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Book 5, Chapter 6

One chapter per week study of a book that profoundly influenced C. S. Lewis.

Book 5, Chapter 6

Postby magpie » 09 Mar 2006, 20:30

In this final chapter, Philosophy seeks to solve the problem of Providence by examining the nature of the divine knower.
The common judgment of all rational creatures holds that God is eternal. Therefore let us consider what eternity is, for this will reveal both the divine nature and the divine knowledge. Eternity is the whole, perfect, and simultaneous possession of endless life.
This she contrasts with temporal beings who must experience each moment as a distinct event. Thus whatever lives in time cannot be eternal.
For whatever lives in time lives in the present, proceeding from past to future, and nothing is so constituted in time that it can embrace the whole span of its life at once. It has not yet arrived at tomorrow, and it has already lost yesterday; even the life of this day is lived only in each moving, passing moment. Therefore, whatever is subject to the condition of time, even that which--as Aristotle conceived the world to be--has no beginning and will have no end in a life coextensive with the infinity of time, is such that it cannot rightly be thought eternal.
(One might compare this assertion with Letter XV of The Screwtape Letters as well as the final cantos of Dante's Paradiso, and of course with Book 11 of the Confessions of St. Augustine who most certainly influenced Boethius on this subject.) Making a distinction between eternity and infinity, Philosophy cites Plato's Timaeus, and concludes
For it is one thing to live an endless life, which is what Plato ascribed to the world, and another for the whole of unending life to be embraced all at once as present, which is clearly proper to the divine mind. Nor should God be thought of as older than His creation in extent of time, but rather as prior to it by virtue of the simplicity of His nature. For the infinite motion of temportal things imitates the immediate present of His changeless life and, since it cannot reproduce or equal life, it sinks from immobility to motion and declines from the simplicity of the present into the infinite duration of future and past.
and agrees with Plato that God is eternal, but that the world ceaseless moving in time is perpetual.

It is this eternal simplicity, later described by Dante as the still point in the ever turning wheel. which Philosophy cites as the basis for God's unique knowledge which emcompasses and transcends all time, regarding all things in "simple comprehension" in the immediate present.
Thus, if you will think about the foreknowledge by which God distinguishes all things, you will rightly consider it to be not a foreknowledge of future events, but knowledge of a never changing present. For this reason, divine knowledge is called providence, rather than previson, because it resides above all inferior things and looks out on all things from their summit.
Thus the things which God sees are not under necessity to happen because they already exist.

After this discussion of the difference between God's eternal viewpoint and humanity's temporal one, an analysis which I find both persuasive and compelling, I find myself crying, "Quit while you're ahead," but Philosophy plunges on with a complicated discussion of the meaning of "necessity," a topic which she admits "only a profound theologian can grasp." To accomplish this she makes a further distinction between simple and conditional necessity.
For there are two kinds of necessity: one is simple, as the necessity by which all men are mortals; the other is conditional, as is the case when, if you know that someone is walking, he must necessarily be walking. For whatever is known, must be as it is known to be; but this condition does not involve that other, simple necessity.
I have trouble following this assertion and its subsequent explanation by which she attempts to prove that there is no conflict between Providence and free will.
Therefore, from the standpoint of divine knowledge these things are necessary because of the condition of their being known by God; but, considered only in themselves, they lose nothing of the absolute freedom of their own natures.
This continual definition and redefinition of necessity is beginning to remind me of a certain former President's quibble over the word "is."

Far more cogent to the discussion of free will is the question whether one can choose to act in a way contrary to the future which is foreseen by Providence.
My answer is this: you can indeed alter what you propose to do, but, because the present truth of Providence sees that you can, and whether or not you will, you cannot frustrate the divine knowledge any more than you can escape the eye of someone who is present and watching you, even though you may, by your own free will, vary your actions.
In other words, God sees what is, even when that entails wild fluctuations in human will or behavior. Thus even our future volatility is included in the totality of God's present vision. In this way human free will remains inviolate and the justice of consequent rewards and punishments is maintained. Moreover,
Our hopes and prayers are not directed to God in vain, for if they are just they cannot fail. Therefore, stand firm against vice and cultivate virtue. Lift up your soul to worthy hopes, and offer humble prayers to heaven. If you will face it, the necessity of virtuous action imposed upon you is very great, since all your actions are done in the sight of a Judge who sees all things.
And with these words The Consolation of Philosophy comes to an end.

Maybe it is my current interest in the subject of time, but I find this chapter to be the strongest in this entire work. (And perhaps this was also true for Boethius himself since time was a commodity of which he had very little left.) But having said that, what would I give as my overall assessment of this book? There is no denying the importance of this work. Not only did it exert a profound influence on Lewis who acknowledged this debt on numerous occasions, but it was an essential part of the intellectual foundation for a wide variey of medieval thinkers, not the least of whom was my beloved Dante. Nor do I regret the effort which I have expended on this book because it has led me to explore numerous other writers, some arid and some fruitful. Yet in the end, (and here Jesse has permission to rap my subjective knuckles) my overall reaction to its arguments is hunger. Boethius has raised more questions than he has answered. But perhaps that is all we should expect of any such work. It forces us to think!
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
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re: Book 5, Chapter 6

Postby Lark » 17 Mar 2006, 06:28


Thanks for all your hard work on the Consolation. I can only say I read it once in a while but it looks like a lot of people looked at it.


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Re: Book 5, Chapter 6

Postby Kolbitar » 03 Jun 2006, 02:32

::Yet in the end, (and here Jesse has permission to rap my subjective knuckles) my overall reaction to its arguments is hunger.

Hi Magpie. Well, hunger does imply the objectivity of food, so your knuckles are safe for now :smile:
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