(Augustine, Confessions. part 19)

round: would there be no time by which we might measure those
rotations and say either that it turned at equal intervals, or, if
it moved now more slowly and now more quickly, that some rotations
were longer and others shorter?  And while we were saying this,
would we not also be speaking in time?  Or would there not be in
our words some syllables that were long and others short, because
the first took a longer time to sound, and the others a shorter
time?  O God, grant men to see in a small thing the notions that
are common[440] to all things, both great and small.  Both the
stars and the lights of heaven are "for signs and seasons, and for
days and years."[441]  This is doubtless the case, but just as I
should not say that the circuit of that wooden wheel was a day,
neither would that learned man say that there was, therefore, no
     30.  I thirst to know the power and the nature of time, by
which we measure the motions of bodies, and say, for example, that
this motion is twice as long as that.  For I ask, since the word
"day" refers not only to the length of time that the sun is above
the earth (which separates day from night), but also refers to the
sun's entire circuit from east all the way around to east -- on
account of which we can say, "So many days have passed" (the
nights being included when we say, "So many days," and their
lengths not counted separately) -- since, then, the day is ended
by the motion of the sun and by his passage from east to east, I
ask whether the motion itself is the day, or whether the day is
the period in which that motion is completed; or both?  For if the
sun's passage is the day, then there would be a day even if the
sun should finish his course in as short a period as an hour.  If
the motion itself is the day, then it would not be a day if from
one sunrise to another there were a period no longer than an hour.
But the sun would have to go round twenty-four times to make just
one day.  If it is both, then that could not be called a day if
the sun ran his entire course in the period of an hour; nor would
it be a day if, while the sun stood still, as much time passed as
the sun usually covered during his whole course, from morning to
morning.  I shall, therefore, not ask any more what it is that is
called a day, but rather what time is, for it is by time that we
measure the circuit of the sun, and would be able to say that it
was finished in half the period of time that it customarily takes
if it were completed in a period of only twelve hours.  If, then,
we compare these periods, we could call one of them a single and
the other a double period, as if the sun might run his course from
east to east sometimes in a single period and sometimes in a
double period.
     Let no man tell me, therefore, that the motions of the
heavenly bodies constitute time.  For when the sun stood still at
the prayer of a certain man in order that he might gain his
victory in battle, the sun stood still but time went on.  For in
as long a span of time as was sufficient the battle was fought and
     I see, then, that time is a certain kind of extension.  But
do I see it, or do I only seem to?  Thou, O Light and Truth, wilt
show me.

                          CHAPTER XXIV

     31.  Dost thou command that I should agree if anyone says
that time is "the motion of a body"?  Thou dost not so command.
For I hear that no body is moved but in time; this thou tellest
me.  But that the motion of a body itself is time I do not hear;
thou dost not say so.  For when a body is moved, I measure by time
how long it was moving from the time when it began to be moved
until it stopped.  And if I did not see when it began to be moved,
and if it continued to move so that I could not see when it
stopped, I could not measure the movement, except from the time
when I began to see it until I stopped.  But if I look at it for a
long time, I can affirm only that the time is long but not how
long it may be.  This is because when we say, "How long?", we are
speaking comparatively as: "This is as long as that," or, "This is
twice as long as that"; or other such similar ratios.  But if we
were able to observe the point in space where and from which the
body, which is moved, comes and the point to which it is moved; or
if we can observe its parts moving as in a wheel, we can say how
long the movement of the body took or the movement of its parts
from this place to that.  Since, therefore, the motion of a body
is one thing, and the norm by which we measure how long it takes
is another thing, we cannot see which of these two is to be called
time.  For, although a body is sometimes moved and sometimes
stands still, we measure not only its motion but also its rest as
well; and both by time!  Thus we say, "It stood still as long as
it moved," or, "It stood still twice or three times as long as it
moved" -- or any other ratio which our measuring has either
determined or imagined, either roughly or precisely, according to
our custom.  Therefore, time is not the motion of a body.

