views updated Jun 08 2018


PROVIDENCE. Providence is God's fore-knowledge, beneficent care, and governance over the universe at large and human affairs in particular. Providence also refers to God himself in his providential aspects, to a person who acts as the means of Providence, and to an act (favorable or unfavorable) witnessing or manifesting God's will. Providence is the hinge that explains and gives moral value to worldly events in terms of religious doctrine. The word derives from the Latin providentia, 'foresight'.

Christians, Jews, and Muslims of early modern Europe all prayed to an omnipotent Creator God and all therefore believed in divine Providence. Within this period, however, the concept of Providence was most contested and most invoked in the Latin West. Providence had always been important in Catholic theology, but it rose to greater prominence as the writings and theology of St. Augustine of Hippo (354430) gained influence among many Catholic thinkers in the high and late Middle Ages. The Augustinian emphasis on the omnipotence of God brought with it linked beliefs that tied an emphasis on Providence to emphases on the importance of God's grace for the human soul's salvation and damnation, predestination, and God's positive responsibility for evil in the world. Augustine's influence was particularly strong among the members of the eponymous Augustinian monastic orders.

When the Augustinian monk Martin Luther (14831546) broke with Rome, he took his stand in large part on an Augustinian formulation of the sole power of God's grace to save souls. Huldrych Zwingli (14841531), John Calvin (15091564), and Théodore de Bèze (15191605) successively elaborated upon Luther's revolt by grounding salvation absolutely on the logical sequence of God's absolute sovereignty, God's continuing and providential control of the world, and God's predestining salvation and damnation of human souls. For both Lutheran and Reformed Protestants, Providence therefore assumed a far more central role in their doctrine than it had held for even the most Augustinian of medieval Catholics; for the Reformed, Providence was at the very core of their beliefs. Some of the most intense believers among the Reformed, such as the English Puritans, came to believe that they could discern the predestinate fate of their souls and achieve assurance of salvation by careful scrutiny of the signs of God's Providence in the world. For them, "experimental providentialism" was not only a matter of intellectual doctrine but was also the emotional heart of their practical divinity.

For early modern Catholics, Providence continued to be an important part of their theology. In polemics against Protestants, Catholic controversialists often invoked friendly Providence. Spanish writers referred to Providence to explain their nation's conquest of its New World empire, while Gaelic bards explained the English conquest and settlement of Ireland as God's providential punishment of the Gaels for their sins. Contemplation of the sure working out of God's Providence, manifested in works such as Thomas More's (14781535) De Tristitia Christi (1535; On the sorrow of Christ), also served to console Catholics during their misfortunes. The Augustinian note resounded among Catholics from the Reformation to the French Revolution.

Yet among Protestants, particularly among the Reformed, providentialism was far more intense, and it permeated their thought and culture. Faith in God's Providence gave the Huguenots the patience to endure massacres and political defeats during the French Wars of Religion, and the Dutch and the English saw the preservation of their political independence and religious liberty through the age of religious wars as providential dispensations to elect nations. Providentialism also united nations internally. In early seventeenth-century England, a popular culture of providentialism united the different Protestant subcultures; likewise, a century later the depiction of the Glorious Revolution (16881689) and the Protestant Succession as providential events underpinned the era's Whig political consensus. Providentialism also provided the material for much of the era's literature. Dutch travel accounts, Huguenot poetry, and English history playsexamples include Willem Ysbrantzoon Bontekoe's disaster thriller The Memorable Account of the Voyage of the Nieuw Hoorn (1646), Théodore-Agrippa d'Aubigné's epic recapitulation of the French Wars of Religion, Les Tragiques (1616), and Shakespeare's depiction of the triumph of Henry Tudor in Richard III (1594)all manifest providential content and structure.

Providentialism could also be revolutionary, despite a tendency for all churches, states, and social orders to justify their establishment by claiming providential dispensation. The Scot John Knox (15061572) justified his resistance theory partly in terms of Providence; and a century later English Puritan saints-in-arms justified their actions promoting civil war, revolution, regicide, and an English republic with reference to the doctrine of Providence. Oliver Cromwell's (15991658) career provides an excellent case study of how providentialism could inspire military and political actions. Post-Restoration Puritans, chastened by the experience of political defeat, tended to a more fatalistic interpretation of Providence as they moved to the more passive politics of dissent.

Providentialism lessened in rough proportion to the general secularization of Western thought and was progressively supplanted by theories of causation that lessened or removed God's role in worldly events. In the scientific realm, chance, probability, and mechanical laws replaced concepts of providential causation: Pierre Gassendi (15921655), Robert Boyle (16271691), and Isaac Newton (16421727) successively distanced God from the day-to-day operations of the physical universe. In the realm of historical thought, providentialism had been fading since the Renaissance, when classicizing humanists such as Niccolò Machiavelli (14691527) reemphasized the pagan, profoundly unteleological concept of Fortune at the expense of Providence. The random purposelessness of history exemplified by Fortune would remain for historians after belief in the personified concept faded. Thomas More, Garcilaso de la Vega (15391616), Jacques Bénigne Bossuet (16271704), and Daniel Defoe (16601731) all upheld more providential conceptions of history, but the disjunction of Providence from history would prove to be permanent and widening. Giovanni Battista Vico (16681744) retained a providential structure in his cyclical conception of human history, but removed it from the details of the historical narrative. Among Enlightenment historians, Voltaire (16941778) thought the philosophical historian, not God, gave history its structure and its moral purpose, while Anne-Robert-Jacques Turgot (17271781) substituted earthly progress for divine Providence, and thus bequeathed a this-worldly sublimation of providential history to Hegel and Marx.

