(Augustine, Confessions. part 18)

                           CHAPTER V

     7.  But _how_ didst thou make the heaven and the earth, and
what was the tool of such a mighty work as thine?  For it was not
like a human worker fashioning body from body, according to the
fancy of his mind, able somehow or other to impose on it a form
which the mind perceived in itself by its inner eye (yet how
should even he be able to do this, if thou hadst not made that
mind?).  He imposes the form on something already existing and
having some sort of being, such as clay, or stone or wood or gold
or such like (and where would these things come from if thou hadst
not furnished them?).  For thou madest his body for the artisan,
and thou madest the mind which directs the limbs; thou madest the
matter from which he makes anything; thou didst create the
capacity by which he understands his art and sees within his mind
what he may do with the things before him; thou gavest him his
bodily sense by which, as if he had an interpreter, he may
communicate from mind to matter what he proposes to do and report
back to his mind what has been done, that the mind may consult
with the Truth which presideth over it as to whether what is done
is well done.
     All these things praise thee, the Creator of them all.  But
how didst thou make them?  How, O God, didst thou make the heaven
and earth?  For truly, neither in heaven nor on earth didst thou
make heaven and earth -- nor in the air nor in the waters, since
all of these also belong to the heaven and the earth.  Nowhere in
the whole world didst thou make the whole world, because there was
no place where it could be made before it was made.  And thou
didst not hold anything in thy hand from which to fashion the
heaven and the earth,[421] for where couldst thou have gotten what
thou hadst not made in order to make something with it?  Is there,
indeed, anything at all except because thou art?  Thus thou didst
speak and they were made,[422] and by thy Word thou didst make
them all.

                          CHAPTER VI

     8.  But how didst thou speak?  Was it in the same manner in
which the voice came from the cloud saying, "This is my beloved
Son"[423]?  For that voice sounded forth and died away; it began
and ended.  The syllables sounded and passed away, the second
after the first, the third after the second, and thence in order,
till the very last after all the rest; and silence after the last.
>From this it is clear and plain that it was the action of a
creature, itself in time, which sounded that voice, obeying thy
eternal will.  And what these words were which were formed at that
time the outer ear conveyed to the conscious mind, whose inner ear
lay attentively open to thy eternal Word.  But it compared those
words which sounded in time with thy eternal word sounding in
silence and said: "This is different; quite different!  These
words are far below me; they are not even real, for they fly away
and pass, but the Word of my God remains above me forever." If,
then, in words that sound and fade away thou didst say that heaven
and earth should be made, and thus _madest_ heaven and earth, then
there was already some kind of corporeal creature _before_ heaven
and earth by whose motions in time that voice might have had its
occurrence in time.  But there was nothing corporeal before the
heaven and the earth; or if there was, then it is certain that
already, without a time-bound voice, thou hadst created whatever
it was out of which thou didst make the time-bound voice by which
thou didst say, "Let the heaven and the earth be made!"  For
whatever it was out of which such a voice was made simply did not
exist at all until it was made by thee.  Was it decreed by thy
Word that a body might be made from which such words might come?

                          CHAPTER VII

     9.  Thou dost call us, then, to understand the Word -- the
God who is God with thee -- which is spoken eternally and by which
all things are spoken eternally.  For what was first spoken was
not finished, and then something else spoken until the whole
series was spoken; but all things, at the same time and forever.
For, otherwise, we should have time and change and not a true
eternity, nor a true immortality.
     This I know, O my God, and I give thanks.  I know, I confess
to thee, O Lord, and whoever is not ungrateful for certain truths
knows and blesses thee along with me.  We know, O Lord, this much
we know: that in the same proportion as anything is not what it
was, and is what it was not, in that very same proportion it
passes away or comes to be.  But there is nothing in thy Word that
passes away or returns to its place; for it is truly immortal and
eternal.  And, therefore, unto the Word coeternal with thee, at
the same time and always thou sayest all that thou sayest.  And
whatever thou sayest shall be made is made, and thou makest
nothing otherwise than by speaking.  Still, not all the things
that thou dost make by speaking are made at the same time and

