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Time and Eternity

This is the bulk of the text of an email in which Danie Strauss was responding on ThinkNet to questions about time and eternity. I think it provides an excellent understanding of Dooyeweerd's whole approach to the topic of time and how it relates to other ideas. I have 'unwrapped' the main text from three short 'emaily' paragraphs that surrounded it, but which I have preserved below.

Two Notions of Eternity

Without entering into an extensive discussion of the idea of eternity, I want to point out that what philosophers and theologians throughout the history said about eternity is actually dependent upon what kind of infinity they implicitly assumed (consciously or unconsciously): if they accept what is traditionally called the potential infinite (I prefer the expression: the successive infinite - endlessness in the literal sense of the word according to the numerical time-order at the law-side of the numerical aspect), eternity is viewed as an endless duration of time, and if they implicitly assumed the so-called actual infinite (what I call: the at once infinite - that is a numerical anticipation to the spatial time-order of simultaneity) eternity is seen as timelessness - a-temporality, often identified with the timeless present (Parmenides B Fr.8, 3-6, Plotinus, En.III/7; Boethius formulated his classical definition as follows: "Aeternitas igitur est interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio" - De Consolationis Philosophiae V,6; Augustin - De civitate Dei, XII,19; etc. etc. up to the "nunc aeternum" of Kierkegaard and the ideas of the Dutch theologian K. Schilder).

In short, by and large the metaphysical speculation about eternity was determined in a dominant way by the static spatial metaphysics of being since the discovery or irrational numbers by the Pythagoreans caused a switch from the thesis "everything is number" to the aspect of space (the geometrization of Greek mathematics). It is only since the rise of historicism that the last two hundred years witnessed a prominent re-emergence of the "endless duration" (successive infite) trandition. - for example exemplified in Oscar Cullmann's work "Christ and Time" (English translation 1949:48 ff.).

Dooyeweerd's Idea of Eternity and Time

Dooyeweerd introduced a radically new philosophy of time in which it is shown that succession and simultaneity are merely two (modal) expressions of the meaning of cosmic time - and that neither , as such, provides us with an integral idea of eternity.

The expression "temporal reality" is meant in an integral sense, encompassing all modal aspects and individuality-structures. Interestingly, before Dooyeweerd developed his philosophy of time he realized that the human being cannot be enclosed within the dimensions of modal aspects and entity structures: Dooyeweerd first realized that the human self-hood is supra-modal and supra structural, then developed his theory of cosmic time underlying and embracing the modal aspects and individuality-structures - and on that basis (unfortunately) equated supra-modal with supra-temporal.

I call this unfortunate while maintaining that it could hardly be denied that humanity has an eternal destination and that being human therefore hinges on the boundary-line of time and eternity - justifying at least some sense of the time-transcending nature of the core meaning of being human. Ouweneel and Troost both argued that one should explore the latter direction and they defended Dooyeweerd against the accusation of (neo-)Platonistic or Scholastic influences.

The Wrapping Paragraphs

Your primary concern is whether or not the distinction between time and eternity is biblical and in the second place you wonder whether or not Dooyeweerd's view of the supratemporality of the human heart is influenced by (neo-)Platonism.

First of all it is clear that the Bible does distinguish between time and eternity. Secondly, the issue seems to be twofold: what is the difference between a "biblical" and a "non-biblical" understanding of "eternity" and how do have to understood Dooyeweerd's idea of supertemporality.

The text above, less the headings.

An integral biblical idea of eternity has to focus the entire creational diversity upon God as the true Origin of everything (and I can recall very well that M C Smit in one of my "tentamens" emphasized that a distinctively biblical element was present in Augustine's thought in this regard because he understood that time itself is a creature). If the distinction between Creator and creation is biblically sound (and non-dualistic), why should the distinction between God-eternal and temporal creation be seen as dualistic?!

Danie Strauss, 9 April 2003. .

This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments would be welcome.

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Copyright (c) 2003 Danie Strauss.

Created: 2 July 2003. Last updated: