Fate and Fatalism

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According to an ancient concept, all natural events and human actions occur as they do and things are as they are, by the dominance of an absolute principle or cause, more or less conscious, known as fate. While determinism interprets a single fact by linking it necessarily with other single facts, both antecedent and subsequent, fate refers the totality of events to a necessary unique cause. This can even be a free will, therefore an idea of fate is the conclusion of all monistic metaphysics.

Fate, fortune, chance and destiny. Fate is to be distinguished from fortune (τυχή), which "is not present except in those things which act voluntarily" (St. Thomas In 2 phys. 10); from chance, which may be defined as "absence of laws," [cf., J. Sageret, Le Hasard et la destinée (Paris 1927) 142] and which is found only "in those things which happen from nature"; and finally from destiny, which includes, at least in part, the intervention of even the individual will. In fate, the future is independent of what the individual can will or not will. In the concept of destiny the future is a resultant of that of which human action is also a component. Accordingly, one may say: "Follow your destiny, fulfill your destiny," but not "Follow your fate."

The term fate comes from the Latin fatum, derived from fari (to say). Isidore defines it thus: "They call fate whatever the gods say, whatever Jupiter says; therefore they say fatum is from the verb fari, i.e., from a verb meaning to speak" (Etymol. 8.11.90; confer, St. Augustine, Civ. 5.9). The Latin fatum was employed to translate the Greek terms εμαρμένη, α[symbol omitted]σα, and μο[symbol omitted]ρα. Cicero defined it as follows: "I call fate [fatum ] what the Greeks call εμαρμένη, i.e., an orderly series of causes, since cause is connected with cause and each of itself produces an effect. This is an eternal truth coming down from all eternity. Therefore it is understood that fate is that which is called, not through ignorant superstition, but scientifically, 'the eternal cause of things, explaining why more things which have gone before happened, why those which now occur happen, and why those which follow will happen"' (Divin. 1.55. 125126). The Greeks derive εμαρμένη either from ερμός (series, chain; so Aetius, 1.28.4, ed., H. Diels), or from ερομαι (align; confer, Diogenes Laertius 7.149), or from ερω (say).

In the history of religious beliefs and of philosophical thought, fatalism has assumed various aspects and meanings. In its early immature and anthropomorphic form, it was mythological fatalism. It became philosophical in its more perfect speculative expression, as in Stoic doctrine. Astrological fatalism may be considered a variant of this form. Finally, one may speak of theological fatalism, as in the case of the various theories involving predestination.

Mythological fatalism. Mythological fatalism, at least as it took shape in Greek thought, is the first form of the doctrine. Above the numerous divinities, whose purposes were often opposed and in conflict, was εμαρμένη, a power that dominated even Zeus himself (in Ovid, Metam. 9.435, Jupiter says: "The fates rule me also"). It represented a monistic exigency which was as yet hardly outlined, but which already revealed the need of preserving the cosmic unity which polytheism could not guarantee (confer, Homer, Iliad 21.82; 19.186; Odyssey 3.226; 11.558). Moreover, this elementary form of fatalism came probably from an early reflection on the ordered and irrevocable movements of the heavenly bodies, a reflection superimposed on simple popular faith. If such was the case, fatalism did not have a religious origin, but was rather the primitive expression of a vague speculative interest, and therefore the most remote antecedent of cosmological mechanism.

Astrological fatalism. The Quadripartitum of Claudius Ptolemaeus (2d century a.d.) may be considered the classic text of astrological fatalism, which makes explicit the acceptable astronomical inspirations of mythological fatalism, and thus connects the destiny of the individual with the position of the stars that preside at his birth. Seneca said: "Our fates lead us, and the hour of birth has determined

how much time remains for each" (De prov. 5.7). St. Augustine attacked such ideas in ironic vein: "You will be an adulterer, because you have Venus; you will be a murderer, because you have Mars" (In psalm. 140, Patrologia Latina, 37:1821; confer, Civ. 5.9 ).