                         CHAPTER VIII

     10.  Why is this, I ask of thee, O Lord my God?  I see it
after a fashion, but I do not know how to express it, unless I say
that everything that begins to be and then ceases to be begins and
ceases when it is known in thy eternal Reason that it ought to
begin or cease -- in thy eternal Reason where nothing begins or
ceases.  And this is thy Word, which is also "the Beginning,"
because it also speaks to us.[424]  Thus, in the gospel, he spoke
through the flesh; and this sounded in the outward ears of men so
that it might be believed and sought for within, and so that it
might be found in the eternal Truth, in which the good and only
Master teacheth all his disciples.[425]  There, O Lord, I hear thy
voice, the voice of one speaking to me, since he who teacheth us
speaketh to us.  But he that doth not teach us doth not really
speak to us even when he speaketh.  Yet who is it that teacheth us
unless it be the Truth immutable?  For even when we are instructed
by means of the mutable creation, we are thereby led to the Truth
immutable.  There we learn truly as we stand and hear him, and we
rejoice greatly "because of the bridegroom's voice,"[426]
restoring us to the source whence our being comes.  And therefore,
unless the Beginning remained immutable, there would then not be a
place to which we might return when we had wandered away.  But
when we return from error, it is through our gaining knowledge
that we return.  In order for us to gain knowledge he teacheth us,
since he is the Beginning, and speaketh to us.

                          CHAPTER IX

     11.  In this Beginning, O God, thou hast made heaven and
earth -- through thy Word, thy Son, thy Power, thy Wisdom, thy
Truth: all wondrously speaking and wondrously creating.  Who shall
comprehend such things and who shall tell of it?  What is it that
shineth through me and striketh my heart without injury, so that I
both shudder and burn?  I shudder because I am unlike it; I burn
because I am like it.  It is Wisdom itself that shineth through
me, clearing away my fog, which so readily overwhelms me so that I
faint in it, in the darkness and burden of my punishment.  For my
strength is brought down in neediness, so that I cannot endure
even my blessings until thou, O Lord, who hast been gracious to
all my iniquities, also healest all my infirmities -- for it is
thou who "shalt redeem my life from corruption, and crown me with
loving-kindness and tender mercy, and shalt satisfy my desire with
good things so that my youth shall be renewed like the
eagle's."[427]  For by this hope we are saved, and through
patience we await thy promises.  Let him that is able hear thee
speaking to his inner mind.  I will cry out with confidence
because of thy own oracle, "How wonderful are thy works, O Lord;
in wisdom thou hast made them all."[428]  And this Wisdom is the
Beginning, and in that Beginning thou hast made heaven and earth.

                           CHAPTER X

     12.  Now, are not those still full of their old carnal
nature[429] who ask us: "What was God doing _before_ he made
heaven and earth?  For if he was idle," they say, "and doing
nothing, then why did he not continue in that state forever --
doing nothing, as he had always done?  If any new motion has
arisen in God, and a new will to form a creature, which he had
never before formed, how can that be a true eternity in which an
act of will occurs that was not there before?  For the will of God
is not a created thing, but comes before the creation -- and this
is true because nothing could be created unless the will of the
Creator came before it.  The will of God, therefore, pertains to
his very Essence.  Yet if anything has arisen in the Essence of
God that was not there before, then that Essence cannot truly be
called eternal.  But if it was the eternal will of God that the
creation should come to be, why, then, is not the creation itself
also from eternity?"[430]

