We must now consider the eternity of God, concerning which arise
six points of inquiry:
> (1) What is eternity?
> (2) Whether God is eternal?
> (3) Whether to be eternal belongs to God alone?
> (4) Whether eternity differs from time?
> (5) The
difference of aeviternity, as there is one time, and one eternity?
> Objection 1: It seems that
the definition of eternity given by Boethius (De Consol. v) is
not a good one: "Eternity is the simultaneously-whole and perfect
possession of interminable life." For the word "interminable" is
a negative one. But negation only belongs to what is defective,
and this does not belong to eternity. Therefore in the definition
of eternity the word "interminable" ought not to be found.
Objection 2: Further, eternity signifies a certain
kind of duration. But duration regards existence rather than life.
Therefore the word "life" ought not to come into the definition
of eternity; but rather the word "existence."
3: Further, a whole is what has parts. But this is alien
to eternity which is simple. Therefore it is improperly said to
> Objection 4: Many days cannot
occur together, nor can many times exist all at once. But in eternity, days
and times are in the plural, for it is said, "His going forth is
from the beginning, from the days of eternity" (Micah
5:2); and also it is said, "According to the revelation of the
mystery hidden from eternity" (Rm.
16:25). Therefore eternity is not omni-simultaneous.
Objection 5: Further, the whole and the perfect are
the same thing. Supposing, therefore, that it is "whole," it is
superfluously described as "perfect."
6: Further, duration does not imply "possession." But eternity
is a kind of duration. Therefore eternity is not possession.
I answer that, As we attain to the knowledge of simple
things by way of compound things, so must we reach to the knowledge
of eternity by means of time, which is nothing but the numbering
of movement by "before" and "after." For since succession occurs
in every movement, and one part comes after another, the fact that
we reckon before and after in movement, makes us apprehend time,
which is nothing else but the measure of before and after in movement.
Now in a thing bereft of movement, which is always the same, there
is no before or after. As therefore the idea of time consists in
the numbering of before and after in movement; so likewise in the
apprehension of the uniformity of what is outside of movement,
consists the idea of eternity.
> Further, those things
are said to be measured by time which have a beginning and an end
in time, because in everything which is moved there is a beginning,
and there is an end. But as whatever is wholly immutable can have
no succession, so it has no beginning, and no end.
Thus eternity is known from two sources: first, because what is
eternal is interminable---that is, has no beginning nor end (that
is, no term either way); secondly, because eternity has no succession,
being simultaneously whole.
> Reply to Objection
1: Simple things are usually defined by way of negation;
as "a point is that which has no parts." Yet this is not to be
taken as if the negation belonged to their essence, but because
our intellect which first apprehends compound things, cannot attain
to the knowledge of simple things except by removing the opposite.
Reply to Objection 2: What is truly eternal, is not
only being, but also living; and life extends to operation, which
is not true of being. Now the protraction of duration seems to
belong to operation rather than to being; hence time is the numbering
> Reply to Objection 3: Eternity
is called whole, not because it has parts, but because it is wanting
> Reply to Objection 4: As
God, although incorporeal, is named in Scripture metaphorically
by corporeal names, so eternity though simultaneously whole, is
called by names implying time and succession.
to Objection 5: Two things are to be considered in time:
time itself, which is successive; and the "now" of time, which
is imperfect. Hence the expression "simultaneously-whole" is used
to remove the idea of time, and the word "perfect" is used to exclude
the "now" of time.
> Reply to Objection 6: Whatever
is possessed, is held firmly and quietly; therefore to designate
the immutability and permanence of eternity, we use the word "possession."
> Objection 1: It seems that God is not eternal. For nothing made can be predicated of God; for Boethius says (De Trin. iv) that, "The now that flows away makes time, the now that stands still makes eternity;" and Augustine says (Octog. Tri. Quaest. qu. 28) "that God is the author of eternity." Therefore God is not eternal.
> Objection 2: Further, what is before eternity, and after eternity, is not measured by eternity. But, as Aristotle says (De Causis), "God is before eternity and He is after eternity": for it is written that "the Lord shall reign for eternity, and beyond [*Douay: 'for ever and ever']" (Ex. 15:18). Therefore to be eternal does not belong to God.
Objection 3: Further, eternity is a kind of measure.
But to be measured belongs not to God. Therefore it does not belong
to Him to be eternal.
