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I. Traditionally, Eternity has been understood in two ways:

  1. Eternity1: sempiternity, i.e., existing at each time.  For example, perhaps energy/mass is eternal in this way. A sempiternal thing is in time, but has no beginning and no end in time.
  2. Eternity2: eternity proper, i.e., totally independent of time because a thing eternal in this sense is not in time, doesn't exemplify temporal items, and doesn't involve temporal items.  For example, Augustine thought of God in this way; probably Plato thought of Forms and their relations this way.

To these two traditional notions, one might add:

II. Some reasons for holding that God is properly eternal (eternal2):

III. Boethius: "eternity is the complete possession of an endless life enjoyed as one simultaneous whole."

Here, divine simplicity is expressed in terms of timeless eternity, in which the "simultaneous whole" of God’s existence is neither before nor after the temporal order of our world. Rather, the entirety of our temporal world is simultaneously "present" to God’s contemplation. Thus, the divine nature "must necessarily always be its whole self, unchangingly present to itself, and the infinity of changing time must be as one present before him."

This is the traditional, exalted picture of a transcendent God who exists wholly beyond the boundaries of time. Unfortunately, as we have seen, this view is hopelessly incompatible with the Bible. For how could a timeless, eternally changeless being "remember" or "regret" any of its actions? Indeed, how could such a being be said to perform any actions at all?

If the traditional view is correct, then, and God is truly timeless, what seems to follow is the impossibility of divine action in the temporal world. Surely one cannot have it both ways, and speak of a timeless God who is also a "Judge who discerns," and an auditor of prayer. How could it be possible to relate any of God’s actions (such as judging or listening to prayer) to the temporal order of our world without admitting that "we share time with God."

Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, Peterson, Hasker, Reichenbach, Basinger, New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.

IV. Possible accounts of eternity:

  1. First Definition: Eternity as a non-temporal, non-successive, partless duration. Hence:
    • God not in time
    • no succession in God (divine simplicity)

    • Problem: how can duration be non-successive?
    • all worldly events simultaneously present to God

    • Problem: since simultaneity transitive, some world-events both simultaneous and non-simultaneous.
  2. Second Definition: Eternity as tenseless successive duration, while time is tensed.  Hence:
    • no past, present and future for God.  In this sense God’s life “all at once”.
    • succession in divine duration.
    • non-simultaneous parts in divine duration
    • God not in time, because time is tensed

    • Problem: Dates apply to God; but some dates simultaneous with, say, past events. Hence tenses apply to God.
  3. Third Definition: Eternity as a present (tensed) instant  outside time (nunc stans), while time is tensed.  Hence:
    • no successive parts in eternity because instants are partless.
    • eternity unlimited because no instant before or after
    • eternity is a permanent present, nunc stans (tensed)

    • Problem: “remaining present” entails presence through some instants.  So, how can an instant have any permanence?

  4. Fourth Definition: Eternity as a tenseless instant outside time and time is tenseless.   Hence:

    • no successive parts in eternity
    • eternity unlimited because no instant before or after
    • eternity not a present instant (nunc stans).
    • all moments in tenseless time exist equally for God.
V. Objections to view that God is outside time, and hence has no temporal  relation to the world.


  1. Nirvikalpa Samadhi (see).

  2. Dharmadhatu:

    Dharmadhatu literally means "realm of dharmas," and refers to the collection of all dharmas. "Attaining Buddhahood" (Enlightenment, Awakening to the Absolute, etc.) means having transcended all and any limitations that are due to artificial concepts, subconscious activities, desires and feelings, will and attachment, time and space, etc., and having regained the original state of Dharmadhatu in harmonious oneness.

    Dharmadhatu is neither limited by space nor by time. According to the correct view of Dharmadhatu all dharmas in the past, all dharmas at present and all dharmas in the future are all together in the Dharmadhatu. Ordinarily people can experience only a minute part of all dharmas at present, and therefore people sustain the view that dharmas in the past are gone and future is unpredictable. If one practices according to Buddhist teachings and thereby comes out of the bondage of the fixed view of a space-and-time framework, then it is possible to experience or witness dharmas in the past as well as dharmas in the future.

  3. The following regarding Eternity, by the Wanderling, is from the Addendum to ON REBIRTH: Buddhism and Reincarnation:

    The key to rebirth is the return to the mix of that which you are "made" to be used again. An entity cognizant of the passage of time might extrapolate, feel, or sense a possibility of anything from the immediate to eons. To that entity, YOU for example, it could seem forever or it could be right now. However, in eternity NO time exists. In that there is no start or finish in eternity, otherwise it wouldn't be eternity, no reference points exist to measure against, hence there can be no time. With no time, immediate or eons become moot. Whether something is instantaneous or takes forever is just the same. If ALL that which you are made of reconstituted itself into an entity that is again cognizant of time would be pure happenstance. Sorry.

Nowhere in the world of things spiritual, especially so as found in eastern religious beliefs, is time, the existence of time or the non-existence of time more prevalent or delivered or experience with a higher impact than what is found in the legend and stories surrounding the mystical hermitage high in the Himalayas hidden beyond the mists of time sometimes called Shangri-La, but also know by other names such as Shambhala and Gyanganj. For an intriguing run down touching on such themes please see:



Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.











(please click)


'Philosophers and theologians have spoken of the `nunc stans', the abiding now, the instant that knows no temporal articulation, where distinctions between now, earlier and later have fallen away or have not arisen. All of us know, I believe, poignant moments that have this timeless quality: unique and matchless, complete in themselves and somehow containing all there is in experience.'  

H. LOEWALD, 'Comments on Religious Experience', in Psychoanalysis and the History of the Individual, New Haven 1978


EZIO VAILATI, Ph.D. (University of California at San Diego, 1985), Professor, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. Teaching and research interests in the history of modern philosophy, the history of modern science, and metaphysics. He also has a Personal Homepage  Representative publications include "Leibniz on Reflection and its Natural Veridicality," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1987; "Leibniz on Locke on Weakness of the Will," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1990; with Paolo Mancosu, "Torricelli's Infinitely Long Solid and Its Philosophical Reception in the Seventeenth Century," Isis, 1991; "Clarke's Extended Soul," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1993; and "Leibniz and Clarke on Miracles," Journal of the History of Philosophy, 1995. In addition, he has authored Leibniz and Clarke: A Study of their Correspondence (Oxford University Press: 1997) and has edited Clarke: A Demonstration of the Nature and Attributes of God (Cambridge University Press:1998).  At present Professor Vailati is working on causation and divine concurrence in early modern philosophy and studying quantum mechanics.