Saturday, March 07, 2015

Part of a Paper in the Works on God, Time, Boethius and Aquinas (Only a Draft)

The foregoing does not include footnotes which do appear in the actual paper. The quotes taken from Boethius come from his work De Consolatione.

Boethius writes that God is eternal insofar as God has a “complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life” (Aeternitas igitur est, interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio). He contrasts temporal and divine existence by arguing: "whatever lives in time exists in the present and progresses from the past to the future, and there is nothing set in time which can embrace simultaneously the whole extent of its life; it is in the position of not yet possessing tomorrow when it has already lost yesterday" (Nam quicquid vivet in tempore, id praesens a praeteritis in futura procedit: nihilque est in tempore constitutum quod totum vitae suae spatium pariter posit amplecti. Sed crastinum quidem nondum apprehendit: hesternum vero jam perdidit).

This medieval thinker maintains that eternity refers to the unique quality of divine timelessness (the property of experiencing the past, present and future in one simultaneous moment). Divine eternity is supposedly atemporality or timelessness: it is viewed as the eternal present. Hence, Boethius insists that God is entirely outside of time, but still has some type of duration. And the divine one evidently beholds what occurs in the past, present and future (all of which are kinds of tenses from a human standpoint) as though it happens in one lasting present. William Lane Craig accordingly explains the Boethian view in these words: “God's 'now' is a unity (unum) embracing past, present, and future, which never comes to be or passes away, in contrast to the fleeting ‘now’ of the temporal process.” Campenhausen also writes concerning the notion of divine atemporality found in Boethius:

We must be clear that God's Being exists in eternity, i.e. not in the dimension of the transient, earthly time in which our activity takes place. That which unfolds to us as past, present, and future, lies before his view as if it were eternally present. For that reason the decisions of his "providence" are not really prior to our free actions, but can correspond to them precisely at any given moment.

When Boethius contrasts God’s eternity with the kind of eternality delineated in the writings of Plato, he reckons that embracing the whole of "everlasting life in one simultaneous present" (aliud interminabilis vitae totam pariter complexam esse praesentiam) is “clearly a property of the mind of God” (quod divinae mentis proprium esse manifestum est). This Boethian view presumably resolves (possibly eases) the dialectical tension between divine foreknowledge and human free will, for if God beholds future contingents as if they are presently taking place, then He does not thereby cause these contingent statements to occur. God merely knows future contingents as presently instantiated events since He subsists in an eternal now:

Since, therefore, all judgment comprehends those things that are subject to it according to its own nature, and since the state of God is ever that of eternal presence, His knowledge, too, transcends all temporal change and abides in the immediacy of His presence. It embraces all the infinite recesses of past and future and views them in the immediacy of its knowing as though they were happening in the present (Quoniam igitur omne iudicium secundum sui naturam quae sibi subiecta sunt comprehendit, est autem deo semper aeternus ac praesentarius status, scientia quoque eius omnem temporis supergressa motionem in suae manet simplicitate praesentiae infinitaque praeteriti ac futuri spatia complectens omnia quasi jam gerantur in sua simplici cognitione considerat. Itaque si praeuidentiam pensare uelis qua cuncta dinoscit, non esse praescientiam quasi futuri sed scientiam numquam deficientis instantiae rectius aestimabis).

Boethius poses an objection to the use of such terms as "foreknowledge" or "prevision" wherein God's knowledge of future contingents is concerned. If God is completely outside of time, then His knowledge of the future is not (technically speaking) “a kind of foreknowledge of the future, but as the knowledge of a never ending presence.” God is above the temporal fray, beholding all events in one simultaneous moment. Craig explains that in the case of Boethius: "Hence, rightly considered God’s knowledge is not strictly knowledge of a thing to come, but of a never-failing instant. He overlooks, as it were, all things from the highest peak."

With God's atemporal knowledge of all things in mind—Lady Philosophy asks Boethius and by extension all modern philosophers who have trouble reconciling God's foreknowledge and the free will of finite (rational) agents: "Why, then, do you insist that all that is scanned by the sight of God becomes necessary? Men see things but this certainly doesn’t make them necessary. And your seeing them doesn’t impose any necessity on the things you see present, does it?"

Boethius views God's knowledge of the future as being comparable to a human spectator (S) observing a horse race (R). Necessarily (in this case), if R is occurring at T1, then the race is occurring in the presence of S at T1. However, S does not cause R to happen or bring it about that R necessarily occurs simply by watching R. The proposition, "Necessarily, if the race is occurring, then it is occurring" (hypothetical necessity) must not be confused with the proposition "Necessarily, the race is occurring" (simple necessity). Confusion between the two propositions results from a modal fallacy. Similarly, Boethius contends that God’s knowledge of future contingents does not bring about their actualization either; nor does God’s foreknowledge make future contingents necessary. Beholding events and causing them are two distinct actions even for an omnipotent deity.

The definition of eternity found in De Consolatione seems to be a precise concept in the writings of Boethius. He utilizes this definiens to illuminate how one might reconcile human freedom and divine foreknowledge. By invoking the Augustinian concept of divine atemporality (timelessness), Boethius attempts to offer a plausible and convincing response to this perennial question of philosophy; whether his efforts are truly successful, however, remains to be seen. But having reviewed the Boethian approach to God and time, I will now discuss Thomas Aquinas' view of God and time while noting how the "Angelic Doctor" clarifies Boethius' definition or concept of divine eternity.

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