Trinitarian Differentiation of Time and Eternity

First, I would like to return to Dalferth's suggestion of how the relationship between God and time can be conceived.285 I have already introduced Dalferth's revision of the view that God is eternal and therefore timeless. God's eternity cannot simply be "the negative Other of time"286 if God's relation to time is to be perceived as positive. Conversely, God also cannot simply be conceived as being temporally eternal in the sense of sempiterni-tas, because this does not permit the idea of a positive relation of God to time that maintains the difference between God and creation. In other words, mixing time and eternity by eternalizing time and temporalizing eternity is not a solution. It jeopardizes both the relatedness of God to the world and the difference between Creator and creation.

God's eternity is temporal, not in the sense of infinite duration, but rather in the sense of a multi-temporality: "God is close at all times in every time sequence."287 This multi-temporal presence of God would inevitably lead to a fragmentation of the idea of God, however, if we did not also simultaneously assume God's timeless presence: God's "co-presence with the multitude of times requires that God's eternity be conceived not merely as infinite temporality, but rather as a unity of timelessness and multi-tempo-


An acceptable concept of eternity therefore requires a twofold correction of the view of eternity that has been common since Augustine. First,

God should not be viewed as merely timeless; and, second, the ontological difference between eternity and time should be interpreted in light of the eschatological difference between old and new times, and not vice versa. In light of the eschatological difference, the timeless and temporal eternities of God are no longer mutually exclusive. Rather, the two should be considered together, "because God, based on the concrete event of God's temporal self-revelation, is seen in Trinitarian differentiation as Father, Son, and Spirit; and, correspondingly, God's relationship to time should also be viewed in a Trinitarian manner—that is, always different in the horizon of God's action of creation, of salvation, and of consummation."289 These differences are expressed as the timeless eternity of God the Creator, the multi-temporal eternity of the Spirit, and the temporality of the Son.

As Creator, God relates to creation as the divine Other, which, in turn, means "that God defines Godself as timeless in relation to time, i.e., to the timeless actualization of certain temporal possibilities."290 This describes the ontological difference between timeless eternity and time. The temporal eternity of the work of the Spirit is rooted in the intent of the Creator, namely, that creation exists coram deo, in the presence of the God who remains nearby. The multiplicity of times that are specific to events in creation determines the temporal eternity of the work of the Spirit as multi-temporality. Subsequently, the eschatological difference between old and new times is manifested in the temporality of the Son. Here, God's eternal temporality is made known as God's "timeless readiness to concede time to creation and to take time for creation eternally and temporally."291 Dalferth thus expresses the same time-eternity understanding of the Incarnation that we have already seen in a Christmas hymn by Martin Luther. The literal translation of the stanza reads like this:

The eternal Light enters there, gives the world a new glow;

it shines in the middle of the night and makes us children of the light. Kyrieleis.292

Eternal temporality (eternal Light) enters into time (shines in the night), which lends that which is located in time something new (makes us children of the light).

The main thrust of Dalferth's article is thus a time-eternity conception marked by a Trinitarian differentiation. This highlights the eschatological difference between old and new times to the disadvantage of the ontological difference between time and eternity. Dalferth himself summarizes his solution as follows:

God is related to creation, in triune fashion, as a differentiated unity of Father, Spirit, and Son: as the timeless foundation of everything, as the multi-temporal companion of everyone, and as the temporal mediator of salvation in the specific lifetime of Jesus Christ and of all who believe in him. God's eternity is the epitome of these time relationships and cannot be identified with any one of them as such.293

Dalferth's reflections lead us further at some important points: First, he frees theological discourse from the fetters of philosophy. Then, he is successful in overcoming exclusive alternatives, and he achieves a certain rela-tionality. He does this by creating relationships without being guilty of mixing concepts. Thus, relationality emerges within retained differentiation, as Dalferth himself subsequently formulates: "God does not simply belong to a realm above and beyond our world, but God is also not merely wrapped up in it [our world] and thus destroyed by its contradictions, ambivalences, congenialities, and horrors. Rather, God distinguishes Godself from it by establishing differences in it. . . ."294

What one misses in Dalferth's theory, however, is a more exact explanation of how the economic Trinity relates to the immanent Trinity. Without more clarity on this point, it is difficult to decide whether or not the Trinitarian differentiation of time is, in the end, more than an elegant phrase. Dalferth must also face the question of whether he does not ultimately give up the primacy of the eschatological difference when he anchors the onto-logical time difference in the Creator and the eschatological time difference in the Son. With respect to the Holy Spirit, the question of the Spirit's own role is sparked; it is not at all clear to what extent the Spirit's multi-temporal role is still necessary and constitutive after the positions of the Father and Son have been determined. This promising view of the Trinitarian differentiation thus falls short of its own claim. The new concept of eternity that is called for remains somewhat fuzzy; nevertheless, the proposed unity of timelessness and multi-temporality seems promising.

Pannenberg also wishes to think of the relationship of God's eternity to time in a Trinitarian perspective. Furthermore, he uses scientific models such as the field concept in his theology, which makes him an especially interesting dialogue partner. With respect to the philosophy of time, Pannenberg starts with Plotinus and Boethius.

According to Pannenberg, a genuine relationship of God to time can be conceived only "if the reality of God is not understood as undifferentiated identity but as intrinsically differentiated unity."295 According to Pannenberg, this is precisely what the doctrine of the Trinity accomplishes: "in virtue of trinitarian differentiation God's eternity includes the time of creatures in its full range, from the beginning of creation to its eschatological consummation."296 Pannenberg hereby assumes the unity of the immanent and economic Trinities.297

Thus, even here we have a concept that abandons the notion of eternity as nothing more than the opposite of time.298 Instead, we find a model that differentiates eternity and time, and still allows eternity to encompass the entire course of time. Pannenberg is interested in an inclusive definition of eternity, since an exclusive definition of eternity—as the negative Other of time—would wind up in the dead end of finiteness:

The thought of eternity that is not simply opposed to time but positively related to it, embracing it in its totality, offers a paradigmatic illustration and actualization of the structure of the true Infinite which is not just opposed to the finite but also embraces the antithesis. On the other hand the idea of a timeless eternity that is merely opposed to time corresponds to the improper infinite which in its opposition to the finite is defined by it and thereby shows itself to be finite.299

The end of time is to be understood in analogy to the death of the individual as the event when time is dissolved into eternity, whereby, according to Pannenberg, neither the characteristics of created reality nor the distinc-tiveness of time's moments and modes simply disappear. They are instead transposed into a kind of simultaneity.300 Eternity is the condition of the coherence in the sequence of temporal moments and should therefore be considered as the boundary301 and "structural foundation of time."302 The future, however, also plays a constitutive role for the essence of time, "because only in terms of the future could the totality be given to time which makes possible the unity and continuity of time's process";303 the future excludes a simultaneity of all times with eternity and thus creates a dynamic process that moves towards the end.304 These two statements about eternity and future are not contradictory only because, in the future of God's rule— that is, in the coming of God's reign— Pannenberg sees the beginning of God's eternity in time, as well as the place of eternity itself in time, and the place of God in God's relationship to the world.305

In the following sections, I will continue to focus on how Pannenberg portrays the time-eternity relation of the individual persons of the Trinity in his theology. I will now discuss the concepts of the eternal Father, the eternal Son, and the eternal Spirit.

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