Eternity containing time

On any account of eternity it contains all times, but on the lowest level all this means is that the eternity is timeline with arrows on both ends. Boëthius broke with this idea and made eternity something entirely different form time, but the tradition that followed him said that eternity did not just differ from but also contained time. But what sense can we make of eternity containing time?

One image is that eternity contains time like a vase contains water, in that both have a shape, but the vase has it in itself while the water doesn’t. Eternity contains time in the sense of bestowing an existence that time does not have of itself. But what could it mean to say that time has no existence of itself? One approach would be to notice that every analysis of time tends to problematize its existence, if not deny it altogether. Theories of time either assert that only the present is real or all times are equally real, but first does away with time since the present is no more time than a point is a line, and the second does away with time since if all times are equally real they would be so all at once, and to consider anything all at once is to occlude its temporality. Sure, it’s obvious that time exists, just as it’s obvious that the water is ten feet deep. On closer analysis, however, it turns out that saying that water is ten feet deep is tied up with its container being at least that deep, and so it is with speaking about the reality of time.

Eternity contains time in a more perfect way by gathering it together and giving it meaning. This is clear in the way that fashion differs from art, since fashion : art :: time : eternity. Both fashion and art  hit something ideal or paradigmatic, but the fad hits on this only transiently. Art arises from fashions only to the extent that it transcends their temporality. Art may never do this entirely – even Chartres looks old and Mozart sounds old – but it’s clear that we can reach an ideal beyond the merely current or historical, and to do so is to contain all times. Art is not a long-lasting fad but a transcendence of it, one which transcends precisely by not being limited to its time.

If this is right then the beauty of God is properly eternal and contains all being, in the way that art captures the ideal state of what it represents in a way that cannot be dated. With us, this art is always limited by the possibilities of the medium and our historical existence, but in creating ex nihilo these limitations are not a factor. The beauty of God is therefore his containment of the universe in the transcendence of any time, and to look upon him is both to recognize what was already known and to see it for the first time.

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