Wednesday, 29 November 2006

Pannenberg's eschatological ontology

One of Wolfhart Pannenberg’s most fascinating and controversial ideas is his eschatological ontology. For Pannenberg, the being or essence of a thing is determined by its future. The future exercises a “retroactive” (rückwirkend) causality on the present – and so a thing can possess its essence here and now only by anticipating what it will be in the future.

This is admittedly a very complex cluster of ideas. But in his important book on Metaphysics and the Idea of God, Pannenberg explains all this with a very helpful illustration taken from his home garden (apparently he is quite an avid gardener). His illustration focuses on the pretty zinnia:

“A zinnia is already a zinnia as a cutting and remains one during the entire process of its growth up to blossoming, even though the flower bears its name on account of its blossom. If there were only a single such flower, we could not determine its nature in advance; and yet over the period of its growth it would still be what it revealed itself to be at the end. It would possess its essence through anticipation, though only at the end of the developmental process would one be able to know that this was its essence.” (p. 105)

In a similar way, Pannenberg says that all being is determined retroactively from the future of God’s eternal kingdom.

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