                          CHAPTER XI

     13.  Those who say these things do not yet understand thee, O
Wisdom of God, O Light of souls.  They do not yet understand how
the things are made that are made by and in thee.  They endeavor
to comprehend eternal things, but their heart still flies about in
the past and future motions of created things, and is still
unstable.  Who shall hold it and fix it so that it may come to
rest for a little; and then, by degrees, glimpse the glory of that
eternity which abides forever; and then, comparing eternity with
the temporal process in which nothing abides, they may see that
they are incommensurable?  They would see that a long time does
not become long, except from the many separate events that occur
in its passage, which cannot be simultaneous.  In the Eternal, on
the other hand, nothing passes away, but the whole is
simultaneously present.  But no temporal process is wholly
simultaneous.  Therefore, let it[431] see that all time past is
forced to move on by the incoming future; that all the future
follows from the past; and that all, past and future, is created
and issues out of that which is forever present.  Who will hold
the heart of man that it may stand still and see how the eternity
which always stands still is itself neither future nor past but
expresses itself in the times that are future and past?  Can my
hand do this, or can the hand of my mouth bring about so difficult
a thing even by persuasion?

                          CHAPTER XII

     14.  How, then, shall I respond to him who asks, "What was
God doing _before_ he made heaven and earth?"  I do not answer, as
a certain one is reported to have done facetiously (shrugging off
the force of the question).  "He was preparing hell," he said,
"for those who pry too deep." It is one thing to see the answer;
it is another to laugh at the questioner -- and for myself I do
not answer these things thus.  More willingly would I have
answered, "I do not know what I do not know," than cause one who
asked a deep question to be ridiculed -- and by such tactics gain
praise for a worthless answer.
     Rather, I say that thou, our God, art the Creator of every
creature.  And if in the term "heaven and earth" every creature is
included, I make bold to say further: "Before God made heaven and
earth, he did not make anything at all.  For if he did, what did
he make unless it were a creature?"  I do indeed wish that I knew
all that I desire to know to my profit as surely as I know that no
creature was made before any creature was made.

                         CHAPTER XIII

     15.  But if the roving thought of someone should wander over
the images of past time, and wonder that thou, the Almighty God,
the All-creating and All-sustaining, the Architect of heaven and
earth, didst for ages unnumbered abstain from so great a work
before thou didst actually do it, let him awake and consider that
he wonders at illusions.  For in what temporal medium could the
unnumbered ages that thou didst not make pass by, since thou art
the Author and Creator of all the ages?  Or what periods of time
would those be that were not made by thee?  Or how could they have
already passed away if they had not already been?  Since,
therefore, thou art the Creator of all times, if there was any
time _before_ thou madest heaven and earth, why is it said that
thou wast abstaining from working?  For thou madest that very time
itself, and periods could not pass by _before_ thou madest the
whole temporal procession.  But if there was no time _before_
heaven and earth, how, then, can it be asked, "What wast thou
doing then?"  For there was no "then" when there was no time.
     16.  Nor dost thou precede any given period of time by
another period of time.  Else thou wouldst not precede all periods
of time.  In the eminence of thy ever-present eternity, thou
precedest all times past, and extendest beyond all future times,
for they are still to come -- and when they have come, they will
be past.  But "Thou art always the Selfsame and thy years shall
have no end."[432]  Thy years neither go nor come; but ours both
go and come in order that all separate moments may come to pass.
All thy years stand together as one, since they are abiding.  Nor
do thy years past exclude the years to come because thy years do
not pass away.  All these years of ours shall be with thee, when
all of them shall have ceased to be.  Thy years are but a day, and
thy day is not recurrent, but always today.  Thy "today" yields
not to tomorrow and does not follow yesterday.  Thy "today" is
eternity.  Therefore, thou didst generate the Coeternal, to whom
thou didst say, "This day I have begotten thee."[433]  Thou madest
all time and before all times thou art, and there was never a time
when there was no time.

