Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Catholic Dogmas of God's Immutability and Transcendence of Time



God is Not Subjected to the Limitations of Time, as Human Beings Are

Orthodox, historic Catholic theology holds that God is outside of time (indeed, is the creator of time), and that He is immutable. Descriptions such as "jealousy" applied to God are usually held by orthodox theologians to be anthropomorphic (intended to make God more comprehensible to limited human beings, rather than being literally true). Here are some typical statements in this regard, by St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas:
God's anger implies no perturbation of the divine mind. It is simply the divine judgment passing sentence on sin. And when God "thinks and then has second thoughts" this merely means that changeable realities come into relation with his immutable reason. For God cannot "repent" as human beings repent, of what he has done, since in regard to everything his judgment is fixed as his foreknowledge is clear ... But it is only by the use of such human expressions that Scripture can make its many kinds of readers whom it wants to help to feel, as it were, at home. Only thus can Scripture frighten the proud and arouse the slothful, provoke inquiries and provide food for the convinced. This is possible only when Scripture gets right down to the level of the lowliest readers.

(St. Augustine, City of God, 15:25)

It is written, I am the Lord, and change not. (Mal. 3,6) I answer that, From what precedes, it is shown that God is altogether immutable. First, there is some being, whom we call God, and that this first being must be pure act, without any admixture of potency, for the reason that, absolutely, potency is posterior to act (Q.III, A. 3). Now everything which is in any way changed is in some way in potency. Hence it is impossible for God to be in any way changeable.

(Summa Theologica, First Part, Q.9, art.1)

Past, present and future do not exist in eternity, which, as we have said, is an instantaneous whole. But the Scriptures use verbs in the past, present and future to apply to God.

(Summa, First Part, Q. 9, art. 1, obj. 3)

God is said in turn to repent; not in the sense that his eternal disposition has changed, but some effect of his is changed. Hence Gregory says: "God does not change his plan, though at times he may change his judgment", not, I say, the judgment which expresses his eternal disposition, but the judgment which expresses the order of inferior causes, in accord which Ezechias was to have died, or certain people were to have been punished for their sins. Now such a change of judgment is called God's repentance, using a metaphorical way of speaking, in the sense that God is disposed like one who repents, for whom it is proper to change what he had been doing. In the same way, he is also said, metaphorically, to become angry, in the same sense that, by punishing, He produces the same effect of an angry person.

(Summa Contra Gentiles, Bk. 3, Pt. 2, q.96:15)
Let's examine now Catholic dogma regarding these matters. First, I consult Dr. Ludwig Ott's Fundamentals of Catholic Dogma (edited in English by James Canon Bastible; translated by Patrick Lynch, Rockford, Illinois: TAN Books and Publishers, 1974, from the fourth edition of May 1960; first published in German in 1952):

God is absolutely immutable. (De fide.)

The 4th Lateran Council and the Vatican Council teach that God is immutable (incommutabilis) D 428, 1782. Holy Scripture excludes all change from God and positively ascribes to Him absolute immutability . . .

The Fathers exclude all change from God . . .

St. Thomas bases the absolute immutability of God on His pure actuality, on His absolute simplicity and on His infinite perfection . . .

(pp. 35-36)

God's Eternity

Eternity is a duration without beginning and without end, without sooner and later, a "permanent now" (nunc stans). The essense of eternity is the absolute lack of succession . . .

God is eternal (De fide.)

The dogma asserts that God possesses the Divine Being without beginning and without end, and without succession in a constant undivided now . . .

St. Augustine says that God's eternity is a constant present: "The eternity of God is His Essence itself, which has nothing mutable in it. In It there is nothing past, as if it were no longer, nothing future, as if it had not been. In It there is only 'is,' that is, the present" (Enarr. in Ps. 101, 2, 10).

(pp. 36-37)

God's Knowledge Is Infinite. (De fide.)

