De Moor IV:31: Defining God's Eternity



Boethius

The Eternity of God is defined: It is that Perfection of God, whereby He, being without all Beginning, End, and Succession, exists continually. With which that definition of BÖETHIUS,[1] in which the simultaneously entire and perfect possession of interminable life is asserted, which definition is found in book V of The Consolation of Philosophy, prose VI, and which POIRET without good reason assails with various complaints, Cogitationibus Rationalibus, book III, chapter XVI, § 5, since the epithet Interminable with equal aptness excludes the beginning of the Life and the end: but in this very thing, that he attributes to God the simultaneously entire and perfect possession of this Life, he willed to exclude all succession of existence, under which all temporary things lie, which moment-by-moment begin, as it were, a new being, are changed with the times, and never have all that duration that they are able to have. The present here follows the past, which has slipped away, but only if that has slipped away; the future will then follow the present, but only if the present vanishes into it. Because a thing was formerly, it is not therefore necessarily now; or, because a thing now is, it will not necessarily be afterwards at some point; since in a created thing being is able to have been without currently being, is able to stand without necessarily existing in the future. But that God enjoys as much duration as it is possible to enjoy, from which all imperfections of this sort are removed, by this his Definition BÖETHIUS signified, which he alleges to prove with greater clarity from a comparison of temporal things. “For whatever (so he proceeds) lives in time, that proceeds from the past into the future: and nothing is set in time that is able to embrace at the same time the entire space of its life. What is of tomorrow had not yet come, but what is of yesterday has already passed away. And in today’s life ye live no further than in that moble and transitory moment. Therefore, what endures the condition of time, although that, just as Aristotle judged concerning the World, did not at any time begin to be, and will not end, and its life is extended with an infinity of time, is nevertheless not yet such that it might rightfully be judged to be eternal. For, it does not at the same time comprehend and embrace the entire space of its life, albeit infinite: but it does not presently have its future things not yet transacted. Therefore, what interminable things equally comprehends the entire fullness of its life, and possesses it, to which there are no future things, neither does it proceed from the past, that is rightfully regarded as eternal.”



The Truth of this Definition is evident, not only from the Eternity previously claimed for God in a general way, as God עוֹלָם/ everlasting, with this word taken in its greatest emphasis of duration, the boundaries of which, anterior and posterior, are not only unknown; but they are not entirely able to be known, because they are not completely given. But in particular all Beginning is removed from God, since He was before all things, Psalm 90:2; whence Antiquity is attributed to Him, with Him called אֱלֹ֣הֵי קֶ֔דֶם, God aforetime or eternal, Deuteronomy 33:27, not as if God had now advanced into old age, while formerly He was young, which would set manifest mutation and imperfection in God; but that He is prior to those origins of time and to all antiquity. Hence the number of His years are said to be unsearchable, Job 36:26. With rashness indeed doe Vorstius contend that from these and similar passages the absolute Eternity of God is not solidly proven, Exegese Apologetica, chapter XIII; see TRIGLAND in Kerckelycke Geschiedenissen, volume 4, page 577a. At the same time, all End is removed from God: when it is said that He remains forever, and His years shall have no end, Psalm 102:12, 27: He is called Incorruptible, 1 Timothy 1:17;[2] Immortal, 1 Timothy 6:16.



DIOGENES LAERTIUS, Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers, book I, sections XXXV, XXXVI, pages, 21, 22, relates these sentence of Thales:[3] Φέρεται δὲ ἀποφθέγματα αὐτοῦ τάδε· πρεσβύτατον τῶν ὄντων, Θεός· ἀγέννητον γάρ· ἐρωτηθεῖς τί τὸ θείον, ἔφη, τὸ μήτε ἀρχὴν ἔχον μήτε τελευτήν, Here too are certain current apophthegms assigned to him: of all things that are, the most ancient is God, for He is uncreated: He, asking, What is the divine? answered, that which has neither beginning nor end. Concerning the Eternity of God without Beginning an End, acknowledged by the wiser among the Gentiles, consult PFANNER’S[4] lengthy treatment in his Systemate theologiæ Gentilis purioris, chapter II, § 30; and EZEKIEL SPANHEIM,[5] ad Callamachi Hymnos, in Jovem, verses 8, 9, pages 6-8.

[1] Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius (480-c. 525) was a Roman statesman and Christian thinker of great learning and virtue. He faithfully served King Theodoric, until he was imprisoned and executed, falsely accused of treasonous activity. While in prison, he wrote The Consolation of Philosophy.


[2] 1 Timothy 1:17: “Now unto the King eternal, immortal (ἀφθάρτῳ/ incorruptible), invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”


[3] Thales (c. 635-c. 543) is among the oldest extant Greek philosophers. It was Thales’ position that the most basic component of all material substance is water.


[4] Tobias Pfanner (1641-1716) was a German Lutheran theologian, and served as secretary of the archives to the duke of Saxe Gotha.


[5] Ezekiel Spanheim (1629-1710), eldest son of Friedrich Spanheim the Elder, was a Swiss diplomat and scholar.

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Dr. Steven Dilday holds a BA in Religion and Philosophy from Campbell University, a Master of Arts in Religion from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia), and both a Master of Divinity and a  Ph.D. in Puritan History and Literature from Whitefield Theological Seminary.  He is also the translator of Matthew Poole's Synopsis of Biblical Interpreters and Bernardinus De Moor’s Didactico-Elenctic Theology.

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