Lorenzo Valla: An Interpretation of the Dialogue on Free Will

Lorenzo Valla: An Interpretation of the Dialogue on Free Will

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To provide an interpretation of Lorenzo Valla's Dialogue on Free Will.

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University of Minnesota









Directed Readings in Early Modern History

Fall 2005



            The work begins with an address to the bishop of Lerida.  Here, Lorenzo Valla broadly outlines his purpose in writing the, “most learned and best of bishops.”


            “I would prefer, O Garsia, most learned and best of bishops, that other Christians and, indeed         those who are called theologians would not depend so much on philosophy or devote so much             energy to it, making it almost an equal and sister (I do not say patron) of theology.  For it seems to         me that they have a poor opinion of our religion if they think it needs the protection of philosophy.           The followers of the Apostles, truly columns in the temple of God, whose works have now been      extant many centuries, used this protection least of all.  In fact, if we look carefully, at the heresies          of those times, which we understand were many and not insignificant, derived almost entirely               from philosophic sources, so that philosophy not only profited our most sacred religion little but          even violently injured it.  But they of whom I speak consider [philosophy] a tool for weeding out   heresies, when actually it is a seedbed of heresy.  They do not realize that the most pious antiquity,    which lacked the arm of philosophy in combating heresies, and which often fought bitterly against  philosophy itself-driving it forth like Tarquin into exile, never to allow its return-is thus accused of 

                ignorance.  Were those men ignorant and weaponless?  And how did they reduce so much of the

                world to their authority?  You who are fortified by such armament are not able to guard what they

                have left you as a patrimony, ah, lamentable and unworthy thing!”[1]


Buried beneath the ostensible condemnation of philosophy in this passage that, according to Lorch, constitutes, “a recurrent motif of all of Valla’s works,”[2] we find Lorenzo Valla’s critical method, namely, his use of rhetoric and philology.  Valla begins by criticizing his contemporaries for operating outside of the auspices of historical context.  Midway through the passage he states, “They do not even realize that the most pious antiquity…”  This reveals Lorenzo’s background and training as a humanist and marks his distinguishing between the past and the present

            This is a significant concept when one considers the cultural climate and educational reform of the fourteenth and fifteenth-century Italian humanist movement.  This movement concentrated on the revival of the classical tradition via the study of Latin and Greek, grammar, rhetoric, poetry, history, and moral philosophy constituting the studia humanitatis.[3]  We take for granted the historical perspective of time[4] embedded in the words Antiquity, Middle Ages, and Early Modern, however, during the first half of the Italian Quattrocento the concept of history being discontinuous, or divided into parts, was still one of relative novelty.  Scholars generally accept the preeminence of Francesco Petrarca (1304-74) as the father of this new conceptualization.[5]  For Petrarch, “historical-mindedness,” represented what Nauert describes as, “sensitivity to what texts, historical records, and even single words had meant originally…”[6]  Petrarch and humanists like the Florentine chancellor, Coluccio Salutati, recognized the inadequacy of the medieval tradition in fulfilling the social needs of the economically and politically motivated families of fourteenth-century Italian cities like the republic of Florence.[7]  To meet the practical needs of life in government, business, and court, Petrarch and the early humanists looked to the authors of antiquity to create an educational and cultural alternative to the moderate realism and scholastic method that had  dominated the thirteenth and fourteenth-century universities north of the Alps, notably, Paris and Oxford. 

This return to the classical tradition via the studia humanitatis required the re-conceptualization of history and here we see Petrarch’s innovative approach.  Petrarch and his followers divided the human past into three periods: Antiquity, a Middle Age [Dark Age], and a new age of high culture predicated on the rebirth of classical learning.[8]  Lorenzo Valla reaffirmed Petrarch’s humanist sense of historical discontinuity presupposing an understanding of human life in its myriad complexity.  He further recognized the need for historical context within social, philosophical, and theological discourse.  Valla, therefore, wastes little time in pointing out in his initial address to the most learned bishop his contemporaries deficient knowledge of the pertinent facts and his own proficiency in establishing context within a given discussion by stating, “They do not even realize…”

            Secondly, Valla utilizes a rhetorical method of argumentation by example to provide probable or credible results.  He uses examples to induce his reader into an understanding of the human experience, not to logically prove a theory.  Lorch states Valla’s nova ratio is an example of an inductive method,


                “Thus the theory of exemplification or the use of the example constitutes the core of Valla’s new methodology.  Far from having for Valla the meaning of the clarification of a theory, the example         – the key element of his argumentation – has the opposite meaning.  We do not move, by         accumulating examples, from the multiplicity to a unity.  The many examples do not prove a                 theory.  The example or individual case has the specific function of in-ducing us or guiding us into                the essence or the meaning of a concrete situation.  The concreteness of the example allows us a   sudden vision of the res [thing]”[9]


Valla uses classical-“Tarquin”-and biblical-“followers of the Apostles”-illustrations to coax the reader into a historically-minded consciousness.  For Lorenzo, the use of example is the key to unlocking this consciousness.  Once unlocked, the reader will see things in a new light.  Valla uses the introduction to foreshadow the role, “proof by example,” will play in re-constructing Boethius’ scholastic argument on free will.  We will see later how his simple method of inductive argumentation contrasts with Boethius’ method of proof by logical demonstration.  Valla’s distaste for Aristotelian logic is the result of his finding a more palatable method for demonstrating the existence of a thing via exemplification.  But, Valla also mistrusts the Peripatetic philosophy for according to one scholar, “If Aristotle’s rationalism distorts the meaning of words, it distorts even more a proper and Christian understanding of human nature, especially as regards moral virtue.”[10]  By way of rhetoric as opposed to dialectic, Valla here indicates his accessibility as a writer grounded in the classical and biblical examples of the written past.  He warmly invites the reader to join him in a dialogue that he, unlike the philosophers and theologians that, “do not realize,” participates in and knows. 