With regard to Providence, Orthodox Christians responded with particular intensity to the new Protestant doctrines, and Jews with particular intensity to the claims of Newtonianism. Both, however, retained conceptions of Providence largely unchanged during this period.

See also Bèze, Théodore de ; Bossuet, Jacques-Bénigne ; Boyle, Robert ; Calvin, John ; Cromwell, Oliver ; Defoe, Daniel ; Gassendi, Pierre ; Glorious Revolution (Britain) ; Knox, John ; Luther, Martin ; Machiavelli, Niccolò ; More, Thomas ; Newton, Isaac ; Puritanism ; Reformation, Protestant ; Vico, Giovanni Battista ; Voltaire ; Wars of Religion, French ; Zwingli, Huldrych .


There are dozens, if not hundreds, of books and articles dealing with Providence in early modern Europealthough the focus is largely upon Providence in England. For theological surveys that include mention of Providence, see Alister McGrath, Reformation Thought: An Introduction (Oxford, 1988); George A. Maloney, S. J., A History of Orthodox Theology since 1453 (Belmont, Mass., 1976); and A. D. Wright, The Counter-Reformation: Catholic Europe and the Non-Christian World (New York, 1982). For more specialized books and articles on Providence, see Barbara Donagan, "Providence, Chance and Explanation: Some Paradoxical Aspects of Puritan Views of Causation," Journal of Religious History 11 (1981): 385403; M. A. Fitzsimons, "The Role of Providence in History," The Review of Politics 35, 3 (1973): 386397; Peter Lake, "Calvinism and the English Church 15701635," Past and Present 114 (1987): 3276; Keith Thomas, Religion and the Decline of Magic (London, 1971), pp. 78112; Alexandra Walsham, Providence in Early Modern England (Oxford, 1999); and Blair Worden, "Providence and Politics in Cromwellian England," Past and Present 109 (1985): 5599.

David Randall


views updated May 29 2018


PROVIDENCE , in religion and philosophy, God's guidance or care of His creatures, emanating from His constant concern for them and for the achievement of His purposes. Providence includes both supervision of the acts of men and the guidance of the actors in specific directions. Its object is also to deal out fitting retribution – in order to establish justice in the world, retribution itself often serving as a means of guidance (see below). Hence there is a connection between providence and the principle of *reward and punishment. The origin of the term providence is Greek (πρόνοια, lit. "perceiving beforehand") and first appears in Jewish literature in the Wisdom of Solomon, 14:3; 17:2.

In the Bible

The basis of the belief in a constant and eternal divine providence is the biblical conception of God. In polytheism there is generally a belief in a fixed "order" of nature, which is above the gods. This "order" serves to some extent as a guarantee that right prevails in the world (this is the Greek θέμιζ or μοῖρα; the Egyptian ma'at; and the Iranian-Persian artha, "truth"). However, in this type of belief the right is, as it were, a product of action (this is also the Buddhist belief in "karma") and is not dependent on a divine providence with a universal moral purpose. On the contrary, through the use of certain magical acts, man can even overcome the will of the god. In any case, there is a basic belief in fate and necessity. By contrast, the belief in providence is in the first instance a belief in a God who has cognition and will, and who has unlimited control over nature and a personal relationship with all men – a relationship which is determined solely by their moral or immoral behavior. Biblical belief does not deny the existence of a fixed natural order – "the ordinances" of heaven and earth, of day and night (Jer. 31:35–36; 33:25) – but since God is the creator of nature and is not subject to its laws (e.g. Jer. 18:6ff.), He can guide man and reward him according to his merit, even through the supernatural means of miracles. Such guidance may be direct (through divine *revelation) or indirect – through a prophet or other animate or inanimate intermediaries ("Who maketh His angels spirits; His ministers a flaming fire," Ps. 104:4; cf. Joel 2:1ff.; Amos 3:7; Ps. 103:20–22). God's providence is both individual – extending to each and every person (Adam, Abel, Cain, etc.), and general-over peoples and groups, especially Israel, His chosen people. The guarding and guidance of the Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and their families (Sarah in the house of Pharaoh, Hagar in the desert, Joseph in Egypt, etc.) aimed at the ultimate purpose of creating an exemplary people exalted above all other nations (Deut. 26:18). The whole history of the Israelites, beginning with the Exodus from Egypt, is, according to the biblical conception, a continuous unfolding of divine providence's guidance of the people as a whole as well as of its individual members in the way marked out for them. Even the sufferings undergone by the people belong to the mysteries of divine providence (cf. e.g., the doctrinal introductions in Judg. 2:11–23; 3:1–8; 6:7–10, 13–17; 10:6–15; ii Kings 14:26–27; 17:7ff.).

It can be said that the entire Bible is a record of divine providence, whether general or individual. While the Pentateuch and the Prophets emphasize general, national providence, Psalms and Proverbs are based on the belief that God is concerned with the individual, hears the cry of the wretched, desires the well-being of the righteous, and directs man, even against his will, to the destiny which He has determined for him ("The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord," Prov. 16:33; "The king's heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water; He turneth it whithersoever He will," Prov. 21:1; etc.). Prophets (Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Habakkuk) and psalmists (Ps. 9; 71; 77; 88) sometimes question the ways of providence and divine justice, but they ultimately affirm the traditional belief in providence. In the last analysis, this position is also maintained by the author of Ecclesiastes, who otherwise expresses the gravest doubts regarding providence ("But know that for all these things God will bring thee to judgment," Eccles. 11:9). This is true also of Job, but his doubts and misgivings are confined to the question of a divine providence which rules the universe, and particularly mankind.