[ . . . ]

2. God's Knowledge Is Purely and Simply Actual

As God is pure (actus purus), there is in His knowing no transitions from potency to act, no habitus, no succession, and no progress from the known to the unknown. God's knowing is neither potential nor habitual, neither successive nor discursive. God knows all in one single indivisible act (simplici intuitu). Cf. S. th. I 14, 7.

(p. 39)

God knows all real things in the past, the present and the future (Scientia visionis). (De fide.)

. . . The difference between past, present and future does not exist for the Divine Knowledge, since for God all is present.

(p. 41)
Now I shall cite Henry Denzinger: The Sources of Catholic Dogma (I have the 13th edition of 1954; translated by Roy J. Deferrari; Fitzwilliam, NH: Loreto Publications). Denzinger is available online. All bolding is my own.
LATERAN COUNCIL IV 1215

Ecumenical XII (against the Albigensians, Joachim, Waldensians etc.

The Trinity, Sacraments, Canonical Mission, etc.*

Chap. 1. The Catholic Faith

(Definition directed against the Albigensians and other heretics]

428 Firmly we believe and we confess simply that the true God is one alone, eternal, immense, and unchangeable, incomprehensible, omnipotent and ineffable, Father and Son and Holy Spirit: indeed three Persons but one essence, substance, or nature entirely simple. The Father from no one, the Son from the Father only, and the Holy Spirit equally from both; without beginning, always, and without end; the Father generating, the Son being born, and the Holy Spirit proceeding; consubstantial and coequal and omnipotent and coeternal; one beginning of all, creator of all visible and invisible things, of the spiritual and of the corporal; who by His own omnipotent power at once from the beginning of time created each creature from nothing, spiritual, and corporal, namely, angelic and mundane, and finally the human, constituted as it were, alike of the spirit and the body. For the devil and other demons were created by God good in nature, but they themselves through themselves have become wicked. But man sinned at the suggestion of the devil. This Holy Trinity according to common essence undivided, and according to personal properties distinct, granted the doctrine of salvation to the human race, first through Moses and the holy prophets and his other servants according to the most methodical disposition of the time.

[link]
THE VATICAN COUNCIL 1869-1870

Ecumenical XX (on Faith and the Church)

SESSION III (April 24, 1870)

Dogmatic Constitution concerning the Catholic Faith *

[ . . . ]

Chap. 1. God, Creator of All Things

1782 [The one, living, and true God and His distinction from all things.] * The holy, Catholic, Apostolic, Roman Church believes and confesses that there is one, true, living God, Creator and Lord of heaven and earth, omnipotent, eternal, immense, incomprehensible, infinite in intellect and will, and in every perfection; who, although He is one, singular, altogether simple and unchangeable spiritual substance, must be proclaimed distinct in reality and essence from the world; most blessed in Himself and of Himself, and ineffably most high above all things which are or can be conceived outside Himself [can. 1-4].

[link]
That's only the beginning; there is much more:
ST. MARTIN I 649-653 (655)

THE LATERAN COUNCIL 649

(Against the Monothelites)

The Trinity, the Incarnation, etc.*

254 Can. 1. If anyone does not confess properly and truly in accord with the holy Fathers that the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit [are a] Trinity in unity, and a unity in Trinity, that is, one God in three subsistences, consubstantial and of equal glory, one and the same Godhead, nature, substance, virtue, power, kingdom, authority, will, operation of the three, uncreated, without beginning, incomprehensible, immutable, creator and protector of all things, let him be condemned [see n. 78-82, 213].

[link]

COUNCIL OF LYONS II 1274

Ecumenical XIV (concerning the union of the Greeks)

Declaration Concerning the Procession of the Holy Spirit *

[The Most Exalted Trinity and the Catholic Faith]

[ . . . ]

Profession of Faith of Michael Palaeologus *

[ . . . ]

463 He will come to judge the living and the dead, and will return to each one according to his works whether they were good or evil. We believe also that the Holy Spirit is complete and perfect and true God, proceeding from the Father and the Son, coequal and consubstantial, co-omnipotent, and coeternal through all things with the Father and the Son. We believe that this holy Trinity is not three Gods but one God, omnipotent, eternal, invisible, and unchangeable.