            Thirdly, Valla ties his historical understanding of language to the written Word.  Here he blames, “those who are called theologians.”  Valla believes their ignorance of the historical nature of Scripture is manifest, resulting in his provocation.  Valla censures their desire to reference philosophical works.  He would rather they study, “The followers of the Apostles, truly columns in the temple of God, whose works have now been extant many centuries.”  Valla again foreshadows the method he will apply to the question of free will.  In addition to taking a historical position based on rhetorical proof by example, he will also argue from a theological perspective based on the authority of the Greek/Latin Fathers and the Holy Scriptures.  By placing language within a religious context, Valla will re-state Boethius’ conception of free will and thereafter launch his attack on rationalist philosophy knowing that history and the Fathers are, in effect, on his side.  He bulwarks his rhetorical argument with an abundance of linguistic expertise-grammar-and an intricate knowledge of how the individual words of the Vulgate developed and changed in meaning over time.[11]  This represents a unique approach to presenting an argument even for the quality and quantity of scholars present during the fifteenth-century Italian Humanist movement.[12]  This may also explain how Valla effectively argues, if somewhat ambiguously, his position on free will in so few words.  For Valla, the meaning of the Word was susceptible to change.[13]  Vallian nominalism, therefore, represents the objectification of the frame of reference-human/God reality-through the reduction of unnecessary words not tied to concrete experience.  This is accomplished via the application of philological method (biblical exegesis and hermeneutics) to the textual, but more importantly, scriptural record.  Additionally, Valla’s knowledge of Greek and Latin helped to undercut subjective disclaimer through corroborative means.[14]  To his contemporaries this may have seemed rude, anti-traditional, and bordering on the heretical but for Valla, it was cleaning house.    

            Through, “…whose works have now been extant centuries,” Valla is claiming no mea culpa for the present confusion, blaming instead those iniquitous persons who have, over the centuries, refused to acknowledge the proper time and place of the writings of the Latin Fathers[15] and the Bible.  That these works have been available to Christians for, “many centuries,” yet remain inferior to philosophy in defending faith, Valla finds, “lamentable,” and, “unworthy.’”  He follows with, “In fact, if we look carefully, at the heresies of those times…”  Here, Lorenzo Valla serves notice to those theologians and philosophers not yet aware of the historical nature of the written Word, caring little for its study, favoring instead the fallacies deriving from philosophical precepts and uncommon language, that the time has arrived whereby he will expose the historical foundations of a heretical discourse that began in 524 A.D. with Boethius’ imprisonment and writing of The Consolation of Philosophy.[16]

            The protagonists of the dialogue are Antonio Glarea, “a very well-read and keen man, long dear to me both because of his habits and because he is a countryman of San Lorenzo,”[17] and Valla himself.  Prior to introducing Glarea, however, Valla mentions that this dialogue represents the furthest extension of his polemic against Boethius.  Valla states,


                “We have replied to the first four books [Boethius’ Consolation of Philosophy] in our work on       True Good.[18]  Now I will exert myself as far as possible in the discussion and solution of this

                problem [free will], and, so that it will not seem purposeless after so many other writers have           held forth on this subject, I shall add something of my own.”[19]


The key phrase is undoubtedly, “something of my own.”  In the footnotes to his translation of the dialogue on free will, Charles Trinkhaus mentions that this, “something,” is Valla’s distinction between the operation of divine foreknowledge and divine will.[20]  While I wholly agree with Trinkhaus’ interpretation of the phrase within the context of the discussion on free will, I would also argue that it is Valla’s broad but rigorous application of rhetoric and philology in extricating meaning out of language and history, as described above, that is, outside of the content of the dialogue, this critical “something.”

            Antonio begins by outlining his ongoing frustration with the nature of free will and its relationship to God’s foreknowledge.  Antonio states,


                “It is not easy for us to say whether any question either needs more understanding or is less             understood than this.  I repeatedly inquire about it, by myself and with others, and have not so far           been able to find any way out of its ambiguity.  So much so that I am sometimes disturbed, as well      as confused, within myself because of it.  Nevertheless, I never shall weary of wondering about it,                 nor shall I despair of being able to perceive, although I know many were frustrated in the same      hope.”[21]


Through Antonio’s words, Valla is expressing his own frustrations as well as those of his intellectual predecessors in grappling with the concept of free will.  We also see a glimpse of Valla the rhetorician at work.  Buried within the passage is Valla’s understanding of grace as the key to resolving the tension between man’s free will and God’s divine foreknowledge.  In choosing, ‘‘despair,’’ and, ‘‘hope,’’ to describe his [Antonio’s] frustration, Valla bookends man’s existence within the temporal plane as one conditioned by sin and supplies the efficient cause for God’s non-temporal intervention in the material world through the gift of Divine Grace [Christ].  Although I will not quote Valla’s subsequent response to this initial proposition in its entirety, support for this interpretation appears in Valla’s use of a metaphor in the following,


                “One may be endowed with nobility, another with high office, another with wealth, another with    genius, another with eloquence, another with many of these, another with all.  Nevertheless, no                levelheaded person who is aware of his own efforts would think of mourning because he himself           does not have those things.  Besides, how much less ought he to mourn because he lacks the wings                 of a bird, which no one has?  For if we were sorrowed by all we do not know, we would make life   hard and bitter for ourselves.  Would you like me to list for you how many things are unknown to

                us, not only divine and supernatural things such as this of which we are talking, but also the            human ones which can enter our knowledge?  In brief, there are many more things which are               unknown.  For this reason the Academics, though wrongly, nevertheless said nothing is fully      known to us.”[22]


Here, “lacks the wings of a bird,” appears as a rhetorical device designed, I believe, to guide the reader beyond the present discussion on free will and toward the parallel argument of man’s innate depravity and need for grace.  This would fit with the preceding passage where Antonio describes his condition as being somewhere in between despair and hope.  Man is endowed with a good many gifts, distributed in all manner of variety for which to be thankful for, however, Valla implies that there is no point in mourning over that which no man has, namely, the capability of gaining, “the wings of a bird,” through his own efforts [reason].   Consequently, Valla counsels humility[23] and states, “the Academics, though wrongly, nevertheless said nothing is fully known to us.”[24]  Antonio continues,


                “To be sure, I admit that what you say is true, but somehow I am so impatient and greedy that I   cannot control the impulse of my mind.  For I hear what you have said about the wings of a bird,        that I should not regret it if I don’t have them; yet why should I forswear wings if I could possibly    obtain them by Daedalus’ example?  And indeed how much finer wings do I long for?  With them                 I might fly not from the prison of walls but from the prison of errors and fly away and arrive not in               the fatherland, which breeds bodies as did Daedalus, but in the one where souls are born.  Let us            dismiss the Academics with their point of view, who, although they would put all in doubt,              certainly could not doubt of their own doubts; and, although they argued nothing is known,                 nevertheless they did not lose their zeal for investigation.  Furthermore, we know that later               thinkers added much to what was previously found out; their precept and example ought to spur us   to discovering other things also.  Wherefore, I pray, do not wish to take this worry and burden                from me, for, having removed the burden, you will at the same time have removed desire for                 inquiry, unless, perhaps, as I hope and would prefer, you will satisfy my greedy appetite.”[25]


