Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Professor Alan Mendelson
Professor Peter Widdicombe
The objective of this dissertation is to examine the conception of divine providence in the writings of Philo of Alexandria (ca. 25 BCE - 50 CE). In order to achieve this aim, we shall follow the theocentric structure of Philo's thought as outlined in the important passage De Opificio Mundi 171-2. In this passage, Philo correlates the idea of providence with this concept of God and the theory of creation. In Chapter One, we shall first review the formal aspects of Philo's concept of God, in particular the idea of God's transcendence, and then correlate how Philo conceptualizes the data of providence in light of these formal aspects. In particular, we shall explain how Philo can predicate that God is provident in nature, although, strictly speaking, it is Philo's view that God cannot be apprehended in his essence. In Chapter Two, we shall discuss how Philo explains the immanence of God in the cosmos in terms of the Logos and the divine powers, one of which he specifically characterizes as the providential power. In Chapter Three, we shall examine how the concept of God and the notion of providence are both critical for Philo's theory of creation. Philo conceives of the role of providence in cosmological matters as being responsible for the design, administration and continuous existence of the created universe. There are two more issues--raised in Philo's treatise De Providentia--which are critically important in order to gain a thorough understanding of Philo's conception of divine providence. These are the questions of astral fatalism and theodicy. In Chapter Four, we shall address why Philo rejects the assumptions implied in astral fatalism--the divinity of the stars, moral determinism--as irreconcilable with the conception of divine providence. He rejects the divinity of the stars because they cannot be transcendent as God and thus have causal influences over human lives. He rejects astral fatalism because it renders absurd the notion of moral responsibility. Finally, in Chapter Five, we shall correlate the question of theodicy with Philo's conception of providence. Philo proceeds from the Platonic premise that God is not the cause for evil in any way, neither for physical evil nor for moral evil. Unlike the category of physical evil, which he explains in terms of Stoic arguments, the category of moral evil incriminates human beings directly. For Philo the existence of moral evil exonerates God and his providence as the cause for evil and anchors the blame in the person. Moral evil orginates when the rational part of the soul, the mind (which is inherently free and knows the difference between good and evil), cannot resist the assault by the senses and the passions. Philo thus places both the origin and the responsibility for moral evil on the shoulder of the human being.
Frick, Peter, "The Concept of Divine Providence in the Thought of Philo of Alexandria" (1997). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 1170.