Eternity as Time’s Possibility

Anselm’s Theology of the Possible, part 17

This inclusive, both/and dialectic of Anselm’s doctrine of divine presence within time invites comparison with I believe to be the more either/or, zero-sum approach of his near contemporary, St. Peter Damian. For Damian, God’s transcendence over time arguably came at the expense of his immanence within time and, as a consequence, at the virtual expense of the reality of time. Because every moment of time is eternally present—and hence permanently and atemporally possible—for God, the passing of time and its “tensedness” is ultimately illusory, a perception limited to our creaturely finitude. Anselm’s doctrine of God’s presence in or with time, by comparison, is appreciable for its opposite tendency, inasmuch as his “penetration” into and effective habitation within a given moment may be seen to fix rather than evacuate it of its inherent temporality. For Anselm, a given moment of time is no banal, temporal possibility which is simply “there” with its content to be either observed or determined (or even re-determined, à la the conventional Damian) by God, for it is only God’s intentional creative presence at and for a given moment that makes that moment to exist in the first place.[1] Put in terms of my thesis on possibility, the temporal order is not an otherwise empty logical or metaphysical space or container that makes God’s presence possible, but it is God’s active, creative presence that brings into being the creaturely possibility that is time.[2] Briefer still, God’s creative presence makes time possible, and not vice versa.

 


[1] As Leftow puts it, “if God does not exist at some time, there can be no time there at all. So if there are times at all, Anselm concludes, God is there…. Without the present of God’s power, no time could exist… as He is simple, God = God’s power. Hence God is Himself present with His effects.” Leftow, Time and Eternity, 185.

[2] Leftow offers this image: “Anselm’s doctrine of temporal omnipresence would say that God is present where and when His creatures are, in something like the way a field of force is present in an area in which the effets of that field are perceptible…. God is temporally omnipresent because we know that He is the sustaining cause of all time…” Leftow, Time and Eternity, 187.

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