                          CHAPTER XXV

     32.  And I confess to thee, O Lord, that I am still ignorant
as to what time is.  And again I confess to thee, O Lord, that I
know that I am speaking all these things in time, and that I have
already spoken of time a long time, and that "very long" is not
long except when measured by the duration of time.  How, then, do
I know this, when I do not know what time is?  Or, is it possible
that I do not know how I can express what I do know?  Alas for me!
I do not even know the extent of my own ignorance.  Behold, O my
God, in thy presence I do not lie.  As my heart is, so I speak.
Thou shalt light my candle; thou, O Lord my God, wilt enlighten my

                         CHAPTER XXVI

     33.  Does not my soul most truly confess to thee that I do
measure intervals of time?  But what is it that I thus measure, O
my God, and how is it that I do not know what I measure?  I
measure the motion of a body by time, but the time itself I do not
measure.  But, truly, could I measure the motion of a body -- how
long it takes, how long it is in motion from this place to that --
unless I could measure the time in which it is moving?
     How, then, do I measure this time itself?  Do we measure a
longer time by a shorter time, as we measure the length of a
crossbeam in terms of cubits?[444]  Thus, we can say that the
length of a long syllable is measured by the length of a short
syllable and thus say that the long syllable is double.  So also
we measure the length of poems by the length of the lines, and the
length of the line by the length of the feet, and the length of
the feet by the length of the syllable, and the length of the long
syllables by the length of the short ones.  We do not measure by
pages -- for in that way we would measure space rather than time
-- but when we speak the words as they pass by we say: "It is a
long stanza, because it is made up of so many verses; they are
long verses because they consist of so many feet; they are long
feet because they extend over so many syllables; this is a long
syllable because it is twice the length of a short one."
     But no certain measure of time is obtained this way; since it
is possible that if a shorter verse is pronounced slowly, it may
take up more time than a longer one if it is pronounced hurriedly.
The same would hold for a stanza, or a foot, or a syllable.  From
this it appears to me that time is nothing other than
extendedness;[445] but extendedness of what I do not know.  This
is a marvel to me.  The extendedness may be of the mind itself.
For what is it I measure, I ask thee, O my God, when I say either,
roughly, "This time is longer than that," or, more precisely,
"This is _twice_ as long as that." I know that I am measuring
time.  But I am not measuring the future, for it is not yet; and I
am not measuring the present because it is extended by no length;
and I am not measuring the past because it no longer is.  What is
it, therefore, that I am measuring?  Is it time in its passage,
but not time past [praetereuntia tempora, non praeterita]?  This
is what I have been saying.