[link]

A Decree in Behalf of the Jacobites *

[From the Bull "Cantata Domino," February 4, Florentine style,

1441, modern, 1442]

703 The sacrosanct Roman Church, founded by the voice of our Lord and Savior, firmly believes, professes, and preaches one true God omnipotent, unchangeable, and eternal, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; one in essence, three in persons; . . .

[link]
* * * * *
(ST. SERGIUS I 687-701)

COUNCIL OF TOLEDO XV 685

Protestation concerning the Trinity and the Incarnation *

[From "Liber responsionis" or the "Apologia" of Julian,

Archbishop of Toledo]

294 . . . We have found that in that book of response to our faith, which we had sent to the Roman Church through Peter the regent, it had seemed to the Pope already mentioned (Benedict) that we had carelessly written that first chapter where we said according to divine essence: "Will begot will, as also wisdom, wisdom," because that man in a hurried reading thought that we had used these very names according to a relative sense, or according to a comparison of the human mind; and so in his reply he commanded us to give warning saying: "In the natural order we recognize that the word takes its origin from the mind, just as reason and will, and they cannot be changed, so that it may be said that, as the word and the will proceed from the mind, so also the mind from the word or the will, and from this comparison it seemed to the Roman Pontiff that the will cannot be said to be from the will." We, however, not according to this comparison of the human mind, nor according to a relative sense, but according to essence have said: Will from will, as also wisdom from wisdom. For this being is to God as willing: this willing as understanding. But this we cannot say concerning man. For it is one thing for man not to will that which is, and another thing to will even without understanding. In God, however, it is not so, because so perfect is His nature, that this being is to Him as willing, as understanding. . . .

[link]

EUGENIUS III 1145-1153

COUNCIL OF RHEIMS * 1148

Confession of Faith in the Trinity *

389 1. We believe and confess that God is the simple nature of divinity, and that it cannot be denied in any Catholic sense that God is divinity, and divinity is God. Moreover, if it is said that God is wise by wisdom, great by magnitude, eternal by eternity, one by oneness, God by divinity, and other such things, we believe that He is wise only by that wisdom which is God Himself; that He is great only by that magnitude which is God Himself; that He is eternal only by that eternity which is God Himself; that He is one only by the oneness which is God Himself; that He is God only by that divinity which He is Himself; that is, that He is wise, great, eternal, one God of Himself.

[link] [cf. #993: Trent]
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that God created time; therefore He transcends, or is outside of time (since if He were subject to it He couldn't create it in the first place):

338 Nothing exists that does not owe its existence to God the Creator. The world began when God's word drew it out of nothingness; all existent beings, all of nature, and all human history are rooted in this primordial event, the very genesis by which the world was constituted and time begun.207
[207 Cf. St. Augustine, De Genesi adv. Man. 1,2,4: PL 34,175.]
The Catholic Encyclopedia reiterates the above ("The Nature and Attributes of God"):
When we say that God is infinite, we mean that He is unlimited in every kind of perfection or that every conceivable perfection belongs to Him in the highest conceivable way. . . .

