A Very Brief History of Eternity

A Very Brief History of Eternity

Carlos Eire
Copyright Date: 2010
Pages: 288
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  • Book Info
    A Very Brief History of Eternity
    Book Description:

    What is eternity? Is it anything other than a purely abstract concept, totally unrelated to our lives? A mere hope? A frightfully uncertain horizon? Or is it a certainty, shared by priest and scientist alike, and an essential element in all human relations?

    InA Very Brief History of Eternity, Carlos Eire, the historian and National Book Award-winning author ofWaiting for Snow in Havana, has written a brilliant history of eternity in Western culture. Tracing the idea from ancient times to the present, Eire examines the rise and fall of five different conceptions of eternity, exploring how they developed and how they have helped shape individual and collective self-understanding.

    A book about lived beliefs and their relationship to social and political realities,A Very Brief History of Eternityis also about unbelief, and the tangled and often rancorous relation between faith and reason. Its subject is the largest subject of all, one that has taxed minds great and small for centuries, and will forever be of human interest, intellectually, spiritually, and viscerally.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3187-6
    Subjects: History, Religion, Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xviii)
  5. I Big Bang, Big Sleep, Big Problem
    (pp. 1-27)

    Why dawdle? Let’s stare the monster in the eye, close up, right away: this book amounts to nothing, and so do you and I, and the whole world. Less than zero.

    So the experts tell us.

    These pages and all the words in them will burn up and vanish into oblivion some day, along with every word ever written, every trace of our brief existence and that of every living creature that has ever squirmed on the face of the earth or in its waters.

    So we might as well revel in brusqueness.

    Never mind that you and I are...

  6. II Eternity Conceived
    (pp. 28-66)

    Some time in the twelfth century, an English cleric from Lincoln named Philip embarked on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, which was then considered the holiest place on earth, and the most direct and intense link to heaven and eternity. Like many other pilgrims of his day, Philip never made it to the Holy Land, or back home. But the reasons for his failure were somewhat unique. Much to his surprise, he had found a superior destination in Champagne, of all places, at the relatively new Cistercian monastery headed by Bernard of Clairvaux. Writing to the bishop of Lincoln to explain...

  7. III Eternity Overflowing
    (pp. 67-99)

    So reads theRule of St. Benedict, written in the late sixth century for the monastic community of Monte Cassino, about eighty miles south of Rome. This was a manual that outlined how monks were to live, work, and pray together, apart from “the world,” under vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Monasteries were all about praying and fasting, avoiding temptation, praising God, becoming holy, aiming for undisturbed contemplation of God, and preparing for eternity. The goal of monasticism was well established by the time Benedict wrote his rule, and this goal is clearly reflected in the paragraph above: monastic...

  8. IV Eternity Reformed
    (pp. 100-156)

    “I go to seek a great perhaps,” said François Rabelais at the moment of his death in 1553. Or so we are told.¹ Whether he said it or not matters little: it fits the man perfectly, and also his era. It’s an aphorism that sums up a great rupture in Western history, when unquestioned assumptions were successfully challenged and eternity was reconfigured.

    How that “perhaps,” which had been barely audible for centuries, became louder and more persistent is the subject of this chapter.

    As we have seen, eternity was much more than an abstract concept back then, before Rabelais, and...

  9. V From Eternity to Five-Year Plans
    (pp. 157-219)

    In 1882, four years before her death, Emily Dickinson would write from her splendid isolation in Amherst, Massachusetts:

    Those—dying then,

    Knew where they went—

    They went to God’s Right Hand—

    That Hand is amputated now

    And God cannot be found—¹

    Dickinson, who thought of herself as given to “Sweet Skepticism” whenever she chose not to call herself a Druid, Cynic, or Hermetic, thus expressed her awareness of living in a “now” quite different from some “then,” when God and his eternity could be taken for granted. Belief had been replaced by doubt and a distrust of anything the...

  10. VI Not Here, Not Now, Not Ever
    (pp. 220-228)

    Quite an argument, one must admit. But one has to wonder: if Pascal had actually lived long enough to turn the fragments we now know as thePenséesinto a coherent book, would he have made a greater impact on unbelievers and skeptics? Or are thePenséesmore formidable in their fragmentary form, strung together as individual gems, like beads on a rosary or .50 caliber bullets on an ammo belt?

    Certainly, we won’t ever know for sure, for Pascal ran out of time before he could collect hisThoughts, and everything is guesswork when one asks the what-if question....

  11. Appendix Common Conceptions of Eternity
    (pp. 229-232)
  12. Notes
    (pp. 233-254)
  13. Eternity A Basic Bibliography
    (pp. 255-258)
  14. Index
    (pp. 259-268)