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ments, and good will, and all that they desire they obtain very easily, because they wish nothing wrong. But no creature hath freedom and reason, except angels and men. Men have always freedom; and the more of it as they lead their minds towards divine things. But they have less freedom when they incline their minds near to this world's wealth and honours. They have no freedom, when they themselves subject their own wills to the vices; but, so soon as they turn away their mind from good, they are blinded with unwiseness (1). "
All the good sense of this much-agitated discussion seems to be condensed in these clear and forcible passages.
Alfred, instead of translating the subsequent observations of Boetius, has inserted the following questions, and their answers from his own mind. The answer contains an illustration, that strongly shows his own high-mindedness as a king, in loving to have free men in his court.
Why men have
"I said, "I am sometimes very much disturbed.' Quoth freedom of will. he, At what?' I answered: "It is at this which thou sayest, that God gives to every one freedom to do evil, as well as good, whichsoever he will; and thou sayest also, that God knoweth every thing before it happens; and thou also sayest, that nothing happens, but that God wills, or consents to it; and thou sayest that it shall all go as he has appointed. Now, I wonder at this: why he should consent that evil men should have freedom that they may do evil, as well as good, whichsoever they will, when he knew before that they would do evil.
"Then quoth he, I may very easily answer thee this remark. How would it now look to you, if there were any very powerful king, and he had no freemen in all his kingdom, but that all were slaves?'
"Then said I, 'It would not be thought by me right, nor also reasonable, if servile men only should attend upon him.'
"Then quoth he, 'It would be more unnatural, if God, in all his kingdom, had no free creature under his power. Therefore he made two rational creatures free; angels and men. He gave them the great gift of freedom. Hence they could do evil as well as good, whichsoever they would. He gave this very fixed gift, and a very fixed law with that gift to every man unto his end. The freedom is, that man may do what he will; and the law is, that he will render to every man according to his works, either in this world or in the future one; good or evil, whichsoever he doeth. Men may obtain through this freedom whatsoever they will; but they cannot escape death, though they may by good conduct hinder it, so that it shall come later. Indeed, they may defer it to old age, if they do not want good will for good works.'
“Then said I, ' Thou hast well removed that doubt (2).”
This solution of the difficulty proposed, shows that Alfred was the true king of an English people. He felt from his own great heart, that the Divine Sovereign must prefer to govern freemen rather than slaves; because such were his own sentiments as a
(1) Alfred, p. 140.
(2) Alfred, p. 141, 142.
king. The force of his answer rested on this noble feeling. If it be derogatory to the dignity of an earthly monarch, to have only slaves for his subjects, how much more unnatural would it be, that the King of kings should have no creatures with free will!
The following passages on the same metaphysical subject are also Alfred's own compositions, which he inserts instead of the reasoning of Boetius. They obviously express his own feelings and investigations, and the arguments by which his doubts were satisfied.
"But I am yet grieved with much more trouble, even to sadness.
On the Divine Fore-appoint
"What is thy grief about?
"It is about the Divine Pre-ordination. Because we heard it, some while since, said, that all shall happen as God, at the beginning, had appointed, and that no man can change it. Now methinketh, that he errs, when he honoureth the good, and also when he punishes the evil; if it be true, that it was so shaped by him, that they cannot do otherwise. We labour unnecessarily when we pray, and when we fast, or give alms, if we have no more merit from it, than those that in all things proceed according to their own will, and run after their bodily pleasures."
The answer begins by a reference to Cicero, whom Boetius had cited for the argument, for which Alfred had substituted his own difficulty. But he deviates immediately into reasoning of his own.
"I tell thee, if this be true, we ought to say, that it was an unnecessary commandment in the divine books, that God should order man to forsake evil and do good: and, again, the saying which he expressed, that the more a man laboureth the greater reward he shall receive. I wonder why thou hast forgotten all that we spoke about before. We said before, that the Divine Providence wrought every good and no evil, nor appointed any to be made, nor ever made any; but that indeed we are directed to good.
"It is thought evil by common people that He should avenge or punish any one for his evil.
