The Evangelical Universalist Forum

the use of aion in Plato and John of Damascus

I came across an interesting fact,

this is the Platonic definition of aion:

John of Damascus, he wrote after universalism had already been condemned under Justinian, defines aion thus:

the last section I emphasized in bold type, seems to refer to the Platonic idea of aion, the aion seems to be for the immortals (or the eternal one) that which is to the mortals (or temporal ones) time - but this understanding of Plato’s definition need not even mean an endless eternity; significantly John of Damascus taught endless punishment, yet he seems not to understand aion and aionios as to mean endless, he employs terms as ateleutetos and apeiria, he arguments, that the aion to come is endless (ateleutetos) and therefore the aionios life and punishment also endless.

At the end he speaks of “apeirous aionas ton aionon” - “endless ages of ages”, he would not have added “endless” to “ages of ages” if that already meant infinity.

you can find the the work of John of Damascus here (Greek and Latin): … _0789_1227__GM.pdf.html

if the link doesn’t work, copy it here:

I reccomend to download it, page 37 and 220 are of interest and here in English translation: … xa,_EN.pdf

you find further info here: … tion32.htm

I’m very interested to hear your ideas, especially about John’s understanding of Plato’s idea of aion, if it should be understood as eternity in the modern sense.

Hey Sven!

I have found this to be a very interesting topic, and with the availability of libraries and online information, that nobody can continue to deceive each other with what it means. An age is an age. As accurately pointed out, the need to use additional adjectives on the word aion to make it endless, tells us that without it, an age has a definite beginning or end, but an indefinite duration.

I have studied this word, since it is a pivotal objections by ECT’s are that aion means endless duration when obviously it does not and the endless aions of eternal conscious torment doctrine, is doctrinal based not grammatically based and is dependent upon doctrines not words for why aion would be endless.


I have studied Plato’s use of the terms aion and aionios (Plato likely coined the adjective) in some depth, and can say without doubt that he used these terms to refer to the timeless realm of the Forms. that which is aionios, according to Plato, is beyond the measure of time. According to Plato, time itself is a moving image of eternity. That is to say, Plato and other ancient Greek philosophers envisaged time as cyclical, and envisaged the cycle (circle) as an emblem of eternity (without beginning nor end).

Craig, are you suggesting that aion never refers to eternity?

this is what John of Damascus gives as last definiton:

“Again, the word æon is used to denote, not time nor yet a part of time as measured by the movement and course of the sun, that is to say, composed of days and nights, but the sort of temporal motion and interval that is co-extensive with the eternals (aidios). For æon is to things eternal (aidios) just what time is to things temporal.”

I think he refers here to the Platonic idea of æon; that which is time (chronos) for temporal (chronikos) beings
is the æon for eternal (aidios) beings, but his own use of aión suggests that he understood thereby merely an age, I’m writing a longer “article” about that topic and will post it as soon as I am done.

Thank you, I look forward to reading your links,

I’m not sure I fully grasp what Plato is saying–I need to study it better–but I thought it interesting that he says that of the created creature you can only truly say “he is”, while of the eternal: “he was, he is, and he will be”. This reminded be of the book of Revelation, where God is describled as the one who is and was and is to come. And then there’s the beast–who was and* is not* and is to come.

I have no idea if there is any real connection there–but my intuition sat up and took notice. :wink: Something to ponder on…

Comments, anyone?

It has never referred to eternity without the use of additional adjectives. The only time that aion began to take on a perpetual duration definition was after an argument was made to support this conclusion. In other word, aion only represents perpetual duration if it met certain requirements, but aion itself has never on it’s own been defined as perpetual. (I do not use the word eternity or eternal as they are inaccurate and ambiguous words in English in the first place).

In consideration to your Plato definition of aionios and aion, using what you quoted does not mean endless or perpetual. In Plato’s “A moving image of eternity”, it only had the appearance of endlessness and perpetuity because prior to creation there was nothing to measure it. So aionios remains consistent as a indefinite or indeterminate duration.

Aion only appears to be perpetual if the observer dies before it ends, or lives after it began, this is why it is defined sometimes as an age without beginning or without an end (but never both).

This is a topic I am intimately familiar with. Ironically I am also intimately familiar with quantum philosophy and strangely but not coincidentally, aligns with Plato’s understanding of time. Time is not something that exists apart from the universe.


