Friday, April 07, 2006

More on Augustine on time.

This past weekend I participated in the 8th Annual Augustine Lectio at the University of Massachusetts. The subject was Book XI of the Confessions, which is where Augustine treats the nature of time and its relation to God. My passage featured Augustine's treatment of the challenging questions

What was God doing before he created the world? Why didn't he create it earlier?

Augustine thinks that rather than creation being an act in time, time is an act of creation. That is, time only pertains to the created order. It follows from this that God is timeless. This is exceedingly difficult to grasp, but the alternative is that there have been an actual infinite number of moments before today which is like saying that you could count down from infinity to the present moment (which seems even more absurd than the idea of counting up to infinity). So either way we've got mystery (Augustine doesn't address these mysteries of infinity. It was treated by Aristotle and then later by the Muslim philosophers of the Medieval period after they conquered parts of Greece and by St. Boneventura).

I suggested that understanding what's wrong with the questions is not so much a matter of metaphysics and understanding the inner life of God. The worry behind such questions seems to be that God would just be "idle" without creation. Part of assuaging this worry would be a correct understanding of the doctrine of Social Trinitarianism (the realness of the distinctness of the Divine Persons), but that is not what I emphasized, since it was a conference on time. Rather, I suggested that the definition of eternity given by Boethius--"Eternity, then, is the complete, simultaneous and perfect possession of everlasting life" (The Consolation of Philosophy, V.VI)--holds the key to understanding that God is not bored without creation. In the society of the Holy Trinity, the Divine Persons have perfect fellowship and this life is eternal in the Boethian sense: that it lacks nothing at any time.

We experience good days and bad days. God never has a bad day. Even if we had a life where every single day was a good day, we experience the goodness of those days divided up over an infinite number of segments. Our now keeps moving along the timeline cutting us off from all but the traces of past pleasures. In God's eternal now, He experiences all goodness all at once. So there is no reason to be concerned that God would be bored or idle "before" creation. There's much more to be said, but this is all I have time for now.


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