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In theology, divine providence, or providence, is God's intervention in the world. "Divine Providence" (usually capitalized) is also used as a title of God. A distinction is usually made between "general providence", which refers to God's continuous upholding the existence and natural order of the universe, and "special providence", which refers to God's extraordinary intervention in the life of people.
The word comes from Latin providentia "foresight, prudence", from pro- "ahead" + videre "to see". The current use of the word has the sense of "knowledge of the future" or omniscience, understood as an attribute of God.
Augustine of Hippo is perhaps most famously associated with the doctrine of Divine Providence in the Latin West. However, Christian teaching on providence in the high Middle Ages was most fully developed by Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica. The concept of providence as care exercised by God over the universe, his foresight and care for its future is extensively developed and explained both by Aquinas himself and modern Thomists. One of the foremost modern Thomists, Dominican father Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange, wrote a study of providence entitled "Providence: God's loving care for man and the need for confidence in Almighty God." In it, he presents and solves, according to Catholic doctrine, the most difficult issues as related to providence.
This term is an integral part of John Calvin's theological framework known as Calvinism, which emphasizes the total depravity of man and the complete sovereignty of God. God's plan for the world and every soul that he has created is guided by his will, or providence. According to Calvin, the idea that man has free will and is able to make choices independently of what God has already determined is based on our limited understanding of God's perfection and the delusion that God's purposes can be circumvented. In this mode of thought, providence is related to predestination. This concept remains prominent among many Protestant denominations that identify with Calvinism, the Reformed churches.
In Lutheran theology, divine providence refers to God's preservation of creation, his cooperation with everything that happens, and his guiding of the universe. While God cooperates with both good and evil deeds, with the evil deeds he does so only inasmuch as they are deeds, not with the evil in them. God concurs with an act's effect, but he does not cooperate in the corruption of an act or the evil of its effect. Lutherans believe everything exists for the sake of the Christian Church, and that God guides everything for its welfare and growth.
According to Martin Luther, divine providence began when God created the world with everything needed for human life, including both physical things and natural laws. In Luther's Small Catechism, the explanation of the first article of the Apostles' Creed declares that everything people have that is good is given and preserved by God, either directly or through other people or things. Of the services others provide us through family, government, and work, he writes, "we receive these blessings not from them, but, through them, from God." Since God uses everyone's useful tasks for good, people should look not down upon some useful vocations as being less worthy than others. Instead people should honor others, no matter how lowly, as being the means God uses to work in the world.
Divine Providence is a book published by Emanuel Swedenborg in 1764 which describes his systematic theology regarding providence, free will, theodicy, and other related topics. Both meanings of providence are applicable in Swedenborg's theology, in that providence encompasses understanding, intent and action. Divine providence relative to man is 'foresight', and relative to the Lord is 'providence'. Swedenborg proposes that one law of divine providence is that man should act from freedom according to reason, and that man is regenerated according to the faculties of rationality and liberty.
Divine providence (Hebrew השגחה פרטית Hashgochoh Protis / Hashgachah Pratit lit. [Divine] supervision of the individual) is discussed throughout Rabbinic literature, and in particular by the classical Jewish philosophers. These writings maintain that Divine Providence means that God is directing (or even recreating) every minute detail of creation. This analysis thus underpins much of Orthodox Judaism's world view, particularly as regards questions of interaction with the natural world.
Those who believe in the inerrancy of the original biblical manuscripts, often accompany this belief with a statement about how the biblical text has been preserved so that what we have today is at least substantially similar to what was written. That is, just as God "divinely inspired the text," so he has also "divinely preserved it throughout the centuries." The Westminster Confession of Faith states that the Scriptures, "being immediately inspired by God, and by his singular care and providence kept pure in all ages, are therefore authentical."
This is an important argument in the King James Only debates: Edward F. Hills argues that the principle of providentially preserved transmission guarantees that the printed Textus Receptus must be the closest text to the Greek autographs.
See also under Divine providence (Judaism)