                         CHAPTER XXVII

     34.  Press on, O my mind, and attend with all your power.
God is our Helper: "it is he that hath made us and not we
ourselves."[446]  Give heed where the truth begins to dawn.[447]
Suppose now that a bodily voice begins to sound, and continues to
sound -- on and on -- and then ceases.  Now there is silence.  The
voice is past, and there is no longer a sound.  It was future
before it sounded, and could not be measured because it was not
yet; and now it cannot be measured because it is no longer.
Therefore, while it was sounding, it might have been measured
because then there was something that could be measured.  But even
then it did not stand still, for it was in motion and was passing
away.  Could it, on that account, be any more readily measured?
For while it was passing away, it was being extended into some
interval of time in which it might be measured, since the present
has no length.  Supposing, though, that it might have been
measured -- then also suppose that another voice had begun to
sound and is still sounding without any interruption to break its
continued flow.  We can measure it only while it is sounding, for
when it has ceased to sound it will be already past and there will
not be anything there that can be measured.  Let us measure it
exactly; and let us say how much it is.  But while it is sounding,
it cannot be measured except from the instant when it began to
sound, down to the final moment when it left off.  For we measure
the time interval itself from some beginning point to some end.
This is why a voice that has not yet ended cannot be measured, so
that one could say how long or how briefly it will continue.  Nor
can it be said to be equal to another voice or single or double in
comparison to it or anything like this.  But when it is ended, it
is no longer.  How, therefore, may it be measured?  And yet we
measure times; not those which are not yet, nor those which no
longer are, nor those which are stretched out by some delay, nor
those which have no limit.  Therefore, we measure neither times
future nor times past, nor times present, nor times passing by;
and yet we do measure times.
     35.  Deus Creator omnium[448]: this verse of eight syllables
alternates between short and long syllables.  The four short ones
-- that is, the first, third, fifth, and seventh -- are single in
relation to the four long ones -- that is, the second, fourth,
sixth, and eighth.  Each of the long ones is double the length of
each of the short ones.  I affirm this and report it, and common
sense perceives that this indeed is the case.  By common sense,
then, I measure a long syllable by a short one, and I find that it
is twice as long.  But when one sounds after another, if the first
be short and the latter long, how can I hold the short one and how
can I apply it to the long one as a measure, so that I can
discover that the long one is twice as long, when, in fact, the
long one does not begin to sound until the short one leaves off
sounding?  That same long syllable I do not measure as present,
since I cannot measure it until it is ended; but its ending is its
passing away.
     What is it, then, that I can measure?  Where is the short
syllable by which I measure?  Where is the long one that I am
measuring?  Both have sounded, have flown away, have passed on,
and are no longer.  And still I measure, and I confidently answer
-- as far as a trained ear can be trusted -- that this syllable is
single and that syllable double.  And I could not do this unless
they both had passed and were ended.  Therefore I do not measure
them, for they do not exist any more.  But I measure something in
my memory which remains fixed.
     36.  It is in you, O mind of mine, that I measure the periods
of time.  Do not shout me down that it exists [objectively]; do
not overwhelm yourself with the turbulent flood of your
impressions.  In you, as I have said, I measure the periods of
time.  I measure as time present the impression that things make
on you as they pass by and what remains after they have passed by
-- I do not measure the things themselves which have passed by and
left their impression on you.  This is what I measure when I
measure periods of time.  Either, then, these are the periods of
time or else I do not measure time at all.
     What are we doing when we measure silence, and say that this
silence has lasted as long as that voice lasts?  Do we not project
our thought to the measure of a sound, as if it were then
sounding, so that we can say something concerning the intervals of
silence in a given span of time?  For, even when both the voice
and the tongue are still, we review -- in thought -- poems and
verses, and discourse of various kinds or various measures of
motions, and we specify their time spans -- how long this is in
relation to that -- just as if we were speaking them aloud.  If
anyone wishes to utter a prolonged sound, and if, in forethought,
he has decided how long it should be, that man has already in
silence gone through a span of time, and committed his sound to
memory.  Thus he begins to speak and his voice sounds until it
reaches the predetermined end.  It has truly sounded and will go
on sounding.  But what is already finished has already sounded and
what remains will still sound.  Thus it passes on, until the
present intention carries the future over into the past.  The past
increases by the diminution of the future until by the consumption
of all the future all is past.[449]

                          CHAPTER XXVIII

     37.  But how is the future diminished or consumed when it
does not yet exist?  Or how does the past, which exists no longer,
increase, unless it is that in the mind in which all this happens
there are three functions?  For the mind expects, it attends, and
it remembers; so that what it expects passes into what it
remembers by way of what it attends to.  Who denies that future
things do not exist as yet?  But still there is already in the
mind the expectation of things still future.  And who denies that
past things now exist no longer?  Still there is in the mind the
memory of things past.  Who denies that time present has no
length, since it passes away in a moment?  Yet, our attention has
a continuity and it is through this that what is present may
proceed to become absent.  Therefore, future time, which is
nonexistent, is not long; but "a long future" is "a long
expectation of the future." Nor is time past, which is now no
longer, long; a "long past" is "a long memory of the past."
     38.  I am about to repeat a psalm that I know.  Before I
begin, my attention encompasses the whole, but once I have begun,
as much of it as becomes past while I speak is still stretched out
in my memory.  The span of my action is divided between my memory,
which contains what I have repeated, and my expectation, which
contains what I am about to repeat.  Yet my attention is
continually present with me, and through it what was future is
carried over so that it becomes past.  The more this is done and
repeated, the more the memory is enlarged -- and expectation is
shortened -- until the whole expectation is exhausted.  Then the
whole action is ended and passed into memory.  And what takes
place in the entire psalm takes place also in each individual part
of it and in each individual syllable.  This also holds in the
even longer action of which that psalm is only a portion.  The
same holds in the whole life of man, of which all the actions of
men are parts.  The same holds in the whole age of the sons of
men, of which all the lives of men are parts.

