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Rethinking Protology and Eschatology

I’ve commented before on the issue of protology and eschatology, arguing along with Robert Jenson for understanding the future, rather than the past as ontologically primary. The future, rather than the past is determinative for the ultimate shape of our being. However, in line with Jenson’s own thinking, any conception of eternity is some sort of union of the past and the future, it is some form of temporal transcendence which encapsulates the present by bracketing the past and the future thus rendering all three tenses of time somehow meaningful and coherent. As such our notion of eternity, and the ontological priority of the future cannot simply play protology and eschatology off against one another as if there were no reality whatsoever to the Alpha, leaving the Omega alone with ontological status. Whatever else eternity is, it must include the reconciliation of past, present, and future in such a way that all temporal realities find their redemption and transfiguration, not their abrogation.

Thus, it seems possible to hold that we can indeed posit something like John Milbank and David Bentley Hart argue for in their narration of an ontology of original peace. What we cannot do is allow ourselves be sucked into the sort of timeless, cyclical ontology of emanation and return (as I fear Milbank sometimes comes close to). However, avoiding this problem should not necessarily deter us from openness to a notion of primordiality or original harmony. This original harmony must, if it is to be a fruitful concept be understood in an Irenaean manner in which the original harmony of creation is retroactively determined by and towards its eschatological end in Christ. We cannot dispense with the Alpha, but we must insist that the glory of the Omega, while in total continuity with the Alpha, is in some sense more glorious, just as the New Jerusalem is more glorious than the Edenic Garden. The end is greater than the beginning, and precisely in so being, infuses the beginning with meaning and beauty.

17 Comments

  1. Bobby Grow wrote:

    amen!

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 3:11 pm | Permalink
  2. Bobby Grow wrote:

    What “sense” do you see the omega as greater than the alpha in? I totally agree that the recreation in Christ is greater than original creation; but then what does this imply about original creation? I.e. that it was just instrumental in ushering in God’s apocalyptic life through Christ.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 3:17 pm | Permalink
  3. Tim F. wrote:

    Hi, Halden,

    Though I haven’t commented until now, I have enjoyed reading your last two posts.

    I have a question of clarification. What is greater about the Omega compared to the Alpha? Certainly, God is not any greater or more glorious, right? It seems you are discussing humanity’s experience of eternity, which is a participation in the sheer plentitude that is God. Is this correct?

    I ask, because eternity for Jenson, is nothing other than the life that is Father, Son, and Spirit. Hence, we must be careful how we say things like God’s future , which is his very being as the Holy Spirit for Jenson, is greater than God’s past or that the future has ontological priority over the past.

    Blessings,

    Tim F.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 3:24 pm | Permalink
  4. Halden wrote:

    Bobby, I wouldn’t say that creation is instrumental, because the end to which creation is apocalyptically directed is creation’s true destiny. The Omega is greater than the Alpha in much the same sense that the ultimate outcome of my life will be greater than my life’s beginning. This, however does not imply any negation of the beginning, but rather its fulfillment and transfiguration. The beginning exists for the sake of the end, the end is not a return to the beginning.

    Also, I am saying that, in some sense this is true not only for us, but originally and primordially for God. God is the Alpha and the Omega, but God’s eschatological glory, while completely in continuity with God’s protological harmony is, in some sense greater, more magnified. Of course, what sense that is I think we can never say, because we shall never understand the fullness of God’s Trinitarian being.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 3:27 pm | Permalink
  5. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Thank you for the clarification Halden, that makes sense.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 3:32 pm | Permalink
  6. Halden wrote:

    Tim, some of what I said to Bobby should address your question, though I’m not quite satisfied with how I’m putting things. In no way do I want to suggest that God changes from one state to another (i.e. God used to be like this and now God is like this). But, if God’s being is in becoming (rather than some form of static simultenaeity), and if God’s infinity is the positive infinity of overcoming and surpassing all boundaries, then I think we can say that there is a sense in which God’s eschatological glory surpasses what was in the beginning…and that simultaneously the Omega corresponds in perfect harmony with the Alpha.

    So God does and doesn’t change. But God really does change…and God really doesn’t.

    Gah!

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 3:36 pm | Permalink
  7. Bobby Grow wrote:

    Usually when I come to the “gah” point I just worship ;-)!