Astrological fatalism presumes not only to catch the somatic characteristics and physical vicissitudes of the individual in the net of astral events, but also to predetermine his talent, moral character and feelings. If a sympathetic force (conspiratio omnium ) connects heaven and earth in a cosmic unity, as astrologers claim their fatalism does, human actions brought under the rigorous law of nature are divested of all moral value. As Gellius says: "Therefore penalties for the guilty have been wrongfully established by laws, if men do not commit crimes voluntarily, but are led to do so by fate" (Noct. Att. 7.2.5). Astrologers who do not wish to abandon the indisputable doctrine of cosmic conspiratio, but who, at the same time, recognize the moral appeals of freedom and responsibility, claim that the power of fate is exercised exclusively on bodies, leaving the will of the ego to function freely (confer, the extracts from bardesanes, "Book of the Laws of the Countries," or "Concerning Fate," cited by Eusebius, Praep. Evang. 6.10). This was a significant question in the consciences of thinkers of the Renaissance, who accepted astrological teachings (see pontanus, De rebus coelestibus, and the attack on astrology made by Pico della Mirandola in his Disputationes adversus astrologiam ). The same Gnostics who willingly accepted astrological ideas admitted that sages devoted to higher knowledge escape fate (see clement of alexandria, Exc. Theod. 78, ed., F. Sagnard, pp. 201202).

Philosophical fatalism. Philosophical fatalism does not differ substantially from mythological fatalism, of which it may be considered to be the rational and systematic expression, or from astrological fatalism, which is a specific aspect of it and with which it is identified. Among the pre-Socratics, εμαρμένη is the necessary bond that connects the parts of the All and guarantees its order and unity. It is the "cause of things" (according to Pythagoras, as reported in Diogenes Laertius, 8.27), or it is "justice, forethought and creator" (according to Parmenides and Democritus, as cited by Aetius, 1.25.3, ed., H. Diels), or it is "reason creating from the running of opposite ways of things" (according to Heraclitus, as quoted by Aetius, 1.7.22). For Anaxagoras, who probably considered εμαρμένη an "empty name" (cf., Alexander of Aphrodisias, De fato, 2), fate shares with other determining causes the government of the world (Aetius, 1.29.7).

After Plato (cf., Theaet. 169C; Tim. 89C; Rep. 619C) and Aristotle (cf., Eth. Nic. 7.32 ff.; Phys. 2.196a), in whom the concept of fate vanished in the elaboration of a body of thought that was preoccupied with preserving, on the one hand, the freedom and autonomy of the person, and on the other, the teleological ordering of the universe, philosophical fatalism appeared in its most rigorous and systematic form in Stoicism. Works of Zeno, Chrysippus and later of Posidonus and Boethius (fl. 2d century b.c.), were expressly devoted to fate. Zeno defined fate as "a force which moves matter in a uniform and constant manner," whether it be called providence or nature (cf., Theodoret, Graec. aff. cur. 6.14). For Chrysippus, it was "pneumatic power, and the reason of the cosmos according to which what has happened has happened, what happens happens, and what will happen will happen" (Stobaeus, Ecl. 1.5, p. 59, ed., K. Wachsmuth; confer, the definition cited from Cicero Divin. above); and also: "an eternal and unchangeable series of circumstances and a chain rolling and entangling itself through unending and consequential successions from which it is made and with which it is connected" (Gellius, Noct. Att. 7.2.1).

Stoicism, which did not admit any substantial distinction between spirit and matter, explained each and every event by the inexorable rhythm of cyclic time (εμαρμένη-κύκλος; see Pseudo-Plutarch, De fato 34), and it sacrificed all pluralistic and personal demands to its naturalistic monism. Wisdom was found entirely in amor fati: "What then is the duty of the good man? It is to offer himself to fate. It is a great consolation to be swept along with the universe. Whatever it is that has ordered us so to live, so to die, by the same necessity it binds the gods as well. The great creator and ruler of all, it is true, wrote the laws of fate, but he follows them. He obeys forever, he ordered but once" (Seneca, De prov. 5.8). This was the triumph of "inactive reason" (ignava ratio, ργς λόγος), which refuses to act and to change the world.