                         CHAPTER XXIX

     39.  But "since thy loving-kindness is better than life
itself,"[450] observe how my life is but a stretching out, and how
thy right hand has upheld me in my Lord, the Son of Man, the
Mediator between thee, the One, and us, the many -- in so many
ways and by so many means.  Thus through him I may lay hold upon
him in whom I am also laid hold upon; and I may be gathered up
from my old way of life to follow that One and to forget that
which is behind, no longer stretched out but now pulled together
again -- stretching forth not to what shall be and shall pass away
but to those things that _are_ before me.  Not distractedly now,
but intently, I follow on for the prize of my heavenly
calling,[451] where I may hear the sound of thy praise and
contemplate thy delights, which neither come to be nor pass away.
     But now my years are spent in mourning.[452]  And thou, O
Lord, art my comfort, my eternal Father.  But I have been torn
between the times, the order of which I do not know, and my
thoughts, even the inmost and deepest places of my soul, are
mangled by various commotions until I shall flow together into
thee, purged and molten in the fire of thy love.

                          CHAPTER XXX

     40.  And I will be immovable and fixed in thee, and thy truth
will be my mold.  And I shall not have to endure the questions of
those men who, as if in a morbid disease, thirst for more than
they can hold and say, "What did God make before he made heaven
and earth?"  or, "How did it come into his mind to make something
when he had never before made anything?"  Grant them, O Lord, to
consider well what they are saying; and grant them to see that
where there is no time they cannot say "never." When, therefore,
he is said "never to have made" something -- what is this but to
say that it was made in no time at all?  Let them therefore see
that there could be no time without a created world, and let them
cease to speak vanity of this kind.  Let them also be stretched
out to those things which are before them, and understand that
thou, the eternal Creator of all times, art before all times and
that no times are coeternal with thee; nor is any creature, even
if there is a creature "above time."

                         CHAPTER XXXI

     41.  O Lord my God, what a chasm there is in thy deep secret!
How far short of it have the consequences of my sins cast me?
Heal my eyes, that I may enjoy thy light.  Surely, if there is a
mind that so greatly abounds in knowledge and foreknowledge, to
which all things past and future are as well known as one psalm is
well known to me, that mind would be an exceeding marvel and
altogether astonishing.  For whatever is past and whatever is yet
to come would be no more concealed from him than the past and
future of that psalm were hidden from me when I was chanting it:
how much of it had been sung from the beginning and what and how
much still remained till the end.  But far be it from thee, O
Creator of the universe, and Creator of our souls and bodies --
far be it from thee that thou shouldst merely know all things past
and future.  Far, far more wonderfully, and far more mysteriously
thou knowest them.  For it is not as the feelings of one singing
familiar songs, or hearing a familiar song in which, because of
his expectation of words still to come and his remembrance of
those that are past, his feelings are varied and his senses are
divided.  This is not the way that anything happens to thee, who
art unchangeably eternal, that is, the truly eternal Creator of
minds.  As in the beginning thou knewest both the heaven and the
earth without any change in thy knowledge, so thou didst make
heaven and earth in their beginnings without any division in thy
action.[453]  Let him who understands this confess to thee; and
let him who does not understand also confess to thee!  Oh, exalted
as thou art, still the humble in heart are thy dwelling place!
For thou liftest them who are cast down and they fall not for whom
thou art the Most High.[454]

