognition of universality because their manner of knowing could not go beyond corporeal shapes: and if she added that in the matter of the way things are known, credence should be given to the more sure and perfect discernment; in an argument like this, we, being persons who have the ability to reason as well as to imagine and perceive by the senses, would surely approve of the case of reason.
‘In the same way, human reason refuses to believe that divine intelligence can see the future in any other way except that in which human reason has knowledge. This is how the argument runs: if anything does not seem to have any certain and predestined occurrence, it cannot be foreknown as a future event. Of such, therefore, there is no foreknowledge: and if we believe that even in this case there is foreknowledge, there will be nothing which does not happen of necessity. If, therefore, as beings who have a share of reason, we can judge of the mind of God, we should consider it most fitting for human reason to bow before divine wisdom, just as we judged it right for the senses and the imagination to yield to reason.
‘Let us, then, if we can, raise ourselves up to the heights of that supreme intelligence. There reason will be able to see that which it cannot see by itself – it will be able to see how that which has no certain occurrence may be seen by a certain and fixed foreknowledge, a knowledge that is not opinion, but the boundless immediacy of the highest form of knowing.
‘How many different shapes of life across the world!
Sometimes in elongated form it sweeps the dirt
And draws unbroken furrows borne on powerful ribs;
Sometimes on wandering wings it lightly beats the winds
And swims in liquid flight through airy tracts of space;
Some forms press footprints on the earth and step by step
Transport them over fields or under forest sides.
In different shapes you see them all, yet each one’s look
Is downward to the ground directed, dulling sense;
Alone the race of men can lift its head on high,
Can stand with body upright and disdain the ground.
This picture warns – except to witless earthbound men –
‘‘You who raise your eyes to heaven with thrusting face,
Raise up as well your thoughts, lest weighted down to earth
Your mind sink lower as your body rises high.’’ ’ 8
‘Since, therefore, as we have just shown, every object of knowledge is known not as a result of its own nature, but of the nature of those who comprehend it, let us now examine, as far as we may, the nature of the divine substance, so that we may also learn what is its mode of knowledge.
‘It is the common judgement, then, of all creatures that live by reason that God is eternal. So let us consider the nature of eternity, for this will make clear to us both the nature of God and his manner of knowing. 9 Eternity, then, is the complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life; this will be clear from a comparison with creatures that exist in time. Whatever lives in time exists in the present and progresses from the past to the future, and there is nothing set in time which can embrace simultaneously the whole extent of its life: it is in the position of not yet possessing tomorrow when it has already lost yesterday. In this life of today you do not live more fully than in that fleeting and transitory moment. Whatever, therefore, suffers the condition of being in time, even though it never had any beginning, never has any ending and its life extends into the infinity of time, as Aristotle thought was the case of the world, it is still not such that it may properly be considered eternal.
‘Its life may be infinitely long, but it does not embrace and comprehend its whole extent simultaneously. It still lacks the future, while already having lost the past. So that that which embraces and possesses simultaneously the whole fullness of everlasting life, which lacks nothing of the future and has lost nothing of the past, that is what may properly be said to be eternal. Of necessity it will always be present to itself, controlling itself, and have present the infinity of fleeting time.
‘Those philosophers are wrong, therefore, who when told that Plato believed the world had had no beginning in time and would have no end, maintain that the created world is co-eternal with the Creator. For it is one thing to progress like the world in Plato’s theory through everlasting life, and another thing to have embraced the whole of everlasting life in one simultaneous present. This is clearly a property of the mind of God. God ought not to be considered as older than the created world in extent of time, but rather in the property of the immediacy of His nature. The infinite changing of things in time is an attempt to imitate this state of the presence of unchanging life, but since it cannot portray or equal that state it falls from sameness into change, from the immediacy of presence into the infinite extent of past and future. It cannot possess simultaneously the whole fullness of its life, but by the very fact that it is impossible for its existence ever to come to an end, it does seem in some measure to emulate that which it cannot fulfil or express. It does this by attaching itself to some sort of presence in this small and fleeting moment, and since this presence bears a certain resemblance to that abiding present, it confers on whatever possesses it the appearance of being that which it imitates.
‘But since it could not remain, it seized upon the infinite journey through time, and in this way it became possible for it to continue by progression forward that life whose fullness it could not embrace by remaining still. And so, if we want to give things their proper names, let us follow Plato and say that God is eternal, the world perpetual.
‘Since, therefore, all judgement comprehends those things that are subject to it according to its own nature, and since the state of God is ever that of eternal presence, His knowledge, too, transcends all temporal change and abides in the immediacy of His presence. It embraces all the infinite recesses of past and future and views them in the immediacy of its knowing as though they are happening in the present. If you wish to consider, then, the foreknowledge or prevision by which He discovers all things, it will be more correct to think of it not as a kind of foreknowledge of the future, but as the knowledge of a never ending presence. So that it is better called providence or ‘‘looking forth’’ than prevision or ‘‘seeing beforehand’’. For it is far removed from matters below and looks forth at all things as though from a lofty peak above them.
