FOR LOVE OF LOVE
(1) Lord, since eternity is yours, are you ignorant of the things that I say to you, or do you see only at a certain time what is done in time? Why then do I set out in order before you this account of so many deeds? In truth, it is not that you may learn to know these matters from me, but that I may rouse up towards you my own affections, and those of other men who read this, so that all of us may say: “The Lord is great, and exceedingly to be praised.”1 I have already said this, and I will say it again: for love of your love I perform this task.
For we pray, although Truth has said, “Your Father knows what is needful for you before you ask him.”2 Therefore, when we confess to you our miseries and your mercies upon us, we lay bare before you our condition, so that you may set us wholly free. For you have begun to do this, so that we may cease to be wretched in ourselves and become happy in you. And you have called us to the end that we may be poor in spirit, and meek, and mourners, and hungry and thirsty for justice, and merciful, and clean of heart, and peacemakers.3 Behold, I have recounted many things to you, such things as I could and as I wished to recount. For, first of all, it was your will that I confess to you, my Lord God, because you are good, and your mercy endures forever.4
THE TREASURES OF SCRIPTURE
(2) When shall I suffice to proclaim by the tongue of my pen1 all your exhortations, and all your warnings, consolations, and acts of guidance, by which you have led me to preach your Word and dispense your sacrament to your people?2 If I am sufficient to declare all these in due order, the drops of time3 are precious to me. For a long time I have burned to meditate upon your law, and therein to confess to you both my knowledge and my lack of wisdom, the first beginnings of your enlightenment and the last remains of my darkness, until my infirmity be swallowed up by your strength. On nothing else would I want those hours to flow away which I find free from need of replenishing my body and my mental powers and the demands of such service as we owe to other men, and such as we do not owe but yet render.
(3) O Lord my God, “be attentive to my prayer,”4 and in your mercy graciously hear my desire,5 for it burns not for me alone but desires to be for the use of fraternal charity. You see that in my heart it is so. I will sacrifice to you the service of my thought and tongue; give me what I may offer to you. For “I am needy and poor,” and “you are rich to all that call upon you,”6 who, although free from care, yet care for us. From all temerity and all lying circumcise my lips, both my interior and my exterior lips. May your Scriptures be my chaste delights! May I never fall into error in my reading of them, may I never deceive others by misuse of them.
Lord, hearken to me, and have mercy on me, O Lord my God, light of the blind and strength of the weak, at once light of those who see and strength of the strong, give ear to my soul, and hear me as I cry out of the depths.7 For unless your ears are present with us in the depths, where shall we go? Where shall we cry to? “Yours is the day, and yours is the night.”8 At your command the minutes fly away. From them, bestow upon us a time for meditation on the hidden things of your law; do not close up that law against those knocking upon it.9
Not for nothing, have you willed that these dark secrets be written on so many pages. Nor are those forests to lack their harts, who will retire therein, and regain their strength, walk about and feed, lie down and ruminate.10 Lord, perfect me, and open those pages to me. Behold, your voice is my joy, your voice is above a flood of pleasures.11 Grant me what I love, for I love in truth, and this too have you given to me! Do not forsake your gifts, and do not despise this your plant which thirsts for you. Let me confess to you whatsoever I shall find in your books, and let me “hear the voice of praise,”12 and drink you in, and consider “the wonderful things of your law,”13 from that beginning, wherein you made heaven and earth, even to an everlasting kingdom together with you in your holy city.
(4) Lord, have mercy on me, and graciously hear my desire.14 I do not think that it is for things of earth, for gold and silver, for gems or rich garments, for honors and power, for fleshly pleasure, not even for the needs of the body and of this our life of pilgrimage, for “all these things shall be added unto us if we seek your kingdom and your justice.”15 See, O my God, whence arises my desire. “The wicked have told me their pleasures, but not as your law,”16 O Lord. See, whence springs my desire! See, Father, look down, and see, and approve, and let it be pleasing in the sight of your mercy for me to find grace before you,17 so that the inner meaning of your words may be opened up to me when I knock.
I beseech you by your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, “the man of your right hand, whom you have confirmed for yourself,”18 as your mediator and ours, through whom you have sought us when we did not seek you, and sought us so that we might seek you, your Word, through whom you have made all things, among them myself also, through whom you have called to adoption a people of believers, among them me also. I beseech you by him who “sits at your right hand, and makes intercession with you for us,”19 “in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”20 These same treasures I seek in your books. Moses wrote of him: He himself says this. Truth says this.21
THE LANGUAGE OF TRUTH
(5) Let me hear and understand how “in the beginning” you “made heaven and earth.”1 Moses wrote these words: he wrote them, and he passed away. He passed from this world, from you to you,2 and he is not now here before me. If he were, I would catch hold of him, and I would ask him, and through you I would beseech him to make these things plain to me. I would lay my body’s ears to the sounds breaking forth from his mouth. If he spoke in Hebrew, in vain would his voice strike upon my senses, and none of it would touch my mind. But if he spoke in Latin, I would know what he said.
