Category Archives: Everlastingness

Aquinas on God being everlasting rather than timeless

Interesting reading here. Lately through my reading of Aquinas I’ve become concerned that he did not fully understand or positively think through the idea of God being “timeless.” Certainly he says the divine nature is immutable and unchangeable, and he certainly argues that God’s eternity is “simultaneously whole.” But all these things can be held by someone who holds that God is everlasting rather than timeless. (Interestingly, this idea of God’s “everlastingness” over and against his “timelessness” is something lots of current analytic theologians hold.)

Anyway, this post is to show that Aquinas actually gives, not an argument for timelessness, but for everlastingness, in his commentary on John. Now, the difference between the two is that a timeless being cannot have any sequence in its existence. This makes difficult (impossible?) to understand many basic truths – such as God’s real relation to the world, creaturely freedom, and the Incarnation. (If anyone wants to see a post on these problems, comment and I’ll explore them.) But if God is everlasting then God can still have sequence in his life – he can do one thing and then another – and these problems disappear.

Anyway, here are Aquinas’ quotes. I’ll let the reader decide what he thinks Aquinas’ argument demonstrates (everlastingness vs timelessness). Of particular note is Aquinas saying that God “endures.” A timeless being, however, cannot endure through time (as Craig as argued), for then he would know tensed facts. I’ll be quoting two different paragraphs, both from his commentary on John 1.

“Now we should consider that it says that the Word was (erat), which is stated in the past imperfect tense. This tense is most appropriate for designating eternal things if we consider the nature of time and of the things that exist in time. For what is future is not yet in act; but what is at present is in act, and by the fact that it is in act what is present is not described as having been. Now the past perfect tense indicates that something has existed, has already come to an end, and has now ceased to be. The past imperfect tense, on the other hand, indicates that something has been, has not yet come to an end, nor has ceased to be, but still endures. Thus, whenever John mentions eternal things he expressly says “was” (erat, past imperfect tense), but when he refers to anything temporal he says “has been” (fuit, past perfect tense), as will be clear later.”

“We should note with respect to the first that, as soon as the Evangelist begins speaking of something temporal, he changes his manner of speech. When speaking above of eternal things, he used the word “was” (erat), which is the past imperfect tense; and this indicates that eternal things are without end. But now, when he is speaking of temporal things, he uses “was” (fuit, i.e., “has been”); this indicates temporal things as having taken place in the past and coming to an end there.”