This passage demonstrates Valla’s use of the inductive method of argumentation by example.[26]  Valla refers to the classical myth of Daedalus building wings for himself and his son Icarus to escape King Minos’ prison.  Prior to leaving the walls of their imprisonment, Daedalus warns his son to take a moderate path lest he fly too low and clog his wings with debris or fly too high and melt them.   Caught up in youthful exuberance and self-pride, Icarus eschews the warnings of his father and flies too closely to the sun (Apollo).  Hence, his wings melt and he plunges to his death.  Thereafter, Daedalus builds a temple to Apollo and offers his own wings as a sacrifice to the god.  This example from classical antiquity builds upon the preceding message of humility and is intended to concretize for the reader an essential part of Valla’s argument; pride comes before the fall.  What is unique about this passage is Valla’s ability to utilize a classical example to teach the Christian principle of humilitas.  Whether or not this represents a trend in Valla’s work or what Trinkhaus describes as, “a synthesis of paganism and Christianity,” is open to further analysis, interpretation, and debate.[27]  Here we also catch a brief glimpse of the more conservative, or moderate, side of Lorenzo.  He makes known his belief in the dangers associated with man’s insatiable appetite [greed] for knowledge and the death that follows pride.   However, Valla also professes the need for inquiry and the learning that results from studying man’s past successes and failures, secular and religious.  The message of Valla’s nova ratio is clear: critical inquiry of commonly held beliefs can lead, potentially, to a better and more fulfilling life when moderately applied to the quest for knowledge but take heed, lest one end up like the ill-fated Icarus.[28]  The dialogue continues with Lorenzo responding to Antonio,


                “Might I satisfy what no one else could?  For what should I say about books?  Either you agree      with them, then nothing further is demanded; or you do not agree with them, and then there is                 nothing which I can put better.  Yet you will see how pious and tolerable it is for you to declare        war on all books, including the wisest, and not to side with any of them.”[29]


Taken literally, this passage would indicate that Valla holds no distinction between philosophical and religious texts when declaring war on both in the name of truth.  Valla’s tutelege under Cicero and Quintilian, his refining the Latin language,[30] and his exegesis of the Latin Vulgate[31] would suggest as much.  Perhaps the most revealing phrase is the first where he expresses doubt in his own ability to resolve the question of free will. 

            Antonio agrees with Lorenzo’s opinion that books of wise men are subject to interpretation and responds,


                “Indeed, on other questions I do not completely reject writers, thinking now this one, now that        one speaks with greater probability.  Yet in this question on which I am about to speak with you,              with your leave and that of others, I agree with absolutely no one.  For what might I say of the                others when Boethius, to whom all give the palm in explaining this question, is himself unable to            complete what he undertakes and at certain points takes refuge in the imaginary and fictitious?     For he says God, through an intelligence which is beyond reason, both knows all things for   eternity and holds all things present.  But can I, who am rational and know nothing outside of               time, aspire to the knowledge of intelligence and eternity?  I suspect Boethius himself did not          understand them, even if the things were true, which I do not believe.  For he should not be   thought to speak truly whose speech not he himself or anyone else understands.  And so although   he began this argument correctly, he did not correctly conclude it.  If you agree with me on this, I      shall rejoice in my own opinion; if not, because of your humanity [i.e., eloquence and culture of    language], you will not refuse to express more lucidly what he said obscurely; in either case, you               will reveal your opinion.”[32]


Here Valla summarizes his opinion of Boethius’ resolution of man’s free will and God’s providence.  For Lorenzo, Boethius’ realist argument on the question of free will is an indefensible one for Valla does not adhere to the philosophical premise that ideas exist outside of the human experience.  For Boethius to suggest that words or forms exist as universals (Boethius’ separation of simple and conditional necessity) is, on the one hand, irrational and misleading and, on the other, heretical, for existence outside of time properly belongs to God.[33]  Furthermore, Valla states that many do not understand Boethius’ language and he suspects that Boethius himself did not understand what he was saying.[34]  This, of course, is a matter of opinion.  In the next passage, Valla again employs the rhetorical method of proof by example that assuredly contrasts with Boethius’ scholasticism and logical proof by demonstration.  The passage appears as a series of exchanges between Lorenzo and Antonio,


                     “Lor. See what a fair demand you make, ordering me, either by damning or amending, to           insult Boethius!

                     Ant. But do you call it an insult to have a true opinion about another or to interpret his obscure                 statements more clearly?

                     Lor. Well, it is unpleasant to do this to great men.

                     Ant. It is certainly more unpleasant not to show the way to the erring and to him who asks you to show it.

                     Lor. What if I do not know the way?

                     Ant. To say ‘I do not know the way’ is to have no desire to show the way; therefore, do not        refuse to reveal your opinion.

                     Lor. What if I should say that I agree with you about Boethius, that I do not understand him,    and that I have nothing else by which I might explain this question?

                    Ant. If you say this truly, I am not such a fool that I would ask for more than you are able to     give; but beware lest you discharge poorly the office of friendship and show yourself begrudging                 and false to me.

                     Lor. What do you ask me to explain to you?

                     Ant. Whether the foreknowledge of God stands in the way of free will and whether Boethius      has correctly argued this question.

                     Lor. I shall attend to Boethius later; but if I satisfy you in this matter, I want you to make a       promise.

                     Ant. What sort of promise?

                     Lor. That if I serve you splendidly in this luncheon, you will not want to be entertained again     for dinner.

                     Ant. What do you mean as lunch for me and what as dinner, for I do not understand?

                     Lor. That contented after discussing this one question, you will not ask for another afterward.

                     Ant. You say another?  As if this one will not be sufficient and more!  I freely promise that I       will ask no dinner from you.

                     Lor. Go ahead then and get into the very heart of the question.”[35]


In the first half of the conversation, Valla [Antonio] claims that, “unpleasantness,’’ [offending others] is little excuse for not having the will or the desire, ‘‘to show the way,’’ and likewise for ignorance [not knowing the way].  Again, Valla is indicating that inquiry is an essential part of man’s nature.  It can, when used in moderation, provide one with the means for improving one’s life.  An, “opinion,” therefore, functions as a subjective starting point from which to begin the process of critical inquiry.  If through the proper training in rhetoric and careful study of language one arrives at a clearer understanding of the truth and he or she eloquently presents the evidential basis substantiating their opinion on this thing or that, it then follows that more harm is done in not sharing the insight gained via inquiry than in refusing objection to falsely held precepts or doctrines for fear of temporal reprimand.  Valla thereby assents to Antonio’s wishes and agrees to entertain the question of free will.  The second half of the passage deals with a promise that Antonio makes to Lorenzo.  After agreeing to answer Antonio’s question we see that Lorenzo simply states, “That contented after discussing this one question, you will not ask for another afterward.”  To which Antonio replies, “You say another?  As if this one will not be sufficient and more!  I freely promise that I will ask no dinner from you.”  Here we see the brilliance of Lorenzo Valla for in this one exchange, I would argue, Valla foreshadows how he will answer the question of free will. 