Yet how would I know whether he spoke the truth? Even if I knew this, would I know it from him? Truly, within me, within the dwelling place of thought, Truth, neither Hebrew nor Greek nor Latin nor barbaric in speech, without mouth or tongue as organ, and without noise of syllables, would say to me, “He speaks the truth.” Forthwith I would be certain of it, and I would say confidently to that man, “You speak the truth.” Therefore, since I cannot question him who was filled by you, and thus spoke true words, I entreat you O Truth, I entreat you, O my God, “spare my sins.”3 Do you who granted to him your servant, to speak these true words, grant to me that I may understand them.
EVIDENCE OF CREATION
(6) Lo, heaven and earth exist: they cry out that they have been created, for they are subject to change and variation. Whatever has not been made, and yet exists, has nothing in it which was not previously there, whereas to have what once was not is to change and vary. They also cry out that they did not make themselves: “For this reason, do we exist, because we have been made. Therefore, before we came to be, we did not exist in such wise as to be able to make ourselves.”1
Self-evidence is the voice with which these things speak. You, therefore, O Lord, who are beautiful, made these things, for they are beautiful; you who are good made them, for they are good; you who are made them, for they are. Yet they are not so good, nor are they so beautiful as you, nor do they even be in such wise as you, their creator. Compared to you, they are neither good, nor beautiful, nor real. We know all this, thanks be to you, but our knowledge compared to your knowledge is ignorance.2
CREATOR OF ALL THINGS
(7) How did you make heaven and earth? What was your engine for doing this mighty work? You did not work as does the human artist, who transforms one body into another according to the purposes of a soul able somehow to imprint forms that it perceives by its inner eye. How could he do this unless you had first created his mind? The artist imprints a form on something already existing and having power to be, such as earth, stone, wood, or gold, or something of that sort. From what source would they be, unless you had decreed them to be? You made the artist’s body; you, the soul that gives orders to his members; you, the matter out of which he fashions things; you, the intellect by which he controls his creative imagination and sees within it what he fashions outside himself. You made his bodily senses by which, as through an interpreter, he transfers his work from mind to matter, and then reports back to mind what he has made, so that he may consult therein the truth presiding over him, so as to know whether it was well made.
All these praise you, the creator of all things. But how do you make them? O God, how have you made heaven and earth? Truly, neither in heaven nor upon earth have you made heaven and earth. Nor was it in the air, nor in the waters, for these too belong to heaven and earth. Nor was it in the one wide world that you made that one wide world, for before it was caused to be, there was no place where it could be made. You did not hold in your hand anything out of which to make heaven and earth: whence would you obtain this thing not made by you, out of which you would make a new thing? What exists, for any reason except that you exist? You spoke, therefore, and these things were made, and in your Word you made them.1
(8) But how did you speak? Was it in the way that the voice came out of the cloud, saying, “This is my beloved Son?”1 That voice went forth and went away; it began and it ceased. The syllables were sounded and they passed away, the second after the first, the third after the second, and the rest in order, until the last one came after all the others, and silence after the last. Whence it is clear and evident that a creature’s movement,2 a temporal movement, uttered that voice in obedience to your eternal will. These words of yours, formed for a certain time, the outer ear reported to the understanding mind, whose interior ear was placed close to your eternal Word. Then the mind compared these words sounding in time with your eternal Word in its silence, and said, “It is far different; it is far different. These words are far beneath me. They do not exist, because they flee and pass away. The Word of my God abides above me forever.”3
Therefore, if you had said in audible and passing words that heaven and earth should be made, and had so made heaven and earth, then before heaven and earth, there was already some corporeal creature by means of whose temporal movements that voice would run in time. But before heaven and earth, there was no bodily thing. Or if there were one, you surely had made it without using a passing voice by which you would say, “Let heaven and earth be made.” Whatsoever that thing might be, from which such a voice could be made, it could not be at all unless it were made by you. By what word, then, did you speak, so that there might be a body from which these words4 would be uttered?
THE WORD OF GOD
(9) So you call us to understand the Word, God with you, O God,1 which is spoken eternally, and in which all things are spoken eternally. Nor is it the case that what was spoken is ended and that another thing is said, so that all things may at length be said: all things are spoken once and forever. Elsewise, there would already be time and change, and neither true eternity nor true immortality. I know this, my God, and “I give thanks for it.”2 I know this, I confess to you, O Lord God, and together with me whoever is grateful to the sure Truth knows this and blesses you.