                          CHAPTER XIV

     17.  There was no time, therefore, when thou hadst not made
anything, because thou hadst made time itself.  And there are no
times that are coeternal with thee, because thou dost abide
forever; but if times should abide, they would not be times.
     For what is time?  Who can easily and briefly explain it?
Who can even comprehend it in thought or put the answer into
words?  Yet is it not true that in conversation we refer to
nothing more familiarly or knowingly than time?  And surely we
understand it when we speak of it; we understand it also when we
hear another speak of it.
     What, then, is time?  If no one asks me, I know what it is.
If I wish to explain it to him who asks me, I do not know.  Yet I
say with confidence that I know that if nothing passed away, there
would be no past time; and if nothing were still coming, there
would be no future time; and if there were nothing at all, there
would be no present time.
     But, then, how is it that there are the two times, past and
future, when even the past is now no longer and the future is now
not yet?  But if the present were always present, and did not pass
into past time, it obviously would not be time but eternity.  If,
then, time present -- if it be time -- comes into existence only
because it passes into time past, how can we say that even this
is, since the cause of its being is that it will cease to be?
Thus, can we not truly say that time _is_ only as it tends toward

                          CHAPTER XV

     18.  And yet we speak of a long time and a short time; but
never speak this way except of time past and future.  We call a
hundred years ago, for example, a long time past.  In like manner,
we should call a hundred years hence a long time to come.  But we
call ten days ago a short time past; and ten days hence a short
time to come.  But in what sense is something long or short that
is nonexistent?  For the past is not now, and the future is not
yet.  Therefore, let us not say, "It _is_ long"; instead, let us
say of the past, "It _was_ long," and of the future, "It _will be_
long." And yet, O Lord, my Light, shall not thy truth make mockery
of man even here?  For that long time past: was it long when it
was already past, or when it was still present?  For it might have
been long when there was a period that could be long, but when it
was past, it no longer was.  In that case, that which was not at
all could not be long.  Let us not, therefore, say, "Time past was
long," for we shall not discover what it was that was long
because, since it is past, it no longer exists.  Rather, let us
say that "time _present_ was long, because when it was present it
_was_ long." For then it had not yet passed on so as not to be,
and therefore it still was in a state that could be called long.
But after it passed, it ceased to be long simply because it ceased
to be.
     19.  Let us, therefore, O human soul, see whether present
time can be long, for it has been given you to feel and measure
the periods of time.  How, then, will you answer me?
     Is a hundred years when present a long time?  But, first, see
whether a hundred years can be present at once.  For if the first
year in the century is current, then it is present time, and the
other ninety and nine are still future.  Therefore, they are not
yet.  But, then, if the second year is current, one year is
already past, the second present, and all the rest are future.
And thus, if we fix on any middle year of this century as present,
those before it are past, those after it are future.  Therefore, a
hundred years cannot be present all at once.
     Let us see, then, whether the year that is now current can be
present.  For if its first month is current, then the rest are
future; if the second, the first is already past, and the
remainder are not yet.  Therefore, the current year is not present
all at once.  And if it is not present as a whole, then the year
is not present.  For it takes twelve months to make the year, from
which each individual month which is current is itself present one
at a time, but the rest are either past or future.
     20.  Thus it comes out that time present, which we found was
the only time that could be called "long," has been cut down to
the space of scarcely a single day.  But let us examine even that,
for one day is never present as a whole.  For it is made up of
twenty-four hours, divided between night and day.  The first of
these hours has the rest of them as future, and the last of them
has the rest as past; but any of those between has those that
preceded it as past and those that succeed it as future.  And that
one hour itself passes away in fleeting fractions.  The part of it
that has fled is past; what remains is still future.  If any
fraction of time be conceived that cannot now be divided even into
the most minute momentary point, this alone is what we may call
time present.  But this flies so rapidly from future to past that
it cannot be extended by any delay.  For if it is extended, it is
then divided into past and future.  But the present has no
extension[434] whatever.
     Where, therefore, is that time which we may call "long"?  Is
it future?  Actually we do not say of the future, "It is long,"
for it has not yet come to be, so as to be long.  Instead, we say,
"It will be long." _When_ will it be?  For since it is future, it
will not be long, for what may be long is not yet.  It will be
long only when it passes from the future which is not as yet, and
will have begun to be present, so that there can be something that
may be long.  But in that case, time present cries aloud, in the
words we have already heard, that it cannot be "long."

