Saturday, October 03, 2015

Boethius on God, Time and Foreknowledge

According to Boethius (De Consolatio 5), there is no such thing as "divine forevision" or foreknowledge on the metaphysical level:

"If you will weigh the foresight with which God discerns all things, you will rightly esteem it to be the knowledge of a never fading instant rather than a foreknowledge of the 'future.' It should therefore rather be called provision than prevision because, placed high above all things, it looks out over all as from the loftiest mountain top."

While humans may rightly call God's knowledge of that which is future "foreknowledge," in reality (from the perspective of ultimate reality), it is not foreknowledge, but an intimate awareness of the present qua nunc aeterna.

But why would a Catholic thinker be tempted to make this move? There are at least two reasons that readily spring to mind. Firstly, Boethius believes that if God actually foresees future events or states, then He might also cause them (i.e., foreknowledge stems from foreordination). Secondly, Boethius reasons: "Without doubt . . . all things which God foreknows do come to pass, but certain of them proceed from free will."

So libertarian free will only seems possible if God does not "foreknow" future free actions. The way out of this problem for Boethius is to posit an atemporal deity.

Nevertheless, De Consolatio 5 also maintains that something known "cannot be otherwise than it is known to be," such as God knowing a future free act. Free actions remain free IN SE even though God foreknows them--they "do not lose the perfect freedom of their nature" just because of divine foreknowledge (William Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, 7). That seems to be the position of Boethius.

Thomas Aquinas writes in support of what Boethius contends:

"Hence what is known by us must be necessary even as it is in itself; for what is future contingent in itself, cannot be known by us. Whereas what is known by God must be necessary according to the mode in which they are subject to the divine knowledge, as already stated, but not absolutely as considered in their own causes" (ST I.14.13, Reply to Obj. 3. See also Hasker, God, Time, and Knowledge, 10).

Notice that Aquinas likewise escapes the possible dilemmas that may arise from positing divine foreknowledge by appealing to the notion of God's eternal present (NUNC AETERNAE). But if God subsists in timeless eternity (above and beyond time), which both Boethius and Aquinas believe, then He doesn't really see future events or behold future states before they occur, but rather as they occur.

1 comment:

Duncan said...

Ultimate στρατηγία ?