Summary Against Modern Thought: What It Means To Speak Of Fortune

Summary Against Modern Thought: What It Means To Speak Of Fortune

Previous post.

If it weren’t for bad luck, well, there’d be no idea of luck.


1 Next, we can show how a person might be said to be favored by fortune.

2 In fact, we say that some good fortune has befallen a man “when something good happens to him, without his having intended it.” For example, a man digging in a field may find a treasure for which he was not looking.

Now, something may happen to a certain agent which is not intended by him as he is doing his job, but which is not unintended by the superior under whom he is working. Suppose, for instance, a master orders a servant to go to a certain place to which the master has already sent another servant, unknown to the first one; the encounter with his fellow servant is not intended by the servant who has been sent, but it is not unintended by the master who sent him. And so, though the meeting is fortuitous and a matter of chance to this servant, it is not so to the master, but has been a planned event.

So, since man is ordered in regard to his body under the celestial bodies, in regard to his intellect under the angels, and in regard to his will under God, it is quite possible for something apart from man’s intention to happen, which is, however, in accord with the ordering of the celestial bodies, or with the control of the angels, or even of God.

For, though God alone directly works on the choice made by man, the action of an angel does have some effect on man’s choice by way of persuasion, and the action of a celestial body by way of disposition, in the sense that the corporeal impressions of celestial bodies on our bodies give a disposition to certain choices. So, when as a result of the influence of higher causes in the foregoing way a man is inclined toward certain choices that are beneficial to him, but whose benefit he does not know by his own reasoning, and when besides this his intellect is illuminated by the light of intellectual substances so that he may do these things, and when his will is inclined by divine working to choose something beneficial to him while he is ignorant of its nature, he is said to be favored by fortune.

And, on the contrary, he is said to be subject to misfortune when his choice is inclined to contrary results by higher causes, as is said of a certain man: “Write this man barren, a man that shall not prosper in his days” (Jer. 22:30).

Notes Which accords with the non-superstitious definition we all hold.

3 But, on this point, a difference is to be noted. The impressions of celestial bodies on our bodies cause natural dispositions of our bodies within us. Thus, as a result of a disposition left by a celestial body in our body, a man is called not merely fortunate or unfortunate, but also well or ill favored by nature, and it is in this way that the Philosopher says, in his Magna Moralia, that a man favored by fortune is also favored by nature.

Indeed, this fact, that one man chooses things beneficial to him, whereas another man chooses things harmful to him, apart from their proper reasoning, cannot be understood as resulting from differences of intellectual nature, because the nature of intellect and will is one in all men. In fact, a formal diversity would lead to a difference according to species, whereas a material diversity leads to a numerical difference. Hence, in so far as man’s intellect is enlightened for the performance of some action, or as his will is prompted by God, the man is not said to be favored by birth, but, rather, well guarded or well governed.

4 Again, another difference on this matter is to be observed. As a matter of fact, the operation of an angel and of a celestial body is merely like something disposing toward choice; while God’s operation is like something perfecting. Now, since a disposition which results from a quality of the body, or from an intellectual persuasion, does not bring necessity to the act of choice, a man does not always choose what his guardian angel intends, or that toward which a celestial body gives inclination.

But a man does choose in all cases the object in accord with God’s operation within his will. Consequently, the guardianship of the angels is sometimes frustrated, according to this text: “We would have cured Babylon, but she is not healed” (Jer. 51:9); and still more is this true of the inclination of the celestial bodies, but divine providence is always steadfast.

5 Moreover, there is still another difference to be considered. Since a celestial body does not dispose to a choice, unless it makes an impression on our body by which man is stimulated to choose in the way that passions induce one to choose, every disposition to choice which results from the celestial bodies works by means of some passion, as when a person is led to choose something by means of hatred, or love, or anger, or some similar passion. But a person is disposed to an act of choice by an angel, by means of an intellectual consideration, without passion. In fact, this happens in two ways.

Sometimes, a man’s understanding is enlightened by an angel to know only that something is a good thing to be done, but it is not instructed as to the reason why it is a good, since this reason is derived from the end. Thus, at times, a man thinks that something is a good thing to be done, but, if he be asked why, he would answer that he does not know. Hence, when he reaches a beneficial end, to which he has given no thought before, it will be fortuitous for him.