Actually, Craig, for Plato aionios describes the timeless realm of the Forms. No classical Greek scholar nor any expert in Plato’s philosophy would dispute this. As a matter of fact, it doesn’t take any expertise to understand what Plato was saying in the chapter on Time in Timaeus. All one has to do is acquire an elementary understanding of Plato’s idealism to understand that he used aionios to refer to the timeless realm of the unchanging Forms.

As am I.

So what can you tell me about quantum entanglement?

There is no ‘actually’ about it, it doesn’t mean perpetuity nor does it mean endless since there is not time to be measured. In Timaeus, it mentioned nowhere when ainios described as endless because this is a misnomer, only when time was introduced through creation of space (the heavens) was duration taken into account and only concerning that which is in the heaven (space). Though the unique usage of the word aionios in Timaeus appears on the surface to represent endless or timelessness, but in fact is talking about something completely foreign to most thought and really has nothing to do with time.

As for quantum entanglement, I know what it is, but can you imagine it’s applications! The future mode of instant communication from any point no matter the distance.

At a young age had a few theoretical designs for a Quantum Entanglement Communicator but it is difficult for the device needed to move a single entangled particle with minimum energy in order to make any practical use of it. :wink: Also about the same time, I got a “F” on an assignment in which I theorized centrifical (centrifugal) force only because the teacher confused it with centripetal force, in which I went to the Principle to discuss the reasons why a Science teacher would not understand the uses of such mathematical fictitious force in the creation of an anti-gravity generator and was given an “A”. I think I was grade 7.

Can you rephrase in proper English, please?

Right, but I’m not sure what your position is here. What do you think Plato meant by aionios?

What does timelessness have to do with time?

I’d like to continue this discussion with you. Another thread perhaps?

Well, I think we may both understand what Plato was saying, but in different terms. Many find associating it as a timeless realm, as not exactly accurate to what Plato was describing even if it is the closest we can all agree he was saying. So whether or not classical Greek and scholar agrees to this phrase makes no difference because what they are agreeing on is the phrase but not the meaning of that phrase (which is why this is always in contested in discussion).

The same thing quantum philosophers have discovered when they discovered that time does not exist and yet we can see it plainly. What is that reality in which time does not exist!? I call it eternity (what Plato called ainios) but have heck of a time trying to explain it since there is no concrete objects to liken it to since it really has nothing to do with time.

Funny how the ancient philosophers knew that science is now just proving.

A re-read of the Plato def above shows that I misunderstood the first time. :blush: He actually says the eternal essence can only accurately be described as he “is”. Poof! There goes my comparison. :laughing: But apparently, the Revelator disagreed. I wonder, was “is, was, and will be” a common figure of speech to refer to the eternal? or perhaps another philosopher’s expression?

I’m tying my brain in knots trying to imagine how time is a moving picture of aionios …

I’m not sure if John of Damascus is saying the same–it seems to me he’s speaking of aion as a kind of ‘time’ period, only not the same as the kind of temporalness we measure with clocks. However, it seems to me that Plato is saying that aionios is not temporal at all, but a constant state of ‘is’. But all I read of John was the short quote, so I may very well be misunderstanding his position. (And it wouldn’t surprise me to find I’m still misunderstanding Plato too. :unamused: )



Cool, I think we are the same page then.

I’d like to discuss more “quantum philosophy” with you. Do you know the difference between classical information transfer and the result from a measurement on entangled states?

you’ll find my examination in the attachment, I’m not completely done with it yet, but it might contribute to the discussion.

I’m very interested to hear your opinions, wether my conclusions seem to be right or not :question:
The use of aeon by John of Damascus.pdf (132 KB)


I’m reading your paper now.

“For æon is to things eternal (aidioV) just what time is to things temporal.”

Does this not mean that for John of Damascus, aion corresponds to that which is atemporal/timeless?

he gives these definitions:

the life of each man is an aion (I think also Aristotle said so)
1000 years are an aion
the whole present world is an aion
the future world, the world after the ressurection is an aion (endless as he assumes)
aion is for the eternal (aidios) things that which is time (chronos) for temporal (chronikos) things

I think the later refers to Plato’s idea of aion, however this idea of “eternity” is pretty different maybe then the common notion of eternity just as endless duration, this philosophical idea of aion might have nothing to do with duration at all, might aion be understood as the life and the realm of the immortals?

and I had a further thought:

things that belong to time are temporal, but things that are temporal do not last throughout all time, one could say they rather pertain to time.

now even if aionios meant eternal - which I do not believe, it might mean that it pertains to eternity, not that it necessarily lasts throughout all eternity

further, even if the aion to come were an everlasting age, aionios still need not mean everlasting, for it might pertain, but need not last throughout the whole everlasting aion.

