Necessity or Eternity

What is necessary is necessarily eternal, but the eternal is not necessarily necessary.

Time – which is to say, congeries of contingent events, that are causally related and that therefore, together, constitute worlds, extensive continua along time, space, and myriad other dimensions – occurs in eternity. It occurs eternally (and only then, and only in virtue of its eternal occurrence, temporally), but not necessarily. It occurs freely. So likewise also for God’s Act.

Eternal acts can be free. They are not necessarily necessary. Some may also be temporal, such as this moment in your life, or the Incarnation.

Necessities comprise what Whitehead called the Primordial Nature of God, and Plato the Realm of the Forms: the Nature in virtue of which there is such a thing as order in the first place, the order of all order. The free eternal Act of God, and all its derivates in his knowledge, comprise what Whitehead called the Consequent Nature of God. Both these Natures are eternal, and indeed coterminous, in that together they characterize a single Act; so that they are sections of a single Nature. But of the two, only the Primordial Nature is necessary.

NB: God’s omniscient knowledge does not continge upon creaturely acts, but vice versa. It is only in virtue of his logically prior knowledge of creaturely acts that creatures may act in the first place.

10 thoughts on “Necessity or Eternity

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  3. “God’s omniscient knowledge does not continge upon creaturely acts, but vice versa. It is only in virtue of his logically prior knowledge of creaturely acts that creatures may act in the first place.”

    So, would the process go…

    God knows what we will do freely in a given situation

    —–>

    We do what God knows that we will do freely in a given situation?

    This kind of confuses me. It almost sounds a little like “we are only thoughts in the mind of God.” God’s knowledge of what we do with our free will would seem dependent on us, for that free will is ours, and we must have it for God to know it. Unless He is positing only potentialities of a theoretical free will. I really want to avoid Calvinism.

    • It is indeed confusing. For me, the confusion always enters in because I have fallen back into thinking of the process as if it were stepwise, and temporally ordered: God knows what we will do, *and then* we do it. The confusion snuck into that last sentence at the word “will.”

      God – and the whole of time – exist and transpire in eternity. Sub specie aeternitatis, the whole of time transpires at once. This does not mean that, as between themselves, the events that are temporally ordered really have no causal effect upon each other – it does not mean that they are not really temporally ordered. So, our apprehension of time is not false.

      A spatial analogy might help. You can’t see me, and I can’t see you, but both of us are visible from that satellite up there. That the satellite can see us both does not mean that our invisibility to each other is somehow merely specious. Likewise for time: that God can see the whole history of the world does not mean that intramundane perspectives, which cannot, are false.

      We are limited to our intramundane perspectives, but God is not.

      God is omniscient; among other things, this means that his knowledge is *absolutely dispositive* of what actually exists. His knowledge *just is* his power to create. If God does not know that you now go to the store, he knows that you do *not* now go to the store, *and therefore you do not go to the store,* and *nor can you be at the store.* God can’t err, so he can’t know that you are at the store unless you are indeed at the store. So you can’t be at the store at all unless God knows you are at the store. God’s knowledge is absolutely prior, logically, to – well, to everything – but, certainly, to creaturely actuality.

      Thus things all without exception come to pass in virtue of God’s knowledge that they come to pass – or else they never come to pass at all. This is captured in Scripture and doctrine by the notion of the Word, by which all things are created: “Fiat lux” is both the creation of light and the knowledge that light exists; the Divine knowledge of light is the very occasion of light.

      But none of this entails that there is in fact no real light, and that light is rather only a figment of God’s imagination. If that were the case, then God would be, not omniscient, but delusional, in imagining the real existence of light (he’d also be impotent to create). Nor likewise does it entail that you yourself are not the one who decides that you do now go to the store.

      God’s knowledge that you are at the store does not somehow force you to be at the store. Your shopping trip is not determined ahead of time. Sub specie aeternitatis, there is no such thing as “ahead,” nor any perspective from which you are not yet at the store, but will be. God knows that you go to the store, and you do really go to the store; your going and God’s knowledge of it are accomplished in and by way of the single exhaustively comprehensive motion of eternity.

      God also knows you might not go to the store, and in virtue of his knowledge, it is true that you really might not go to the store.

      I should note finally that if God did not know that creatures have real options, then he would have no real options, either. His own creative Act would in that case follow with ironclad logic from the necessary character of his own Primordial Nature, and he would be nowise free, or therefore an agent. Aristotle would argue that in that case he would not exist at all – no freedom, no Act; no act, no actuality. Nor therefore would anything else exist, since all other things – all events whatsoever – depend ontologically upon God’s prior existence and his creative Act.

      It’s freedom or nonbeing, for God and for his creatures.

      None of the foregoing is inconsistent with Calvinism, so far as I can tell.

      • You’re welcome. The satellite analogy is indeed superb, and I feel no embarrassment in so saying, for it is not mine. I think I have encountered it, or something like it, in almost every exposition of divine eternity I have read.

        Usually it is employed to explain how God can see our future as his own present. All I did was use it to point out that the fact of the satellite’s perspective doesn’t entail the falsehood of our inability to see each other here on the surface of Earth. It doesn’t mean that our perspective is false, but rather only that it is partial.

