Augustine & Time

Picture source clock: Cédric Thual (flickr)

[Note by crosstheology: the text which is in italics are the comments of the original website (dynamicfreetheism). The text which is not in italics, are quotes from Augustine,…]


Augustine confesses he cannot define time
While saying he cannot tell us what time is, Augustine, nevertheless, gives us two aspects of time; time as past, present, and future, and time as duration


Augustine “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. –Book XI:14


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. –Book XI:14


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?” –Book XI:25


Augustine believes time is created by God.


Nothing could be more ironic than this revered theologian saying that he doesn’t know what time is on earth but he knows what eternity is in heaven. He creates this problem because he misinterprets and misrepresents scripture when he states that time is created by God.


Augustine “Thou hadst made time itself.” –Book XI:13


The reason Augustine believes that time is created is because he is a theologian and a philosopher, a Christian and a Platonist. His understanding of God is a mixture of Biblical revelation and Greek philosophy.


Plato “For there were no days and nights and months and years before the heaven was created, but when he constructed the heaven he created them also. They are all parts of time, and the past and future are created species of time, which we unconsciously but wrongly transfer to the eternal essence; for we say that he ‘was,’ he ‘is,’ he ‘will be,’ but the truth is that ‘is’ alone is properly attributed to him, and that ‘was’ and ‘will be’ only to be spoken of becoming in time, for they are motions, but that which is immovably the same, ‘is eternal’.” –Time 37c-39e


Time is an attribute of God and a characteristic of the world he created.
There is not a single statement in scripture that says God created time. Genesis tells us that there is only a new way of measuring time in the creation.


Oscar Cullmann “The New Testament knows nothing of any timeless eternity, or of a God who is beyond or outside time and not within it.”


Genesis 1:3-15 “And God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day…And God said, ‘Let there be lights in the firmament of the heavens to separate the day from the night; and let them be for signs and for seasons and for days and years, and let them be lights in the firmament of the heavens to give light upon the earth.’ And it was so.”


Time is a characteristic of anything that exists and is active. Any kind of movement is a change of some type and incorporates time in three ways: 1. before and after; 2. past, present, and future; 3. duration. Time does not exist in itself as something material or as an invisible form of energy.




Time exists in God because he is active in the world he has created–Revealed Theology. We know that God existed ‘before” he created the world and so we can also say that the creation of the world is in his “past”. Before the creation of the world there was “movement” within the Trinity. Love and communication are forms of movement. God endures forever, time for God is unlimited, he had no beginning and he will have no end.




If God was timeless, the world would be eternal.
The Greek philosophers said that the ultimate cause of movement, change, and time in the temporal world must be that which is eternally immovable, changeless, and timeless–Natural theology. If this were true, said Aristotle, then logically the world of movement must be as eternal as that which moves it.


Aristotle “Since there were three kinds of substance, two of them physical and one unmovable, regarding the latter we must assert that it is necessary that there should be an eternal unmovable substance. For substances are the first of existing things, and if they are all destructible, all things are destructible. But it is impossible that movement should either have come into being or cease to be (for it must always have existed), or that time should. For there could not be a before and an after if time did not exist. Movement also is continuous, then, in the sense in which time is; for time is either the same thing as movement or an attribute of movement.”




It’s irrational and contradictory to say a timeless God created the world
Augustine was faced with a dilemma; God is active–not timeless, according to the Bible and the world is not eternal, but God is timeless–not active, according to Plato and Aristotle and the world is eternal. Augustine forms a synthesis, he takes the timelessness of an immovable God and combines it with the God who is active and creates an eternity that defies logic in which God can be “active” from our finite, temporal perspective as we read our Revelation from him, but “inactive (immoveable) from his infinite, eternal perspective that we know from Greek philosophy. In the Confessions, where Augustine raises the most logical question that could be asked about his synthesis, he gives no answer. Augustine had abandoned rationality in favor of his personal revelation.


Opponents ask “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?” –Book XI:10


Augustine’s answer “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 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?” –Book XI:11


There are many contradictory statements in the Confessions that are Augustine’s  attempt to help us understand this synthesis of opposing views of eternity. Augustine acknowledges that any sequence of communication from God would prove that God is not timeless so he tells us that all communication, every word,  from God is all at once and never ending. Which would logically mean that we would be unable to comprehend any of it.


Augustine “Thou dost call us, then, to understand the Word…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.” –Book XI:7


Augustine tells us that God creates by his word and if his word is eternal and continuous than logically the things being created are also eternal and continuously made. But, since that kind of world does not exist, instead of seeing the foolishness of his theory, Augustine simply offers a contradiction.


Augustine “But there is nothing in thy Word that passes away or returns to its place; for it is truly immortal and eternal. And, therefore, the Word is 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 always.” –Book XI:7




Source: David Mathison (dynamicfreetheism).

Read also “Augustine denied that God could speak” by Christopher Fisher on the fact that Augustine believed that God had to create a creature in order to speak.

Read also “Augustine claims that believing God changes and acts in Sequence is Childish“.


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