CT 8: Absence of Succession in God

I find Chapter 8 refreshingly easy to follow, as it deals with the concept of eternity as I first learned it from C.S. Lewis decades ago. Lewis presented it is a way of thinking about eternity that might be helpful; I was surprised to discover, in just the last year or so, that far from being a private conceit of Lewis, that it’s in fact pretty much the standard theological view.

We tend to think of eternity as meaning “forever,” in the sense of an unlimited expanse of time. Properly, however, eternity is timeless. God lives in eternity; time as we know it is a function of the created universe. Anyway, here’s what Thomas has to say:

Clearly, therefore, no succession occurs in God. His entire existence is simultaneous. Succession is not found except in things that are in some way subject to motion; for prior and posterior in motion cause the succession of time. God, however, is in no sense subject to motion, as has been shown. Accordingly there is no succession in God. His existence is simultaneously whole.

Again, if a being’s existence is not simultaneously whole, something can be lost to it and something can accrue to it. That which passes is lost, and what is expected in the future can be acquired. But nothing is lost to God or accrues to Him, since He is immutable. Therefore His existence is simultaneously whole.

From these two observations the proper meaning of eternity emerges. That is properly eternal which always exists, in such a way that its existence is simultaneously whole. This agrees with the definition proposed by Boethius: “Eternity is the simultaneously whole and perfect possession of endless life.”

The interesting philosophical point here is one I alluded to a few days ago: that the passage of time is a function of change. But there is no change in God, as we’ve seen in past chapters, and hence no passage of time.

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