                         BOOK TWELVE

     The mode of creation and the truth of Scripture.  Augustine
explores the relation of the visible and formed matter of heaven
and earth to the prior matrix from which it was formed.  This
leads to an intricate analysis of "unformed matter" and the primal
"possibility" from which God created, itself created  de nihilo.
He finds a reference to this in the misconstrued Scriptural phrase
"the heaven of heavens." Realizing that his interpretation of Gen.
1:1, 2, is not self-evidently the only possibility, Augustine
turns to an elaborate discussion of the multiplicity of
perspectives in hermeneutics and, in the course of this, reviews
the various possibilities of true interpretation of his Scripture
text.  He emphasizes the importance of tolerance where there are
plural options, and confidence where basic Christian faith is

                           CHAPTER I

     1.  My heart is deeply stirred, O Lord, when in this poor
life of mine the words of thy Holy Scripture strike upon it.  This
is why the poverty of the human intellect expresses itself in an
abundance of language.  Inquiry is more loquacious than discovery.
Demanding takes longer than obtaining; and the hand that knocks is
more active than the hand that receives.  But we have the promise,
and who shall break it?  "If God be for us, who can be against
us?"[455]  "Ask, and you shall receive; seek, and you shall find;
knock, and it shall be opened unto you; for everyone that asks
receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him that knocks, it shall
be opened."[456]  These are thy own promises, and who need fear to
be deceived when truth promises?

                          CHAPTER II

     2.  In lowliness my tongue confesses to thy exaltation, for
thou madest heaven and earth.  This heaven which I see, and this
earth on which I walk -- from which came this "earth" that I carry
about me -- thou didst make.
     But where is that heaven of heavens, O Lord, of which we hear
in the words of the psalm, "The heaven of heavens is the Lord's,
but the earth he hath given to the children of men"?[457]  Where
is the heaven that we cannot see, in relation to which all that we
can see is earth?  For this whole corporeal creation has been
beautifully formed -- though not everywhere in its entirety -- and
our earth is the lowest of these levels.  Still, compared with
that heaven of heavens, even the heaven of our own earth is only
earth.  Indeed, it is not absurd to call each of those two great
bodies[458] "earth" in comparison with that ineffable heaven which
is the Lord's, and not for the sons of men.

                          CHAPTER III

     3.  And truly this earth was invisible and unformed,[459] and
there was an inexpressibly profound abyss[460] above which there
was no light since it had no form.  Thou didst command it written
that "darkness was on the face of the deep."[461]  What else is
darkness except the absence of light?  For if there had been
light, where would it have been except by being over all, showing
itself rising aloft and giving light?  Therefore, where there was
no light as yet, why was it that darkness was present, unless it
was that light was absent?  Darkness, then, was heavy upon it,
because the light from above was absent; just as there is silence
where there is no sound.  And what is it to have silence anywhere
but simply not to have sound?  Hast thou not, O Lord, taught this
soul which confesses to thee?  Hast thou not thus taught me, O
Lord, that before thou didst form and separate this formless
matter there was _nothing_: neither color, nor figure, nor body,
nor spirit?  Yet it was not absolutely nothing; it was a certain
formlessness without any shape.

                          CHAPTER IV

     4.  What, then, should that formlessness be called so that
somehow it might be indicated to those of sluggish mind, unless we
use some word in common speech?  But what can be found anywhere in
the world nearer to a total formlessness than the earth and the
abyss?  Because of their being on the lowest level, they are less
beautiful than are the other and higher parts, all translucent and
shining.  Therefore, why may I not consider the formlessness of
matter -- which thou didst create without shapely form, from which
to make this shapely world -- as fittingly indicated to men by the
phrase, "The earth invisible and unformed"?

                           CHAPTER V

     5.  When our thought seeks something for our sense to fasten
to [in this concept of unformed matter], and when it says to
itself, "It is not an intelligible form, such as life or justice,
since it is the material for bodies; and it is not a former
perception, for there is nothing in the invisible and unformed
which can be seen and felt" -- while human thought says such
things to itself, it may be attempting either to know by being
ignorant or by knowing how not to know.

