The Eternity of God

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Triumph of Saint Thomas Aquinas - by GOZZOLI, Benozzo - from Musée du Louvre, Paris .  .  .  .
The Inscription beneath the Glory containing Christ, expresses His agreement with the Theological Writings of Saint Thomas Aquinas:
BENE SCPSISTI DE ME, THOMMA ("You have written well about Me, Thomas"). The Saint is enthroned in the centre between Aristotle and Plato. At his feet lies the Arabic scholar Averroes, whose writings he refuted. In the lower part of the picture a group of clergymen can be seen on either side of the Pope, who according to Vasari is Pope Sixtus IV.

 

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When God became Man, Time, in its Sequence of Years, Centuries and Millenniums, was brought into the Dimension of Divine Eternity; in fact, by coming into the World through His Only-Begotten Son, God wanted to Unite the Dimensions of Time and Eternity. (John Paul II, Vespers on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1996)

 

Eternity is not a Topic you hear much about these days.
And yet if Christianity is True, we shall all face Eternity —
either an Eternity with God or without Him,
an Eternity of Perfect 'Joy' and 'Fulfillment'
or one of Absolute 'Ruin' and 'Emptiness'.

 

The Eternity of God

by Geoff Deegan
Centre for Thomistic Studies

God Alone is Immutable (Unchangeable)

In virtue of Its Immutability ("I am the Lord, I change not"—Malachi 3:6) God's Being is Alien to "having been" or "going to be", whereas Created Being is characterized by a certain mixture of "having been" or "going to be". Thus the Study of God's Immutability takes us to that of His Eternity. The insight that there is a Being outside Time, which does not have any Succession in its Duration, but only Togetherness and Simultaneity, is one of the Greatest Discoveries of Man. The question of God's Eternity, therefore, stresses the All-Surpassing Eminence of God's Being. Parmenides is the First Philosopher to attribute Everlasting Changeless Duration to Real Being. Plato also teaches that Eternity is the Ever-Present concentration of Being in One (1) Moment without Past or Future. Neo-Platonic Philosophers also teach this remaining "In an Eternal Now". Plato speaks of a Timeless Eternity and ascribes Life to it. He is followed in this by Aristotle.

Saint Thomas begins his Account with Boethius' definition of Eternity: "Eternity is the Simultaneously-Whole and Perfect Possession of Interminable Life". Analyzing the meaning of the terms, Aquinas defines more precisely the Concept of Eternity. A First Observation he makes is that we must Acquire Knowledge of Simple Things by-way-of Compound Things, and so we must Obtain Knowledge of Eternity by means of Time. Time, which is the Numbering of Movement by Before and After, is marked by Succession. From the Apprehension of such a Being, results the idea of Eternity. Saint Thomas adds a further Argument: What is Wholly Immutable has no Succession and so it has no Beginning and no End. It is Eternal.

Summing up: we must signify what Eternity is by means of Two (2) Essential Characteristics:

What is Eternal is without Beginning and End;
It has no Succession, but is entirely Simultaneous.

In the Replies to Objections, certain things are made clearer: with "Life" in the Definition of Eternity it means the 'Highest Form of Being'. What is Eternal is 'Whole' because it is Wanting in Nothing and it is Perfect because it has its own Eternal 'Now' so that it Exists entirely within Itself.

In the Second Article, Aquinas further explains the Characteristics of God's Eternity: God alone is He 'be' (esse). This means that He is His own Duration and so He is His own Eternity. The concluding section of this argument discloses a 'Being' wholly foreign to our experience, viz. one which is its own duration in a 'now' or rather which is a 'now' which does not Flow-Along in Succession, but is in its Entirety, Actualized and Present. To denote this we use the term "Nunc Stans" (the Now that Stands Still). We must start from our experience of Time and proceed by the Way of Eminence to the Idea of Eternity, but the Eternity of God is far beyond our Understanding and Surpasses whatever we can Conceive.

With the decline of Metaphysics the Proper Concept of Eternity was Lost. 'Eternal' was now understood as Being without 'Beginning' and 'End', whereas this Absence of 'Beginning' and 'End' is not the Main Characteristic of Eternity. Eternal is that which is 'Simultaneous' and 'Together'.