But, did we not also say in this same book, that God had appointed freedom to be given to men, and made them free; and that if they held this freedom well, he would greatly dignify them with everlasting power; and that if they misused this freedom, that he would then punish them with death?
"He has appointed, that if they sin in any thing through this freedom, they shall, by penitence, compensate for it, to recover that freedom; and if any of them will be so hard-hearted, that he will do no repentance, that he shall then have a just punishment.
"He has appointed all creatures to be servants, except angels and men, and hence they are the servants of these other creatures. They have their ministerial duties till doomsday. But men and angels, they are free. He dispenses with their servitude.
"What! can men say, that the Divine Providence has appointed this, that they should not fulfil these duties, or how? May they neglect them; that they may not do good? Now it is written that God will render to
every man according to his works. Why then should any man be idle, that he work not?—
"Then said I, ' It is obvious enough to me, that God knew it all before, both good and evil, before it happened. But I know not, whether that shall all happen unchangeably, which he knows and has appointed.
"Then,' quoth he, THERE IS NO NEED THAT ALL SHOULD HAPPEN UNCHANGEABLY though some of it shall happen unchangeably. This will be that, which will be best for our necessities; and that will be his will. But there are some so directed that there is no necessity for this; and though its being done would neither injure, nor benefit, nor be any harm, yet it will not be done.'
"Think now, by thyself, whether thou hast appointed any thing so firmly, that thou thinkest that it shall never be changed by thy will, nor that thou canst be without it or whether thou again art so divided in opinion, on any thought, whether it shall happen to help thee, or whether it shall not. Many are the things which God knows before they happen; and he knows also whether it will hurt his creatures that they should happen. But he knows not this for the purpose of willing that they should happen, but that he may take previous care that they should not happen. Thus a good ship-steerer perceives many a stormy wind before it occurs, and folds his sail, and awhile also lays down his mast, and then abides the beating, if, before the threatening of the adverse wind, he can guard himself against the weather (1).''
In this train of original reasoning, it is remarkable, that Alfred's sound and practical understanding has fixed itself on the true solution of this difficult question. The Deity foresees, when He pleases, all things that can happen, not that every thing which He foresees should happen; but that He may select out of the possibilities which his foresight anticipates, those things which it will be most beneficial to his creation to take place; but He does not even will these unalterably. He binds himself in no chains. His laws are not made to be immutable, when the course and changes of circumstances make alteration advisable. There is no need," as our royal sage intimates, "that all things should unchangeably happen." Alfred felt it to be wiser, from his own experience, to reserve and exercise the right of making new determinations and arrangements as new exigencies occurred; and he has reasonably applied the same principle to the Divine Government. The Deity could make all things unchangeable if he pleased, and could from all eternity have so appointed them. But there was no need for his doing this. It was wiser and more expedient that he should not do so. He is under no necessity, at all times, or at any time, to exert all his possibilities of power. He uses on every occasion so much of it as that occasion requires, but no more. He involves himself in no fetters of necessity. He is always doing what it is the best and fittest to do, and reserves to himself the right and the freedom of making at every period whatever new arrangement the progress or the new positions and the welfare of his creation require.
(1) Alfred, p. 142-144.
Thus Alfred has hit upon the real wisdom of opinion on this contested subject, which many theologians and metaphysicians have failed to attain. He could not have left a more impressive instance of the penetrating sagacity of his clear and honest mind.
Boetius was advancing to the point, but missed it; for he seems to have thought, like most, that whatever was foreseen must occur. Alfred's idea of an exerted foresight to choose from, without the necessity of the thing foreseen therefore unalterably occurring, was a beautiful distinction of his correct judgment.
Instead of the reasoning of Boetius, in the fifth prosa of his last book, Alfred substitutes the following of his own :
On human na
"Then said I, Thou hast very well helped me by this speech. I wonder why so many wise men should have la- ture and its best boured so much on this subject, and have found out so little that was wise.'
