31 January 2013

The Eternity of God

31 JANUARY 2013. I will do this from time to time. Some may know, that I have enrolled and am taking classes (by distance learning) at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut, in pursuit of a Master of Arts in Theology. For those who have not taken a look at the college's online course offerings, I would encourage you to do so. Tuition is more reasonable than others and the school offers a solidly  Catholic education in accordance with Ex Corde Ecclesiae, and has even won the recommendation of the Cardinal Newman Society.

This week's assignment in One and Triune God (the basic master's level course on the Trinity) was to summarize portions of the Summa Theologica, including portions on the eternity of God. This work of St. Thomas Aquinas is striking is many ways, but the concept of God's eternity, as explained by the great Saint, is an awesome portrait of God.

Below is my summary of Summa Theologica 1, Question 10, Articles 1-4. The Eternity of God.

1. What is eternity? Eternity is that which has no beginning or end and which is perfect in all ways simultaneously because it has no succession. There is no before or after in eternity because eternity is outside of movement, and thus outside of potentiality. As such, eternity is absolute infinity and perfection, being simultaneously whole because it is wanting in nothing.

2. Is God eternal? God is eternal. As God is immutable—not subject to change—He is not subject to movement and time, which is continuous change. As God is infinite, which we have learned, He has no beginning and no end; He is unlimited and boundless. Thus, God must be eternal. As the great Saint says: “Nor is He eternal only; but He is His own eternity; whereas, no other being is its own duration, as no other is its own being. Now God is His own uniform [perfect] being; and hence He is His own essence, so He is His own eternity.” And, “[e]ternity is nothing else but God Himself.”

3. Does it belong to God alone to be eternal? Only God is eternal. Because God is immutable and infinite, being without beginning or end, and only God is without beginning, it is proper only to God to be eternal. Some items of creation are called eternal, e.g., the hills are eternal (Psalm 75:5), because of the length of their duration and still other creation, e.g., angels share in the nature of eternity as they possess unchangeableness in being or operation. However, only God is eternal as being without beginning. All creation comes from God. The great Saint answers the three objections to this in this way. First, although there are said to many eternities, creation shares in eternity in its contemplation of God. Second, hell is not eternal, but exists in time. Third, the true and necessary are eternal, but only because they exist in the eternal mind—the divine intellect of God. Eternity is identified, then, with the essence of God.

4. Does eternity differ from time? Eternity is not the same as time. Eternity is a simultaneous whole, while time always has a “before” and “after.” While time has a beginning and eternity does not, this does not fully explain the difference between the two. The great Saint describes the difference this way “eternity is the measure of a permanent being; while time is a measure of movement.” Time, too, has potentiality because the beginning and the end are potentialities. Eternity is an immutable, infinite now; eternity is pure actuality. While time is not so. The “now” of time, for example, refers to what is moveable, but the “now” of eternity is perfect, unchangeable, and infinite. Eternity is the measure of a perfect being, while time is the measure of movement. We can know the meaning of eternity, but cannot really picture it because we and all that we know in creation are subject to time—not just that which changes, but that which is changeable. Thus, time and eternity are necessarily different and even opposed to one another.

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