Eternity
By saying that God is eternal we mean that in essence, life, and action He is altogether beyond temporal limits and relations. He has neither beginning, nor end, nor duration by way of sequence or succession of moments. There is no past or future for God -- but only an eternal present. If we say that He was or that He acted, or that He will be or will act, we mean in strictness that He is or that He acts; and this truth is well expressed by Christ when He says (John 8:58 -- A.V.): "Before Abraham was, I am." Eternity, therefore, as predicated of God, does not mean indefinite duration in time -- a meaning in which the term is sometimes used in other connections -- but it means the total exclusion of the finiteness which time implies. We are obliged to use negative language in describing it, but in itself eternity is a positive perfection, and as such may be best defined in the words of Boethius as being "interminabilis vitae tota simul et perfecta possessio," i.e. possession in full entirety and perfection of life without beginning, end, or succession.
The eternity of God is a corollary from His self-existence and infinity. Time being a measure of finite existence, the infinite must transcend it. God, it is true, coexists with time, as He coexists with creatures, but He does not exist in time, so as to be subject to temporal relations: His self-existence is timeless. Yet the positive perfection expressed by duration as such, i.e. persistence and permanence of being, belongs to God and is truly predicated of Him, as when He is spoken of, for example, as "Him that is, and that was and that is to come" (Revelation 1:4); but the strictly temporal connotation of such predicates must always be corrected by recalling the true notion of eternity. . . .
Immutability
In God "there is no change, nor shadow of alteration" (James 1:17); "They [i.e. "the works of thy hands"] shall perish, but thou shalt continue: and they shall all grow old as a garment. And as a vesture shalt thou change them, and they shall be changed: but thou art the selfsame and thy years shall not fail" (Hebrews 1:10-12, Psalm 101:26-28. Cf. Malachi 3:6; Hebrews 13:8). These are some of the Scriptural texts which clearly teach Divine immutability or unchangeableness, and this attribute is likewise emphasized in church teaching, as by the Council of Nicaea against the Arians, who attributed mutability to the Logos (Denzinger, 54-old No. 18), and by the Vatican Council in its famous definition.
That the Divine nature is essentially immutable, or incapable of any internal change, is an obvious corollary from Divine infinity. Changeableness implies the capacity for increase or diminution of perfection, that is, it implies finiteness and imperfection. But God is infinitely perfect and is necessarily what He is. . . .

Divine Knowledge
That God is omniscient or possesses the most perfect knowledge of all things, follows from His infinite perfection. In the first place He knows and comprehends Himself fully and adequately, and in the next place He knows all created objects and comprehends their finite and contingent mode of being. Hence He knows them individually or singularly in their finite multiplicity, knows everything possible as well as actual; knows what is bad as well as what is good. Everything, in a word, which to our finite minds signifies perfection and completeness of knowledge may be predicated of Divine omniscience, and it is further to be observed that it is on Himself alone that God depends for His knowledge. To make Him in any way dependent on creatures for knowledge of created objects would destroy His infinite perfection and supremacy. Hence it is in His eternal, unchangeable, comprehensive knowledge of Himself or of His own infinite being that God knows creatures and their acts, whether there is question of what is actual or merely possible. Indeed, Divine knowledge itself is really identical with Divine essence, as are all the attributes and acts of God; but according to our finite modes of thought we feel the need of conceiving them distinctly and of representing the Divine essence as the medium or mirror in which the Divine intellect sees all truth.
The article on "Eternity" highlights the same notions of immutability and transcendence of time:

. . . That is how and why we represent the Divine existence as a life. It is a life, moreover, not only without beginning or end but also without succession -- tota simul, that is without past or future; a never-changing instant or "now". It is not so difficult to form some faint notion of a duration which never began and shall never end. We hope that our own life shall be endless; and materialists have accustomed us to the notion of a series stretching backward without limit in time, to the notion of a material universe that never came into being but was always there. The Divine existence is that and much more; excluding all succession, past and future time-indeed all time, which is succession-and to be conceived as an ever-enduring and unchanging "now". . . .

If, now, we apply to the time-line what we have been attempting in that of space, the infinite, unchangeable point which was immensity becomes eternity; not a real succession of separate acts or changes (which is known as "time"); nor even the continuous duration of a being which is changeless in its substance, however it may vary in its actions (which is what St. Thomas understands by an aevum ); but an endless line of existence and action which not only is not actually interrupted, but is incapable of interruption or of the least change or movement whatsoever. And as, if one instant should pass away and another succeed, the present becoming past and the future present, there is necessarily a change or movement of instants; so, if we are not to be irreverent in our concept of God, but to represent Him as best we can, we must try to conceive Him as excluding all, even the least, change or succession; and his duration, consequently, as being without even a possible past or future, but a never beginning and a never-ending, absolutely unchangeable "now." This is how eternity is presented in Catholic philosophy and theology. The notion is of special interest in helping us to realize, however, faintly, the relations of God to created things, especially with regard to His foreknowledge. In Him there is no before or after, and therefore no foreknowledge, objectively; the distinction which we are wont to draw between His knowledge of intelligence or science or prescience and His knowledge of vision is merely our way of representing things, natural enough to us, but not by any means objective or real in Him. There is no real objective difference between His intelligence and His vision, not between either of these and the Divine substance in which there is no possibility of difference or change.