The unlimited belief in providence would seem to conflict with the doctrine that man can freely choose good and evil (for which God rewards or punishes him), which is also integral to the biblical world view. This issue was grappled with only in later times, with the development of religious philosophy in the Middle Ages.

In the Apocrypha

In the Apocrypha, too, the belief is widespread that God watches over the deeds of mortals in order to requite the wicked and the righteous according to their deserts. The suffering of the righteous is but a temporary trial in order that they be well rewarded in the end. Tobit, for instance, for dealing kindly with the living and with the dead is persecuted by the authorities. It appears as if the hand of God, too, was turned against him but his righteousness is rewarded. In the end he is vindicated and is vouchsafed the victory of righteousness. The same applies to the community of Israel – the enemy invariably receives his punishment and the righteous nation is saved, almost unexpectedly. According to i Maccabees (9:46), Judah Maccabee urged the people to pray because he knew that God pays attention to prayer ("Now therefore cry unto Heaven that you may be delivered out of the hand of your enemies"). Similarly, the inhabitants of Jerusalem were convinced that their prayer saved them in time of trouble (ii Macc. 1:8). As in ancient times, so too in the time of the Hasmoneans, God continued to save His people by means of angels sent by Him (Heliodorus, who went to desecrate the Temple, fell into a faint at the hand of angels: ii Macc. 3; angels in heaven hastened to the assistance of Judah Maccabee: ibid. 10:29–30). Lysias also realized that the Hebrews were invincible because God helped them (ibid. 11:13).

In the concept of providence in the apocalyptic works, particularly in the writings of the *Dead Sea sect, one can detect a tendency toward an important innovation. In these works the idea is expressed that God, who has preknowledge of everything, also decrees everything in advance; both the wicked and the righteous are formed at their creation ("all the sons of light each one to his fortune according to the counsel of the Lord…; all the sons of darkness each one to his guilt according to the vengeance of the Lord," – Manual of Discipline 1:9–10; "From the Lord of Knowledge, all is and was… and before they came into being he prepared all their thought… and it is unchangeable," – ibid. 3:15–16; "and unto Israel and the angel of his truth [Michael?] [they] are a help to all the sons of light," while "the angel of darkness" rules over "all the dominion of the sons of wickedness," – ibid. 20–24; and see Jub. 1:20 and 2:2). According to Jubilees everything is also written beforehand in the "tablets of the heavens" (3:10). Josephus, too (Ant., 13:171–3, 18:11f.; Wars, 2:119f.), distinguishes between the different sects that arose in the time of the Second Temple, primarily on the basis of the difference between them in the concept of providence. According to him, "the Pharisees say that some things but not all depend on fate, but some depend upon us as to whether they occur or not" (Ant., 13:172). "The Essenes hold that fate rules everything and nothing happens to man without it; while the Sadducees abolish fate, holding that it does not exist at all, that human actions do not occur through its power, and that everything is dependent upon man himself who alone is the cause of the good, and evil results from man's folly" (ibid.; see also *Essenes; *Sadducees; *Boethusians; *Pharisees). If the definitions of Josephus are accurate, one may say that the Sadducees deviated from the biblical concept and believed in providence in general but not in detail; something of the same can be said of the Essenes in what pertains to their belief in predestination, but judging from the writings found in Qumran, this belief was not without qualifications and exceptions.

In the Talmud

The outlook of the scholars of the Mishnah and Talmud on the nature and purport of divine providence is summarized in the dictum of Akiva (Avot 3:15): "All is foreseen, but freedom of choice is given; and the world is judged with goodness, and all is in accordance with the works." It is apparent that the first part of this dictum expresses an attempt to reconcile the principle of providence on the one hand with freedom of choice on the other; but it is possible that the idea here expressed is identical with that contained in the dictum: "Everything is in the hand of heaven except for the fear of heaven" (Ber. 33b), which is intended to build a bridge between freedom of choice and the idea of predestination. From various dicta in the Talmud it is possible to infer that the idea of providence during this era embraced not only all men but even all creatures. For the gazelle that is wont to cast its seed at parturition from the top of the mountain, the Holy One prepares "an eagle that catches it in its wings and places it before her, and were it to come a moment earlier or a moment later [the offspring] would die at once" (bb 16a–b); in similar vein is: "The Holy One sits and nourishes both the horns of the wild ox and the ova of lice" (Shab. 107b). Of man it was said: "No man bruises his finger on earth unless it is decreed in heaven" (Ḥul. 7b); and all is revealed and known before God: "even the small talk of a man's conversation with his wife" (Lev. R. 26:7). Similarly: "The Holy One sits and pairs couples – the daughter of so-and-so to so-and-so" (Lev. R. 8:1; Gen. R. 68:4; and cf. mk 18b), or: "He is occupied in making ladders, casting down the one and elevating the other" (Gen. R. 68:4).

The continuation of Akiva's dictum ("and the world is judged with goodness") accords apparently with the traditional outlook of the Talmud. Thus, for example, it was said that even if man has 999 angels declaring him guilty and only one speaking in his favor, God assesses him mercifully (tj, Kid. 1:10, 61d; Shab. 32a); that God is distressed at the distress of the righteous and does not rejoice at the downfall of the wicked (Sanh. 39b; Tanh., be-Shallaḥ 10) and does not deal tyrannically with His creatures (Av. Zar. 3a); and he sits and waits for man and does not punish him until his measure is full (Sot. 9a).

