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
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)
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