. . . it is not true to say that God either saw or foresaw anything, or that He will see it, but only that He sees it. . . . It is only in relation to the finite and mutable that there can be a before and after. And when we say, that, as faith teaches, the world was created in time and was not from eternity, our meaning should not be that the existence of the Creator stretched back infinitely before He brought the world into being; but rather that while His existence remains an unchangeable present, without possibility of before or after, of change or succession, as regards itself, the succession outside the Divine existence, to each instant of which it corresponds as the centre does to any point in the circumference, had a beginning, and might have extended indefinitely further backward, without, however, escaping the omnipresence of the eternal "now" . . .

Sources

The basis of all later treatment of the question of eternity is that of ST. THOMAS, I, Q. x. For a fuller exposition see SUAREZ, De Deo, I, iv; IDEM, Metaphysica, disp. l, ss. 4 sq.; LESSIUS, De perfectionibus divinis, IV.
The Hebrew stylistic aspect of anthropomorphism is very common in Scripture, and acknowledged by virtually all Bible scholars. The Catholic Encyclopedia article, "Anthropomorphism" explains:

. . . Anthropomorphism is the ascription to the Supreme Being of the form, organs, operations, and general characteristics of human nature. . . . The Bible, especially the Old Testament, abounds in anthropomorphic expressions. Almost all the activities of organic life are ascribed to the Almighty. He speaks, breathes, sees, hears; He walks in the garden; He sits in the heavens, and the earth is His footstool. It must, however, be noticed that in the Bible locutions of this kind ascribe human characteristics to God only in a vague, indefinite way. He is never positively declared to have a body or a nature the same as man's; and human defects and vices are never even figuratively attributed to Him. The metaphorical, symbolical character of this language is usually obvious. The all-seeing Eye signifies God's omniscience; the everlasting Arms His omnipotence; His Sword the chastisement of sinners; when He is said to have repented of having made man, we have an extremely forcible expression conveying His abhorrence of sin. The justification of this language is found in the fact that truth can be conveyed to men only through the medium of human ideas and thoughts, and is to be expressed only in language suited to their comprehension. The limitations of our conceptual capacity oblige us to represent God to ourselves in ideas that have been originally drawn from our knowledge of self and the objective world. The Scriptures themselves amply warn us against the mistake of interpreting their figurative language in too literal a sense. They teach that God is spiritual, omniscient, invisible, omnipresent, ineffable. Insistence upon the literal interpretation of the metaphorical led to the error of the Anthropomorphites.
A respected standard Protestant Bible reference work concurs:
This anthropomorphic procedure called forth Divine rebuke so early as Ps 50:21: "Thou thoughtest that I was altogether such a one as thyself" . . . But . . . even that rich storehouse of apparently crude anthropomorphisms, the OT, when it ascribes to Deity physical characters, mental and moral attributes, like those of man, merely means to make the Divine nature and operations intelligible, not to transfer to Him the defects and limitations of human character and life . . . It is of the essence of religious consciousness to recognize the analogy subsisting between God's relations to man, and man's relations to his fellow . . .
It is a mere modern -- and rather unillumined -- abuse of the term anthropomorphic which tries to affix it, as a term of reproach, to every hypothetical endeavor to frame a conception of God. In the days of the Greeks, it was only the ascription to the gods of human or bodily form that led Xenophanes to complain of anthropomorphism. This Xenophanes naturally took to be an illegitimate endeavor to raise one particular kind of being -- one form of the finite -- into the place of the Infinite. Hence he declared, "There is one God, greatest of all gods and men, who is like to mortal creatures neither in form nor in mind."
But the progressive anthropomorphism of Greece is seen less in the humanizing of the gods than in the claim that "men are mortal gods," the idea being, as Aristotle said, that men become gods by transcendent merit. In this exaltation of the nature of man, the anthropomorphism of Greece is in complete contrast with the anthropomorphism of Israel, which was prone to fashion its Deity, not after the likeness of anything in the heavens above, but after something in the earth beneath.
(The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, ed. James Orr, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1956, vol. 1 of 5, 152-153, "Anthropomorphism")