We know, O Lord, we know, since in so far as anything which once was now no longer is, and anything which once was not now is, to that extent such a thing dies and takes rise. Therefore, no part of your Word gives place to another or takes the place of another, since it is truly eternal and immortal. Therefore, you say once and forever all that you say by the Word, who is coeternal with you. Whatever you say shall be made, then it is made. But while you do not make anything otherwise than by speaking, yet not all things which you make by speaking are made simultaneously and eternally.
CHRIST OUR TEACHER
(10) Why, I beseech you, O Lord my God, is this? In a way, I see it, but how I am to express it I do not know, unless it is because whatever begins to be, and then ceases to be, does then begin to be and then cease to be when it is known in your eternal reason, wherein nothing begins or ceases, that it must begin or cease. This is your Word, which is also the beginning1 because it also speaks to us. Thus in the Gospel he speaks through the flesh, and this word sounded outwardly in the ears of men, so that it might be believed, and sought inwardly, and found in the eternal Truth where the sole good Master2 teaches all his disciples. There, O Lord, I hear your voice speaking to me, since he who teaches us speaks to us. But a man who does not teach us, even though he speaks, does not speak to us. Who teaches us now, unless it be stable Truth? Even when we are admonished by a changeable creature, we are led to stable Truth, where we truly learn “while we stand and hear him” and “rejoice with joy because of the bridegroom’s voice”3 restoring us to him from whom we are.
Therefore, he is a beginning, for unless he abided when we went astray, he would not be there when we returned. But when we return from error, we truly return by knowing that we do so, and that we may know this, he teaches us, because he is the beginning and he speaks to us.
(11) In the beginning, O God, you made heaven and earth in your Word, in your Son, in your Power, in your Wisdom, in your Truth, speaking in a wondrous way and working in a wondrous way. Who shall comprehend it? Who shall declare it? What is that which shines through me and strikes my heart without injuring it? I both shudder and glow with passion: I shudder, in as much as I am unlike it; I glow with passion in as much as I am like to it.
It is Wisdom, Wisdom itself, which shines through me, cutting through my dark clouds which again cover me over, as I fall down because of that darkness and under the load of my punishments. For thus is my strength weakened in poverty,1 so that I cannot support my good, until you, O Lord, “who have been gracious to all my iniquities,” likewise “heal all my diseases.” For you will “redeem my life from corruption,” you will “crown me with mercy and compassion,” and you will “satisfy my desire with good things,” because my “youth shall be renewed like the eagle’s.”2For in hope we are saved, and we wait for your promises through patience.3
Let him who can hear you inwardly as you speak to us. I will cry out boldly in words from your oracle: “How great are your works, O Lord; you have made all things in wisdom!”4 That wisdom is the beginning, and in that beginning you have made heaven and earth.5
A SKEPTICAL OBJECTION
(12) Lo, are not those men full of their old carnal nature who say to us, “What was God doing before he made heaven and earth?” “For if,” they say, “he took his ease and did nothing, why did he not continue in this way henceforth and forever, just as previously he always refrained from work? If any new motion arise in God, or a new will is formed in him, to the end of establishing creation, which he had never established previously, how then would there be true eternity, when a will arises that previously was not there? The will of God is not a creature, but it is before the creature, for nothing would be created unless the creator’s will preceded it. Therefore God’s will belongs to his very substance. But if anything has appeared in God’s substance that previously was not there, then that substance is not truly called eternal. Yet if it were God’s sempiternal will for the creature to exist, why is not the creature sempiternal also?”
PAST, PRESENT, AND FUTURE
(13) Men who say such things do not yet understand you, O Wisdom of God,1 O light of minds. They do not yet understand how those things are made which are made through you and in you. They attempt to grasp eternal things, but their heart flutters among the changing things of past and future, and it is still vain.2 Who will catch hold of it, and make it fast, so that it stands firm for a little while, and for a little while seize the splendor of that ever stable eternity, and compare it with times that never stand fast, and see that it is incomparable to them, and see that a long time cannot become long except out of many passing movements, which cannot be extended together, that in the eternal nothing can pass away but the whole is present, that no time is wholly present? Who will see that all past time is driven back by the future, that all the future is consequent on the past, and all past and future are created and take their course from that which is ever present?
Who will hold the heart of man, so that it may stand still and see how steadfast eternity, neither future nor past, decrees times future and those past? Can my hand do this, or does the hand of my mouth by its little words effect so great a thing?