[Yehoshua M. Grintz]

In Medieval Jewish Philosophy

The treatment of providence (hashgaḥah) in medieval Jewish philosophy reflects the discussion of this subject in late Greek philosophy, particularly in the writings of the second-century c.e. Aristotelian commentator Alexander of Aphrodisias, and in the theological schools of Islam. The Hebrew term hashgaḥah itself was apparently first coined by Samuel ibn Tibbon as a translation of the Arabic word ʿanāʾyah. In his Guide of the Perplexed (trans. by S. Pines, 1963), Maimonides uses the latter synonymously with tadbīr, the Hebrew equivalent of which is hanhagah (i.e., governance of the world). In most Hebrew philosophical works, however, hanhagah designates the universal providence which determines the natural order of the world as a whole, while hashgaḥah is generally used to designate individual providence. For the latter, Judah *Al-Ḥarizi also used the Hebrew term shemirah ("safekeeping"), and it should be noted that originally Ibn Tibbon, too, preferred this, as is shown in a manuscript copy of a letter to Maimonides (see below).

*Saadiah Gaon deals with the problem of providence in treatise 5 of his Emunot ve-De'ot (Book of Beliefs and Opinions, trans. by S. Rosenblatt, 1948), whose subject is "Merits and Demerits." In chapter 1, he identifies providence with the reward and punishment meted out by God to the individual in this world, which is "the world of action"; though, ultimately, reward and punishment are reserved for the world to come. Echoes of the philosophical debate on the problem of providence may be found in other parts of Saadiah's book. Thus, he asks how it is possible that God's knowledge can encompass both the past and the future and "that he knows both equally" in a single, eternal, and immutable act of knowing (ibid., 2:13). His reply is that it is impossible to compare man's knowledge, which is acquired through the medium of the senses, with God's, which "is not acquired by any intermediate cause" and is not derived from temporal facts, but rather flows from His essence. This linking of the problem of providence with that of the nature of God's knowledge originated with Alexander of Aphrodisias, as did the question of the reconciliation of God's foreknowledge with man's freedom of the will. Saadiah's solution to the latter problem is to point out that the Creator's knowledge of events is not the cause of their occurrence. If that were the case, all events would be eternal, inasmuch as God's knowledge of them is eternal (ibid., 4:4). Abraham *Ibn Daud devotes an entire chapter of his book Emunah Ramah (6:2; ed. by S. Weil (1852), 93ff.) to the problems involved in the concept of providence. Ibn Daud, too, was considerably influenced by Alexander of Aphrodisias, who upheld "the nature of the possible," thereby allowing for human choice, in opposition to the absolute determinism of the *Stoics. Like Alexander, he limits God's knowledge to that which stems from the necessary laws of nature through natural causes, to the exclusion of the effects of accident or free will which are only possible. He argues that God's ignorance of things that come to be as a result of accident or free will does not imply an imperfection in His nature, for whatever is "possible" is also only possible for God, and hence He knows possible things only as possible, not as necessary.

Maimonides deals with the question of providence in light of the philosophic teachings on "governance" (hanhagah, tadbīr), which identify it with the action of the forces of nature (Guide, 2:10). He fully discusses hashgaḥah (ʿanāʾyah; ibid., 3:16–24), listing five main views on the matter: those of *Epicurus, *Aristotle, the Ash'arites, the Mu'tazilites (see *Kalām), and, lastly, of the Torah, which affirms both freedom of the human will and divine justice. The good and evil that befall man are the result of this justice, "for all His ways are judgment," and there exists a perfect correspondence between the achievements of the individual and his fate. This is determined by the level of man's intellect, however, rather than by his deeds, so that it follows that only he whose perfected intellect adheres to God is protected from all evil (Guide, 3:51). Such a man realizes that governance, providence, and purpose cannot be attributed to God in a human sense, and he will, therefore, "bear every misfortune lightly, nor will misfortunes multiply doubts concerning God… but will rather increase his love of God." Maimonides argues against Alexander of Aphrodisias and Ibn Daud that God's knowledge instantaneously encompasses the numerous things subject to change without any change in His essence; that God foresees all things that will come to be without any addition to His knowledge; and that He therefore knows both the possible ("privation," i.e., that which does not yet exist but is about to be) and the infinite (i.e., individuals and particulars which are unlimited in number). The philosophers, he states, arbitrarily asserted that it is impossible to know the possible or the infinite, but they overlooked the difference between God's knowledge and human knowledge. Just as man's intellect is inadequate to apprehend God's essence, so it cannot apprehend His knowledge (ibid., 2:20).

In his letter to Maimonides (published by Z. Diesendruck in: huca, 11 (1936), 341–66), Samuel ibn Tibbon calls attention to a contradiction between Maimonides' treatment of providence in Guide, 3:17ff., and his discussion at the end of the Guide in chapter 51, where, departing from the philosophical approach that providence is relevant only to the welfare of the soul, Maimonides expresses the conviction that the devout man will never be allowed to suffer any harm. Shem Tov ibn *Falaquera (Moreh ha-Moreh, 145–8), Moses ibn *Tibbon, in a note to his father's letter (ed. Diesendruck, op. cit.), *Moses of Narbonne, in his commentary on the Guide (3:51), and Efodi (Profiat *Duran), in his commentary on the same chapter, all dwell on this point. Shem Tov b. Joseph *Ibn Shem Tov, in his book Emunot (Ferrara, 1556, 8b–10a) and Isaac *Arama, in his Akedat Yiẓḥak, take Maimonides to task for having made the degree of providence exercised over man dependent on perfection of the intellect rather than on performance of the commandments. The Karaite *Aaron b. Elijah devotes several chapters of his book Eẓ Ḥayyim (ed. by F. Delitzsch (1841), 82–90) to the subject of providence, and he, too, criticizes Maimonides. Once the position has been taken that God's knowledge cannot be restricted, the activity of providence likewise cannot be made to depend only upon the degree of development of man's intellect. Just as God knows everything, so He watches over all things (ch. 88).