But sometimes he is instructed by angelic illumination, both that this act is good and as to the reason why it is good, which depends on the end. And if this be so, when he reaches the end which he has thought about before, it will not be fortuitous. We should also note that, just as the active power of a spiritual nature is higher than a corporeal one, so also is it more universal. Consequently, the disposition resulting from a celestial body does not extend to all the objects which human choice covers.

Notes The better you align your will with God’s, the more “fortunate” you are. Which, as we’ll see much later, does not mean no suffering.

6 Still another point: the power of the human soul, or also of an angel, is particularized in comparison with divine power which, in fact, is universal in regard to all beings. Thus, then, some good thing may happen to a man which is apart from his own intention, and apart from the inclination given by celestial bodies, and apart from the enlightenment coming from the angels—but not apart from divine providence, which is regulative, just as it is productive, of being as such, and, consequently, which must include all things under it. Thus, some good or evil may happen to man that is fortuitous in relation to himself, and in relation to the celestial bodies, and in relation to the angels, but not in relation to God. Indeed, in relation to Him, nothing can be a matter of chance and unforeseen, either in the sphere of human affairs or in any matter.

7 But, since fortuitous events are those apart from intention, and since moral goods cannot be apart from intention, because they are based on choice, in their case no one can be called well or ill favored by fortune. However, in regard to them, a person can be called well or ill favored by birth; when, as a result of the natural disposition of his body, he is prone to virtuous, or vicious, acts of choice. But in regard to external goods, which can accrue to a man apart from his intention, a man may be said to be both favored by birth and by fortune, and also governed by God and guarded by the angels.

8 Moreover, man may obtain from higher causes still another help in regard to the outcome of his actions. For, since a man has both the ability to choose and to carry out what he chooses, he may at times be assisted by higher causes in regard to both or he may also be hindered.

In regard to choice, of course, as we said, man is either disposed by the celestial bodies to choose something, or he is enlightened by the guardianship of the angels, or even he is inclined by divine operation. But in regard to the carrying out of the choice man may obtain from a higher cause the strength and efficacy needed to accomplish what he has chosen. Now, this can come not only from God and the angels, but also from the celestial bodies, to the extent that such efficacy is located in his body. For it is obvious that inanimate bodies also obtain certain powers and abilities from the celestial bodies, even beyond those which go along with the active and passive qualities of the elements, which, doubtless, are also subject to the celestial bodies.

Thus, the fact that a magnet attracts iron is due to the power of a celestial body, and so have certain stones and herbs other hidden powers. So, nothing prevents a man, too, from getting, as a result of the influence of a celestial body, a certain special efficiency in doing some bodily actions, which another man does not possess: for instance, a physician in regard to healing, a farmer in regard to planting, and a soldier in regard to fighting.

Notes Not for the first, and not for the last, time we emphasis equality is not ours. Inequality is built right into the system.

9 Now, in a much more perfect way, God lavishes on man this special efficiency in the carrying out of His works efficaciously. So, in regard to the first kind of help, which applies to the act of choosing, God is said to direct man, whereas in regard to the second kind of help He is said to strengthen man. And these two forms of help are touched on together in the Psalms (26:1), where it is said in regard to the first: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” and in regard to the second: “The Lord is the protector of my life, of whom shall I be afraid?”

10 But there are two differences between these two helps. First, man is assisted by the first kind of help, both in regard to things subject to the power of man, and also in regard to other things. But the second sort of help extends only to things of which man’s power is capable. Indeed, the fact that a man digging a grave discovers a treasure results from no power of man; so, in regard to such an outcome, man may be helped by the fact that be is prompted to look in the place where the treasure is, not, however, in the sense that he is given any power to find treasure.

But, in the case of the physician healing, or the soldier winning a fight, he may be helped in regard to the end, and also in the sense that he may carry out the choice efficaciously, by means of a power acquired from a higher cause. Hence, the first kind of help is more universal. The second difference is that the second help is given to carry out efficaciously what he intends. Consequently, since fortuitous events are apart from one’s intention, man cannot, properly speaking, be called fortunate as a result of such help, as he can be from the first, as we showed above.

