Two new books on providence and fate: Burns, Did God Care?; Brouwer and Vermicati (eds.), Fate, Providence and Free Will

The end of summer has brought us not one but two new titles dealing with providence, fate, and free will in Roman philosophical and religious literature of the first centuries CE, both published by Brill. I am admittedly much more familiar with the contents of the first of them, Did God Care? Providence, Dualism, and Will in Later Greek and Early Christian Philosophy, becuase I wrote it. Did God Care? is a synthetic examination of the problem of providence in later Greek and early Christian philosophy, focusing on how the language of providence was used to explore questions of divine care; evil and theodicy; and individual responsibility and free will. In addition to bringing together a diversity of sources and secondary literature from across the fields of ancient philosophy, early Christian studies, ancient Judaism, and theology, it includes in-depth analysis of Coptic and Syriac as well as Greek and Latin sources. The second title, Fate, Providence and Free Will: Philosophy and Religion in Dialogue in the Early Imperial Age, I am looking forward very much to reading, as it appears to cover many of the same Greek, Roman, Christian, and Jewish philosophers, albeit with perhaps more focus on issues of fate, determinism, and free will.

Interesting stuff, but why at this website? Ancient Gnostic literature has a great deal to say about providence, and no exploration of early Christian thought about providence is really complete without a full examination of the Gnostic dossier and especially the Coptic Gnostic corpus. Moreover, the question of providence and will collides in a fascinating way with the notion of the will or thought of The One in the thought of Plotinus, and here too Gnostic sources present us with enticing material for comparison. (Read all about it in DGC chs. 4 and 7…!) Here’s hoping these two books help stimulate more conversation about these perennially fascinating questions.

From the books’ respective websites at Brill, here and here:

Dylan M. Burns, Did God Care? Providence, Dualism, and Will in Later Greek and Early Christian Philosophy. Studies in Platonism, Neoplatonism, and the Platonic Tradition, 25.

Is God involved? Why do bad things happen to good people? What is up to us? These questions were explored in Mediterranean antiquity with reference to ‘providence’ ( pronoia). In Did God Care? Dylan Burns offers the first comprehensive survey of providence in ancient philosophy that brings together the most important Greek, Latin, Coptic, and Syriac sources, from Plato to Plotinus and the Gnostics.

Burns demonstrates how the philosophical problems encompassed by providence transformed in the first centuries CE, yielding influential notions about divine care, evil, creation, omniscience, fate, and free will that remain with us today. These transformations were not independent developments of ‘Pagan philosophy’ and ‘Christian theology,’ but include fruits of mutually influential engagement between Hellenic and Christian philosophers.

René Brouwer and Emmanuele Vimercati, eds., Fate, Providence and Free Will: Philosophy and Religion in Dialogue in the Early Imperial Age.   Ancient Philosophy & Religion, 4.

This volume, edited by René Brouwer and Emmanuele Vimercati, deals with the debate about fate, providence and free will in the early Imperial age. This debate is rekindled in the 1st century CE during emperor Augustus’ rule and ends in the 3rd century CE with Plotinus and Origen, when the different positions in the debate were more or less fully developed. The book aims to show how in this period the notions of fate, providence and freedom were developed and debated, not only within and between the main philosophical schools, that is Stoicism, Aristotelianism, and Platonism, but also in the interaction with other, “religious” movements, here understood in the general sense of groups of people sharing beliefs in and worship of (a) superhuman controlling power(s), such as Gnosticism, Hermetism as well as Judaism and Christianity.