> Objection 4: Further,
in eternity, there is no present, past or future, since it is simultaneously
whole; as was said in the preceding article. But words denoting
present, past and future time are applied to God in Scripture.
Therefore God is not eternal.
> On the contrary, Athanasius
says in his Creed: "The Father is eternal, the Son is eternal,
the Holy Ghost is eternal."
> I answer that, The
idea of eternity follows immutability, as the idea of time follows
movement, as appears from the preceding article. Hence, as God
is supremely immutable, it supremely belongs to Him to be eternal.
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 being; and hence as He is His own essence,
so He is His own eternity.
> Reply to Objection
1: The "now" that stands still, is said to make eternity
according to our apprehension. As the apprehension of time is caused
in us by the fact that we apprehend the flow of the "now," so the
apprehension of eternity is caused in us by our apprehending the
"now" standing still. When Augustine says that "God is the author
of eternity," this is to be understood of participated eternity.
For God communicates His eternity to some in the same way as He
communicates His immutability.
> Reply to Objection
2: From this appears the answer to the Second Objection.
For God is said to be before eternity, according as it is shared
by immaterial substances. Hence, also, in the same book, it is said
that "intelligence is equal to eternity." In the words of Exodus,
"The Lord shall reign for eternity, and beyond," eternity stands
for age, as another rendering has it. Thus it is said that the
Lord will reign beyond eternity, inasmuch as He endures beyond
every age, i.e. beyond every kind of duration. For age is nothing
more than the period of each thing, as is said in the book De Coelo
i. Or to reign beyond eternity can be taken to mean that if any
other thing were conceived to exist for ever, as the movement of
the heavens according to some philosophers, then God would still
reign beyond, inasmuch as His reign is simultaneously whole.
Reply to Objection 3: Eternity is nothing else but
God Himself. Hence God is not called eternal, as if He were in
any way measured; but the idea of measurement is there taken according
to the apprehension of our mind alone.
to Objection 4: Words denoting different times are applied
to God, because His eternity includes all times; not as if He Himself
were altered through present, past and future.
Objection 1: It seems that it does not belong to
God alone to be eternal. For it is written that "those who instruct
many to justice," shall be "as stars unto perpetual eternities
[*Douay: 'for all eternity']" (Dan.
12:3). Now if God alone were eternal, there could not be many
eternities. Therefore God alone is not the only eternal.
Objection 2: Further, it is written "Depart, ye cursed
into eternal [Douay: 'everlasting'] fire" (Mt. 25:41).
Therefore God is not the only eternal.
3: Further, every necessary thing is eternal. But there
are many necessary things; as, for instance, all principles of
demonstration and all demonstrative propositions. Therefore God
is not the only eternal.
> On the contrary, Jerome
says (Ep. ad Damasum. xv) that "God is the only one who has no
beginning." Now whatever has a beginning, is not eternal. Therefore
God is the only one eternal.
> I answer that, Eternity
truly and properly so called is in God alone, because eternity
follows on immutability; as appears from the first article. But
God alone is altogether immutable, as was shown above (Question , Article ). Accordingly,
however, as some receive immutability from Him, they share in His
eternity. Thus some receive immutability from God in the way of
never ceasing to exist; in that sense it is said of the earth, "it
standeth for ever" (Eccles.
1:4). Again, some things are called eternal in Scripture because
of the length of their duration, although they are in nature corruptible; thus
75:5) the hills are called "eternal" and we read "of the fruits
of the eternal hills." (Dt.
33:15). Some again, share more fully than others in the nature
of eternity, inasmuch as they possess unchangeableness either in
being or further still in operation; like the angels, and the blessed,
who enjoy the Word, because "as regards that vision of the Word,
no changing thoughts exist in the Saints," as Augustine says (De
Trin. xv). Hence those who see God are said to have eternal life;
according to that text, "This is eternal life, that they may know
Thee the only true God," etc. (Jn.
> Reply to Objection 1: There
are said to be many eternities, accordingly as many share in eternity, by
the contemplation of God.
