On Eternity

I have written about the science of ‘eschatology’ in the past. In a sense, eschatology is the ‘final science’ given that a major part of this science is the concept of ‘eternity.’ And as Hannah Arendt suggested, in order to understand the concept of ‘eternity,’ one must first distinguish ‘eternity’ from ‘immortality.’ Within the bigger scheme of the cosmos, everything is in a sense ‘immortal’ except for man himself. In turn, the “concern with the eternal” and contemplation itself are “inherently contradictory and in conflict with the striving for immortality” which is at the heart of public affairs. 

Hence, the “experience of the eternal” can only occur “outside the realm of human affairs and outside the plurality of men” as demonstrated by Plato’s ‘Allegory of the Cave’ whereby the philosopher “having liberated himself from the fetters that bound him to his fellow men, leaves the cave in perfect ‘singularity,’ as it were, neither accompanied nor followed by others.” Contemplation becomes the hallmark feature of the eternal life or experience of the eternal, and then there is “the eventual victory of the concern with eternity over all kinds of aspirations toward immortality” over the long run. The striving for an “earthly immortality” becomes both “futile and unnecessary.” 

Celibacy is seen by certain religious folks as an “attempt to leap out of fallen time” in order to “return to God’s eternity” given that procreation is a means of “perpetuating the species in fallen time.” Thus, there is a “higher time” and a “profane” or “secular time” that have to be taken into consideration, which in turn means that eternity is “an ascent into the unchanging” and “a kind of gathering of time into a unity” given its standing within a “higher time” that is elevated over “profane” or “secular” time. Any “chain of events” in profane and secular time is then “interwoven” with eternity, to borrow from Charles Taylor. And despite the “disenchantment” which has occurred through the intensification of the “modern-time experience” and of profane and secular time, eternity can still be felt in certain places, events, and actions. 

In one way, the “eschatological promise” of eternity is achieved through a form of ‘bodily and sexual asceticism’ which helps in “getting troublesome desires out of the way, which were impeding the soul’s ascent.” Thus, bodily and sexual asceticism signifies “the new orientation to God, a way of belonging to the Kingdom.” Why religious archetypes are important is because all individual forms culminate into a single and comprehensive archetype. The intellect is just one of these archetypes which signify the culmination of all individual forms into one single archetype. 

There is also the issue of Earth’s creation, and whether the earth itself has a duration that is eternal and whether the existence of earth ever had a beginning in time. This issue pertains to what is known as the “cosmological argument,” the exploration of which is better suited for a separate discussion. But as Thomas Aquinas argued, because God is intertwined with eternity and the infinite, it is not outside of God’s power to create something infinite. Thus, having the Earth be something that is infinite and eternal is not outside of God’s power, even though God is the only infinite being. 

And as Ibn Arabi argued, the world will exist as long as the “Perfect Man” or “Vicegerent” who embodies the intellect exists. Yet, it follows that: “The world is visible and the Vicegerent is invisible. That is why the sultan is set under veil.” In turn, there is knowledge that is eternal and knowledge that “comes to be” as Ibn Arabi argued. Why knowledge shapes existence is because existence itself is also eternal and non-eternal. The “primordial state” of existence is what evinces the eternal form of existence, and in turn, the primordial state enables the individual to be ‘liberated’ from the confines and limitations of profane and secular time. Liberation then amounts to “union” with what is divine or eternal, or the divine and eternal principle. Moreover, there cannot be anything other than an “eternal present” given that all circumstances and events in profane and secular space and time are interwoven with a higher time that is centered on eternity. 

The fall of Adam out of the Garden of Eden, for instance, symbolizes man’s fall from his eternal center or “primordial state” and into the temporal sphere. The ‘Holy Grail’ is then kept as a symbol of this lost eternal center. Eternity also suggests immutability, which means that one’s true eternal nature as obviated by the “primordial state” can never be changed or erased. Anything other than eternity and the “primordial state” – even purgatory and limbo and hell – must then be transient and temporary. In an earthly and physical sense, the eternal center or “Garden” is maintained within the spirit. The spirit is then sustained through contemplation and prayer. Yet, the paradox is that while the spirit stands for the eternal center, only God is eternal. Thus, the essence of the spirit remains a mystery and is part of an eternal knowledge that one must strive for eternally, which means that intellectualism and the spiritual path eventually gravitate towards what is solely eternal. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s