"Eternity," wrote the great 5th century philosopher Boethius, "is the simultaneous and complete possession of infinite life" [1]. Prima facie, such a rendering of "eternity" retains as much ambiguityóor so it seems to meóas the very notion of which it claims to proffer a definition. Specifically, it raises the question, and rather forcefully if one might add, of how we are to understand the meaning of the phrase "complete possession of infinite life," as it is expressed within the context of Boethiusí distinction between "time" and "eternity." It behooves us then, to inquire into the exact nature of this distinction, examining both its rational basis and possible implications with respect to the reconciliation of the doctrines of Godís foreknowledge and freedom of the will. To this task we shall now proceed.

According to Boethius, the meaning of "eternity" is found to be manifest most distinctly in its comparison with that which is temporal, that is to say, that which is conditioned by time. In the discussion that follows, Boethius attends to an explication of this concept, remarking that, "All that lives under the conditions of time moves through the present from the past to the futureÖ" [2]. He thus conceives of time as consisting of an ongoing succession of present moments characterized by the experiences of "being", "becoming," and finally, "having been." For the temporal being, asserts Boethius, life is no more than a changing, fleeting momentó"It cannot comprehend tomorrow; yesterday it has already lost" [3].

In contrast, "eternity," that is to say, atemporal existence, is seen as constituted by an ever-abiding present; a present that never becomes a past, and is at the same time devoid of a future. "Eternity," as Boethius envisions it, consists in the simultaneous grasping of, what from the perspective of a temporal being would be termed, the "past, "present," and "future." Accordingly, all moments of time are, from an eternal perspective, immutably present. It is this "grasping" or "apprehension" of all past and future moments (temporally perceived; i.e. by human beings.) within an unchanging eternal present that, for Boethius, constitutes eternityís "simultaneous and complete possession of infinite life."

On the basis of our foregoing considerations then, it becomes possible for one to discern, rather clearly, the degree to which the distinction between "time" and "eternity" relates to the so-called incompatibility between Godís prescience and human free-will. In fact, for Boethius, this distinction presents itself as crucial to the rapprochement of these two seemingly irreconcilable doctrines.

As the reader might recall, the position that Boethius extends so earnest an effort in arguing against, purports to have discovered a difficulty which necessarily precludes the harmonious co-existence of both Godís prescience, or foreknowledge on the one hand and freedom of will, on the other. The argument can be summarized thusly: If God is said to foreknow all things, including of course, every future human action (i.e. good actions, evil actions, etc.), then the occurrence of these actions of which God has foreknowledge are bound to occur by virtue of the necessity of Godís certain knowledge of them. The upshot of this argument is that either Godís prescience or human free will is non-existent--a disastrous and unacceptable conclusion for the Medieval Christian mind.

Yet, according to Boethius, the problem is not insoluble, but rather requires us to draw a sharp distinction between the concept of "eternity," and that of "time." On this view, Godís foreknowledge is not thought of as consisting in a knowledge of events that are about to happen (which presupposes God foreknowing in the same manner as a temporal being), but as embracing all events and actions in an ever abiding presentóa present that is not subject to time, but transcends it.

The question that remains to be determinably answered is whether or not this distinction solves the problem. I submit that it does. In order to demonstrate this, we will now have recourse to a simple example; one that Boethius himself utilizes. Suppose we, in this present moment, have occasion to observe both a man walking and the sun rising simultaneously. It soon becomes obvious to anyone who undertakes such a venture that both of these events involve their respective necessity and contingency. But who would dare to plumb the depths of absurdity by claiming that their having certain knowledge of these two events somehow causally imparts some necessity to them? And if one is sober-minded enough to admit that present knowledge imparts no necessity upon a particular event, then on what legitimate grounds may one argue that Godís "foreknowledge" implies any such necessity? For if Godís foreknowledge consists in the simultaneous apprehension of all moments of timeópast and futureóas an immutable present, it follows then, that the latter instance entails no more of a "necessity" than the former.

One might still object that free-will pre-supposes the ability to arbitrarily change oneís course of action as one sees fit, and that the supposition that all of time is perceived by God as a unchanging present does very little to obviate the aforementioned difficulties. It might be argued, for instance, that even if the above distinction between time and eternity were granted, the actualization of free-will would still pose difficulties with respect to Godís knowledge. If I possess the unfettered ability to do anything I please at this present moment, then Godís eternal knowledge--a knowledge presumed to be static and wholly immutable--must now change with me. In what sense then would God possess foreknowledge, if this foreknowledge were in a perpetual state of arbitrary flux, and therefore uncertain at any given moment?

This argument against Boethiusí position, like most others, is vitiated by its inability, if not downright pertinacity, to transcend the cognitive dimension of temporality, and thus the notion of temporal succession. In other words, by construing temporal change (i.e. human actions) as an insurmountable difficulty, it simply assumes, at the very least, implicitly, that perhaps God experiences the vicissitudes of time (e.g. "being," "becoming," etc.). On the contrary, that is exactly what Boethiusí position expressly denies. Thus, any argument that attempts to circumvent this position must, of necessity, divest itself of this sort of inveterate "temporalism" [my word].

On the basis of the above considerations then, we may, with a measure of confidence, affirm that the basic distinction between "time" and "eternity," is probative, and therefore preserves both the doctrines of Godís foreknowledge and human free-will inviolate.
 

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