Friday, 24 February 2012

Time and Eternity


Yesterday I considered one of the major metaphysical distinctions - between stasis and change; another related matter is between Eternity and Time.

The distinction is one which underpins many of the apparent disputes among Christians - some are explaining Eternity from a perspective of Time, some (few, but influential) are explaining Time from a perspective of Eternity.

Probably, the perspective of Eternity is neither possible, nor necessary, nor helpful to most Christians - but among intellectuals it can be a stumbling block: then there must be some kind of model to relate Time with Eternity.


Time -  - Eternity

Directional causation: past causing present - - Stasis: no causation.

Secondary - - Primary

The true - - The Truth

Man - Christ (arrows pointing both ways) - God

Man (mortal, in time) - Angels (immortal, in time) - God (timeless)

Salvation - - Heaven

Plato - - Aristotle

Mystical - - Abstract

Monasticism - - Engagement

Eastern Orthodoxy explanations - - Roman Catholic metaphysics


Christianity does not need any elaborate or explicit metaphysics, as the teachings of Christ (such as the parables) demonstrate.

But many intellectuals crave at least a little explicit metaphysics! St. John the Apostle and Evangelist and St Paul the Apostle provide ample justification for some degree of intellectual engagment with metaphysics.

This craving can, I think, be satisfied - up to a point, and so long as it does not develop into an addiction...


If we adopt a Man's eye view, in Time; then Eternity, Heaven, can only be glimpsed 'from' Earth in revelatory moments of mystical communion - moments out-of-Time, when Time-stands-still, when our temporal perspective opens-out into a universal awareness that is contemplative and disengaged.

If we adopt a God's eye view, rooted in Eternity, stasis, universality - then this is at the cost of descending into abstraction - making a model to represent things (as I have done above), then attending to the model instead of the things it represents.


Although both approaches are valid, my strong instinct is that what Christians need strengthening here and now, is the first and 'Platonic' view - which regards Man as rooted in Time but with mystical glimpses of Eternity.

My feeling is that the second perspective is too prone to intellectualism and professionalisation, too close to secular modern Leftism, and too easily gets drawn-into the world.

The Aristotelian, metaphysical emphasis is perhaps too tempting for intellectuals, since it apparently guarantees them a special place of high status as philsophers - understanders and explainers.


By contrast, Platonism is much simpler, yet less coherent - and its problems are answered by moving-out from philosophy and into direct experience of the transcendent.

This is the necessity for mysticism. It it like a glue which (from a philosophical perspective!) holds-together, completes and makes coherent the very simple metaphysical system.

And mystical contemplation is an activity at which intellectuals are perhaps less adept than non-intellectuals. In a system of Platonism, authority lies with the contemplative monk, not the philosopher.


Aristotelian metaphysics in its Thomist, Christian form is perhaps the greatest intellectual achievement of Man. It may be the right perspective for some societies in some historical eras. But I think we need something which is very clearly distinct from the prevailing trends that we try to resist.

Simple mystical Platonism should suffice as a metaphysical system - especially beneficial because it shifts authority away from intellectuals and because its defects so obvious point to the necessity for completion by experience: especially prayer (plus liturgy and sacraments - where available).

We need more monasteries, not more universities; more hermits, not more professors!


And also because simple Platonic Christianity is so clearly other-worldly.

In a life of endemic and numbing distraction, we need continually to be reminded that the Earth is not our home; Heaven is our home.

From Earth, and for most people, Heaven can only be glimpsed, and that briefly.

And that is precisely why the Earth is not our home.



Anonymous said...

Peter S. said...

The classic study on this topic is Ananda Coomaraswamy’s “Time and Eternity” – to my knowledge, it has never been bettered. (

Mr Tall said...

Superb and thought-provoking post.

The word that keeps appearing in my mind as I think about this question is 'revelation'. The man's-eye view requires it, doesn't it? The most elegant and essential truth cannot be worked out or produced, only received, recognized and accepted.

Deferring to revelation curbs intellectual grandiosity.