> Reply to Objection
2: The fire of hell is called eternal, only because it
never ends. Still, there is change in the pains of the lost, according
to the words "To extreme heat they will pass from snowy waters" (Job
24:19). Hence in hell true eternity does not exist, but rather
time; according to the text of the Psalm "Their time will be for
> Reply to Objection 3: Necessary
means a certain mode of truth; and truth, according to the Philosopher
(Metaph. vi), is in the mind. Therefore in this sense the true
and necessary are eternal, because they are in the eternal mind,
which is the divine intellect alone; hence it does not follow that
anything beside God is eternal.
Objection 1: It seems that eternity does not differ
from time. For two measures of duration cannot exist together,
unless one is part of the other; for instance two days or two hours
cannot be together; nevertheless, we may say that a day or an hour
are together, considering hour as part of a day. But eternity and
time occur together, each of which imports a certain measure of
duration. Since therefore eternity is not a part of time, forasmuch
as eternity exceeds time, and includes it, it seems that time is a
part of eternity, and is not a different thing from eternity.
Objection 2: Further, according to the Philosopher
(Phys. iv), the "now" of time remains the same in the whole of
time. But the nature of eternity seems to be that it is the same
indivisible thing in the whole space of time. Therefore eternity
is the "now" of time. But the "now" of time is not substantially different
from time. Therefore eternity is not substantially different from
> Objection 3: Further, as the measure
of the first movement is the measure of every movement, as said
in Phys. iv, it thus appears that the measure of the first being
is that of every being. But eternity is the measure of the first
being---that is, of the divine being. Therefore eternity is the
measure of every being. But the being of things corruptible is
measured by time. Time therefore is either eternity or is a part
> On the contrary, Eternity
is simultaneously whole. But time has a "before" and an "after."
Therefore time and eternity are not the same thing.
I answer that, It is manifest that time and eternity
are not the same. Some have founded this difference on the fact
that eternity has neither beginning nor an end; whereas time has
a beginning and an end. This, however, makes a merely accidental,
and not an absolute difference because, granted that time always
was and always will be, according to the idea of those who think
the movement of the heavens goes on for ever, there would yet remain
a difference between eternity and time, as Boethius says (De Consol.
v), arising from the fact that eternity is simultaneously whole;
which cannot be applied to time: for eternity is the measure of
a permanent being; while time is a measure of movement. Supposing,
however, that the aforesaid difference be considered on the part
of the things measured, and not as regards the measures, then there
is some reason for it, inasmuch as that alone is measured by time
which has beginning and end in time. Hence, if the movement of
the heavens lasted always, time would not be of its measure as
regards the whole of its duration, since the infinite is not measurable;
but it would be the measure of that part of its revolution which
has beginning and end in time.
> Another reason for
the same can be taken from these measures in themselves, if we
consider the end and the beginning as potentialities; because,
granted also that time always goes on, yet it is possible to note
in time both the beginning and the end, by considering its parts:
thus we speak of the beginning and the end of a day or of a year;
which cannot be applied to eternity. Still these differences follow
upon the essential and primary differences, that eternity is simultaneously
whole, but that time is not so.
> Reply to Objection
1: Such a reason would be a valid one if time and eternity
were the same kind of measure; but this is seen not to be the case
when we consider those things of which the respective measures
are time and eternity.
> Reply to Objection 2: The
"now" of time is the same as regards its subject in the whole course
of time, but it differs in aspect; for inasmuch as time corresponds
to movement, its "now" corresponds to what is movable; and the
thing movable has the same one subject in all time, but differs
in aspect a being here and there; and such alteration is movement.
Likewise the flow of the "now" as alternating in aspect is time.
But eternity remains the same according to both subject and aspect;
and hence eternity is not the same as the "now" of time.
Reply to Objection 3: As eternity is the proper measure
of permanent being, so time is the proper measure of movement;
and hence, according as any being recedes from permanence of being,
and is subject to change, it recedes from eternity, and is subject
to time. Therefore the being of things corruptible, because it
is changeable, is not measured by eternity, but by time; for time
measures not only things actually changed, but also things changeable;
hence it not only measures movement but it also measures repose,
which belongs to whatever is naturally movable, but is not actually
Objection 1: It seems that aeviternity is the same
as time. For Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. viii, 20,22,23), that
"God moves the spiritual through time." But aeviternity is said
to be the measure of spiritual substances. Therefore time is the
same as aeviternity.
> Objection 2: Further,
it is essential to time to have "before" and "after"; but it is
essential to eternity to be simultaneously whole, as was shown
above in the first article. Now aeviternity is not eternity; for
it is written (Ecclus. 1:1) that eternal "Wisdom is before age."