  4. Kristor:It is indeed confusing. For me, the confusion always enters in because I have fallen back into thinking of the process as if it were stepwise, and temporally ordered: God knows what we will do, *and then* we do it. The confusion snuck into that last sentence at the word “will.”

    It’s a species of the error, into which we all fall, of thinking that there is such a thing as “The Future”, which is analogous to “The Past”.

    But in truth — from our perspective as time-bound beings — there is no such a thing as “The Future”. Even to say, “there are a myriad of potential futures” may be taken as a mis-statement of the matter, due to that “be” verb. So, keeping in mind that this “myriad of potential futures” do not exist, for they are potential rather than actual, God knows them all.

    That God also knows the on-going (from our perspective) actualization of “The Present” from that myriad of potential futures-becoming-present does not destroy creaturely freedom, nor contradict the all-knowing-ness of God.

    • Just so. From God’s perspective, furthermore, what is future and inactual from our perspective is actual, a living reality. This is as much as to say that the future is not future to him. But neither then is it past to him; nor even is what is past to us past to him. His omniscience and ubiquity mean that every time and place in every world is for him right here, right now.

      I should note also that when God says “fiat lux,” he says, among other things, “let light be according to the essential nature of light.” I.e., “let light be just what light would tend to be.” He knows that nature, of course, and it is according to that nature that he creates the light. In effect, he says, “let the light do what light would do.”

      Likewise when he creates a moment of Mark’s life, he says, in effect, “let Mark do what Mark would do.”

      • I like to think of it by an analogy (and metaphor) —

        One may recall that human authors frequently “explain” their tales in terms of the characters “taking on lives of their own” and/or “the characters telling the author what happens next in the story”.

        So, when we consider God as the Author of the story in which we find ourselves, that “explain” that human authors may have for their stories takes on flesh, in that the characters in *this* story are real in a way that, say, Frodo, cannot be. For, in *this* story, the Author has entered the story himself, and brought real life to has characters.

        So, in this great story, the characters really do tell the Author what happens next in their part of the story. Usually, the Author will concur with the character, even when the character’s choice is contrary to its best interests. Sometimes, though, the Author will say, “No, this is what really happened

      • A great metaphor. I have thought since I was a boy that the characters in the stories that most gripped my imagination must be somehow real, albeit not in our cosmos, so that the authors of such stories were in some way making imaginative contact with other worlds that might be actual. When I was a boy, I could not bear to think that there is simply no such thing as Gandalf or Merlin, period full stop. Likewise also for Arthur, Parsifal and Ogier, and indeed Balder and Thor. They just had to be real, somehow, or else how could they have engaged me so? How else could their worlds be so coherent and vivid, so compelling and pertinent to our own?

        I was intrigued then as I grew to read novelists saying that their characters took on a life of their own, so that the stories seemed to write themselves, and the novelists felt rather more like secretaries than authors, properly speaking. This reminded me irresistibly of Mozart and Byrd recounting how compositions arrived in their minds complete and all at once, like Athena bursting from the forehead of Zeus fully armored. Indeed, *exactly* like that. Or – as the train of thought chugged along – like the way that light burst forth from nothing but the mind of God, by way of his Word, and through the Holy Spirit.

        Meinong suggested that there may be something to this boyish notion; that, indeed there had to be, in order for us to be able even to think about, say unicorns. How might that be?

        Well, the Forms can be understood as variables that may be more or less instantiated in a given thing. The Form of the basketball, for example, partakes of the Form of sphericity, more or less, along with some others. The Forms may be combined in infinitely many ways. Each such combination is itself a Form. Map all such combinations to an n-dimensional configuration space (where n is the number of fundamental Forms, whatever that might be), and each point thereof will pick out a specific event in some history of some world. Each such event might or might not come actually to pass, depending on all sorts of things.

        A life, then, a creaturely career – of an object, a person, a city, a cosmos – would describe a curve in that configuration space.

        This configuration space would be the object of what the Molinists call God’s Middle Knowledge – his knowledge of what might or might not come to pass in all possible histories of all possible worlds, given his own Nature – given in, and by, his own Nature.

        Because the Forms are all logically related, so are all the points of the configuration space. Each such point, and the curves on which it lies, is then in logic accessible to any other, by the sort of inference Plato described in the Meno, wherein discovery of knowledge of the Forms through logical or mathematical reasoning is a process of remembering more carefully what one is, and so already implicitly knows. Novelty enters a world when an event apprehends and appropriates to itself the Form specified by a point in the configuration space which is not yet actually present in that world. Physical transactions are then a type of such apprehensions of other points in the configuration space, in which eventuating occasions apprehend the Forms of prior actual occasions, which then inform them.

        To us, the events of other worlds may be formally accessible, at least in principle, by ratiocination – i.e., by an operation of the rational imagination, through which the Forms are discovered, are grasped and taken (in Whitehead’s terms, prehended, and apprehended).

        So somewhere there is at least potentially a Gandalf, and he with his characteristics may be communicated to our world by imaginative contact with his form. Somewhere there is a Shire, whether or not it is yet actual in and to itself, that may inform our world – as, indeed, it already has. The means of this information are no more mysterious, or less, than the means by which the world is informed by the numbers h or 7 or π.

        Writers of demonic or nihilist stories, then, are in grave danger. The imagination is like a palantir. It can take you anywhere, or bring anywhere to you. Thus the critical importance in the spiritual life of mental chastity.

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