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Seneca’s faith in Providence

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Peter Pul Rubens, Seneca
Peter Pul Rubens, Seneca

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (born around 4 BCE – 65 CE) called Seneca the Younger, he became famous for his Dialogues which expressed his philosophical worldview. In the dialogue On Providence Seneca tells Lucilius about his vision of God’s action in the world. According to Seneca, the gods take care of the world and nothing is accidental. Please note that Seneca himself uses the names, God and gods, interchangeably, without making any distinctions.

Seneca sees certain rules and causality in nature, the surrounding nature arranges itself into one coherent reality. Seneca claims that good people live in hardship and bad people bask in debauchery. It is God who deliberately makes life difficult for the virtuous, toughening them up and moulding them in his image.

The philosopher reflects on how it is possible for good people to face misfortune and explains that everything for honest and virtuous people will turn to their advantage. By overcoming adversities, a person becomes stronger and more experienced. The writer claims that just as parents rigorously raise their children, Providence perfects a person and makes him worthy and like himself. Seneca recalls the image of a doctor who, to save his life, has to cut off a sick limb, just like God does by sending a misfortune to heal him. Those who take pleasure, drunkenness and gluttony poison themselves and this is an example of real misfortune.

Seneca, summing up his considerations, puts forward the thesis that God, by tempering man, removes the temptations of shameful misdeeds from him and thus heals the man of his disabilities. At the end of the dialogue, God speaks and is surprised by the fears of a man who fears death, it lasts a short time and makes the soul part with the body. God notices that a person is worried all his life with something that lasts instantly.

It is amazing how Seneca’s theses coincide with Christian theology, undoubtedly his thought had a great influence on medieval theologians. The stoic philosophy professed by the thinker significantly strengthened Christian moral teaching. Reading Dialogues Seneca one gets the impression that his thought is very close to our understanding of God and the absolute.

Author: Paweł Krzemiński (translated from Polish: Jakub Jasiński)
  • Lucjusz Anneusz Seneka, Dialogi, przełożył Leon Joachimowicz, Warszawa 2001

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