Creativity is the Holy Spirit
Complex reactions to The City of God, Books XI & XII

Augustine on Time

One aspect of St. Augustine's philosophy which I have always admired is his understanding of time, which was millennia ahead of its time (pun intended).  This we encounter in Book XI of The City of God.

Augustine argued that there was no time before the world began to be, "the world was made, not in time, but simultaneously with time."  This anticipated the time-space continuum of twentieth-century physics.  

He also understood that time is dependent upon relations--"Time does not exist without some movement and transition."  Alfred North Whitehead, based upon his grasp of relativity theory, would argue that time is a relation.

For Augustine, the realm without movement is eternity, which literally means outside of time.  He wrote, "In eternity there is no change."  Eternity is not everlasting existence, but existence outside of the time-space continuum.  Therefore, Augustine's God would be outside the continuum.  A few things are true of such a God.

  • All moments in time would be instantaneous; there would be no "before" and "after."  One interesting result from this is that the crucifixion, for example, would not be a moment for the deity, but eternally part of the deity's experience (I don't know that Augustine himself makes this conclusion, but my college theology prof did).
  • God transcends the space-time continuum and is, therefore, not in actual metaphysical relationship with entities within the continuum.  This would be problematic for later Jamesian pragmatism and Whiteheadian organic philosophy.  Whitehead would argue that God must be within the continuum, entering into actual relations (at least one pole of God must).  One of the interesting contradictions of religious thought is that the God of orthodoxy cannot be a personal God, as many fundamentalists desire.
  • God does not change.  This is a develop of Parmenides' concept of Perfect Being, a concept which is not Hebraic in origin but which invaded Christian thought.  Augustine was one of those most responsible for this wrong turn in Christian thought, which only began to be seriously corrected in the 19th century.

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