Man proposes but God disposes
The quotation Man proposes but God disposes may come down to us
as a direct translation from a work of devotion written in Latin by Thomas a Kempis.
This work, his celebrated
'Of the Imitation of Christ',
is the second most widely read Christian text after the Bible itself.
It contains many sensitively and wisely expressed insights into spirituality and morals.
In Chapter 19 of Book 1 we find :-
"For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom;
and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand.
For man proposes, but God disposes;
neither is the way of man in his own hands".
The exact Latin phrase translating as man proposes, but God disposes; being Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit;
Many of the numerous insights contained in the Of the Imitation of Christ are very well
phrased and judiciously
expressed restatements of insights that themselves originate in the Bible.
In relation to this insight that man proposes but God disposes there are several originals
in the Bible to chose from:-
Thus in the Book of Proverbs, attributed to Solomon the Wise, we read:-
A man's heart
deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps. Proverbs 16:9
and again in Proverbs 19:21:-
"There are many devices in a man's heart; nevertheless the counsel of the Lord,
that shall stand."
With these verses we may also compare Jeremiah 10:23:-
O Lord, I
know, that the way of a man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to
direct his steps.
Shakespeare, too, has something to say on this:- "There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will."
Ralph Waldo Emerson
RALPH WALDO EMERSON (1803-1882) was, in his time, the leading voice of intellectual culture in the United States. He remains widely influential
to this day through his essays, lectures, poems, and philosophical writings.
In the later eighteen-twenties Ralph Waldo Emerson read, and was very significantly influenced by, a work by a French philosopher named Victor Cousin.
A key section of Cousin's work reads as follows:
"What is the business of history? What is the stuff of which it is made? Who is the personage of history? Man : evidently man and human nature.
There are many different elements in history. What are they? Evidently again, the elements of human nature. History is therefore the development of humanity,
and of humanity only; for nothing else but humanity develops itself, for nothing else than humanity is free. …
… Moreover, when we have all the elements, I mean all the essential elements, their mutual relations do, as it were, discover themselves. We draw from the
nature of these different elements, if not all their possible relations, at least their general and fundamental relations."
Introduction to the History of Philosophy (1829)
Even before he had first read Cousin, (in 1829), Emerson had expressed views in his private Journals which suggest that he accepted that Human Nature, and Human Beings, tend to display three identifiable aspects and orientations:
Imagine hope to be removed from the human breast & see how Society will sink, how the strong bands of order & improvement will be relaxed & what a deathlike stillness would take the place of the restless energies that now move the world. The scholar will extinguish his midnight lamp, the merchant will furl his white sails & bid them seek the deep no more. The anxious patriot who stood out for his country to the last & devised in the last beleagured citadel, profound schemes for its deliverance and aggrandizement, will sheathe his sword and blot his fame. Remove hope, & the world becomes a blank and rottenness.
(Journal entry made between October and December, 1823)
In all districts of all lands, in all the classes of communities thousands of minds are intently occupied, the merchant in his compting house, the mechanist over his plans, the statesman at his map, his treaty, & his tariff, the scholar in the skilful history & eloquence of antiquity, each stung to the quick with the desire of exalting himself to a hasty & yet unfound height above the level of his peers. Each is absorbed in the prospect of good accruing to himself but each is no less contributing to the utmost of his ability to fix & adorn human civilization.
(Journal entry of December, 1824)
Our neighbours are occupied with employments of infinite diversity. Some are intent on commercial speculations; some engage warmly in political contention; some are found all day long at their books …
(This dates from January - February, 1828)
The quotes from Emerson are reminiscent of a line from another "leading voice of intellectual culture" - William Shakespeare.
There's neither honesty, manhood, nor good fellowship in thee.
William Shakespeare: Henry IV (Pt 1), Act I, Scene II
"The first glance at History convinces us that the actions of men proceed from their needs, their passions, their characters and talents;
and impresses us with the belief that such needs, passions and interests are the sole spring of actions."
Georg Hegel, 1770-1831, German philosopher, The Philosophy of History (1837)