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 4:12 pm | Permalink
  8. Halden wrote:

    That’s one big reason why I keep pursuing this apocalypse stuff. It inevitably leads to that point.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 4:18 pm | Permalink
  9. Hill wrote:

    Maybe it would be helpful to suggest that the glory that is the “result” in some sense of the bringing in to being and finally in to the eschatological redemption of humanity is (always) already fully actualized in God.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 4:20 pm | Permalink
  10. Halden wrote:

    Maybe, Hill, or something very much like that. But I want to say that whatever is always-already actualized in God is in some sense retroactively constituted by the future reality of the eschaton. Much in the same sense that Jesus’ identity as the Son of God is in some sense contingent on his being resurrected. If Jesus has not been resurrected then this God simply is not. In light of the resurrection we can say that therefore Jesus always was the Son, but it is only because of the resurrection that this “always was” exists and makes any sense. I feel the same way about God’s eschatological glory some how retroactively establishing and being the source of God’s eternally actualized reality. But figuring out how to express that is the challenge.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 4:29 pm | Permalink
  11. Hill wrote:

    I think that the “future reality” of the eschaton is only a future reality from the point of finite creation. There was never an interval in which God’s glory was not accomplished or the degree of its magnitude somehow in doubt. I can’t imagine anything else.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 4:54 pm | Permalink
  12. Halden wrote:

    What about the interval of Holy Saturday? It seems to be very much in doubt in that interval and only retroactively is that null space rendered meaningful by the event of resurrection.

    I agree that this sort of talk skirts the edge of the sayable and messes with the imagination quite a bit. But I want to keep plumbing such depths.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 4:57 pm | Permalink
  13. Hill wrote:

    In doubt to us, maybe, but that’s what I’m getting at. Our appreciation of God’s glory will no doubt be enhanced when every veil and cloud of sin is removed, and thanks be to God for that. I don’t think, however, that there was any interval of actual diminution of God’s glory or threat of failure, even in Holy Saturday, which I must admit, remains a kind of inexhaustible mystery. That is likely the nature of these investigations, generally. This is very similar to the idea of the felix culpa, so perhaps there are some traditional resources one might bring to bear on the question. Even if I can’t explain it, I nonetheless participate in liturgically affirming it every Easter:

    “O felix culpa quae talem et tantum meruit habere redemptorem”

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 5:30 pm | Permalink
  14. Tim F. wrote:

    Halden,

    I don’t see how simultaneity requires God to be static. The simultaneity of how I experience time is full of becoming and motion, yet it is also all simultaneously present to myself; I don’t experience a break between the present and the past, despite being able to name these things. Of course, this is only an analogy; God’s simultaneous now/present is not exactly like this. My point is that an understanding of God’s eternity that affirms the simultaneity of time to God (ie God’s transcendence) does not require a static “being” or God. The static mode of being you are thinking of presumes a bare spatial extension without temporality. God has neither space nor temporality strictly speaking, since he created both. Yet, his non-possession of these “qualities” do not limit him as you rightly note: he can and does overcome all boundaries. Thus, it seems fitting to say that God both lacks time and takes time as his being is the (over abundent) fullness of temporality. Perhaps we simply need to say both and realize they’re both true. The duck-rabbit that Wittgenstein uses is helpful in this regard.

    As a side note, Jenson’s way of putting it that God is timefull (not timeless) is both helpful and (intentionally) provocatively deceptive. It’s deceptive because it makes us think that God experiences time like we do, but, of course, Jenson doesn’t think this since nothing recedes or approaches in God’s life. I think you’re right once again that we must continue to wrestle with these complex issues, because this is certainly part of the renewing of our minds.

    Blessings,

    Tim F.

    Thursday, August 14, 2008 at 6:37 pm | Permalink
  15. Chris wrote:

    This original harmony must, if it is to be a fruitful concept, be understood in an Irenaean manner in which the original harmony of creation is retroactively determined by and towards its eschatological end in Christ.

    This is good stuff, and it’s an important, which may help alleviate some of the above concerns. It’s also much more, but certainly not less, than the felix culpa.

    Irenaeus, for example, taught that our first parents were fashioned with the potential for living in righteous as well as unrighteous ways. Unfortunately, they sinned due to evil chioices. But this sin, it turns out, is part of God’s plan for his creation. God therefore intended for all people to live in a context in which trangression inevitably occurs, for only in the context of such freedom (to do God’s will or not) do people learn to become (if you don’t mind, Halden) inhabitatio Dei. Thus this supercedes the so-called volitional view in that, as the original post states, God’s intentions find their yea and amen in Christ, and then from Christ back to the originial creation and on to the future.

    I’m not so sure I buy all the details, but maybe this stands behind what Halden was getting at above when he writes: “The end is greater than the beginning, and precisely in so being, infuses the beginning with meaning and beauty.”

    Friday, August 15, 2008 at 11:28 am | Permalink
  16. Hill wrote:

    I think we still have to affirm the radical contingency of sin. There is no way in which God intended us to sin so that we might know him in a more full way. That makes God not God. There are no rules which he must follow in order to reveal himself to us. In other words, God doesn’t require sin to reveal himself to us fully.

    Friday, August 15, 2008 at 5:31 pm | Permalink
  17. Halden-

    Can someone say “before there was time”? If eternity exists outside of time then how can we say “eternity past”? Yet Jesus said, “Before Abraham was, I am.”

    Also, if creation itself will be redeemed, is the earth eternal? Yet God says that He will change the earth and heavens like changing garments, Psalm 102:26.

    Do you have any past posts on these ideas? Thanks.

    Have fun and stay busy – Luke 19:13

    -The Orange Mailman

    Friday, August 22, 2008 at 6:33 pm | Permalink

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