            The dialogue continues with Antonio outlining the matter of free will and God’s foreknowledge of events.  The crux of Antonio’s line of questioning is thus, “Consequently, it seems that either He does not foresee the future if we are endowed with will or He is not just if we lack free will.”[36]  Plainly put, Antonio is claiming that God’s foreknowledge of events prevents him from having free will, therefore, how can God hold him accountable for his actions [sin]?  Why endeavor to gain God’s favor through prayer?  Why be good?  If, however, Antonio has free will, how then does God foreknow all things?  To help Antonio better understand this paradox, Lorenzo utilizes two examples, one biblical and the other classical, to demonstrate his point.  The first is the example of Judas’ betrayal of Christ.  If Judas lacked free will, how could he be responsible for his sin?  If, however, Judas acted freely, how then could God foreknow? For surely God knew that Judas would betray?  The second example builds upon the first and involves Sextus Tarquinius.  Sextus goes to Apollo wishing to know his future.  Apollo replies cryptically, “An exile and a pauper you will fall, killed by the angry city.”[37]  Naturally, Sextus is disturbed by Apollo’s vision of the future and he accuses the god of not foreseeing justly.  Apollo responds by saying that he only sees the future but does not cause the future to be which is, properly, assigned to Jupiter and the fates.  Sextus laments his situation and asks in the manner of Job, “Why is Jupiter so unjust, so cruel, to me that he should assign such a sad fate to me, an undeserving, innocent worshipper of the Gods?”[38]  Apollo [Lorenzo] responds,


            “You call yourself undeserving and innocent Sextus?  You may be sure that the                 crimes that you    will commit, the adulteries, betrayals, perjuries, the almost hereditary arrogance are to blame.”[39]


Here Lorenzo re-illustrates that which he foreshadowed in the beginning of the dialogue; man is born a sinner.  Through the examples of Judas and Sextus, we see that God’s foreknowledge has little to do with man’s free will for in time man will sin.  The dialogue continues with Antonio accepting Lorenzo’s interpretation of Sextus’ inherited nature,


            “It is indeed answered and, what I scarcely dared to hope, fully solved, for the sake of which I       both give you thanks and have, I would say, an almost immortal gift.  What Boethius was unable           to show me you have shown.”[40]


But Valla extends the argument for, clearly, he has yet to resolve the initial question, “How can man have free will?”  He tells Antonio that, indeed, Sextus is capable of responding to the seeming injustice of the situation.  Sextus cries,


            “Thus, Apollo, am I unable to restrain myself from offenses, am I unable to accept virtue. Do        I not avail to reform the mind from wickedness, am I not endowed with free will?”[41]


To which Apollo [Lorenzo] responds,


                “That is the way things are, Sextus.  Jupiter as he created the wolf fierce, the hare timid, the lion     brave, the *** stupid, the dog savage, the sheep mild, so he fashioned some men hard of heart,            others soft, he generated one given to evil, the other to virtue, and, further, he gave a capacity for         reform to one and made another incorrigible.  To you, indeed, he assigned an evil soul with no                 resource for reform.  And so both you, for your inborn character, will do evil, and Jupiter, on           account of your actions and their evil effects, will punish sternly, and thus he has sworn by the           Stygian swamp it will be.”[42]


Here Valla seems to imply that in addition to man having no free will, God is the author of man’s sinning nature!  The heretical implications of this passage are many, stretching back to the times of St. Augustine, Pelagius and the Donatist Controversy.[43]  Yet, unfazed, Valla continues.  Again, Sextus cries out to Apollo,


                “And why is it my crime rather than Jupiter’s?  When I am not allowed to do anything except evil,                 why does Jupiter condemn me for his own crime?  Why does he punish me without guilt?                Whatever I do, I do not do it by free will but of necessity.  Am I able to oppose his will and      power?”[44]


Lorenzo responds,


                “This is what I wished to say for my proof.  For this is the point of my fable, that, although the       wisdom of God cannot be separated from His power and will, I may by this device of Apollo and Jupiter separate them [i.e., something of my own].  What cannot be achieved with one god may be         achieved with two, each having his own proper nature-the one for creating the character of men,   the other for knowing-that it may appear that providence is not the cause of necessity but that all        this whatever it is must be referred to the will of God.”[45]


Antonio is not impressed with Lorenzo’s proof for the absolution of man’s free will through the separation of God’s divine foreknowledge and God’s divine will for the simple fact that Valla is merely re-stating Boethius’ original answer to the question of free will by way of simple and conditional necessity.  Realizing this duplicity Antonio exclaims,


                “See, you have thrown me back into the same pit whence you dug me; this doubt is like that which               I set forth about Judas.  There necessity was ascribed to the foreknowledge of God, here to the     will; what difference is it how you annul free will?  That it is destroyed by foreknowledge, you                indeed deny, but you say it is by divine will, by which the question goes back to the same                 place…Indeed I will not let you go until you solve it.”[46]


Unfortunately, Antonio has already promised satisfaction with Lorenzo’s answering of but one question.  Dinner is not an option.  Antonio’s greed overtakes his moderate sensibility and he accuses Valla,


                “Is it thus you have defrauded me and coerced me through a deceitful promise?  Promises in          which deceit enters do not stand, nor do I think I have received luncheon from you if I am forced                 to vomit up whatever I have eaten, or, to speak more lightly, you send me away no less hungry      than you received me.”[47]


Valla responds,


                “Believe me, I didn’t want to make you promise in such a way that I would cheat you, for what    advantage would there have been to me, since I not even have been allowed to give you luncheon?                  Since you received it willingly and since you gave me thanks for it, you are ungrateful if you say    you were forced by me to vomit it or that I send you away as hungry as you came.  That is asking    for dinner, not luncheon, and wanting to find fault with luncheon and to demand that I spread       before you ambrosia and nectar, the food of the gods, not men.  I have put my fish and fowl from              my preserves and wine from a suburban hill before you.  You should demand ambrosia and nectar     from Apollo and Jupiter themselves.”[48]


