Monday, August 02, 2004

Calcidius and stupid multi-linguistic authors

1. Calcidius and the Open View
As some of you may know, the particular area of my interest is the history of theology and specifically first millennia Greek Theology (this, incidently, includes the New Testament since it was written in the first millennia in Greek). And as some of you others may know, I am an Open Viewer (ie. I think the future is uncertain due to human free choice, and that while God knows possible futures, He doesn't know the actual future). However, the trouble is that the early Greek (post-NT) theologians often don't say a heck of a lot on the subject of God's knowledge. Irenaeus for example (the big theological name of the 2nd century AD), clearly believes in human free will and makes a few vague references to some form of predestining which seems compatible with the OV, but he isn't clear enough for us to know for sure what he thinks.

So I was interested to read Greg Boyd saying in passing that the earliest Open Viewer he is aware of was Calsidius in the fourth century. So, I thought I would follow that reference up... unfortunately Boyd had mispelled Calcidius, but due to the all knowing ever-helpful Google I was able to find the correct spelling and track down the reference...

It turns out no one's really sure who exactly Calcidius was save that he was a Christian who lived in either the 4th or 5th century AD and wrote a commentary on one of Plato's works. The following, for my own and others' reference, are Calcidius' most pertinant statements on the subject:
Translation from Calcidius on Fate: His Doctrine and Sources by J. Den. Boeft., 1970, pg 52-53. Calcidius' work is named tractatus de fato. Bracketed numbers in the following represent chapter numbers in the tractatus:
[162] " is true that God knows all things, but that he knows everything according to its own nature: that which is subject to necessity as submissive to necessity, the contingent, however, as provided with such a nature that deliberation opens a way for it. For God does not know the nature of what is contingent in such a way as that which is certain and bound by necessity (for in that case He will be deceived and fail to know), but in such a way that he really knows the contingent according to its nature. So what do we say? That God knows all things and His knowledge is of all time, and further that the things He knows are partly divine and immortal, partly perishable and temporal; that the substance of immortal things is immutable and immovable, that of mortal things changeable and contingent, and that now it has this condition, now another, because of its inconstant nature. Thus also God's knowledge of divine things, which have a sure happiness protected by continuous necessity, is sure and necessary, both because of the certain grasp of the knowledge itself and on account of the substance of the things He knows; on the other hand His knowledge of uncertain things is indeed necessary, viz., His knowledge that these things are uncertain and their course contingent -for they cannot be different from their nature-, yet they are themselves possible in both directions rather than subject to necessity.
[163] So contingent things are not inflexibly arranged and determined from the beginning with the sole exception of the very fact, that they must be uncertain and depend upon a contingent course. Therefore it is completely fixed and decided from the beginning that the nature of man's soul is such, that it now applies itself to virtue, now shows preference for evil (exactly as the body is sometimes nearest to health, sometimes to illness). But it is neither decided nor commanded, which particular person is to be good or bad, and therefore there are laws, instructions, consultations, exhortations, cautions, education, strict rules for nourishment, praise, blame and similar things, because the choice to live rightly is in our power."
2. Stupid Multi-Linguistic Authors
Some authors are just stupid and think that because they can write in a language, it automatically follows that their readers can read that language. Well it doesn't. I used to get annoyed at CS Lewis when, in the middle of explaining a concept would say "to get what I'm talking about just think of the Greek word "xxxxx", which represents the concept perfectly"... which is nice, but to most readers who won't have an education in ancient Greek, he might as well have written gfjljhlfds in place of his Greek word. It used to annoy me. Now I can read (well, decipher anyway) Greek, that's not so annoying... but in reading the Calcidius on Fate book... ARGGGHHHH!

Though the book was supposed to be in English, but frigging author had no qualms about quoting lengthy passages from other works that were in at least (complex) Greek, Latin, French and German. While that shows off his learning, he might as well have filled those spaces with gjklaldsagjkl as far as I was concerned. I know that when you are quoting someone it is good academic practice to quote them precisely but for heaven's sake: Please NOT when they were writing in another language.

In short, if a book is in a certain language, then it should damn well ALL OF IT be in that language. UNLESS, and thes are the ONLY two exceptions:
  • in a translation you are unsure of how to properly translate a word, so you translate it and put in a footnote something like: 'Hebrew unclear "sdfdgsgds"'
  • or you want to note to the reader exactly which word the writer is using so that you can do a comparison of "in which places does the author use X, and based on this what is the precise meaning of X?"


Blogger Nathan said...

Sounds like Calcidius could have done with reading a bit of 1 Cor 14...

Blogger Andrew said...

It wasn't Calcidius who used multiple languages - he was a 4th/5th century dude who spoke and wrote Greek. It was the translator of Calcidius' work, one 20th century writer named "J. Den. Boeft." who could have done with reading 1 Cor 14.

Blogger Nathan said...


Blogger incognito said...

The passage seems pretty clear to me, but maybe I just have polarisation filters over the eyes of my own theology... He's just saying it in a way that's hard to understand, which is not surprising seeing as I have exactly the same trouble. These concepts are hard to describe.

Clearly, "necessity" is taken to mean things that are "inflexible and arranged", which is in contrast to the "contingent" future - a possiblity - that is contingent because we have been given our "own nature" - free choice. I think He's saying God knows the 'necessary future' but can only base his understanding of the 'contingency futures' based on his knowledge of our nature. This necessary future can be taken to mean things that He either decides or knows will come to pass, and therefore supports both the Open View ('decides') and my view ('knows').

Calcidius goes on to say God does not know the contingecy future in the same way as He knows the necessary future (can again support both the OV and my view). He concludes by saying, quite rightly, that God cannot be certain of our choices (in agreement with both the OV and my view), because we have free choice.

Blogger Andrew said...

Actually I suspect you might be right about Calcidius agreeing with your view. The more I read it, the more he look Arminian to me. Especially a bit which I didn't quote - I'll edit the quote to include that.

Though, the translater/commentator seems pretty certain Calcidius proves he is an open viewer in this passage.

Blogger Tom said...

Is the text of Calcidius in Boeft's book presented in English?

I'm thinking about doing my M.A. thesis on Calcidius. He also considered how to undertand prophecies about the future. I was thinking that appropriating Calcidius toward an OV understanding of biblical prophecy might be interesting. Hmmm.



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