                          CHAPTER VI

     6.  But if, O Lord, I am to confess to thee, by my mouth and
my pen, the whole of what thou hast taught me concerning this
unformed matter, I must say first of all that when I first heard
of such matter and did not understand it -- and those who told me
of it could not understand it either -- I conceived of it as
having countless and varied forms.  Thus, I did not think about it
rightly.  My mind in its agitation used to turn up all sorts of
foul and horrible "forms"; but still they were "forms." And still
I called it formless, not because it was unformed, but because it
had what seemed to me a kind of form that my mind turned away
from, as bizarre and incongruous, before which my human weakness
was confused.  And even what I did conceive of as unformed was so,
not because it was deprived of all form, but only as it compared
with more beautiful forms.  Right reason, then, persuaded me that
I ought to remove altogether all vestiges of form whatever if I
wished to conceive matter that was wholly unformed; and this I
could not do.  For I could more readily imagine that what was
deprived of all form simply did not exist than I could conceive of
anything between form and nothing -- something which was neither
formed nor nothing, something that was unformed and nearly
     Thus my mind ceased to question my spirit -- filled as it was
with the images of formed bodies, changing and varying them
according to its will.  And so I applied myself to the bodies
themselves and looked more deeply into their mutability, by which
they cease to be what they had been and begin to be what they were
not.  This transition from form to form I had regarded as
involving something like a formless condition, though not actual
     But I desired to know, not to guess.  And, if my voice and my
pen were to confess to thee all the various knots thou hast untied
for me about this question, who among my readers could endure to
grasp the whole of the account?  Still, despite this, my heart
will not cease to give honor to thee or to sing thy praises
concerning those things which it is not able to express.[463]
     For the mutability of mutable things carries with it the
possibility of all those forms into which mutable things can be
changed.  But this mutability -- what is it?  Is it soul?  Is it
body?  Is it the external appearance of soul or body?  Could it be
said, "Nothing was something," and "That which is, is not"?  If
this were possible, I would say that this was it, and in some such
manner it must have been in order to receive these visible and
composite forms.[464]

                          CHAPTER VII

     7.  Whence and how was this, unless it came from thee, from
whom all things are, in so far as they are?  But the farther
something is from thee, the more unlike thee it is -- and this is
not a matter of distance or place.
     Thus it was that thou, O Lord, who art not one thing in one
place and another thing in another place but the Selfsame, and the
Selfsame, and the Selfsame -- "Holy, Holy, Holy, Lord God
Almighty"[465] -- thus it was that in the beginning, and through
thy Wisdom which is from thee and born of thy substance, thou
didst create something and that out of nothing.[466]  For thou
didst create the heaven and the earth -- not out of thyself, for
then they would be equal to thy only Son and thereby to thee.  And
there is no sense in which it would be right that anything should
be equal to thee that was not of thee.  But what else besides thee
was there out of which thou mightest create these things, O God,
one Trinity, and trine Unity?[467]  And, therefore, it was out of
nothing at all that thou didst create the heaven and earth --
something great and something small -- for thou art Almighty and
Good, and able to make all things good: even the great heaven and
the small earth.  Thou wast, and there was nothing else from which
thou didst create heaven and earth: these two things, one near
thee, the other near to nothing; the one to which only thou art
superior, the other to which nothing else is inferior.

                         CHAPTER VIII

     8.  That heaven of heavens was thine, O Lord, but the earth
which thou didst give to the sons of men to be seen and touched
was not then in the same form as that in which we now see it and
touch it.  For then it was invisible and unformed and there was an
abyss over which there was no light.  The darkness was truly
_over_ the abyss, that is, more than just _in_ the abyss.  For
this abyss of waters which now is visible has even in its depths a
certain light appropriate to its nature, perceptible in some
fashion to fishes and the things that creep about on the bottom of
it.  But then the entire abyss was almost nothing, since it was
still altogether unformed.  Yet even there, there was something
that had the possibility of being formed.  For thou, O Lord, hadst

(continued in part 20...)

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