Isaac *Albalag, in his Tikkun De'ot, discusses providence in the course of his critique of the opinions of *Avicenna and al-*Ghazālī. It is impossible, he contends, to comprehend God's mode of cognition, but it is possible to attribute to Him a knowledge of things which are outside the realm of natural causation, i.e., free will and chance. God's knowledge and providence also provide the subject of a penetrating analysis in the Milḥamot Adonai of *Levi b. Gershom (treatises 2 and 3), who returns to the Aristotelian position as understood in the light of Alexander of Aphrodisias' commentary. It is inadmissible, he states, that God should know the possible and the numerically infinite, that is, the particulars qua particulars, but He does know all things through the order embracing them all.

In contrast to this view, Ḥasdai *Crescas argues in his Or Adonai (2:1–2) that the belief in individual providence is a fundamental principle of the Mosaic Law, according to which God's knowledge "encompasses the infinite" (i.e., the particular) and "the non-existent" (i.e., the possible) "without any change in the nature of the possible" (i.e., without His knowledge nullifying the reality of free will). Crescas maintains that the biblical and talmudic faith in providence is based on a belief in individual providence. His disciple, Joseph *Albo, also deals extensively with God's knowledge and providence in his Sefer ha-Ikkarim (4:1–15), during the course of his discussion concerning reward and punishment.

[Alexander Altmann]

In the Kabbalah

The question of divine providence almost never appears in the Kabbalah as a separate problem, and therefore few detailed and specific discussions were devoted to it. The idea of providence is identified in the Kabbalah with the assumption that there exists an orderly and continuous system of government of the cosmos, carried out by the Divine Potencies – the Sefirot – which are revealed in this government. The Kabbalah does no more than explain the way in which this system operates, while its actual existence is never questioned. The world is not governed by chance, but by unceasing divine providence, which is the secret meaning of the hidden order of all the planes of creation, and especially in the world of man. He who understands the mode of action of the Sefirot also understands the principles of divine providence which are manifested through this action. The idea of divine providence is interwoven in a mysterious way with the limitation of the area of action of causality in the world. For although most events which happen to living creatures, and especially to men, appear as if they occur in a natural way which is that of cause and effect, in reality these events contain individual manifestations of divine providence, which is responsible for everything that happens to man, down to the last detail. In this sense, the rule of divine providence is, in the opinion of *Naḥmanides, one of the "hidden wonders" of creation. The workings of nature ("I will give you your rains in their season," Lev. 26:4 and the like) are coordinated in hidden ways with the moral causality determined by the good and evil in men's actions.

In their discussions of divine providence, the early kabbalists stressed the activity of the tenth Sefirah, since the rule of the lower world is principally in its hands. This Sefirah is the Shekhinah, the presence of the divine potency in the world at all times. This presence is responsible for God's providence for His creatures; but according to some opinions the origin of divine providence is actually in the upper Sefirot. Symbolic expression is given to this idea, particularly in the *Zohar, in the description of the eyes in the image of *Adam Kadmon ("Primordial Man"), in his two manifestations, as the Arikh Anpin (lit. "The Long Face" but meaning "The Long Suffering") or Attikah Kaddishah ("the Holy Ancient One"), and as the Ze'eir Anpin ("The Short Face," indicating the "Impatient"). In the description of the organs in the head of Attikah Kaddishah, the eye which is always open is taken as a supernal symbol for the existence of divine providence, whose origin is in the first Sefirah. This upper providence consists solely of mercy, with no intermixture of harsh judgment. Only in the second manifestation, which is that of God in the image of the Ze'eir Anpin, is the working of judgment also found in the divine providence. For "…the eyes of the Lord… range through the whole earth" (Zech. 4:10), and they convey his providence to every place, both for judgment and for mercy. The pictorial image, "the eye of providence," is here understood as a symbolic expression which suggests a certain element in the divine order itself. The author of the Zohar is refuting those who deny divine providence and substitute chance as an important cause in the events of the cosmos. He considers them to be fools who are not fit to contemplate the depths of the wisdom of divine providence and who lower themselves to the level of animals (Zohar 3:157b). The author of the Zohar does not distinguish between general providence (of all creatures) and individual providence (of individual human beings). The latter is, of course, more important to him. Through the activity of divine providence, an abundance of blessing descends on the creatures, but this awakening of the power of providence is dependent on the deeds of created beings, on "awakening from below." A detailed consideration of the question of providence is set forth by Moses *Cordovero in Shi'ur Komah ("Measurement of the Body"). He, too, agrees with the philosophers that individual providence exists only in relation to man, while in relation to the rest of the created world, providence is only directed toward the generic essences. But he enlarges the category of individual providence and establishes that "divine providence applies to the lower creatures, even animals, for their well-being and their death, and this is not for the sake of the animals themselves, but for the sake of men," that is to say, to the extent to which the lives of animals are bound up with the lives of men, individual providence applies to them as well. "Individual providence does not apply to any ox or any lamb, but to the entire species together… but if divine providence applies to a man, it will encompass even his pitcher, should it break, and his dish, should it crack, and all his possessions – if he should be chastized or not" (p. 113). Cordovero distinguishes ten types of providence, from which it is possible to understand the various modes of action of individual providence among the gentiles and Israel. These modes of action are bound up with the various roles of the Sefirot and their channels which convey the abundance (of blessing) to all the worlds, in accordance with the special awakening of the lower creatures. He includes among them two types of providence which indicate the possibility of the limitation of divine providence in certain instances, or even its complete negation. Also, in his opinion, things may happen to a man without the guidance of providence, and it may even happen that a man's sins cause him to be left "to nature and to chance," which is the aspect of God's hiding his face from man. In fact, it is uncertain from moment to moment whether a particular event in an individual's life is of this latter type, or whether it is a result of divine providence: "And he cannot be sure – for who will tell him if he is among those of whom it is said: 'The righteous man is as sure as a lion' – perhaps God has hidden His face from him, because of some transgression, and he is left to chance" (p. 120).