For the closely related notion of God's impassibility (that I shall not treat at this juncture), see the articles:

Does God Suffer?, Thomas G. Weinandy (Capuchin priest), First Things, November 2001.

The Impassibility of God: Cyril of Alexandria to Moltmann, Dr. Robert Duncan Culver, Christian Apologetics Journal, Vol. 1, No. 1, Spring 1998.

Does God Have Emotions?, Patrick Lee.

Concepts of God (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy: 2nd section)

In discussing the notion of whether God is in time or not with an atheist, I made the following biblical, philosophical, and linguistic arguments:
It is obvious that God must be outside of time, if one accepts the description of Him that the Bible offers. For example: how does God create everything that exists, while still being in time? How does He create the universe in such a fashion? There is no time, according to modern physics, without the matter which time entails in order to have any meaning. An eternal, omniscient spirit is not subject to time because there is no sequence to either His existence or "thoughts."

One has to explain how there can be some mysterious thing called "time" before there was a material universe. What would it be? How could it be defined? What sense does it make to say that an eternal spirit-being is "in" it? What then changes when matter is introduced to the set of "real" things?

Both Newtonian and relativistic Einsteinian time depend on a material universe by which they are determined and measured: this involves the relationship of matter with other matter. Time is indeed another dimension (at least as I understand relativity, in layman's terms).

Therefore, it is impossible, even by modern physics standards, and any reasonable form of philosophy, to say that God could be "in time" and create the universe while being in such a state. It's a meaningless concept. Whatever the truth is, it can't be that, because it is nonsensical and utterly illogical.

Secondly, the Bible gives ample indication of timelessness; e.g., the description of God, "I AM," from the burning bush and Moses (Exodus 3:14-15). Jesus later repeated this (because He, too, is an eternal being), in saying, "Before Abraham was, I am" [ego eimi] (John 8:58). See also: Gen 21:33, Ps 90:2, Is 40:28, Hab 1:12, Rom 16:26, 1 Tim 1:17.

Greek scholar Gerhard Kittel (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament) explains the "I am" clauses:
The formulas [eimi: 'to exist' and ho on: 'I am'] express God's deity and supratemporality. Similar formulas occur in Judaism. The Greeks also use two- and three-tense formulas to express eternity (cf. Homer, Plato . . .). These possibly came into Revelation by way of the Jewish tradition, though a common source may lie behind the Greek and Jewish traditions.

ego eimi as a self-designation of Jesus in Jn. 8:58 (cf. 8:24; 13:19) stands in contrast to the genesthai applied to Abraham. Jesus thus claims eternity . . . The point is not Jesus' self-identification as the Messiah ('I am he') but his supratemporal being.

(pp. 206-207 of one-volume edition)
The section on aion ("age, aeon") elaborates:
The double formula 'for ever and ever' (Heb. 1:8), especially in the plural (in Paul and Revelation; cf. also Heb. 13:21; 1 Pet. 4:11), is designed to stress the concept of eternity, as are constructions like that in Eph. 3:21 ('to all generations for ever and ever').

a. aion means eternity in the full sense when linked with God (Rom. 16:26; 1 Tim. 1:17; cf. Jer. 10:10)

b. In the OT this means first that God always was (Gen. 21:23) and will be (Dt. 5:23), in contrast to us mortals. By the time of Is. 40:28 this comes to mean that God is eternal, the 'First and Last,' whose being is 'from eternity to eternity' (Ps. 90:2). Eternity is unending time, but in later Judaism it is sometimes set in antithesis to time. The NT took over the Jewish formulas but extended eternity to Christ (Heb. 1:10 ff.; Rev. 1:17-18; 2:8). Here again eternity could be seen as the opposite of cosmic time, God's being and acts being put in terms of pre- and post- (1 Cor. 2:7; Col. 1:26; Eph. 3:9; Jn. 17:24; 1 Pet. 1:20).

