JF Ptak Sciene Books Post 1860 (A Thinking-out-Loud Note) Part of the series The History of the Future
"It seems to me, then , that time is merely an extension, though of what it is an extension I do not know. I begin to wonder whether it is an extension of the mind itself." St. Augustine, Confessions, (26:33)
In Paul Nahin'sTime Machines, Time Travel in Physics, Metaphysics, and Science Fiction (Springer Verlag, 1999), the author Paul Nahin makes a good case for St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1275 or so) being a very early questioner of the concept of time travel (on pages 161-162). In the Summa Theologica it does seem to me that Aquinas does indeed talk this way, if relating his comments to the ability of God to make changes in the past, present and future.
Hence all things that are in time are present to God from eternity, not only because He has the types of things present within Him, as some say; but because His glance is carried from eternity over all things as they are in their presentiality. Hence it is manifest that contingent things are infallibly known by God, inasmuch as they are subject to the divine sight in their presentiality; yet they are future contingent things in relation to their own causes.1 Summa Theologia, reference below, source here.
It seems as though it is possible for God to make changes in the past and present, but the future is another matter, and an area in which even the creator cannot bring about change. He seems to say that God can cause things to exist or not in the present and the past, but not in the future:
Whereas when we say he will be, we do not as yet suppose anything. Hence, since the existence and non-existence of an angel considered absolutely is subject to the divine power, God can make the existence of an angel not future; but He cannot cause him not to be while he is, or not to have been, after he has been.2
I honestly do not know without doing some research how this sort of thought would have been received by other theologians, where the practices of God are omnipotent and unrestricted. For God not to be able to alter the future limits the logic of God's actions, and seems to establish a limit in general to a limitless idea.
Perhaps Aquinas is a very early version on the assault of the completeness of the perfect creation of God's universe, something that would be put to the test in the scientific discoveries of the coming centuries. For example, with Galileo discovering that the night sky was hardly complete and perfect as had been thought, viewing nearly an order of magnitude more stars with his telescope than had (of course) never been seen before. Suddenly, the unchanging sky of the great creation was hardly so, and that it was far more vast than had ever been shown. Same too with the creation of a vacuum by Otto von Guericke with his experiment's results published in his Experiemnta nova (ut vocantur) Magdeburgica de vacuo spatio (Amsterdam, 1672, and which I wrote about here), something that assaulted the speculation that God could not create nothing, that the existence of a perfect nothingness was not possible.
THIRTEENTH ARTICLE [I, Q. 14, Art. 13]
Since as was shown above (A. 9), God knows all things; not only things actual but also things possible to Him and creature; and since some of these are future contingent to us, it follows that God knows future contingent things...
(A 9), God knows all things; not only things actual but also things possible to Him and creature; and since some of these are future contingent to us, it follows that God knows future contingent things.
In evidence of this, we must consider that a contingent thing can be considered in two ways; first, in itself, in so far as it is now in act: and in this sense it is not considered as future, but as present; neither is it considered as contingent (as having reference) to one of two terms, but as determined to one; and on account of this it can be infallibly the object of certain knowledge, for instance to the sense of sight, as when I see that Socrates is sitting down. In another way a contingent thing can be considered as it is in its cause; and in this way it is considered as future, and as a contingent thing not yet determined to one; forasmuch as a contingent cause has relation to opposite things: and in this sense a contingent thing is not subject to any certain knowledge. Hence, whoever knows a contingent effect in its cause only, has merely a conjectural knowledge of it. Now God knows all contingent things not only as they are in their causes, but also as each one of them is actually in itself. And although contingent things become actual successively, nevertheless God knows contingent things not successively, as they are in their own being, as we do but simultaneously. The reason is because His knowledge is measured by eternity, as is also His being; and eternity being simultaneously whole comprises all time, as said above (Q. 10, A. 2).
1. Hence all things that are in time are present to God from eternity, not only because He has the types of things present within Him, as some say; but because His glance is carried from eternity over all things as they are in their presentiality. Hence it is manifest that contingent things are infallibly known by God, inasmuch as they are subject to the divine sight in their presentiality; yet they are future contingent things in relation to their own causes. (Bold mine)
THIRD ARTICLE [I, Q. 104, Art. 3] Whether God Can Annihilate Anything?
Non-existence has no direct cause; for nothing is a cause except inasmuch as it has existence, and a being essentially as such is a cause of something existing. Therefore God cannot cause a thing to tend to non-existence, whereas a creature has this tendency of itself, since it is produced from nothing. But indirectly God can be the cause of things being reduced to non-existence, by withdrawing His action therefrom.
THIRD ARTICLE [I, Q. 57, Art. 3] Whether Angels Know the Future?
Objection 1: It would seem that the angels know future events. For angels are mightier in knowledge than men. But some men know many future events. Therefore much more do the angels.
Obj. 2: Further, the present and the future are differences of time. But the angel's intellect is above time; because, as is said in De Causis, "an intelligence keeps pace with eternity," that is, aeviternity. Therefore, to the angel's mind, past and future are not different, but he knows each indifferently.
Obj. 3: Further, the angel does not understand by species derived from things, but by innate universal species. But universal species refer equally to present, past, and future. Therefore it appears that the angels know indifferently things past, present, and future.
Obj. 4: Further, as a thing is spoken of as distant by reason of time, so is it by reason of place. But angels know things which are distant according to place. Therefore they likewise know things distant according to future time.
On the contrary, Whatever is the exclusive sign of the Divinity, does not belong to the angels. But to know future events is the exclusive sign of the Divinity, according to Isa. 41:23: "Show the things that are to come hereafter, and we shall know that ye are gods." Therefore the angels do not know future events.
FIFTH ARTICLE [I, Q. 10, Art. 5] The Difference of Aeviternity and Time
Reply Obj. 3: In the very being of an angel considered absolutely, there is no difference of past and future, but only as regards accidental change. Now to say that an angel was, or is, or will be, is to be taken in a different sense according to the acceptation of our intellect, which apprehends the angelic existence by comparison with different parts of time. But when we say that an angel is, or was, we suppose something, which being supposed, its opposite is not subject to the divine power.
2. Whereas when we say he will be, we do not as yet suppose anything. Hence, since the existence and non-existence of an angel considered absolutely is subject to the divine power, God can make the existence of an angel not future; but He cannot cause him not to be while he is, or not to have been, after he has been.