11 Now, it is possible for a man to be well or ill favored by fortune, in some cases, when he is the sole agent, as for instance, when he is digging in the earth, he finds a treasure lying there. In other cases, it may result from the action of another concurrent cause, as when the man going to market to buy something encounters a debtor whom he did not think he would find. Now, in the first case, the man is helped so that something good happens to him, only in the fact that he is directed to the choosing of an object to which something advantageous is attached, and this comes about apart from his intention. But in the second case, both agents must be directed to choose the action, or movement, which is the occasion for their meeting.

12 We must consider another thing in regard to what was said above. For we said that, in order for something favorable or unfavorable to happen to a man on the basis of fortune, the help can come from God, and it can also come from a celestial body: in so far as a man is inclined by God to choose something with which there is combined an advantageous, or disadvantageous, result which the chooser has not thought of before, and in so far as he is disposed by a celestial body to choose such an object. Now, this advantage, or disadvantage, is fortuitous in regard to man’s choice; in regard to God, it loses the character of the fortuitous, but not in regard to the celestial body.

This becomes evident, as follows. In fact, an event does not lose its fortuitous character unless it may be referred back to a direct cause.

But the power of a celestial body is an agent cause, not by way of understanding and choice, but as a nature. Now, it is proper for a nature to tend to one objective. So, if an effect is not simply one result, then its direct cause cannot be a natural power. But, when two things are combined with each other accidentally, they are not truly one, but only accidentally so. Hence, there can be no direct, natural cause for this union. Let us suppose, then, that a certain man is prompted to dig a grave by the influence of a celestial body, working by way of a passion as we said. Now, the grave and the location of the treasure are one only accidentally, for they have no relation to each other. Hence, the power of the celestial body cannot directly give an inclination toward this entire result: that this man should dig this grave and that it should be done at the place where the treasure is. But an agent working through understanding can be the cause of an inclination to this entire result, for it is proper to an intelligent being to order many things into one. It is clear, indeed, that even a man who knew where the treasure was might send another man who did not know to dig a grave in that same place and thus to find a treasure unintentionally. So, in this way, fortuitous events of this kind, when referred to their divine cause, lose their fortuitous character, but when referred to a celestial cause, they do not.

13 It is also apparent by the same reasoning that a man cannot be universally favored by fortune through the power of a celestial body, but only in regard to this or that incident. I say universally, meaning that a man might have the ability in his nature, resulting from the influence of a celestial body, to choose always, or in most cases, objects to which certain advantages or disadvantages are accidentally connected. For nature is ordered to one result only.

But these factors, in terms of which good or bad fortune befalls a man, are not reducible to any one thing; rather, they are indeterminate and indefinite, as the Philosopher teaches in Physics II, and as is clear to our senses. So, it is not possible for a man to have the ability in his nature to choose always those objects from which advantageous results accidentally follow. But it is possible that, by celestial influence, he may be inclined to choose one thing to which an advantage is accidentally attached; then, from another inclination to another advantage; and from a third to a third advantage; but not in such a way that all such advantages would follow from one inclination. However, from one divine disposition a man can be directed to all results.


  1. C-Marie

    Leaves my brain spinning, though I did understand some….mostly I am with St. Thomas Aquinas after his vision…..

    “The greatest of the Medieval theologians, his commonsensical philosophy, known as Thomism, undergirds much of Catholic thought. He is considered one of the doctors of the Roman Church. Yet he did not consider his knowledge something to brag about. As he pointed out, there are things about God we can take only on faith because God has revealed them to us. Not opposed to reason, they are beyond reason. “If the only way open to use for the knowledge of God were solely that of reason, the human race would remain in the blackest shadows of ignorance.”
    St. Thomas Aquinas was called to defend the unity of man’s mind. Siger of Brabant’s theology seemed to say a statement could be true in theology although false in philosophy. Aquinas won that battle. He could have become proud.
    Instead, he stopped writing. What happened, according to an early biographer, was this: While saying mass on this day, December 6, 1273, the noble-minded philosopher experienced a heavenly vision. Urged to take up his pen again, he replied, “Such things have been revealed to me that all that I have written seems to me as so much straw. Now I await the end of my life.”
    In the 20th century, his philosophy was revised in light of modern findings. You may meet it as neo-Thomism.” (from

  2. McChuck

    O/T Many of your more incendiary headline articles are being shadow banned. I can’t get to them because “too many redirects”.

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