Friday, June 13, 2008

The Beauty of the Creed

© 2007 Gregory R Jensen

St Augustine on Time

In my last brief essay, I outlined the holiness of time in Rabbi Abraham Heschel's book The Sabbath. Heschel argues that there is in Jewish thought, a hierarchy of holiness in the created order: time sanctifies humanity and it is humanity who subsequently sanctify place. While the sanctity of time, humanity, and place cannot be separated, the primordial created expression of divine holiness belongs to time.

Thinking about time as the foundational manifestation of holiness in the created realm allows us to transcend what I see as any division between liturgy as historical and liturgy as eschatological. Neither of these aspects of the Church's liturgical tradition should be dismissed certainly; but neither should we limit our thinking to either of these poles. Rather if, as Heschel argues so eloquently, time is itself sacred we might find profit in thinking of liturgy as itself the epiphany of time's sacred character. Through the ministry of the Church inspired by the Holy Spirit, liturgy makes manifestation in time the Eternal Now of God.

St Augustine is helpful here.

In the Confessions Books X (where he addresses memory) and XI (where he looks at time itself) Augustine looks at the human experience of time. While this would require a fuller analysis on my part, his analysis suggests to me that the human experience of time, especially through the faculties of memory and anticipation, isonly possible through our participation in divine life.

Augustine begins by recounting the argument of those who reject his analysis of the temporal character of creation. They question him: "But if it was the eternal will of God that the creature should be, why was not the creature also from eternity?" He answers them:

Those who say these things do not as yet understand Thee, O Thou Wisdom of God, Thou light of souls; not as yet do they understand how these things are made which are made by and in Thee. They even endeavor to comprehend things eternal; but as yet their heart flies about in the past and future motions of things, and is still wavering. Who shall hold it and fix it, that it may rest a little, and by degrees catch the glory of that ever standing eternity, and compare it with the times which never stand, and see that it is incomparable; and that a long time cannot become long, save from the many motions that pass by, which cannot at the same instant be prolonged; but that in the Eternal nothing passes away, but that the whole is present; but no time is wholly present; and let him see that all time past is forced on by the future, and that all the future follows from the past, and that all, both past and future, is created and issues from that which is always present?

Who will hold the heart of man, that it may stand still, and see how the still-standing eternity, itself neither future nor past, utters the times future and past? Can my hand accomplish this, or the hand of my mouth by persuasion bring about a thing so great?

Time is the creature's experience of Eternity, of the created being participation in the Uncreated. This participation is given to us ontologically (since "to be" for the creature is always only by God's grace and never by nature). While we experience time as a positive (for example as growth), there is a negative element to time as well. Existentially we experience time not simply as grown, but also as dissolution (dispersion of our being as Heidegger argues) or more simply as decay.

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