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In what sense nothing existed before or will exist after this Being.

BUT here we are again confronted by the term nothing, and whatever our reasoning thus far, with the concordant attestation of truth and necessity, has concluded nothing to be. For, if the propositions duly set forth above have been confirmed by the fortification of logically necessary truth, not anything existed before the supreme Being, nor will anything exist after it. Hence, nothing existed before, and nothing will exist after, it. For, either something or nothing must have preceded it; and either something or nothing must be destined to follow it.

But, he who says that nothing existed before it appears to make this statement, “that there was before it a time when nothing existed, and that there will be after it a time when nothing will exist.” Therefore, when nothing existed, that Being did not exist, and when nothing shall exist, that Being will not exist. How is it, then, that it does not take inception from nothing or how is it that it will not come to nothing? ‑‑ if that Being did not yet exist, when nothing already existed; and the same Being shall no longer exist, when nothing shall still exist. Of what avail is so weighty a mass of arguments, if this nothing so easily demolishes their structure? For, if it is established that the supreme Being succeeds nothing [Nothing is here treated as an entity, supposed actually to precede the supreme Being in existence. The fallacy involved is shown below. ‑‑Tr.], which p. 70 precedes it, and yields its place to nothing, which follows it, whatever has been posited as true above is necessarily unsettled by empty nothing.

But, rather ought this nothing to be resisted, lest so many structures of cogent reasoning be stormed by nothing; and the supreme good, which has been sought and found by the light of truth, be lost for nothing. Let it rather be declared, then, that nothing did not exist before the supreme Being, and that nothing will not exist after it, rather than that, when a place is given before or after it to nothing, that Being which through itself brought into existence what was nothing, should be reduced through nothing to nothing.

For this one assertion, namely, that nothing existed before the supreme Being, carries two meanings. For, one sense of this statement is that, before the supreme Being, there was a time when nothing was. But another understanding of the same statement is that, before the supreme Being, not anything existed. Just as, supposing I should say, “Nothing has taught me to fly,” I could explain this assertion either in this way, that nothing, as an entity in itself, which signifies not anything, has taught me actually to fly ‑‑ which would be false; or in this way, that not anything has taught me to fly, which would be true.

The former interpretation, therefore, which is followed by the inconsistency discussed above, is rejected by all reasoning as false. But there remains the other interpretation, which unites in perfect consistency with the foregoing arguments, and which, from the force of their whole correlation, must be true.

Hence, the statement that nothing existed before that Being must be received in the latter sense. Nor p. 71 should it be so explained, that it shall be understood that there was any time when that Being did not exist, and nothing did exist; but, so that it shall be understood that, before that Being, there was not anything. The same sort of double signification is found in the statement that nothing will exist after that Being.

If, then, this interpretation of the term nothing, that has been given, is carefully analysed, most truly neither something nor nothing preceded or will follow the supreme Being, and the conclusion is reached, that nothing existed before or will exist after it. Yet, the solidity of the truths already established is in no wise impaired by the emptiness of nothing.

Next: Chapter XX.