Top Banner

of 31

Stump & Kretzmann Eternity

Nov 08, 2014




Journal of Philosophy, Inc.

Eternity Author(s): Eleonore Stump and Norman Kretzmann Source: The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 78, No. 8 (Aug., 1981), pp. 429-458 Published by: Journal of Philosophy, Inc. Stable URL: . Accessed: 03/04/2013 11:52Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .

.JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact


Journal of Philosophy, Inc. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The Journal of Philosophy.

This content downloaded from on Wed, 3 Apr 2013 11:52:10 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions


* -4.


the considerationof a varietyof issues in the philosophy of religion, including, for instance, the apparent incompatibility of divine omniscience with human freedom,of divine immutability with the efficacy of petitionary prayer, and of divine omniscience with divine immutability;but, because it has been misunderstoodor cursorilydismissed as incoherent,it has not received the attentionit deservesfromcontemporary philosophers of religion.' In this paper we expound the concept as it is presented by Boethius (whose definitionof eternity was the locus classicus for medieval discussions of the concept), analyze implications of the concept,examine reasons forconsideringit incoherent, and sample the results of bringing it to bear on issues in the philosophy of religion.* We benefited by severalpeoand suggestionsoffered a greatdeal fromcriticisms of thispaper. We cannot mention themall, ple who read or listened to earlierdrafts comments,in some cases veryextenbut we are especially gratefulfor thoughtful sive, from William Alston, John Bennett,Richard Creel, John Crossett,Anthony Kenny,William Rowe, JudithSlein, Richard Sorabji, and Richard Swinburne. turnedhis attenphilosopher of religion has recently 'At least one contemporary in orderto rejectit as incompatiblewith bibtion to the concept of divine eternality lical theologyand, in particular,with the doctrineof divine redemption."God the Redeemercannot be a God eternal. This is so because God the Redeemeris a God "God Everlasting,"in CliftonJ. Orlebekeand who changes" [Nicholas Wolterstorff, Lewis B. Smedes, eds., God and the Good (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1975), forhaving supplied us pp. 181-203,p. 182]. (We are gratefulto KennethKonyndyk withcopies of thisarticle,which is obviouslyhighlyrelevantto our purposes in this complete by the timewe paper. The work we are presentinghere was substantially work.) Although it is no part of our purposes had access to ProfessorWolterstorff's arguments,it will become clear that we think he is here to discuss Wolterstorff's mistakenin his assessmentof thelogical relationshipbetweenthedoctrineof divine including thedoctrineof reand otherdoctrinesof orthodox Christianity, eternality demption,even in theirbiblical formulations.Passages thathave been or mightbe include Malachi 3:6; in evidenceof a biblical conception of divine eternality offered John 8:58; James 1:17.



HE conceptof eternity makesa significant in difference


? 1981 The Journal of Philosophy, Inc.


This content downloaded from on Wed, 3 Apr 2013 11:52:10 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



Eternality-the condition of having eternityas one's mode of existence-is misunderstood most often in either of two ways. Sometimes it is confused with limitless duration in timesempiternality-and sometimesit is construedsimply as atemporality,eternity being understoodin thatcase as roughlyanalogous of eterto an isolated, staticinstant.The second misunderstanding but a considerationof nality is not so faroffthe mark as the first, the views of the philosophers who contributedmost to the develalone does not exopment of the concept shows thatatemporality haust eternality as theyconceivedof it, and thatthepictureof eternityas a frozeninstantis a radical distortionof theclassic concept. in two places: The Consolation of PhiBoethius discusses eternity Chapter 4.2 The immelosophy, Book V, Prose 6, and De trinitate, diatelyrelevantpassages are these: is thecommon ofall wholive CP That God is eternal, judgment then, thismakes whateternity consider is, for byreason.Let us therefore is and knowledge. Eternity, then, plain to us boththedivine nature This becomes life. all at onceofillimitable thecomplete possession livesin Forwhatever clearer withtemporal things. bycomparison from thepastinto thefuture, as something timeproceeds present can embrace thewholeexand there is nothing placedin timethat itdoesnotyet tent ofitslifeequally.Indeed, on thecontrary, grasp butyesterday it has already lost;and evenin thelifeof tomorrow moment. thanin a mobile,transitory today youliveno morefully of thewholefullness ... Therefore, and possesses whatever includes is absent future illimitable lifeat once and is such thatnothing itand nothing from away,thisis rightly judgedto pasthas flowed boththat be eternal, and of thisit is necessary beingin fullpossesithavetheinfinand that sionofitself it be alwayspresent to itself ityof mobiletime present [to it] (422.5-424.31). DT he is always, indeed signifies a Whatis said ofGod,[namely, that] as if he had been in all the past,is in all the presentunity, Thatcan be however that might be-[and] will be in all thefuture. to thephilosophers, oftheheaven and oftheimpersaid,according ishablebodies;butit cannotbe said of God in thesameway.For he is alwaysin thatforhim alwayshas to do withpresent time. Andthere is thisgreat thepresent ofouraffairs, difference between whichis now,and thatof thedivine:our now makestimeand as ifit wererunning along; but thedivinenow,resempiternity, still,makeseternity. If maining, and not moving, and standingI. BOETHIUS'S DEFINITION