Only in the Shabbatean Kabbalah is divine providence seen once again as a serious problem. Among *Shabbetai Ẓevi's disciples was handed down his oral teaching that the Cause of Causes, or the Ein-Sof ("the Infinite") "does not influence and does not oversee the lower world, and he caused the Sefirah Keter to come into being to be God and Tiferet to be King" (see Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, p. 784). This denial of the providence of Ein-Sof was considered a deep secret among the believers, and the Shabbatean Abraham *Cardozo, who was opposed to this doctrine, wrote that the emphasis on the secret nature of this teaching arose from the Shabbateans' knowledge that this was the opinion of Epicurus the Greek. The "taking" (netilah) of providence from Ein-Sof (which is designated in these circles by other terms as well) is found in several Shabbatean schools of thought, such as the Kabbalah of Baruchiah of Salonika, in Va-Avo ha-Yom el ha-Ayin, which was severely attacked for the prominence it gave to this opinion, and in Shem Olam (Vienna, 1891) by Jonathan *Eybeschuetz. The latter work devoted several pages of casuistry to this question in order to prove that providence does not actually originate in the First Cause, but in the God of Israel, who is emanated from it, and who is called, by Eybeschuetz, the "image of the ten Sefirot." This "heretical" assumption, that the First Cause (or the highest element of the Godhead) does not guide the lower world at all, was among the principle innovations of Shabbatean doctrine which angered the sages of that period. The Orthodox kabbalists saw in this assumption proof that the Shabbateans had left the faith in the absolute unity of the Godhead, which does not permit, in matters pertaining to divine providence, differentiation between the emanating Ein-Sof and the emanated Sefirot. Even though the Ein-Sof carries out the activity of divine providence through the Sefirot, the Ein-Sof itself is the author of true providence. In the teachings of the Shabbateans, however, this quality of the First Cause or the Ein-Sof is blurred or put in doubt.

[Gershom Scholem]


in the bible: E. Koenig, Theologie des Alten Testaments (1923), 208ff.; K. Kohler, Jewish Theology (19282), 167ff.; W. Eichrodt, Theologie des Alten Testaments, 2 (1935), 177ff.; M. Pohlenz, Die Stoa (1948), passim; O. Procksch, Theologie des Alten Testaments (1950), 503ff.; E.E. Urbach, in: Sefer ha-Yovel le Y. Kaufmann (1960), 122–48; idem, Ḥazal-Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot (1969). in kabbalah: I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 1 (19572), 265–8; M. Cordovero, Shi'ur Komah (1883), 113–20; Scholem, Shabbetai Ẓevi, 779, 784; M.A. Perlmutter, R. Yehonatan Eybeschuetz ve-Yaḥaso el ha-Shabbeta'ut (1947), 133–41, 190–1. in medieval jewish philosophy: Strauss, in: mgwj, 45 (1937), 93–105; Pines, in: paajr, 24 (1955), 123–31; Moses Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed (1963), introd. by Pines, lxv–lxxviii, lxxvi–lxxvii; idem, Le guide des égarés, ed. and trans. by S. Munk, 3 (1866), 111, 116ff.; J. Guttmann, Dat u-Madda (1955), 149–68; S. Heller-Wilensky, R. Yiẓḥak Arama u-Mishnato (1956), 132–6; G. Vajda, Isaac Albalag, Averroïste juif, traducteur et annotateur d'Al-Ghazali (1960), 15–17, 64–71, 144–7, 121–3; Guttmann, Philosophies, index; Husik, Philosophy, index.


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The concept of providence expresses the idea that divine knowledge, will, and goodness are at work in the design and governance of the world. Adherents of the Abrahamic traditions, (i.e., Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), characteristically affirm not only that God creates and sustains the world but also that God guides its history toward the fulfillment of divine purposes. The idea of providence, therefore, is closely related to ideas of creation, redemption, and eschatological consummation, as these topics are developed within particular religious traditions.

A distinction has often been made between general and particular (or special) providence. General providence refers to God's governance of the universe through the design of creation and the conservation, or sustenance, of all finite things. In establishing the fundamental structures of the created world, God sets the parameters of its history, building in various possibilities and ruling out others. In the modern era, this has often been interpreted in terms of God's role as the creator of the structures of natural law that the sciences seek to disclose. By establishing these causal laws and setting the conditions under which they operate, God directs the developing history of the universe. A theological interpretation of nature, quite without any commitment to the design argument in natural theology, can understand the so-called fine-tuning of the universe as an expression of God's general providence, which orders the world in such a way that life can emerge in the course of cosmic evolution.

Particular providence refers to God's actions within the world's history to advance the divine purposes in specific ways. Each of the monotheistic traditions, for example, includes some form of the story in which God calls Abraham and his descendants into a special covenant relationship that unfolds in an historical drama continuing to this day. The faithful in these traditions typically construe both their individual lives and the history of their communities to be caught up in this ongoing relationship to the providence of God, though it may be difficult to discern God's plan in the apparently chaotic course of history. On some modern interpretations, such as that given by the German theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher (17681834), particular providence is understood entirely as the outworking of God's general providence in specific instances. God's purposes for human history are built into the design of creation, and God does not so much act within the stream of historical events as enact history as a whole. This avoids a battery of modern objections to certain sorts of special divine actions (e.g., miraculous intervention). There are theological costs to this interpretation, however, and a number of contemporary theologians have sought ways to conceive of God acting responsively to shape the course of events without intervening in or disrupting the natural order.