                          CHAPTER XVI

     21.  And yet, O Lord, we do perceive intervals of time, and
we compare them with each other, and we say that some are longer
and others are shorter.  We even measure how much longer or
shorter this time may be than that time.  And we say that this
time is twice as long, or three times as long, while this other
time is only just as long as that other.  But we measure the
passage of time when we measure the intervals of perception.  But
who can measure times past which now are no longer, or times
future which are not yet -- unless perhaps someone will dare to
say that what does not exist can be measured?  Therefore, while
time is passing, it can be perceived and measured; but when it is
past, it cannot, since it is not.

                         CHAPTER XVII

     22.  I am seeking the truth, O Father; I am not affirming it.
O my God, direct and rule me.
     Who is there who will tell me that there are not three times
-- as we learned when boys and as we have also taught boys -- time
past, time present, and time future?  Who can say that there is
only time present because the other two do not exist?  Or do they
also exist; but when, from the future, time becomes present, it
proceeds from some secret place; and when, from times present, it
becomes past, it recedes into some secret place?  For where have
those men who have foretold the future seen the things foretold,
if then they were not yet existing?  For what does not exist
cannot be seen.  And those who tell of things past could not speak
of them as if they were true, if they did not see them in their
minds.  These things could in no way be discerned if they did not
exist.  There are therefore times present and times past.

                         CHAPTER XVIII

     23.  Give me leave, O Lord, to seek still further.  O my
Hope, let not my purpose be confounded.  For if there are times
past and future, I wish to know where they are.  But if I have not
yet succeeded in this, I still know that wherever they are, they
are not there as future or past, but as present.  For if they are
there as future, they are there as "not yet"; if they are there as
past, they are there as "no longer." Wherever they are and
whatever they are they exist therefore only as present.  Although
we tell of past things as true, they are drawn out of the memory
-- not the things themselves, which have already passed, but words
constructed from the images of the perceptions which were formed
in the mind, like footprints in their passage through the senses.
My childhood, for instance, which is no longer, still exists in
time past, which does not now exist.  But when I call to mind its
image and speak of it, I see it in the present because it is still
in my memory.  Whether there is a similar explanation for the
foretelling of future events -- that is, of the images of things
which are not yet seen as if they were already existing -- I
confess, O my God, I do not know.  But this I certainly do know:
that we generally think ahead about our future actions, and this
premeditation is in time present; but that the action which we
premeditate is not yet, because it is still future.  When we shall
have started the action and have begun to do what we were
premeditating, then that action will be in time present, because
then it is no longer in time future.
     24.  Whatever may be the manner of this secret foreseeing of
future things, nothing can be seen except what exists.  But what
exists now is not future, but present.  When, therefore, they say
that future events are seen, it is not the events themselves, for
they do not exist as yet (that is, they are still in time future),
but perhaps, instead, their causes and their signs are seen, which
already do exist.  Therefore, to those already beholding these
causes and signs, they are not future, but present, and from them
future things are predicted because they are conceived in the
mind.  These conceptions, however, exist _now_, and those who
predict those things see these conceptions before them in time
     Let me take an example from the vast multitude and variety of
such things.  I see the dawn; I predict that the sun is about to
rise.  What I see is in time present, what I predict is in time
future -- not that the sun is future, for it already exists; but
its rising is future, because it is not yet.  Yet I could not
predict even its rising, unless I had an image of it in my mind;
as, indeed, I do even now as I speak.  But that dawn which I see
in the sky is not the rising of the sun (though it does precede
it), nor is it a conception in my mind.  These two[435] are seen
in time present, in order that the event which is in time future
may be predicted.
     Future events, therefore, are not yet.  And if they are not
yet, they do not exist.  And if they do not exist, they cannot be
seen at all, but they can be predicted from things present, which
now are and are seen.

                          CHAPTER XIX

     25.  Now, therefore, O Ruler of thy creatures, what is the
mode by which thou teachest souls those things which are still
future?  For thou hast taught thy prophets.  How dost thou, to
whom nothing is future, teach future things -- or rather teach
things present from the signs of things future?  For what does not
exist certainly cannot be taught.  This way of thine is too far
from my sight; it is too great for me, I cannot attain to it.[436]
But I shall be enabled by thee, when thou wilt grant it, O sweet
Light of my secret eyes.

