Poetry, Justice, Providence and Destiny


The doctrine of divine Providence, Boethius complains, rather aggravates then solves the real problem: why is justice – certainly “poetic justice” – so unapparent in the course of events? Philosophia has two replies (which I will condense).
1. It is all justice. The good are always rewarded and the wicked always punished, by the mere fact of *being* what they are. Evil power and evil performance are the punishment of evil will, and it will be infinite since his soul is immortal (as philosophy, no less than theology, asserts). The passage looks back to Virgil’s hell whose inhabitants ausi omnes immane nefas ausoque potiti, “all purposed dreadful deeds, and got their way.”
And yet, pleads Boethius, it is very strange to see the wicked flourishing and the virtuous afflicted. Why, yes, replies philosophy;
“Everything is strange until you know the cause.”
2. That which “in the citadel of the divine simplicity” is Providence, when seen from below, mirrored in the multiplicity of time and space, is Destiny. As in a wheel, the nearer we get to the center the less motion we find, so every finite being, in proportion as he comes near to participating in the Divine (unmoving) nature, becomes less subject to Destiny, which is merely a moving image of eternal Providence. That Providence is wholly good.
We say that the wicked flourish and the innocent suffer. But we do not know who are the wicked and who are the innocent; still less what either need. All luck, seen from the center, is good and medicinal. The sort we call “bad” exercises good men and curbs bad ones – if they will take it so. Thus if only you were near the hub, if you participate in Providence more and suffer destiny less, “it lies in your own hands to make your fortune what you please”. Or, as Spencer turns this passage, “each unto himself his life may fortune”.

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