Traditional theological accounts of providence agree in affirming the perfection of God's knowledge, power, and goodness in governing the world, but they differ in their accounts of what these attributes entail about God's relation to the course of events. Some doctrines of providence assert that God specifically wills and controls everything that happens; God's sovereign and unconditioned intention for the world embraces all the details of cosmic and human history. Reformation theologian John Calvin (15091564), for example, contended that God does not just foreknow but rather foreordains all things, including the destiny of the saved and the damned. This appears to constitute a universal divine determinism, and it triggers the objections, first, that it truncates or eliminates human freedom and, second, that it makes God the cause of human sin, thus compounding the problem of evil. Defenders of positions of this type have usually argued that divine governance of human action, unlike determination by finite causes within the world, does not negate human freedom. Some Thomists argue that because God acts in the utterly unique mode of creator, giving being to creatures and not merely acting as a cause of changes in already existing things, God can bring about a finite event as a contingent occurrence or as a free human choice. God wills the human agent's act, but this divine willing does not displace the human agent's freedom, rather it posits the agent and the free act in existence.

Other theologians contend that while all finite things are created and sustained by God and all events are accommodated within God's plan for creation, some events are contrary to God's purposes. On this account, God allows a limited freedom to some creatures, who may act against God's will, but whose misuse of their powers nonetheless falls within the range of possibilities provided for in God's creative purposes. There are various accounts of how this creaturely freedom to act against God's will is nonetheless embraced within God's will, so that God's good purposes remain sovereign in fixing the destiny of creation. In the sixteenth century, Luis de Molina (15351600) and his followers developed the view that God's omniscience includes knowledge of what every possible free creature would choose to do under every conceivable circumstance. On this account, God is able to take the free actions of creatures into account in the plan of creation, building in responses that assure the final achievement of the good that God intends. Even if divine omniscience does not include this peculiar type of foreknowledge, some modern thinkers have suggested that God, like a master chess player, is always in a position to incorporate the finite agent's actions into the process of realizing God's purposes. If God's providential governance of history involves this type of responsive action, however, then theologians must grapple with questions about how God's special acts engage and affect the ongoing course of events in the world.

See also Determinism; Divine Action; Omniscience; Special Divine Action; Special Providence


aquinas, thomas. summa theologiae (12661273), ia, qq. 2223, 103105, ed. timothy mcdermott. london: blackfriars, 1964.

augustine. the city of god against the pagans, trans. r. w. dyson. cambridge, uk: cambridge university press, 1998.

burrell, david. freedom and creation in three traditions. south bend, ind.: university of notre dame press, 1993.

calvin, john. institutes of the christian religion (15351559), ed. john t. mcneill. louisville, ky.: westminster john knox press, 1960.

barth, karl. church dogmatics (1935), vol. 3, pt. 3: doctrine of creation, the creator, his creature, eds. g. w. bromiley and t. f. torrence. edinburgh, uk: t&t clark, 1977.

flint, thomas. divine providence: the molinist account. ithaca, n.y.: cornell university press, 1998.

schleiermacher, friedrich. the christian faith (18301831), vols. 1 and 2, trans. h. r. mackintosh. edinburgh, uk: t&t clark, 2001.

tanner, kathryn. god and creation in christian theology. london: blackwell, 1988.

thomas f. tracy


views updated May 23 2018


The idea of "providence" has three componentsforesight, direction, and care. It is normally found in a theistic context. In its fullest sense it means that God foresees and governs (in a word, "provides for") the world that is the object of his care (or love). Divine providence was affirmed by Plato in his Laws (887888), where he condemns the view, later held by the Epicureans, that the gods take no interest in human affairs. The most important later thought upon the subject arose in Stoicism and Christianity.


The Stoics held a firm belief in the providence (pronoia ) of God (or the gods). Thus, Epictetus uses an elementary form of the teleological argument to prove God's supervision of the universe (Discourse 1.16). But two factors prevented the Stoics from taking a fully personal view of providence. First, they often conceived God abstractly (as a cosmic logos) and even physically (when they identified him with nature's basic elements, air and fire). Second, and correlatively, they did not stress God's care for persons individually, nor, as a consequence, did they allow that God accomplishes his purpose in and through the free response of human wills to his initiative. On the contrary, they equated providence with destiny or fate (heimarmene ). In the words of Cleanthes's Hymn to Zeus, translated by Seneca, Ducunt volentem fata, nolentem trahunt ("Fate leads the willing, drags the unwilling on," Epistles 107:11).


Our primary evidence for Christianity is the teaching of Christ himself. Christ taught that God is a Father who cares for all his children individually. Therefore, they must not be anxious or distressed; rather, they must trust God absolutely (Matthew 6:2533, 10:2931). Furthermore, they must approach God freely in prayer in the confidence that he will answer their requests (Matthew 7:711). St. Paul made two basic assertions: first, that we know through Christ that God's sovereignty is one of love through which we are "more than conquerors" (Romans 8:3539) and second, that God accomplishes his purpose by cooperating with our wills, not by demanding our submission to a fait accompli (Romans 8:1416, Philippians 2:1213). Hence, St. Paul, like Jesus, affirms the reality of, and the necessity for, petitionary prayer.

Attempts have been made to see providence in nature, history, and individual lives.