To which Antonio replies,


                “Are not ambrosia and what you call nectar poetic and fabulous things?  Let us leave this               emptiness to the empty and fictitious gods, Jupiter and Apollo.  You have given luncheon from         these preserves and cellars; I ask dinner from the same.”[49]


Lorenzo responds,


                “Do you think I am so rude that I would send away a friend coming to me for dinner?  But since I                 saw how this question was likely to end, I consulted my own interests back there and compelled             you to promise that afterward you would not exact from me anything besides the one thing that           was asked.  Therefore, I proceed with you not so much from right as from equity.  Perhaps you         will obtain this dinner from others which, if friendship can be trusted, is not entirely in my                 possession.”[50]


Unsatisfied, but unwilling to offend, Antonio assents, “I will give you no further trouble lest I seem ungrateful to a benefactor and distrustful of a friend; but, still, from whom do you suggest I seek this out?”[51]  Valla admits that he does not know.  But, were he able, he would indeed show Antonio the way.  Here Antonio is the, “proof by example,” by which Valla demonstrates to the reader man’s innate depravity and need for grace.  Lorenzo has demonstrated God’s foreknowledge of the human condition, through Antonio, in one fell swoop.  In addition, Lorenzo has warned, “those that do not realize…” of the inherent danger of man’s prideful nature in his quest for knowledge and truth.  To illustrate the message that it is better to be humble than it is to know, Lorenzo quotes a passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans,


                “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God                according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth; it was said unto her   [Rebecca], The elder shall serve the younger.  As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I           hated.  What shall we say then?  Is there unrighteousness with God?  God forbid.  For he saith to                 Moses, I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.  So then it is not of him that                         willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.  For the scripture saith unto     Pharoah, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee,          and that my name might be declared throughout the earth.  Therefore hath he mercy on whom he                 will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.  Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet     find fault?  For who hath resisted his will?  Nay but, O man, who art though that repliest against   God?  Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?  Hath not         the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto                 dishonor? [Rom. 9:11-21 (King James Version)].”[52]


Lorenzo further quotes from Paul, (Rom. 11:33): “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”[53]  According to Trinkhaus, these passages seem to indicate that Valla was an agnostic.[54]  Lorenzo continues by explaining to Antonio that the nature of God’s wisdom is unknowable to man.  Man’s purpose is not to ask why, but to rather be satisfied with the knowledge that, “He is most wise and good.”[55]  Valla warns that those who dare to question the divine nature and wisdom of God risk losing His mercy, “those who are hardened and reprobated are justly hardened and reprobated, for we come out of that lump polluted and converted into clay by the guilt of the first parent.”[56]  This, however, still leaves the question of free will unanswered.  Valla goes on to state that all men are born into sin, however, some receive grace while others do not.  God hardens one man’s heart but not another’s.  Who are we to ask why?  Valla continues to explain that this is what happened with the angels as well.  Some were shown mercy and others were not although all were made from the same substance.  Valla continues,


                “If we really had been hardened because of Adam’s sin, then freed by the grace of Christ, we         would no longer be hardened, which is not the case, for many of us are hardened .  Therefore, all         who are baptized in the death of Christ are freed from that original sin and from that death.    Baptism not having been sufficient, some of them receive mercy; and others are hardened just as                 Adam and the angels were hardened.”[57]


Here, for the first time in the dialogue, Valla explicitly refers to Christ.  This is significant for throughout the Consolation of Philosophy[58] Boethius does not make mention of Jesus.  In Valla’s estimation, Boethius’ love of philosophy preceded his love of Christ.  To illustrate Boethius’ error, Valla contrasts him with Paul who said, “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of [man] that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”[59]  Boethius, on the other hand, stated, “It is not of God who forseeth, but of man who willeth and runneth.”[60]  For Valla, the difference was clear.  Boethius’ way leads to death and Paul’s to redemptive salvation.  Since so many have, “given the palm,” to Boethius over the centuries on the matter on free will and others, thus have many gone astray of God’s grace.  Valla says of this,


                “And what cause was there for a Christian man [Boethius] to depart from Paul and never                remember him when dealing with the same matter he had dealt with?  What is more, in the entire       work of Consolation nothing at all is found about our religion-none of the precepts leading to a               blessed life, no mention and hardly a hint of Christ…You are of good opinion [Antonio], or rather                 of understanding, for I also think that no such ardent admirer of philosophy can please God.  And                therefore Boethius, sailing north instead of south, did not bring the fleet laden with wine into the        port of the fatherland but dashed it on barbarian coasts and on foreign shores.”[61]


Here, “barbarian,” is used to describe and criticize the ungrammatical gibberish and dialectical method of the scholastic theologians, rationalist philosophers, and Aristotelian hereticals, all of whom lack, in Valla’s eyes, the proper training and understanding of the Latin language and the written Word.  They are not true believers in Christ for what they lack in faith they can not make up for in reason.  Valla follows this critical statement with a final “exhortation,”


                “Indeed, I shall exhort not you alone but the others present here and myself among the first.  I said               that the cause of the divine will which hardens one and shows mercy to another is known neither         to men nor to angels.  If because of ignorance on this matter and on many others the angels do not               lose their love of God, do not retreat from their service, and do not consider their own blessedness           diminished on that account, should we for this same reason depart from faith, hope, and charity   and desert as if from a commander?   And if we have faith in wise men, even without reason,   because of authority, should we not have faith in Christ who is the Power and Wisdom of God?             He says He wishes to save all and that He does not wish the death of the sinner but rather that he be converted and live.  And if we loan money to good men without a surety, should we require a         guarantee from Christ in Whom no fraud may be found?  And if we intrust our life to friends,         should we not dare to intrust it to Christ, who for our salvation took on both the life of the flesh                              and the death of the cross?  We do not know the cause of this matter; of what consequence is it?  We stand by faith not by the probability of reason.  Does knowledge do much for the              corroboration of faith?  Humility does more.  The Apostle says (Rom. 12: 16): ‘Mind not high (wise) things, but condescend to men of low estate.’  Is the foreknowledge of divine things useful?  Charity is more useful.  For the Apostle likewise says (I Cor. 8: 1): ‘Knowledge puffeth us, but        charity edifieth.’  And lest you think so much was said about the knowledge of human affairs, he         says (II Cor. 12: 7): ‘And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the          revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh.’  Let us not wish to know the height, but let us fear lest we become like the philosophers who, calling themselves wise, are made foolish; who,       lest they should appear ignorant of anything, disputed about everything.  Raising their own mouths              to heaven, and wishing to scale it-I do not say tear it apart-like proud and rash giants, they were      hurled to earth by the strong forearm of God and buried in Hell as Typhoeus in Sicily.  Among the                 chief of these was Aristotle, in whom the best and greatest God revealed and at length damned the                arrogance and boldness of not only this same Aristotle but of the other philosophers as well.  For               when he (Aristotle) could not discover the nature of Euripus, throwing himself into its depth, he               was swallowed up, but before that he testified with this sentence: (‘Since Aristotle did not grasp               Euripus, Euripus grasped Aristotle’).[62]  What is more arrogant or mad than this, or how could God by more manifest judgment condemn his cleverness and that of others like him than by letting him                be turned into a madman by immoderate greed for knowledge and thus bring his own death on            himself, a death, I say, far more horrible than that of the most wicked Judas?  Let us therefore shun      greedy knowledge of high things, condescending rather to those of low estate.  For nothing is of      greater avail for Christian men than to feel humble.  In this way we are more aware of the             magnificence of God, whence it is written (I Pet. 5: 5): ‘God resisteth the proud and giveth grace      to the humble.’  To attain this grace I will no longer be anxious about this question lest by                 investigating the majesty of God I might be blinded by His light.  I hope you also will do this.          Here you have what I had to say by way of an exhortation, which I said not so much that I might     move you and them as that I might show my own disposition of mind.”[63]