"Then quoth he, 'Why wonderest thou so much? Is it so easy to be understood? How ! knowest thou not, that many things are not understood so as they exist; but according to the quality of the understanding of him that inquires after them. Such is wisdom. No man from this world can understand it, such as it really is; though every one strives according to the quality of his understanding, that he may perceive it if he can. Wisdom may entirely comprehend us, such as we are, though we may not wholly comprehend that, such as it is in itself; because wisdom is God. He seeth all our works, both good and evil, before they are done, or for this purpose, thought. But he compels us not to this, that we must necessarily do the good; nor prevents us from doing evil; because he has given us freedom. I can teach thee also some examples, by which thou mayest the easier understand this speech. What! thou knowest the sight, and the hearing, and the taste they perceive the body of man, and yet they perceive it not alike. The ears perceive so that they hear, but they perceive not yet the body entirely as it is; our sense of feeling must touch it, and feel that it is the body. We cannot feel whether this be black or white, fair or not fair; but the sight at the beginning turns to these points; and as the eyes look on things, they perceive all the appearance of the body. But I will give thee some further explanation, that thou mayest know that which thou wonderest at.'
"Then said I, 'What is this?'
“He said, 'It is that man understands only that which he separately perceives in others. He perceives separately through his eyes; separately through his ears; separately through his nostrils; separately by his reason; separately by his wise comprehension. There are inany living things that are unmoving, such as shell fish are; and these have yet some portion of perception; or they would not else live, if they had no grain of perception. Some can see, some can hear, some taste, some smell; but the moving ani. mals are more like man, because they have all that the unmoving creatures have, and also more too. This is, that they obey men. They love what loves them, and hate what hates them; and they fly from what they hate, and seek what they love. But men have all that we have before mentioned, and also add to them the great gift of reason. Angels have a still wiser understanding.
"Hence are these creatures thus made, that the unmoving shall not exalt themselves above the moving ones, nor contend with them; nor the moving ones above men; nor men above angels; nor angels strive against God.
"But this is miserable, that the greatest part of men look not to that which is given to them, that is, reason; nor seek that which is above them, which is what angels and wise men have; this is a wise understanding. But most men now move with cattle, in this, that they desire the lusts of the world like cattle. If we now had any portion of an unhesitating understanding, such as angels have, then we might perceive that such an understanding would be much better than our reason. Though we investigate many things, we have little ready knowledge free from doubt. But to angels there is no doubt of any of those things which they know, because their ready knowledge is much better than our reasoning; as our reasoning is better than the perceptions of animals. Any portion of understanding that is given to them, is either to those that are prone or to those that are erect. But let us now elevate our minds as supremely as we may towards the high roof of the highest understanding, that thou mayest most swiftly and most easily come to thine own kindred from whence thou camest before. There may thy mind and thy reason see openly that which they now doubt about; every thing, whether of the Divine prescience, which we have been discoursing on, or of our freedom, or of all such things (1).'”
What an easy flow of reasoning, on topics, which the Aristotelian schoolmen afterwards bewildered without improving!
If it be interesting to read the philosophical reasonings of great men on the sublime subject of Deity, and on that which constitutes the supreme good, it is peculiarly so to observe how Alfred treats of it, when we recollect the age he lived in, and the barbaric minds with which he was surrounded. He has enlarged so copiously on the suggestions of Boetius (2), added so much to his text, inserted so much vigour of reasoning, and also thrown it so much more into dialogue, that it claims our attention as another specimen of his original composition. He argues and thinks like a platonic philosopher.
On the Divine "I would ask thee first one thing. Whether thinkest thou that any thing in this world is so good as that it may give us full happiness? I ask this of thee. I do not wish that any false likeness should deceive you and me, instead of the true comfort; for no man can deny that some good must be the most superior. Just as there is some great and deep fountain, from which many brooks and rivers run. Hence men say of some advantages, that they are not complete good, because there is some little deficiency in them, which they are not entirely without. Yet every thing would go to naught, if it had not some good in it.
"From this you may understand, that from the greatest good come the less goods; not the greatest from the less; no more than the river can be
(1) Alfred, p. 144–146.
(2) The reader may compare, with the king's effusion, Boetius, lib. iii. prosa 10.