Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ordinary Time vs. Angelic Time


1.  Having established the distinction between time and eternity, Thomas proceeds to the subtler distinction between Time and Ages (“aevi"), which are the "eternity" of spiritual creatures (i.e. angels).  Though not immediately pertinent to the present discussion of the Divine Essence, it is more effective to discuss these issues now than to delay them until his later treatment of the angelic nature, because the quasi-eternity of the angels helps us distinguish more clearly between created time and divine eternity.

2.  He gives four objections:  First is a quote from Augustine, which says that God moves spiritual creatures through time.  Since the "age" is the temporality of spiritual creatures, if they exist in time, then the age must be identical with time.

3.  Second, he observes that the "age" is distinct from eternity, because it has a before and after, which are absent in eternity.  Therefore it must be the same as time.

4.  Third, he points out that there must be a difference in aeviternal things between their past and future existence, because God can reduce them to non-existence, and if past and future were identical in them, then once existing these things could not be unmade.  But if there is a difference in them between before and after, then there is time.

5.  Fourth, he says that if the "age" were different from time, then it would be simultaneously whole.  But since spiritual things have an unending future existence, to be simultaneously whole they would have to be actually infinite, which is absurd.

6.  For the Sed Contra he appeals to Boethius, who distinguishes time and ages.

7.  In the Corpus he reiterates what was said in the previous article: that the distinction does not principally regard beginning and ending, since this is an accidental feature of time.  He considers a possible view (unattributed, but clearly not his own) that what distinguishes an “age” from time is that in time there is both “before and after” and newness and oldness, but in an age there is only before and after, without new or old.  Thomas points out that this view is absurd, because new and old are spoken of only relative to the approach and recession of a time, and thus follow from there being a before and after.

8.  His own solution is as follows:  Eternity is the measure of a permanent being: thus to recede from permanence is to recede from eternity.  But this can happen in either of two ways: for some things, their very being is subject to change, or their existence consists of change.  For others their being does not consist of change, nor is it subject to change, but change is annexted to them somehow, eitehr by locomotion (here he speaks of the heavenly bodies, which are presumed to be incorruptible material beings in fixed paths of recurring motion) or by choice (i.e. the specification of the object of willing) or by understanding or affection.  

9.  To summarize, then:  eternity has no before or after at all.  Aeviternity has no before or after in itself, but before and after can be annexed to it insofar as something annexed to its being is subject to change.  Time, meanwhile, has before and after in itself, and things in time are subject to change as regards their substance.

10.  In response to the first objection he offers an extremely illuminating and noteworthy distinction of the three modes of temporality in the good angels.  As regards their affections and successive understandings, they are in time.  As regards their nature and existence, they are in an age, or are aeviternal.  As regards their participation in the divine essence by the vision of glory, they share in God’s own eternity.

11.  He answers the second objection by saying that while there are “before” and “after” in neither an age nor in eternity, the two differ because aeviternal things are compatible with before and after, where eternity is not.

12.  He answers the third objection by making two observations: first, that we talk about the past, present, and future of angels by comparing them to moments in time, which are not present in their nature, but only by association with certain accidental changes in the angels relative to certain operations.  So when we talk about the past of an angel, we have in mind a particular operation that it performed.  The same with the present.  But when we talk about the future of an angel, we have in mind nothing in particular, because we do not specify its particular operation.  His second point is that God has the power to make an angel not to be, but not to make an angel not be when it exists, nor to make it not have been when it was.

13.  The fourth objection is easily resolved: an “age” can be infinite in duration insofar as it is unending.  There is no difficulty in ascribing infinity of duration to a creature, since the simultaneity of this infinity would only be on account of an immutability, not on account of an actually infinite magnitude.


- Augustine says that spiritual creatures are in time.
- The aevum has “before” and “after.”
- If the aevum were not in time, God could not unmake the angels.
- If the aevum were simultaneously whole, there would be actually infinite creatures.

- Eternity has no before or after at all.
- Aeviternal things have no before or after in themselves as to their own nature, but can be annexed to before and after by association with a particular object in their operations.
- Temporal things have both before and after in them as regards the corruptibility of their nature.

- Angels are in time as regards their successive understanding of things, in the aevum as regards their own existence, and in eternity as regards their vision of God in glory.
- The aevum is simultaneously whole, but unlike eternity is compatible with annexation to temporal things.
- When we speak of an angel’s future, we cannot have anything in mind.
- Spiritual creatures are actually infinite in that their existence is not terminated in the future.

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