The dialogue closes with a final exchange between the two protagonists,


                     “Ant. Indeed, this exhortation both showed the persuasion of your mind very well and, if I may                reply for the others, has deeply moved us.  Will you not commit this debate which we have had          between us to writing and make a report of it so that you may have others share this good?”

                     Lor. That is good advice.  Let us make others judges in this matter, and, if it is good, sharers.      Above all, let us send this argument, written and, as you say, made into a report, to the Bishop of                 Lerida, whose judgment I would place before all I know, and if he alone approves, I would not             fear the disapproval of others.  For I attribute more to him than Antimachus to Plato or Cicero to            Cato.

                     Ant. You could say or do nothing more correct, and I beg you to do this as soon as possible.

                     Lor. So it will be done.”[64]


            Regarding Lorenzo Valla, the historian Maristella de Panizza Lorch states,


                “But Valla’s main concern goes beyond ‘education’ per se.  He aims at defining human life and    human nature, so as to make life itself richer and more constructive.  The most profitable way to        read Valla’s works is by identifying, as the connecting link among them, the struggle to bring about the ‘epiphany of the world as the best tool available to man in his understanding of reality in              toto, concrete reality, which is the only reality that matters to a living human being.’  In this sense           the versions of the dialogue On Pleasure, his first extant work, should be read concomitantly with          the Dialectica, the Elegantiae, the De libero arbitrio, the De falso credita donatione               constantiniana, the Annotatio in Novum Testamentum, the De professione religiosorum, the Sermo                 Eucharistiae, the apologetic works (Defensio, Apologia, Invectiva, Antidotum in Poggium) and the               translations from the Greek.  Equally important are the letters, which he never collected, as did              Petrarch, especially the letter to Serra…His works gain in depth and meaning if they are read as            part of this corpus.”[65]


This is, to be sure, sound advice from an individual well versed in the language of history and life.  It would be foolish and arrogant of me to argue otherwise.  But, in the manner of Valla, is this not a truism when reading the works of any writer be they Christian or Jew, fiction or non-fiction, woman or man?  Is there nothing for us to take from the present reading of Lorenzo Valla’s Dialogue on Free Will,[66] albeit out of context, in which to apply to our own lives?  Have we, like Sextus, no recourse but to submit to the will of Jupiter as foreseen through the eyes of Apollo?  In a world filled with all manner of moral, religious, and historical-political-philosophical contradiction, I would argue that that, my friend, is a matter of opinion.  Perhaps then, the best advice for us to follow is that of Daedulus,’ “Seek a moderate path Icarus, my son, lest you lose your wings.”







Boethius, Anuncius Manlius Severinus.  The Consolation of Philosophy, Book V.   Translated by Richard H. Green, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1962.

Brown, Peter.  Augustine of Hippo: A Biography.  Berkeley and Los Angeles: University   of California Press, first ed. 1967, re-issue 2000.

Bentley, Jerry H.  Humanists and Holy Writ: New Testament Scholarship in the      Renaissance.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983.

Grassi, Ernesto.  Renaissance Humanism: Studies in Philosophy and Poetics.          Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies State          University of New York at Binghamton.

Lorch, Maristella de Panizza.  A Defense of Life: Lorenzo Valla’s Theory of Pleasure.         Munchen: Wilhem Fink Verlag, 1985.

Nauert, Jr., Charles G.  Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe.  Cambridge:    Cambridge University Press, 1995.

Tracy, James D.  Erasmus of the Low Countries.  Berkeley, Los Angeles, London:             University of California Press, 1995.

Trinkhaus, Jr., Charles E.  “Lorenzo Valla: Introduction and Translation of the Dialogue    on Free Will.”  In The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, ed. Ernst Cassirer, Paul

            O. Kristellar, and John H. Randall, Jr.  Chicago and London: University of            Chicago Press, 1948.









[1] See Charles E. Trinkhaus, Jr., “Lorenzo Valla: Introduction and Translation of the Dialogue on Free Will,” in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, ed. E. Cassirer, P.O. Kristellar, and John H. Randall, Jr. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1948), p. 155.

[2] Maristella de P. Lorch, A Defense of Life: Lorenzo Valla’s Theory of Pleasure (Munchen: Wilhem Fink Verlag, 1985), p. 9.

[3] Charles G. Nauert, Jr., Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 13.