(pp. 31-32)
The word was used in the Septuagint translation of the OT (LXX). Plato had used it in the sense of "timeless eternity in contrast to chronos as its moving image in earthly time (cf. Philo)" (p. 31).

So this is how the word was understood. The Greek translators thought it was best to apply this word to God, and the increased development of understanding of philosophical-type issues of this sort added clarification to the Jewish and later Christian doctrine of God.

For God, there is no past moment. That's the whole point. All time is present or "now" to Him because He is "supratemporal," as Kittel describes it, and eternity is the "opposite of cosmic time." Or, as St. Augustine put it: "In It there is nothing past, as if it were no longer, nothing future, as if it had not been. In It there is only 'is,' that is, the present". "Past" to God is an irrelevant concept. It is only relevant to temporal creatures like ourselves. It's precisely because God is not in time that He can experience all moments (according to our perception) "now." He's not occupying one point of time and somehow making all the other points present.

God knows all along what He will do. He cannot possibly not know, because He is omniscient and out of time. He's already "there." All God is doing in instances of supposed "change" is showing He acts at times according to how men act. This necessarily follows from the nature of free will, and the possibility of heaven and hell for each person, but it doesn't follow that God changes.

For example, God could say, "if you accept My Son's death on the cross for you, repent, and persevere, you will be saved." He can also say to the same person, "If You reject the grace I have provided, sufficient for your salvation, you will be damned and end up in hell." God can say this, because that is the gospel message and warning to avoid hellfire. But it doesn't mean that He changed His mind or is somehow dependent on men. Everything is incorporated into His Providence, that transcends time and sequence and temporal succession as we know it.

The salvation or damnation of every soul is known to God and decreed from eternity. Therefore, there is no change. It always was what it is. For God it simply "is" because He is at all times "now." An omniscient being cannot change His "mind."

If God is not yet in the future, as orthodox Catholicism holds, then it makes a certain sense (though it still runs contrary to omniscience) to say that He can change His mind when He "gets" there, as in these "repent and I'll do so-and-so" biblical scenarios. But because in fact God transcends time, this makes no sense. Everything God does is "now" and cannot possibly change. This flows from both the nature of an eternal being and an omniscient one.

The same state of affairs is necessary for God to answer prayers. How could He answer all the millions of simultaneous prayers if He is in time? He could not. But since He is outside of time, He has all the "time" he needs to answer each one. C. S. Lewis compared God and his creatures to an author and his book (a novel). The book has it's own "time framework" but the author is outside of that. So when he picks up his unfinished book, he is right where he was when he left it, and has all the time he needs to continue writing "in" this "other world," so to speak.

The same applies to the saints, who are in some sense outside of time once they get to heaven (though not completely in the fashion that God is, since He is an eternal being and we are not).

Placing God in time smacks of process theology and rationalistic cults like Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons, that try to make God to be too much like human beings, and do not comprehend His marvelous transcendence. It also makes an idol out of Newtonian science, as if time is an absolute that even God is subject to. This is not true. God created time, and time is relative to the observer: be he a person or God. Thus, Einstein's relativity was more in line with Christianity than Newtonian physics, raised to an absolute metaphysical position in the universe.
Likewise, the Big Bang cosmology is more in line with the Bible than what preceded it (steady state universe, etc.).

