God’s blessings to you on this the eighth day of January in the year of our Lord’s incarnation 2017.
I was talking on twitter with someone recently who apparently hadn’t encountered the idea of aeviternity. It’s a scholastic term (scholasticism being most closely associated with Saint Thomas Aquinas) which denotes a created eternity. And eternity refers to, not an infinite amount of time, but timelessness. We live in linear time, that is, we exist in a succession of moments , one after another, which have no access to each other except that each is causally related to the moment directly following. Thus our existence is spread over a collection of moments we have no access to; we are not so much beings as becomings. We are continually coming into being, but at the same time, departing from it; what we are is, at any given moment, a razor-thin slice. Though our memory we remember the past, that is, we re-member it, but this is only calling it to mind and does not make it any more real, but it does enable us to forget how our being is scattered over myriad moments we have no control of.
By contrast, eternity is an eternal present, where there is neither coming into being nor fading out of being, but the fullness of being. You can spell it with a capital B, i.e. Being, if you like; but it’s what our memory integrating our past moments merely hints at. Since eternity is not a succession of moments, it does not interact with us as if it were a succession of moments, but rather it interacts with all of our moments simultaneously—from eternity’s perspective. Of course from our perspective, which consists of nothing but moments, eternity interacts with us moment by moment. But it has this advantage over us: since our future is equally present to eternity as our now is and our past is, eternity can foretell our future (where our future is not disturbed by this revelation).
A common analogy for this interaction of eternity with time is an author writing a book. It’s far from perfect because human authors exist in linear time, but they at least exist in a different linear time from the sequence of events which takes place in the book they’re writing. Thus they can put foreshadowing or even prophecy of events to come into the earlier parts of books because they’ve already read the later parts of the book. This is also not a great analogy because characters in a book don’t really have free will—though, I will say, having written several novels by now, it can really feel like they have free will to the author. I’ve had characters decide to do things that I never meant for them to do, and even a few times didn’t want them to do. I don’t mean that this feeling proves that they have free will—I don’t think that they do. I’m just noting it in case I’m somehow wrong, and they in fact do. 🙂
When I had explained this, my interlocutor brought up a curious objection I hadn’t heard before:
[The idea of aeviternity] negates the punishment of Satan somewhat. He is in hell forever, but also enjoying his actions as a sinner forever as well.
Of course my first thought is, “who cares?” I mean, given that separation from God is the worst possible thing, if there were some minor consolation, well, why would one begrudge that to Satan? Doesn’t vindictiveness miss the point? But then a moment’s actual consideration shows that to be anthropomorphising Satan. In particular, thinking of him as being in time. It is invoking the separation between sin and action which is possible to creatures in time but not creatures out of time. Because for those of us in time, sin is said to be pleasurable not in itself, but because of its effects. The pleasurable effects are, themselves, good. The pleasure “of sin” is thus derived from natural goods which were used incorrectly.
This will be easiest to explain by example. Take adultery. When a man cheats on his wife and has sex with another woman, this is both sinful and pleasurable. But it is the cheating which is sinful and the sex which is pleasurable. The sex is, in itself, good, and so in the moment when the sex is happening it is this good which is enjoyed. Sex, whether in wedlock or not, is cooperating with God in the creation of new people, and our bodies know this. Or rather they presume it, because of course we can use contraceptives and lie to our bodies, etc. (Sex during infertile periods is still ordered towards procreation, even if it doesn’t achieve it, and thus is still taking part in the goodness from which the pleasure is naturally derived.) The main problem with this procreation is that the man is in no position to be a good father to any children which he engenders, and further that if he does engender children he will cease to be a good father to the children he has made with his wife—if he ever was a good father to them. There are other damages which it causes, though most of them are dependent on this (whether the people so injured understand it as such or not). The sin consists in the damage caused (or very technically, in the good not participated in), and since no one can take pleasure in harming his children, it is clear, I think, that the pleasure of this sin is not in the sin, but in the goodness which is obtained sinfully. This is possible only because the good obtained and the damage caused are separated by time; even in more direct cases the good obtained and the knowledge of the damage caused are separated by time such that it is possible to enjoy the goodness before receiving the knowledge of the evil caused by taking the good incorrectly.
This is not possible for an aeviternal being; there can be no separation between a good participated in and the damage caused by it such that there is space between them to enable the enjoyment of that good. Aeviternal creatures can sin by looking for good in the wrong place, but unlike temporal sinners they can’t be temporarily mistaken about whether they’ve found it. Satan may sin, but he can’t be sinning by obtaining illicit pleasure. He must be doing it for some other reason than that.
And while concupiscence (basically, inordinate desire) may be why many human beings sin, it cannot be why angels sin. For anyone who is confused at this point how an angel can sin, then, it might help to remember that there are other deadly sins besides lust, greed, and gluttony.
Glory to God in the highest.