2E. K. Rand, ed., in H. F. Stewart,E. K. Rand, and S. J. Tester,Boethius: The Theological Tractatesand The Consolation of Philosophy (London: Heinemann; Cambridge,Mass.: Harvard, 1973).

This content downloaded from on Wed, 3 Apr 2013 11:52:10 AM All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions



theperpetual to 'eternity', you getsempiternity, youadd 'semper' now (20.64-22.77).3 tireless theflowing, from resulting running and explains in CP and elucidates The definitionBoethiuspresents in theearlierDT is not original with him,4nor does he argue forit in those passages.5 Similarly,we mean to do no more in this section of our paper than to presentand explain a concept that has theologyand metabeen importantin Christianand pre-Christian physics. We will not argue here,forinstance,that thereis an eteror even that God must be eternalif he exists. It is a matnal entity ter of fact that many ancient and medieval philosophers and in theologians were committedto the doctrineof God's eternality it,and our purpose in thissectheformin which Boethius presents tion of the paper is simply to elucidate the doctrinetheyheld. is the complete possession Boethius's definitionis this: Eternity all at once of illimitable life.6 in thisdefinition.It We want to call attentionto fouringredients is clear, firstof all, that anything that is eternal has life. In this3There are at least two misleading features place, Boeof thispassage. In thefirst always has to do with presenttime. In the second thius says that God's eternality is mistaken.'Sempiternitas'is an abof 'sempiternity' place, Boethius's etymology on 'semper', somewhatas we mightconstruct'alstractnoun constructeddirectly is not only falsebut misleading,associating 'sempiternity' waysness'.His etymology in a contextin which he has been distinguishingbetweensempiterwith 'eternity' nityand eternity. a 4Its elementsstemfromParmenidesvia Plato, and Plotinus had alreadyframed on which Boethius's seems to have been based. See n. 6 below. definitionof eternity Filosofia, della nozione boeziana di eternita," Cf. Romano Amerio,"Probabile fonte i(1950): 365-373. 5The argument that is concluded in the last sentenceof passage CP is based on and omniscienceand is not an argumentin support premisesabout God's eternality of thedefinition. possessio," Rand, 6 "Aeternitas vitae totasimul et perfecta igiturest interminabilis ed., p. 422.9-11. This definitionclosely parallels the definitiondeveloped by Plotinus in Enneads III 7: "The life,then,which belongs to thatwhich exists and is in is what we being, all togetherand full, completelywithout-extension-or-interval, ed., Plotinus (London: Heinemann; are looking for,eternity"[A. H. Armstrong, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard, 1967), vol. iii, p. 304.37-39]. The way in which Boea familsuggeststhathe considershimselfto be presenting eternity thiusintroduces iar philosophical concept associated with a recognizeddefinition.The parallel between the Plotinian and Boethian definitionsis closest in theirmiddle elements: "zoe homou pasa kai pleres"/"vitae tota simul et perfecta."Plotinus describesthe possessorof thislife,and Boethius does not; but, in view of thefactthatBoethius is as "that talkingabout God, he, too, would surelydescribethepossessorof eternality betweenthe twodefidifference which existsand is in being." The most interesting and the nitionsis thatthe Plotinian has "completelywithout-extension-or-interval" to include Boe