divine providence

In theology, divine providence, or simply providence, is God's activity in the world. By implication, it is also 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.[1]



The word comes from Latin providentia "foresight, prudence", from pro- "ahead" + videre "to see". The current meaning of the word (Divine Providence) derives from the sense "knowledge of the future" or omniscience, which is the privilege of God. The initial meaning of provider remains in 'to provide' = "to take precautionary measures".

Catholic theology

St. 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 St. Thomas Aquinas in the Summa Theologica. 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, in light of Catholic doctrine, the most difficult issues as related to providence.

Reformed theology

This term is an integral part of John Calvin's theological framework known as Calvinism, which emphasizes the 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 a 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.

The idea of providence as a central issue of piety was further developed by many of Calvin's followers, such as the English Puritans. In modern times, this concept remains prominent among many Protestant denominations that identify with Calvinism, the Reformed churches.

Lutheran theology

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In Lutheran theology, Divine Providence refers to God's preservation of creation, his cooperation with everything that happens, and his guiding of the universe.[2] 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[3]. Lutherans believe everything exists for the sake of the Christian Church, and that God guides everything for its welfare and growth[4].

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.[5]. In Luther's Small Catechism, the explanation of the first article of the Apostle's Creed declares that everything people have that is good is given and preserved by God, either directly or through other people or things [6]. 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."[7] 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.[7]

Swedenborgian theology

Divine Providence is also a book (see external links), published by Emanuel Swedenborg in 1764, which describes his systematic theology regarding providence, free will, theodicy, and other related topics. Both meanings of the word providence described above ('foresight' and 'to provide') are applicable in the theology defined in Swedenborg's writings in that providence encompasses understanding, intent and action. Divine Providence relative to man is 'foresight', and relative to the Lord is 'providence'[8]. 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[9].

In Jewish thought

God sees all ( equally )

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.

See also


  1. Definition in The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions
  2. Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. Concordia Publishing House. 1934. pp. 189-195 and Fuerbringer, L., Concordia Cyclopedia Concordia Publishing House. 1927. p. 635 and Christian Cyclopedia article on Divine Providence. For further reading, see The Proof Texts of the Catechism with a Practical Commentary, section Divine Providence, p. 212, Wessel, Louis, published in Theological Quarterly, Vol. 11, 1909.
  3. Mueller, Steven P.,Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess. Wipf and Stock. 2005. pp. 122-123.
  4. Mueller, J.T., Christian Dogmatics. Concordia Publishing House: 1934. pp. 190 and Edward. W. A.,A Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther's Small Catechism. Concordia Publishing House. 1946. p. 165. and Divine Providence and Human Adversity by Markus O. Koepsell
  5. Luther's Works Vol. 1 Lectures on Genesis Chapters 1-5 page 25, 47
  6. Luther's Small Catechism, The Apostle's Creed
  7. a b Luther's Large Catechism, First Commandment
  8. S. Warren, Compendium of Swedenborg's Theological Writings, page 480
  9. Swedenborg, E. Divine Providence, note 71-73

Christian material

Jewish material

See under Divine providence (Judaism)