On Eliot’s Journey of the Magi
T. S. Eliot’s Journey of the Magi, a poem of 43 lines, was one of a collection of poems with Christmas subjects “suitably decorated in colours and dressed in the gayest wrappers,” published by Faber and Faber to celebrate the season. However, if one bothers to read the poem there is nothing gay or celebratory about it. It reflects the dark musings of a pagan king who has seen the Christ child, knows that his birth will upend the world, but is hardly thrilled at the prospect. Perhaps the magus would be better off dead. First, the poem, and then a few comments on it.
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I’ve posted before on eternity, but there is much to say on this endless subject. The first thing to figure out is what eternity is. There are two main contenders:
- Eternity is time without beginning or an end, sometimes called sempiternity.
- Eternity stands outside of time. It is a perspective on time, but not time itself. Eternity is nunc stans, from the Latin meaning remaining now, unchanging. Ordinary time is nunc fluens, time that flows or passes.
The second way of thinking about eternity is often attributed to Plato (Timaeus 37c-e), but it became theologically significant in the work of Augustine (Confessions, book 11). God, and only God, is eternal. Earthly time, temporal time, is so insubstantial and illusory as to border on non-being (Erie, p 62). Just as humans can only find fulfillment in God, so they can only find fulfillment in eternity. God and eternity are virtually the same thing.
Now is a ceaselessly moving point between past and future. It is ephemeral, and totally lacking in substance. For this reason, time has no value. I was going to write, “ordinary time just is,” but the thing about time is that its substance, moments, have no substance. They are gone the instant they have begun.
Eternity is the opposite. It is always present and everywhere. In eternity all time is now. How to make sense of this? I like the simple explanation of C. S. Lewis. He is answering the question how could God hear every prayer uttered by all who are praying at the same time.
Continue reading Eternity again and again