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Augustine on Time

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  • May 2011
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Augustine on Time and Time Consciousness

Two different points will be discussed in this account starting with Augustine’s theories on the creation of time fitting with Christian beliefs. Secondly perception and measurement of time will be discussed before concluding.

In book XI of the confessions there is an inquiry by Augustine into the nature of time. What was God doing before the world began? There is a serious difficulty here. If at first God was idle and then suddenly becomes creative by creating the heavens and the earth, surely this has to involve a change in the divine being who is supposed to be unchangeable. The answer that Augustine develops to confront this difficulty is that before the heavens and the earth were created there was no such thing as time and without time there can be no change. According to Augustine it would be foolish to suggest that endless ages passed before God created anything because God is the creator of ages so there were no ages before creation. God created time so no time would be able to pass until time was created. So if before heaven and earth there was no such thing as time, to answer peoples pondering on what God did then, Augustine says that when there was no time there was no then. It comes that we cannot ask why the heavens and the earth were not created sooner because before the heavens and the earth there was no sooner. It is misleading also to say that God existed at a time earlier than the creation of the world. For Augustine there is no succession in God and in him there is only an eternal present.

Augustine regards time, the way we experience it, as fundamentally unreal. He asks ‘What is time?’ and goes on to explain that if no one asks him, he knows. However, if he was to try and explain what exactly time is he would not be successful. Time is made up of past present and future but the past is no longer and the future is yet to come. So the only real time is the present but a present that is...

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