                          CHAPTER XX

     26.  But even now it is manifest and clear that there are
neither times future nor times past.  Thus it is not properly said
that there are three times, past, present, and future.  Perhaps it
might be said rightly that there are three times: a time present
of things past; a time present of things present; and a time
present of things future.  For these three do coexist somehow in
the soul, for otherwise I could not see them.  The time present of
things past is memory; the time present of things present is
direct experience; the time present of things future is
expectation.[437]  If we are allowed to speak of these things so,
I see three times, and I grant that there are three.  Let it still
be said, then, as our misapplied custom has it: "There are three
times, past, present, and future." I shall not be troubled by it,
nor argue, nor object -- always provided that what is said is
understood, so that neither the future nor the past is said to
exist now.  There are but few things about which we speak properly
-- and many more about which we speak improperly -- though we
understand one another's meaning.

                          CHAPTER XXI

     27.  I have said, then, that we measure periods of time as
they pass so that we can say that this time is twice as long as
that one or that this is just as long as that, and so on for the
other fractions of time which we can count by measuring.
     So, then, as I was saying, we measure periods of time as they
pass.  And if anyone asks me, "How do you know this?", I can
answer: "I know because we measure.  We could not measure things
that do not exist, and things past and future do not exist." But
how do we measure present time since it has no extension?  It is
measured while it passes, but when it has passed it is not
measured; for then there is nothing that could be measured.  But
whence, and how, and whither does it pass while it is being
measured?  Whence, but from the future?  Which way, save through
the present?  Whither, but into the past?  Therefore, from what is
not yet, through what has no length, it passes into what is now no
longer.  But what do we measure, unless it is a time of some
length?  For we cannot speak of single, and double, and triple,
and equal, and all the other ways in which we speak of time,
except in terms of the length of the periods of time.  But in what
"length," then, do we measure passing time?  Is it in the future,
from which it passes over?  But what does not yet exist cannot be
measured.  Or, is it in the present, through which it passes?  But
what has no length we cannot measure.  Or is it in the past into
which it passes?  But what is no longer we cannot measure.

                         CHAPTER XXII

     28.  My soul burns ardently to understand this most intricate
enigma.  O Lord my God, O good Father, I beseech thee through
Christ, do not close off these things, both the familiar and the
obscure, from my desire.  Do not bar it from entering into them;
but let their light dawn by thy enlightening mercy, O Lord.  Of
whom shall I inquire about these things?  And to whom shall I
confess my ignorance of them with greater profit than to thee, to
whom these studies of mine (ardently longing to understand thy
Scriptures) are not a bore?  Give me what I love, for I do love
it; and this thou hast given me.  O Father, who truly knowest how
to give good gifts to thy children, give this to me.  Grant it,
since I have undertaken to understand it, and hard labor is my lot
until thou openest it.  I beseech thee, through Christ and in his
name, the Holy of Holies, let no man interrupt me.  "For I have
believed, and therefore do I speak."[438]  This is my hope; for
this I live: that I may contemplate the joys of my Lord.[439]
Behold, thou hast made my days grow old, and they pass away -- and
how I do not know.
     We speak of this time and that time, and these times and
those times: "How long ago since he said this?"  "How long ago
since he did this?"  "How long ago since I saw that?"  "This
syllable is twice as long as that single short syllable." These
words we say and hear, and we are understood and we understand.
They are quite commonplace and ordinary, and still the meaning of
these very same things lies deeply hid and its discovery is still
to come.

                         CHAPTER XXIII

     29.  I once heard a learned man say that the motions of the
sun, moon, and stars constituted time; and I did not agree.  For
why should not the motions of all bodies constitute time?  What if
the lights of heaven should cease, and a potter's wheel still turn

(continued in part 19...)

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