‘Why, then, do you insist that all that is scanned by the sight of God becomes necessary? Men see things but this certainly doesn’t make them necessary. And your seeing them doesn’t impose any necessity on the things you see present, does it?’
‘And if human and divine present may be compared, just as you see certain things in this your present time, so God sees all things in His eternal present. So that this divine foreknowledge does not change the nature and property of things; it simply sees things present to it exactly as they will happen at some time as future events. It makes no confused judgements of things, but with one glance of its mind distinguishes all that is to come to pass whether it is necessitated or not. Similarly you, when you see at the same time a man walking on the earth and the sun rising in the sky, although the two sights coincide yet you distinguish between them and judge the one to be willed and the other necessitated. In the same way the divine gaze looks down on all things without disturbing their nature; to Him they are present things, but under the condition of time they are future things. And so it comes about that when God knows that something is going to occur and knows that no necessity to be is imposed upon it, it is not opinion, but rather knowledge founded upon truth.
‘If you say at this point that what God sees as a future event cannot but happen, and what cannot but happen, happens of necessity, and if you bind me to this word necessity, I shall have to admit that it is a matter of the firmest truth, but one which scarcely anyone except a student of divinity has been able to fathom. I shall answer that the same future event is necessary when considered with reference to divine foreknowledge, and yet seems to be completely free and unrestricted when considered in itself. For there are two kinds of necessity; 10 one simple, as for example the fact that it is necessary that all men are mortal; and one conditional, as for example, if you know someone is walking, it is necessary that he is walking. For that which a man knows cannot be other than as it is known; but this conditional necessity does not imply simple necessity, because it does not exist in virtue of its own nature, but in virtue of a condition which is added. No necessity forces the man to walk who is making his way of his own free will, although it is necessary that he walks when he takes a step.
‘In the same way, if Providence sees something as present, it is necessary for it to happen, even though it has no necessity in its own nature. God sees those future events which happen of free will as present events; so that these things when considered with reference to God’s sight of them do happen necessarily as a result of the condition of divine knowledge; but when considered in themselves they do not lose the absolute freedom of their nature. All things, therefore, whose future occurrence is known to God do without doubt happen, but some of them are the result of free will. In spite of the fact that they do happen, their existence does not deprive them of their true nature, in virtue of which the possibility of their non-occurrence existed before they happened.
‘What does it matter, then, if they are not necessary, when because of the condition of divine foreknowledge it will turn out exactly as if they were necessary? The answer is this. It is impossible for the two events I mentioned just now – the rising of the sun and the man walking – not to be happening when they do happen; and yet it was necessary for one of them to happen before it did happen, but not so for the other. And so, those things which are present to God will without doubt happen; but some of them result from the necessity of things, and some of them from the power of those who do them. We are not wrong, therefore, to say that if these things are considered with reference to divine foreknowledge, they are necessary, but if they are considered by themselves, they are free of the bonds of necessity; just as everything that the senses perceive is universal if considered with reference to the reason, but individual if considered in itself.
‘But, you will reply, if it lies in my power to change a proposed course of action, I will be able to evade Providence, for I will perhaps have altered things which Providence foreknows. My answer will be that you can alter your plan, but that since this is possible, and since whether you do so or in what way you change it is visible to Providence the ever present and true, you cannot escape divine foreknowledge, just as you cannot escape the sight of an eye that is present to watch, though of your own free will you may turn to a variety of actions.
‘Well, you will ask, isn’t divine knowledge changed as a result of my rearrangement, so that as I change my wishes it, too, seems to change its knowledge? The answer is no. Each future thing is anticipated by the gaze of God which bends it back and recalls it to the presence of its own manner of knowledge; it does not change, as you think, with alternate knowledge of now this and now that, but with one glance anticipates and embraces your changes in its constancy. God receives this present mode of knowledge and vision of all things not from the issue of future things but from His own immediacy. So that the difficulty you put forward a short time ago, 11that it was unfitting if our future is said to provide a cause of God’s knowledge, is solved. The power of this knowledge which embraces all things in present understanding has itself established the mode of being for all things and owes nothing to anything secondary to itself. And since this is so, man’s freedom of will remains inviolate and the law does not impose reward and punishment unfairly, because the will is free from all necessity. God has foreknowledge and rests a spectator from on high of all things; and as the ever present eternity of His vision dispenses reward to the good and punishment to the bad, it adapts itself to the future quality of our actions. Hope is not placed in God in vain and prayers are not made in vain, for if they are the right kind they cannot but be efficacious. Avoid vice, therefore, and cultivate virtue; lift up your mind to the right kind of hope, and put forth humble prayers on high. A great necessity is laid upon you, if you will be honest with yourself, a great necessity to be good, since you live in the sight of a judge who sees all things.’ 12