The theist maintains that God acts in nature both ordinarily, through those laws which science formulates, and extraordinarily, through miracles. Both modes of God's activity signify his wisdom and love to the believing mind. Furthermore, many theists, following Thomas Aquinas in his Fifth Way, believe that it is possible to base an argument for God's existence on the apparent traces of design in nature, but it must be admitted that the fact of evil constitutes prima-facie evidence against the existence of a Designer who is both omnipotent and good.


To what extent can we interpret God's purpose in terms of a "pattern," or "patterns," discernible in historical events? Here one can only summarize a general tendency among modern theologians. Most of them would say that our ability to perceive a pattern or plan is restricted to the main events of the Bible as interpreted by the prophetic and apostolic writers. Perhaps we also have a right to see a preparatio evangelica in the achievements of Greece and Rome, but we cannot perceive an analogous plan in either the secular or ecclesiastical history of the postbiblical era. Thus, Josef Pieper writes, "Not that he who philosophizes could reach the point of being able to identify in concreto the character of an event in terms of salvation and disaster. We are moving here within the realm of the mysterious in the strictest sense. And even for the believer, the history of salvation 'within' history is not to be apprehended concretely" (The End of Time, London, 1954, p. 23).

Individual Lives

In regard to individual lives we must also distinguish between a general belief in providence and a detailed knowledge of its workings. St. Paul affirmed as a matter of faith that "we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him, who are called according to his purpose" (Romans 8:28). But in 1 Corinthians 13:12 he admits that all our knowledge of God is indirect, partial, and confused. Hence, any claim to see God's purpose in particular events is bound to be provisional and incomplete.

See also Christianity; Cleanthes; Epictetus; Epicureanism and the Epicurean School; Philosophy of Religion, History of; Plato; Seneca, Lucius Annaeus; Stoicism; Teleological Argument for the Existence of God; Thomas Aquinas, St.


Caussade, J. P. de. L'abandon à la providence divine. 1867. Translated by A. Thorold as Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, 5th ed. London, 1955. A classic of spiritual theology.

Flint, Thomas. Divine Providence: The Molinist Account. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998.

Geach, Peter. Providence and Evil. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1977.

Hazelton, Roger. Providence. London, 1958.

Laird, John. Mind and Deity, 173201. London: Allen and Unwin, 1941.

Pollard, William C. Chance and Providence. New York: Scribners, 1958.

Swinburne, Richard. Providence and the Problem of Evil. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998.

H. P. Owen (1967)

Bibliography updated by Christian B. Miller (2005)


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Providence: Introduction
Providence: Geography and Climate
Providence: History
Providence: Population Profile
Providence: Municipal Government
Providence: Economy
Providence: Education and Research
Providence: Health Care
Providence: Recreation
Providence: Convention Facilities
Providence: Transportation
Providence: Communications

The City in Brief

Founded: 1636 (incorporated, 1832)

Head Official: Mayor David N. Cicilline (D) (since 2003)

City Population

1980: 156,804

1990: 160,281

2000: 173,618

2003 estimate: 176,365

Percent change, 19902000: 8.3%

U.S. rank in 1980: 99th

U.S. rank in 1990: 110th (State rank: 1st)

U.S. rank in 2000: 119th (State rank: 1st)

Metropolitan Area Population (PMSA)

1980: 919,000

1990: 1,134,350

2000: 1,188,613

Percent change, 19902000: 4.8%

U.S. rank in 1980: 41st (CMSA)

U.S. rank in 1990: 35th (CMSA)

U.S. rank in 2000: 40th (CMSA)

Area: 18.5 square miles (2000)

Elevation: 80 feet above sea level

Average Annual Temperature: 51.1° F

Average Annual Precipitation: 46.45 inches total; 36.0 inches snowfall

Major Economic Sectors: Health care, information, manufacturing, tourism, wholesale and retail trade, services

Unemployment Rate: 4.3% (May 2005)

Per Capita Income: $15,525 (1999)

2002 FBI Crime Index Total: 12,478

Major Colleges and Universities: Brown University;

Rhode Island School of Design; Providence College; Johnson and Wales University; Rhode Island College

Daily Newspaper: The Providence Journal


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prov·i·dence / ˈprävədəns; -ˌdens/ • n. the protective care of God or of nature as a spiritual power: they found their trust in divine providence to be a source of comfort. ∎  (Providence) God or nature as providing such care: I live out my life as Providence decrees. ∎  timely preparation for future eventualities: it was considered a duty to encourage providence.


views updated May 29 2018

Providence ★★★ 1977 (R)

An interesting score highlights this British fantasy drama of a dying writer envisioning his final novel as a fusion of the people from his past with the circumstances he encounters on a daily basis. The first Englishlanguage effort by French director Resnais. 104m/C VHS . GB John Gielgud, Dirk Bogarde, Ellen Burstyn, David Warner, Elaine Stritch; D: Alain Resnais; W: David Mercer; C: Ricardo Aronovich; M: Miklos Rozsa. Cesar '78: Art Dir./Set Dec., Director (Resnais), Film, Sound, Writing, Score; N.Y. Film Critics '77: Actor (Gielgud).


views updated May 23 2018

Providence Capital of Rhode Island, USA, a port on Providence Bay in ne Rhode Island. The city founded in 1636 as a refuge for religious dissenters from Massachusetts. It later enjoyed great prosperity through trade with the West Indies. The city played an active role in the American Revolution. Industries: jewellery, electrical equipment, silverware, machine tools, rubber goods. Pop. (2000) 173,618.


views updated May 17 2018

Providence (Lat., providere, ‘to foresee’). The belief that all things are ordered and regulated by God towards his purpose. A distinction is usually made between general providence (which occurs through the laws of nature) and special providence (which is related to individuals).

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