Divination also reveals the future as possible, not for the sake of opening before man the possibility of endless moral activity, but for the sake of rendering him "as one under compulsion" (ναγκαζόμενος), of binding the chains of his metaphysical subjection more tightly, and of inspiring in him an attitude of apathetic resignation (νάγκη στ[symbol omitted]ναι). Chrysippus endeavored to distinguish different orders of causes: "some complete and principal, other auxiliary and proximate" (cf., Cicero, Top. 15.5859; id., De fato, 17.40) through which all that happens, happens "either through necessity, or through destiny, or through free choice, or through fortune, or through spontaneity" (Aetius, 1.29.7). But he did not succeed in breaking the iron chain of causes and in preserving the effective freedom of the individual.

Pagan and Christian opposition to fatalism. Fatalism was opposed, especially in its astrological and philosophical forms, by Alexander of Aphrodisias (De fato ), Plotinus (Ennead. 2.3, 3.1), Ammonius (De fato ) and Proclus [De providentia et fato et eo quod in nobis, ; see J. C. Orelli, Alexandri Aphr., Ammonii Hermiae f., Plotini, Bardesanis Syri et G. Gemisti Plethonis de fato (Turin, 1864)] in defence of the rights of the soul. Plotinus in particular was strong in his opposition. While admitting that the positions of the stars "announce" (σημαίνουσι) events, he strove to reconcile cosmic order and the moral autonomy of the individual. In like manner he attacked Epicurean philosophy. The "swerve" (clinamen ), introduced to also make possible the freedom of the will, was considered at best merely an irregular phenomenon that was added to the other elements in the Epicurean system and from which it was impossible to expect a purpose or choice that could really belong to the conscious Ego (Ennead 3.1.1). The various treatises on fate by Christian writers (Origen, Minucius Felix, Tertullian, Gregory of Nyssa and John Chrysostom, among others) all exhibited the same hostile attitude. They attacked fatalism to defend not only the rights of man but, above all, the Christian concept of a personal God.

Theological fatalism. Within the ambit of Christian thought, predestination took on the aspect of a theological fatalism in which theistic voluntarism took the place of the impersonal Cosmic Order of the Greeks. The antecedent and positive will of God annulled, not less than the Greek εμαρμένη, the freedom of the individual and his moral responsibility. The elect, under the irresistible action of grace, was considered deprived of his freedom: he could do nothing except what was good; the wicked man, on the other hand, deprived of grace, could not help sinning (non potest non peccare ). Theological fatalism, which had its most common form in Islam, made its first appearances in the Christian world in the Patristic period and the early Middle Ages, but it attained its clearest systematic form in the ideas of Calvin (Instit. 3.25.5: non enim pari conditione creantur omnes, sed aliis vita aeterna, aliis damnatio aeterna preordinatur) and, by way of baius, in the Jansenists (cf., P. Quesnel, as cited in the bull Unigenitus 32: Jesus Christus se morti tradidit ad liberandum pro semper suo sanguine primogenitos, id est, electos, de manu angeli exterminatoris).

Quietism and occasionalism, can also be brought into close relation with theological fatalism. The first, revived in a Christian setting, the Stoic attitude of inactive resignation (cf., Molinos, Guía espiritual ); the second introduced into Protestant predestination, motives derived from the mechanism of Descartes (cf., Geulincx, Ethica: "Sum igitur nudus spectator huius machinae. Ita est, ergo ita sit."). The modern theology of Karl Barth may likewise be considered a true and characteristic form of "theological occasionalism" [cf., J. Hamer, K. Barth (Paris 1949)]. God's word (Gottes Wort ) is omnipotent, free and creative, and like the classical fate, it commands man of itself.

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