* * *

Protestant theologian John Frame has written a very informative article that is, I believe (unless I missed something) harmonious with Catholic teaching: "Open Theism and Divine Foreknowledge". This can clear up many questions about "contingency" and conditional prophecies. See also the Catholic Encyclopedia article, "Prophecy", though it doesn't specifically address the issue of how God presents prophecies in relation to His foreknowledge and omniscience, and immutability.

For an extremely interesting (but not exclusively Christian or Catholic Christian) philosophical treatment of these sorts of issues, see "Prophecy" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy); also, "Immutability" in the same work. And "Divine Simplicity" and "Eternity". Also, along similar lines: "God and Time" (Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy). Also, St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa: First Part, Q. 10: The Eternity of God.

Paul Helm: J. I. Packer Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, has written a book defending the divine timelessness view: Eternal God: A Study of God Without Time (Oxford University Press, 1988). IVP (evangelical publisher) has put out a book: God & Time: Four Views. Protestant (?) writer George Pytlik defends God's timelessness: "Can God Change His Mind?" (part one / part two). Here are two good brief treatments from the Protestant website CARM (one / two). John Frame gives a very brief reply too.

Did the Incarnation affect God's immutability, though? No:
It is to be remembered that, when the Word took Flesh, there was no change in the Word; all the change was in the Flesh. At the moment of conception, in the womb of the Blessed Mother, through the forcefulness of God's activity, not only was the human soul of Christ created but the Word assumed the man that was conceived. When God created the world, the world was changed, that is, it passed from the state of nonentity to the state of existence; and there was no change in the Logos or Creative Word of God the Father. Nor was there change in that Logos when it began to terminate the human nature. A new relation ensued, to be sure; but this new relation implied in the Logos no new reality, no real change; all new reality, all real change, was in the human nature. Anyone who wishes to go into this very intricate question of the manner of the Hypostatic Union of the two natures in the one Divine Personality, may with great profit read St. Thomas (III:4:2); Scotus (in III, Dist. i); (De Incarnatione, Disp. II, sec. 3); Gregory, of Valentia (in III, D. i, q. 4). Any modern text book on theology will give various opinions in regard to the way of the union of the Person assuming with the nature assumed.

(Catholic Encyclopedia: "The Incarnation"; cf. St. Thomas Aquinas' related comments in the Summa)

2 comments:

Maroun said...

Hi Dave.
Man,where do you find the time to write that much?
i checked your post on This Blog





Saturday, November 13, 2010
Can God Change His Mind?: Dialogue With Bob Sungenis on God's Immutability, Omniscience, Atemporality, Simplicity, & Impassibility (Divine Emotions?)
I you tried so many times to ask Robert to check saint Thomas . Indeed i found this quote by saint Thomas (C. G., II, xxviii) that God cannot change His mind, since the Divine will is free from the defect of weakness or mutability. Such mutability would, it should be remarked, be a defect in the Divine nature (and therefore impossible), because if God's purpose were made dependent on the foreseen free act of any creature, God would thereby sacrifice His own freedom, and would submit Himself to His creatures, thus abdicating His essential supremacy--a thing which is, of course, utterly inconceivable .
And in fact when Robert quoted Ex 32:14: “So the Lord changed His mind about the harm which He said He would do to His people.”Saint Augustine how did this so called God changing His mind hapened.Actualy He never did,but because His people changed their ways ,the result was as if God also changed His mind,but actualy God never did change,but the people did.God since the begining did put life and death ,light and darkness in front of us,if we choose life and light then we will have blessings and if we choose death and darkness,then we will have harm...
So the one changing His mind is not God but our response to Him...
We must always remember that God speaks with us in a human way so that we understand....
I am very sorry Dave,maybe you didnt want anyone to interfere with your disagreament with Robert,but i just wanted to share as shortly and as simply as i can.
GBU and God bless also Robert...

Dave Armstrong said...

It was a great post, Maroun. Thanks.

I have the time to write all this because this is what I do for a living: fill-time Catholic apologist and author since December 2001.

My income is derived from book royalties, part-time income from moderating a forum at the Coming Home Network, and generous donations from my readers who believe in the value of this work.