The Divine Omnipotence vs. Contingency, Chance and Fortune


Tommaso Campanella (1568-1639), a Dominican monk, spent twenty-seven years of his life in prison where he was tortured for heresy. He wrote an abundant worki there after narrowly escaping the death penalty by posing as mad.

He said of Aristotle that he was « unholy », « a liar », « father of the Machiavellians », and « author of amazing errors ».

He said of himself: « I am the bell (campanella) that announces the new dawn. »

Campanella wanted to found a philosophical republic, « The Sun City », referring to Plato, Marcile Ficin and Thomas More.

In his Apology of Galileo, he describes the world as « a book in which eternal Wisdom wrote his own thoughts; it is the living temple in which she painted her actions and her own example (…) But we, souls attached to dead books and temples, copied from the living with many errors, interpose them between us and the divine teaching. » ii

Nature is the « manuscript of God ». It is necessary to look for « all ugliness and all evil ». They are « beauty masks ».

From the « living book » of nature, Man is the « epilogue ». Man can be compared to a « windowpane ».

He is a « spark of the infinite God ». He can reach the level of the « archetypal world » by means of ecstasy, – even if it is « denied by the stupidity of the Aristotelians ».

Through his immortal soul, man can escape the condition of other living beings, who are « like the worms in a belly or in a cheese ».

The characteristic of a good metaphor is that it can be followed ad libitum, and given unexpected directions.

If the world is a « book », many of its pages may be stained, incomplete, unreadable; other pages are simply missing, or have not even been written.

In other words, in this world made for « being », there are also many « non-being ». In this light, there is a lot of darkness. There is wisdom and a lot of ignorance; there is love and hatred.

Everything derives from a mixture of necessities and contingencies, destinies and chance, harmony and antagonisms.

But it is from this contingency and chance that the possibility of freedom is born for man.

Contingency, chance, fortune are defects inherent in the very texture of the world. From the beginning, all creation is affected by a « deficit » of being. Hence the rifts, the blindness, the gaps in the world.

However, it is in these gaps and blindness that man can find freedom.

Campanella’s theory (freedom through « lack of being ») was both revolutionary and « heretical » at the beginning of the 17th century.

It was difficult for the authorities to accept that contingency, chance, fortune could contradict the supposed manifestations of divine omnipotence and omniscience.

Contingency (contingentia) unnecessarily breaks the chain of necessity (necessitas) willed by God. It limits the power of causes, it denies the tyranny of determinism, it undoes the inflexible chain of causality.

Chance (casus) counters fatality (fatum), and « contradicts » what has been « predicted » (by God). In this way, he invalidates the idea of absolute, divine prescience.

Fortune (fortuna) thwarts universal harmony (harmonia). It thwarts world order and the will that drives it.

Thus are marked the necessary limits of necessity, and the constraints that are imposed even on divine power, knowledge and will.

Contingency, chance and fortune are all obstacles to divine « omnipotence », and therefore all openings to human « freedom ».

Subversive ideas!

If God is omnipotent and omniscient, how could He be limited in His power or prescience by contingency or chance?

If God wants universal harmony, how could His will be thwarted by the whims of fortune?

If God wants the necessary sequence of causes and effects, how can He tolerate contingency? How can His « omniscience » be compatible with the effects of chance?

Campanella replied that creation was drawn from nothing by God. It is therefore a combination of being and non-being. It comes from the Being, but its being « lacks being ». Contingency, chance and fortune are the concrete expressions of this lack, and the visible expression of the possible freedom of man.

Contingency, chance and fortune can be interpreted as providential figures of God’s absence in the world, as signs of his voluntary withdrawal, to leave man a responsibility in his creation.

This absence and withdrawal from God is reflected in the ideas of kenosis (S. Paul) and tsimtsum, (Kabbalah).

I will evoke these concepts in another article.

i Philosophia Sensibus Demonstrata, La Cité du soleil, Atheismus Triumphatus, Aforismi Politici,

ii « Mundus ergo totus est sensus, vita, anima, corpus, statua Dei altissimi, ad ipsius condita gloriam, in potestate, sapientia, et Amore (…) Homo ergo epilogus est totius mundi, ejus cultor et admirator dum Deum nosse velit, cujus gratia factus est. Mundus est statua, imago, Templum vivum et codex Dei, ubi inscripsit et depinxit res infiniti decoris gestas in mente sua. » (De Sensu Rerum et Magia, 1619) Cité par J. Delumeau Le mystère Campanella

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