Therefore it is not simultaneously whole but has "before" and "after";
and thus it is the same as time.
> Objection 3: Further,
if there is no "before" and "after" in aeviternity, it follows
that in aeviternal things there is no difference between being,
having been, or going to be. Since then it is impossible for aeviternal
things not to have been, it follows that it is impossible for them
not to be in the future; which is false, since God can reduce them
> Objection 4: Further, since
the duration of aeviternal things is infinite as to subsequent
duration, if aeviternity is simultaneously whole, it follows that
some creature is actually infinite; which is impossible. Therefore
aeviternity does not differ from time.
> On the
contrary, Boethius says (De Consol. iii) "Who commandest
time to be separate from aeviternity."
> I answer
that, Aeviternity differs from time, and from eternity,
as the mean between them both. This difference is explained by
some to consist in the fact that eternity has neither beginning
nor end, aeviternity, a beginning but no end, and time both beginning
and end. This difference, however, is but an accidental one, as
was shown above, in the preceding article; because even if aeviternal
things had always been, and would always be, as some think, and
even if they might sometimes fail to be, which is possible to God
to allow; even granted this, aeviternity would still be distinguished
from eternity, and from time.
> Others assign the difference
between these three to consist in the fact that eternity has no
"before" and "after"; but that time has both, together with innovation
and veteration; and that aeviternity has "before" and "after" without
innovation and veteration. This theory, however, involves a contradiction;
which manifestly appears if innovation and veteration be referred
to the measure itself. For since "before" and "after" of duration
cannot exist together, if aeviternity has "before" and "after,"
it must follow that with the receding of the first part of aeviternity,
the after part of aeviternity must newly appear; and thus innovation
would occur in aeviternity itself, as it does in time. And if they
be referred to the things measured, even then an incongruity would
follow. For a thing which exists in time grows old with time, because
it has a changeable existence, and from the changeableness of a
thing measured, there follows "before" and "after" in the measure,
as is clear from Phys. iv. Therefore the fact that an aeviternal
thing is neither inveterate, nor subject to innovation, comes from
its changelessness; and consequently its measure does not contain
"before" and "after." We say then that since eternity is the measure
of a permanent being, in so far as anything recedes from permanence
of being, it recedes from eternity. Now some things recede from
permanence of being, so that their being is subject to change,
or consists in change; and these things are measured by time, as
are all movements, and also the being of all things corruptible.
But others recede less from permanence of being, forasmuch as their
being neither consists in change, nor is the subject of change;
nevertheless they have change annexed to them either actually or
potentially. This appears in the heavenly bodies, the substantial being
of which is unchangeable; and yet with unchangeable being they
have changeableness of place. The same applies to the angels, who
have an unchangeable being as regards their nature with changeableness
as regards choice; moreover they have changeableness of intelligence,
of affections and of places in their own degree. Therefore these
are measured by aeviternity which is a mean between eternity and
time. But the being that is measured by eternity is not changeable,
nor is it annexed to change. In this way time has "before" and
"after"; aeviternity in itself has no "before" and "after," which
can, however, be annexed to it; while eternity has neither "before"
nor "after," nor is it compatible with such at all.
Reply to Objection 1: Spiritual creatures as regards
successive affections and intelligences are measured by time. Hence
also Augustine says (Gen. ad lit. viii, 20,22,23) that to be moved
through time, is to be moved by affections. But as regards their
nature they are measured by aeviternity; whereas as regards the
vision of glory, they have a share of eternity.
to Objection 2: Aeviternity is simultaneously whole; yet
it is not eternity, because "before" and "after" are compatible
> Reply to Objection 3: In the
very being of an angel considered absolutely, there is no difference
of past and future, but only as regards accidental change. Now
to say that an angel was, or is, or will be, is to be taken in
a different sense according to the acceptation of our intellect,
which apprehends the angelic existence by comparison with different
parts of time. But when we say that an angel is, or was, we suppose
something, which being supposed, its opposite is not subject to
the divine power. Whereas when we say he will be, we do not as
yet suppose anything. Hence, since the existence and non-existence
of an angel considered absolutely is subject to the divine power,
God can make the existence of an angel not future; but He cannot
cause him not to be while he is, or not to have been, after he
> Reply to Objection 4: The duration
of aeviternity is infinite, forasmuch as it is not finished by
time. Hence, there is no incongruity in saying that a creature
is infinite, inasmuch as it is not ended by any other creature.