[4] Time as a linear function of the past was, prior to the early humanists and Petrarch, a component of the medieval mindset in Western Europe (although transitional figures like Dante and Giotto arguably reflect patterns of both the old and the new attitudes).  One need look no further than the Bayeaux Tapestry, which chronicles the events associated with the Norman Invasion of 1066, for a historical example of this phenomenon.  The general assumption here is that the medieval mind viewed words, objects, people, and events as functioning within a historical system predicated on constant, one-directional motion set within a static frame of reference and measured by one of the following combinations of three-dimensional sense perception:  length, width, and time, height, width, and time, or length, height, and time.  Words, objects, people, and events within the medieval framework fell along a time-line that geometrically described a ray.  With respect to the humanists and their conception of time, I would argue that it was their proclivity to relativize the meanings of words in concordance with defined points or segments of the aforementioned ray or time-line that separated them from the modern [medieval] past.  What I find remarkable about the humanists is the extent to which they either knowingly or unknowingly applied this concept to the present.  Through the application of rhetoric and philology, we see the development of a tradition in which time becomes a non-linear function of the past.  For Valla, and Petrarch before him, the development or motion of a word and the object or thing it constituted was not constant but rather subject to change over time depending upon the shifting historical environments in which one observed its change along any given segment within the continuum.  In this respect, the rich diversity of the Italian polities existing in the late-fourteenth and early-fifteenth centuries is of tremendous significance if we are to assume that language is a construction of culture.  Constancy within this historical framework, outside that of change over time, was predicated on the infinite quality (as opposed to the quantity of moments expressed by Leibniz and Newton’s differential calculus) of moments existing within two finite points as best represented by the textual record of human language.  Although Petrarch and Valla never expressed it as such, this change over time describes the acceleration or deceleration of an objects motion and prescribes the requisite union of length, width, height, and time absent in the historical framework, or mindset, of the medieval period.  The union of four-dimensional sense perception, therefore, presupposed a reformulation of how to define reality (i.e., Valla’s nominalism).  I would argue that a difference between the medieval mindset and the early modern one was not just procedural (how) but also conceptual (what and where), as witnessed by the humanist use of rhetoric and philology in expressing an objects [the word(s)] relative change in motion over time.  Change in motion also required a thorough reinvestigation of the point of reference that we now realize to be the dynamic relationship between space and time.  For Valla, the proper way to describe this process was via rhetoric, and to a lesser degree dialectic, with the word acting as the signifier of the object or thing in motion.  Motion also presupposed the application of a new procedural method, philology, in examining the word and the object, thing, or being it represented, however, the humanists utilized both rhetoric and philology to describe relative change.  Later, Galileo, Newton, and Leibniz applied a similar methodology in describing the motion of an object through space and time via numbers and symbolic notation.  History demonstrates that words and numbers have consistently proven to be an equally effective and powerful means of symbolically communicating ideas through language.  A connecting feature of Valla the philologist and Newton the scientist and mathematician is their application of a critical and analytical method in detecting the anachronistic behavior of an object, be it a word in the New Testament or an apple falling from a tree, within space and time.  History as a discontinuous process, therefore, represents a new historical framework in which the position and change in position, or motion of an object within a given frame of reference, is relative to the observer.  Leonardo da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks is an example of this new perspective of history.  In contrast to the creator of the aforementioned embroidery from Bayeaux, da Vinci successfully carves perspective out of space and time through the application of four-dimensional thought.  Leonardo’s use of perspective creates the illusion that the Virgin is moving toward us.  Again, this perspective is derivative of the idea that an objects motion is subject to change-it speeds up or slows down- as it travels through space and time.  When viewing the Virgin at rest we see, it is true, a line or lines extending behind her to a single point of perspective that da Vinci attempts to obfuscate via sfumato.  But, in reality what we do not see is the curved trajectory of her movement through space and time created by our perspective.  For the purposes of this paper, let us use the following example of Valla’s moving verbum, Einstein’s theory of special relativity, and Oresme’s invention of the graph to explicate this idea of an objects change in motion through space and time and how this motion has added a fourth dimension to our perception of history and subsequent expression of the human experience.  What I am suggesting is that through the critical application of rhetoric and philology Petrarch, Valla, and the other humanists did express the hidden nature of God’s constancy as manifested through the relative perspective provided by man’s position in space and time with respect to the change in motion and position of human language as a cultural construction within any given point or segment of space in time.  This, I believe, helps to explain the power Valla accorded with the restoration of, “the word,” to its proper context and his designation of rhetoric as the mother of all disciplines and philology her protector (sword).  Through the context provided by Petrarch’s concept of historical discontinuity, Valla’s word becomes an active agent, or participant, changing as it travels through space and time.  For Valla, the function of rhetoric and philology as a combined philosophy of language was to provide access to this process and slow down the acceleration of the, “word,” through the reduction of those words not perceptibly tied to the human experience (i.e. Vallian nominalism).  In returning to the classical and biblical authors of Cicero, Quintilian, St. Augustine, and St. Paul, Valla was essentially re-designing the Aristotelian rules governing medieval language and then applying these rules to a new understanding of the motion, or change, of the word through the three dimensions of space (height, width, and length) and the one dimension of time.  This constituted a new perspective for defining reality and represents a major cultural shift toward modernity through the symbolic construction and use of language.  Whether we perceive this in history as a reforming (Luther’s Protestant Reformation) of the word or a revolving of the word, both phrases seem to imply the relative change in motion of the word in a non-linear frame of reference (space and time).  Ultimately, I believe this gives credence to the meaning of the word, “Re-naissance,” in as much as it describes re, as the ablative of res [thing or reality], made anew. 

[5] Nauert, Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe, p. 19.

[6] Ibid., p. 20.

[7] Ibid., p. 15.

[8] Ibid., p. 20.

[9] Lorch, A Defense of Life: Lorenzo Valla’s Theory of Pleasure, p. 16.

[10] James D. Tracy, Erasmus of the Low Countries (Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 1995), p. 60. 

[11] Jerry H. Bentley, Humanists and Holy Writ: New Testament Scholarship in the Renaissance (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1983), pp. 32-69.

[12] Nauert, Humanism and the Culture of Renaissance Europe, pp. 37-38.

[13] Ibid., p. 40.

[14] Jerry H. Bentley, Humanists and Holy Writ: New Testament Scholarship in the Renaissance, pp. 32-34.

[15] For a good introduction to the life and times of St. Augustine see Peter Brown, Augustine of Hippo: A Biography (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, first ed. 1967, re-issue 2000).

[16] Anuncius Manlius Severinus Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy, trans., Richard Green (New York: Macmillan Publishing Company, 1962).

[17] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” p. 157.

[18] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” p. 157. [De voluptate ac vero bono libri tres (Basel, 1519).]

[19] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” pp. 156-57.

[20] Ibid., see footnote, 6., p. 157.

[21] Ibid., p. 158.

[22] Ibid., pp. 158-59.

[23] Ibid., see footnote, 9., p. 159.

[24] Ibid., p. 159.

[25] Ibid., p. 159.

[26] Lorch, A Defense of Life: Lorenzo Valla’s Theory of Pleasure, pp. 15-18.

[27] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” p. 149.

[28] See James D. Tracy, Erasmus of the Low Countries, pp. 149-56.  Here Professor Tracy outlines key differences between the contrasting approaches of Erasmus and Luther in debating theological and doctrinal issues.   

[29] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” p. 159.

[30] Lorch, A Defense of Life: Lorenzo Valla’s Theory of Pleasure, p. 10.

[31] Tracy, Erasmus of the Low Countries, p. 61-62.