I went over Plato’s Timaeus once again and realized somethign I hadn’t before:

When speaking about the gods, Plato employs the Greek word aidios (everlasting, eternal), in one sentence he seems to use aiõnios synonymous, though what he wants to express I cannot conceive. He uses aiõn in a very abstract sense, time he calls an æonian image of that “eternity”, later he says “time, then, came into existence along with the Heaven”, this æonian image at least had a beginning, Plato continues to say “that having been generated together they might also be dissolved together”.

Now if time, the æonian image of Plato’s abstract æon, came into existence with the heaven and might dissolve together with the heaven, this image cannot be eternal for it had a definite beginning; and if it will dissolve and cease with the dissolution of the heaven which Plato seems to consider being possible, it cannot be everlasting or endless. Thus Plato could not have understand aiõnios to mean intrinsically everlasting or endless, when he applied it to something that according to his words had a definite beginning and may have an end.

What do you think?

I didn’t buy the rest of this, but it might be of interest:

I would like to bring this topic back after I came across this book:

I posted this in another forum and will simply paste it here with alterations:

As I understand it, to Plato Aion (whatever he understands thereby) is the ideal model, Chronos (time) is the image of Aion, however as I understand Keizer according to the Greek grammar also the heavens/universe could be understood as the image of Aion (instead of time).

I altered (marked in red) the translation of Platos’ Timaios by the premise that Aion basically meant life, and in the context of Timaios possibly life in its fullness or as a kind of divine life.

Plato seems to use aidios and aionios synonymous, but why should he? - He never calls the eternal gods aionios. I had the idea that maybe aidios is refering to the quantity: everlasting, eternal; while aionios is refering to the quality, the quality of the life of the eternal (aidios) cosmic being, not its duration.

Eternity as we understand it, is individable, you can’t divide Eternity, you can’t make an creature half eternal; concerning life it is different, you can create a living being, but the life of this being might of inferior quality than the life of a god, so I choose to render aionios with abundant of life.

Now I do not know if the following translation makes sense:

Generally it is understood that to Plato, Time is the image of Eternity - does that make sense? I don’t know.

Would it make sense to understand that Time is the image of the divine nature of life? I don’t know either.

Plato seems to depict the heaven/universe as a kind of living being. Would it make sense, to understand the living universe (ouranos) as an image of the divine nature of life (aion), full of life itself, but not to the same degree as the original? Does the Greek grammar even allow this interpretation?

The Greek text has “panta aionos” all Aion, “panta” was omitted in this translation, again, Eternity as we understand it is individable, if there were all Eternity, there must also be half Eternity, this is nonsense.

It makes more sense to speak about a whole life, than a whole Eternity. Again, would it make sense to say that Time imitates the divine nature of life, I guess no more or less than to say it imitates Eternity? If we understand Aion as the life or sphere of god (i.e. eternity), it wouldn’t even make a difference. But then Aion would have the notion of Eternity from god, rather than the way round.

As I said in a post before, both time and heaven have a beginning and a possible end, this means they are not eternal in any sense, yet Plato called them aionios.

Keizer says that diaionios might originate from dia aionos, through life, I rendered it life-lasting.

There is an interesting parallel, the created universe exists through all time, while the original lasts through all Aion. Again Eternity is individable, Aion might be a supra-time, an Uber-time, but this does not say, that it is endless.

What do you think? Is it a valid interpretation to understand Aion here rather as ideal life than Eternity or is it utter nonsense?

Whatever Plato believed about “αιων” and “αιωνιος” does not define how it was used in Hellenistic Greek.

I wonder what you all think of this passage from Chrysostom’s Homily of the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Ephesians, Homily 4. Clearly, Chrysostom believed that “αιωνιος” actually means “temporary.”

Excellent quote Paidion. Thank you. “αιωνιος” here could mean “age-during” or “pertaining to an age” and is certainly temporary as you say, and not eternal.
I would be interested in comments from others on the significance of this quote.