Objection 1: It seems that there is not only one
aeviternity; for it is written in the apocryphal books of Esdras:
"Majesty and power of ages are with Thee, O Lord."
Objection 2: Further, different genera have different
measures. But some aeviternal things belong to the corporeal genus,
as the heavenly bodies; and others are spiritual substances, as
are the angels. Therefore there is not only one aeviternity.
Objection 3: Further, since aeviternity is a term
of duration, where there is one aeviternity, there is also one
duration. But not all aeviternal things have one duration, for
some begin to exist after others; as appears in the case especially
of human souls. Therefore there is not only one aeviternity.
Objection 4: Further, things not dependent on each
other do not seem to have one measure of duration; for there appears
to be one time for all temporal things; since the first movement,
measured by time, is in some way the cause of all movement. But
aeviternal things do not depend on each other, for one angel is
not the cause of another angel. Therefore there is not only one
> On the contrary, Aeviternity
is a more simple thing than time, and is nearer to eternity. But
time is one only. Therefore much more is aeviternity one only.
I answer that, A twofold opinion exists on this subject.
Some say there is only one aeviternity; others that there are many
aeviternities. Which of these is true, may be considered from the
cause why time is one; for we can rise from corporeal things to
the knowledge of spiritual things.
> Now some say that
there is only one time for temporal things, forasmuch as one number
exists for all things numbered; as time is a number, according
to the Philosopher (Phys. iv). This, however, is not a sufficient
reason; because time is not a number abstracted from the thing
numbered, but existing in the thing numbered; otherwise it would
not be continuous; for ten ells of cloth are continuous not by
reason of the number, but by reason of the thing numbered. Now
number as it exists in the thing numbered, is not the same for
all; but it is different for different things. Hence, others assert
that the unity of eternity as the principle of all duration is
the cause of the unity of time. Thus all durations are one in that
view, in the light of their principle, but are many in the light
of the diversity of things receiving duration from the influx of
the first principle. On the other hand others assign primary matter
as the cause why time is one; as it is the first subject of movement,
the measure of which is time. Neither of these reasons, however,
is sufficient; forasmuch as things which are one in principle,
or in subject, especially if distant, are not one absolutely, but
accidentally. Therefore the true reason why time is one, is to
be found in the oneness of the first movement by which, since it
is most simple, all other movements are measured. Therefore time
is referred to that movement, not only as a measure is to the thing
measured, but also as accident is to subject; and thus receives
unity from it. Whereas to other movements it is compared only as
the measure is to the thing measured. Hence it is not multiplied
by their multitude, because by one separate measure many things
can be measured.
> This being established, we must observe
that a twofold opinion existed concerning spiritual substances.
Some said that all proceeded from God in a certain equality, as
Origen said (Peri Archon. i); or at least many of them, as some
others thought. Others said that all spiritual substances proceeded from
God in a certain degree and order; and Dionysius (Coel. Hier. x)
seems to have thought so, when he said that among spiritual substances
there are the first, the middle and the last; even in one order of
angels. Now according to the first opinion, it must be said that
there are many aeviternities as there are many aeviternal things
of first degree. But according to the second opinion, it would
be necessary to say that there is one aeviternity only; because
since each thing is measured by the most simple element of its
genus, it must be that the existence of all aeviternal things should
be measured by the existence of the first aeviternal thing, which
is all the more simple the nearer it is to the first. Wherefore because
the second opinion is truer, as will be shown later (Question , Article ); we concede
at present that there is only one aeviternity.
to Objection 1: Aeviternity is sometimes taken for age,
that is, a space of a thing's duration; and thus we say many aeviternities
when we mean ages.
> Reply to Objection 2: Although
the heavenly bodies and spiritual things differ in the genus of
their nature, still they agree in having a changeless being, and
are thus measured by aeviternity.
> Reply to Objection
3: All temporal things did not begin together; nevertheless
there is one time for all of them, by reason of the first measured
by time; and thus all aeviternal things have one aeviternity by
reason of the first, though all did not begin together.
Reply to Objection 4: For things to be measured by
one, it is not necessary that the one should be the cause of all,
but that it be more simple than the rest.