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Man Proposes, God Disposes by Edwin Henry Landseer, 1864.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Chinese Practice


(mou2 shi4 zai4 ren2 cheng2 shi4 zai4 tian1)

planning is with man, accomplishing with heaven

德國神職人員托馬斯‧肯皮斯(約西元一三八○~一四七一年)所著,頗具影響力的天主教靈修書《師主篇》(De Imitatione Christi),原以拉丁文寫成,其中有一句「Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit 」,後來被譯成英文「man proposes, but God disposes」(計劃的是人,但決定的是上帝)──這句話的意思是說,雖然人類可以制定計畫和發想概念,但這些努力成功與否,最終取決於其是否在上帝的計畫內。這也就是說,我們的命運是被更大的一股力量所掌控。

我們也可以用「the best laid plans of mice and men...」(是人是鼠,最好的計畫...)這個歇後語來表達同樣的意思,這半句話接下來是「...often go awry」(經常出差錯)。此語出自蘇格蘭詩人羅伯特‧伯恩斯(西元一七五九~一七九六年)一七八六年所作的詩《致老鼠》,詩中主人公向一隻田鼠道歉,因為他在犁田時,搗亂了那隻田鼠的窩:







當一件事無論是如何精心策劃,結果還是出了差錯,我們就會說「ah, the best laid plans of mice and men...」(啊,是人是鼠,最好的計畫...)。這也是美國作家約翰‧史坦貝克的小說《人鼠之間》書名的由來。

有個中文諺語,和「man proposes, but God disposes」意義相近──「謀事在人,成事在天」,意思是說,人謀劃事情,但這事最後成功與否,就取決於天命了。






(Despite the work we’ve put into this, we cannot take success for granted. As they say, man proposes, God disposes. Many factors are out of our hands.)


(Having learned that his reelection bid failed, the councilor said: “Man proposes, God disposes; I accept the result.”)


man proposes, god disposes

In his influential Christian book De Imitatione Christi (The Imitation of Christ), originally written in Latin, the German cleric Thomas a Kempis (c. 1380 – 1471) wrote Homo proponit, sed Deus disponit, later translated into English as “man proposes, but God disposes.” The idea is that while humans can devise schemes and ideas, the success of these endeavors ultimately depends on whether they are in God’s plan. That is, our destinies are at the mercy of larger forces.

We might also use the partial phrase “the best laid plans of mice and men...” to invoke the same idea. The full phrase, completed with “...often go awry,” derives from the 1786 poem To a Mouse by the Scottish poet Robert Burns (1759 – 1796), in which his protagonist apologizes to a field mouse after he disturbs its nest while plowing the field it is living in:

“But, Mousie, thou art no thy lane [you aren’t alone]

In proving foresight may be vain:

The best laid schemes o’ mice an’ men

Gang aft a-gley, [often go awry]

An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,

For promised joy.”

When a plan, no matter how intricately devised, goes wrong, we might say, “ah, the best laid plans of mice and men...” This was also the inspiration for the title of US writer John Steinbeck’s novel Of Mice and Men.

There is a Chinese saying that is very similar in meaning to man proposes, God disposes: 謀事在人,成事在天. It means that people devise plans to achieve something, but in the end the success or failure of the endeavor comes down to fate.

The exact provenance of this saying is unknown, but it appears in vernacular literature during the Ming and Qing dynasties. It crops up, for example, in chapter 103 of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms, generally held to have been written during the late Ming/early Qing by Luo Guanzhong, in which it is written 不期天將大雨,火不能著,哨馬報說司馬懿父子俱逃去了,孔明歎曰:謀事在人,成事在天。不可強也 (the Heavens opened unexpectedly, and a torrent came down. We couldn’t light the fire, and reports came through that Sima Yi and his sons had escaped. Zhuge Liang sighed, saying: men makes their plans, but their success depends on Heaven. We cannot make them happen).

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