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"Eternity" - a motto on a wall clock in Meersburg, Lake Constance

Under eternity or something eternal is understood something that neither one time has a beginning nor an end in time and independent of the phenomenon exists time.

Concept history

The original meaning of eternity was probably “long period of time”, derived from the ahd. Ēwe “lifetime” (originally probably from ie. * Əiw- “lifetime, eternity”). Even in the 16th century, ewen to ewen was praying . Colloquially , eternity was understood to mean a long period of time (cf. even today in this meaning, for example, “It takes forever” - as an exaggeration). This shows that "endless" was originally just one of several possible meanings of the modern word eternal .

Due to theological influences - especially Augustine's view of time - the term “eternity” later assumed the meaning of “ timelessness ”.

Use in physics and philosophy

The concept of eternity is not scientifically defined because the known physical theories dealing with questions of cosmology do not formulate the concept of the infinite in a meaningful way. ( See also: Steady State Theory )

Philosophically one sees concepts of logic or mathematics as timeless, and in this sense as eternal. The concept of “infinite time” was developed by Plato and adopted by Plutarch and the later Stoa . It is the name for the limitless, in which all phenomena are located, the beginning or end of which cannot be thought. Plato regards eternity as the true form of being, i.e. H. as the mode of being of ideas that are free from all becoming. For the ancient thinkers the world was infinite; H. also beginningless.

Eternal things ( eternal in the sense of 'time-independent') seem to last unchanged from the beginning to the end of the time we are aware of, if we even notice them. Still, eternal is not to be equated with static .

Use in some religions

In particular, monotheistic religions ( Jewish faith , Christianity , Islam ) speak of eternal God or of the eternal kingdom of God and of eternal life . Eternity as an attribute of God expresses his existence independently and using temporal terms such as beginning and end. It is not necessarily associated with a concept of its immutability.

The eternal life promised to man leads to a participation in this eternity of God. However, some think this based on a beginning , after temporal death . The Bible, however (e.g. Joh 17.3  EU ) understands eternity as a quality concept. Accordingly, eternity does not begin after death, but begins with the knowledge of God and Jesus Christ and takes place in the relationship of the believer with God. For those who believe in this way, bodily death is a transition into perfect eternal life, which, however, began with “being born again” (cf. JnEU ).

In the original text of the Bible , the concept of time aeon (Greek aion , aionion ) z. B. Luther translated not only "world" as "eternity " , which at first glance seems contradictory, but is due to the conception of the hereafter from the New Testament era. In Greek thought, aeon is the fullness of the world, its total existence. The next world (i.e. the expected hereafter) is thus again an aeon in its fullness. Since this eon will never end, the translation "eternity" is legitimate.

For many medieval philosophers and theologians, especially for many "mystics", and also for some forms of Buddhism, "eternity" means a life in an - eternal, "standing", freed from temporal differences - present .

This is how Meister Eckhart writes :

“The well in which God created the first man, and the well in which the last man will perish, and the well in which I speak, they are equal […] and are nothing but a nun. [...] that is why there is in him [the person who lives in the present] neither suffering nor chronological sequence, but a constant eternity. "

The early modern author Andreas Gryphius formulates:

“The years that took my time are not mine.
The years that may come are not mine.
The moment is mine, and if I watch it, the moment is mine,
which made time and eternity. "

One can ascribe similar views to Ludwig Wittgenstein . This writes in his Tractatus 6.4311:

"If by eternity one does not understand infinite duration, but immaturity, then he who lives in the present lives forever."

Use in the legal language

In German legal language, the term Ewigkeit is used for Article 79 (3) of the Basic Law through the terms “ Ewigkeitsklausel ” or “Ewigkeitsgarantie” . According to this, the federal organizational principle of the Federal Republic of Germany and two articles of the Basic Law such as the inviolability of human dignity ( Art. 1 GG) and the general constitutional principles that came into force on May 23, 1949 ( Art. 20 GG) are forever protected from change and abolition.


Web links

Wiktionary: Eternity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Cf. article 'eternal' in: Friedrich Kluge: Etymological Dictionary of the German Language . 24th edition.
  2. Mary. Keizer, Helena. (2018). Life time entirety: a study of AIŌN in Greek literature and philosophy, the Septuagint and Philo