QUESTION 10: THE ETERNITY OF GOD
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
Article 1: Whether this is a good definition of eternity, "The simultaneously-whole and perfect possession of interminable life"?
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
Objection 3: Further, a whole is what has parts. But this is alien to eternity
which is simple. Therefore it is improperly said to be "whole."
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
Objection 5: Further, the whole and the perfect are the same thing. Supposing,
therefore, that it is "whole," it is superfluously described as "perfect."
Objection 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
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 of movement.
Reply to Objection 3: Eternity is called whole, not because it has parts, but
because it is wanting in nothing.
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.
Reply 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."
Article 2: Whether God is eternal?
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
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
Reply 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.
Article 3: Whether to be eternal belongs to God alone?
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.
Objection 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 (Ps. 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. 17:3).
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 ever" (Ps. 80:16).
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.
Article 4: Whether eternity differs from time?
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
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 time.
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 of eternity.
On the contrary, Eternity is simultaneously whole. But time has a
"before" and an "after." Therefore time and eternity are not the same
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
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
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 in motion.
Article 5: The difference of aeviternity and time
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 to nothing.
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
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.
Reply to Objection 2: Aeviternity is simultaneously whole; yet it is not
eternity, because "before" and "after" are compatible with it.
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 has been.
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.
Article 6: Whether there is only one aeviternity?
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 aeviternity.
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
Reply 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