[32] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” p. 160-61.

[33] See Ernesto Grassi, Renaissance Humanism: Studies in Philosophy and Poetics (Binghamton, NY: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies State University of New York at Binghamton), pp. 79-82.

[34] Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book V, trans. Richard Green, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1962. “Therefore, they are wrong who, having heard that Plato held that this world did not have a beginning in time and would never come to an end, suppose that the created world is coeternal with its Creator.  For it is one thing to live an endless life, which is what Plato ascribed to the world, and another for the whole of unending life to be embraced all at once as present, which is clearly proper to the divine mind.  Nor should God be thought of as older than His creation in extent of time, but rather as prior to it by virtue of the simplicity of His nature.  For the infinite motion of temporal things imitates the immediate present of his changeless life and, since it cannot reproduce or equal life, it sinks from immobility to motion and declines from the simplicity of the present into the infinite duration of future and past.  And, since it cannot possess the whole fullness of its life at once, it seems to imitate to some extent that which it cannot completely express, and it does this by somehow never ceasing to be.  It binds itself to a kind of present in this short and transitory period which, because it has a certain likeness to that abiding. Unchanging present, gives everything it touches a semblance of existence.  But, since this imitation cannot remain still, it hastens along the infinite road of time, and so it extends by movement the life whose completeness it could not achieve by standing still.  Therefore, if we wish to call things by their proper names, we should follow Plato in saying that God indeed is eternal, but the world is perpetual.  Since, then, every judgment comprehends the subjects presented to it according to its own nature, and since God lives in the eternal present, His knowledge transcends all movement of time and abides in the simplicity of its immediate present.  It encompasses the infinite sweep of past and future, and regards all things in its simple comprehension as if they were now taking place.  Thus, if you will think about the foreknowledge by which God distinguishes all things, you will rightly consider it to be not a foreknowledge of future events, but knowledge of a never changing present.  For this reason, divine knowledge is called providence, rather than prevision, because it resides above all inferior things and looks out on all things from their summit (p. 115-16).”  “Then, if we may aptly compare God’s present vision with man’s, He sees all things in his eternal present as you see some things in your temporal present.  Therefore, this divine foreknowledge does not change the nature and properties of things; it simply sees things present before it as they will later turn out to be in what we regard as the future.  His judgment is not confused; with a single intuition of his mind He knows all things that are to come, whether necessarily or not.  Just as, when you happen to see simultaneously a man walking on the street and the sun shining in ths sky, even though you see both at once, you can distinguish between them and realize that one action is voluntary, the other necessary; so the divine mind, looking down on all things, does not disturb the nature of the things which are present before it but are future with respect to time.  Therefore,  when God knows that something will happen the future, and at the same time knows that it will not happen through necessity, this is not opinion but knowledge based on truth (p. 117).”  “If you should reply that whatever God foresees as happening cannot help but happen, and that whatever must happen is bound by necessity-if you pin me down to this word ‘necessity’-I grant that you state a solid truth, but one which only a profound theologian can grasp.  I would answer that the same future event is necessary with respect to God’s knowledge of it, but free and undetermined if considered in its own nature.  For there are two kinds of necessity: one is simple, as the necessity by which all men are mortals; the other is conditional, as is the case when, if you know that someone is walking, he must necessarily be walking.  For whatever is known, must be as it is known to be; but this condition does not involve that other, simple necessity.  It is not caused by the peculiar nature of the person in question, but by an added condition.  No necessity forces the man who is voluntarily walking to move forward; but as long as he is walking, he is necessarily moving forward.  In the same way, if Providence sees anything as present, that thing must necessarily be, even though it may have no necessity by its nature.  But God sees as present those future things which result from free will.  Therefore, from the standpoint of divine knowledge these things are necessary because of the condition of their being known by God; but, considered only in themselves, they lose nothing of the absolute freedom of their own natures (p. 116-17).”  “There is no doubt, then, that all things will happen which God knows will happen; but some of them happen as a result of free will.  And, although they happen, they do not, by their own existence, lose their proper natures by which, before they happened, they were able not to happen.  But, you may ask, what does it mean to say that these events are not necessary, since by reason of the condition of divine knowledge they happen just as if they were necessary?  The meaning is the same as in the example I used a while ago of the sun rising and the man walking.  At the time they are happening, they must necessarily be happening; but the sun’s rising is governed by necessity even before it happens, while the man’s walking is not.  Similarly, all the things god sees as present will undoubtedly come to pass; but some will happen by the necessity of their natures, others by the power of those who make them happen.  Therefore, we quite properly said that these things are necessary if viewed from the standpoint of divine knowledge, but if they are considered in themselves, they are free of the bonds of necessity.  In somewhat the same way, whatever is known by the senses is singular in itself, but universal as far as the reason is concerned (p. 118).”

[35] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” p. 161.

[36] Ibid., p. 162.

[37] Ibid., p. 170.

[38] Ibid., p. 171.

[39] Ibid., p. 171.

[40] Ibid., p. 172.

[41] Ibid., p. 173.

[42] Ibid., p. 173.

[43] Plato attempts to answer this question with his famous, “Alleghory of the Cave,” in the Republic.

[44] Ibid., p. 174.

[45] Ibid., p. 174.

[46] Ibid., p. 174.

[47] Ibid., p. 174-75.

[48] Ibid., p. 175.

[49] Ibid., p. 175.

[50] Ibid., p. 175.

[51] Ibid., p. 175.

[52] Ibid., p. 176.

[53] Ibid., p. 176.

[54] Ibid., see footnote, 21., p. 176.

[55] Ibid., p. 177.

[56] Ibid., p. 177.

[57] Ibid., p. 178.

[58] Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book V, trans. Richard Green, Macmillan Publishing Co., 1962.

[59] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” p. 179.

[60] Ibid., p. 179.

[61] Ibid., p. 179.

[62] Gregory Nazianzen, Oratio IV, Contra Iulianum (Migne, Patrologia Graeca, XXXV, 597). 

[63] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” pp. 181-183.

[64] Trinkhaus, “Valla: Dialogue on Free Will,” p. 182.

[65] Lorch, A Defense of Life: Lorenzo Valla’s Theory of Pleasure, p. 11.

[66] See Charles E. Trinkhaus, Jr., “Lorenzo Valla: Introduction and Translation of the Dialogue on Free Will,” in The Renaissance Philosophy of Man, ed. E. Cassirer, P.O. Kristellar, and John H. Randall, Jr. (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1948).


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Sophia's online courses help save you money, while earning credits that are eligible for transfer to over 2,000 colleges and universities.*