A FRIVOLOUS ANSWER
(14) See, I answer the man who says,1 “What did God do before he made heaven and earth?” I do not give the answer that someone is said to have given, evading by a joke the force of the objection: “He was preparing hell,” he said, “for those prying into such deep subjects.” It is one thing to see the objection; it is another to make a joke of it. I do not answer in this way. I would rather respond, “I do not know,” concerning what I do not know rather than say something for which a man inquiring about such profound matters is laughed at, while the one giving a false answer is praised.
I say that you, our God, are the creator of every creature, and, if by the phrase heaven and earth all creation is understood, I boldly say, “Before God made heaven and earth, he did not make anything.” If he made anything, what else did he make except a creature? Would that I knew all I want to know that is for my good in the same way that I know that no creature was made before any creature was made.2
BEFORE ALL TIME
(15) If any flighty mind wanders among mental pictures of past times, and wonders that you, the all-great, all-creating, and all-sustaining God, maker of heaven and earth, should for countless ages have refrained from doing so great a work before actually doing it, let him awake and realize that he wonders at falsities. How could they pass by, those countless ages, which you had not made, although you are the author and creator of all ages?1 Or what times would there be, times not been made by you? Or how did they pass by, if they never were? Therefore, since you are the maker of all times, if there was a time before you made heaven and earth, why do they say that you rested from work?2 You made that very time, and no times could pass by before you made those times. But if there was no time before heaven and earth, why do they ask what you did then? There was no “then,” where there was no time.
(16) It is not in time that you precede time: elsewise you would not precede all times. You precede all past times in the sublimity of an ever present eternity, and you surpass all future times, because they are to come, and when they come, they shall be past, “but you are the Selfsame, and your years shall not fail.”3 Your years neither come nor go, but our years come and go so that all of them may come. Your years stand all at once, because they are steadfast: departing years are not turned away by those that come, because they never pass away. But these years of ours shall all be, when they all shall be no more. Your years are one day,4 and your day is not each day, but today, because with you today does not give way to tomorrow, nor does it succeed yesterday. With you, today is eternity. Therefore you begot the coeternal, to whom you said, “This day have I begotten you.”5 You have made all times, and you are before all times, and not at any time was there no time.6
WHAT IS TIME?
(17) At no time, therefore, did you do nothing, since you had made time itself. No times are coeternal with you, because you are permanent, whereas if they were permanent, they would not be times. What is time? Who can easily and briefly explain this? Who can comprehend this even in thought, so as to express it in a word? Yet what do we discuss more familiarly and knowingly in conversation than time? Surely we understand it when we talk about it, and also understand it when we hear others talk about it.
What, then, is time? If no one asks me, I know; if I want to explain it to someone who does ask me, I do not know.1 Yet I state confidently that I know this: if nothing were passing away, there would be no past time, and if nothing were coming, there would be no future time, and if nothing existed, there would be no present time. How, then, can these two kinds of time, the past and the future, be, when the past no longer is and the future as yet does not be? But if the present were always present, and would not pass into the past, it would no longer be time, but eternity. Therefore, if the present, so as to be time, must be so constituted that it passes into the past, how can we say that it is, since the cause of its being is the fact that it will cease to be? Does it not follow that we can truly say that it is time, only because it tends towards non-being?
CAN TIME BE LONG OR SHORT?
(18) Yet we say “a long time” and “a short time,” and do not say this except of the past or the future. For example, we call a hundred years ago a long time in the past, and a hundred years from now we call a long time in the future. On the contrary, we term ten days ago, let us say, a short time past, and ten days to come, a brief future time. But in what sense is something nonexistent either long or short? The past no longer exists, and the future is not yet in being. Therefore we should not say, “It is long,” but we should say of the past, “It was long,” and of the future, “It will be long.” My Lord, my light,1 shall not your truth here also jest at man?2 That past time which was so long, was it long when it was already past, or before that, when it was still present? It could be long at the time when that existed which could be long. Once past, it did not exist, hence it could not be long, since it in no wise existed. Therefore, let us not say, “Past time was long.” We will not find anything which was long, since from the very fact that it is past, it is no more. Let us say, “That time once present was long,” because it was long when it was present. It had not yet passed away, so as not to be, and therefore there existed that which could be long. On the other hand, after it passed away, it instantly ceased to be long, because it ceased to be.
(19) Let us see, then, O human soul, whether present time can be long, for it has been granted to you to perceive and to measure tracts of time. What answer do you make me? Are a hundred years, when present, a long time? See first whether a hundred years can be present. If the first of these years is going on, it is present, but the other ninety-nine are still in the future, and therefore as yet are not existent. If the second year is current, one is already past, another is present, and the rest are in the future. So it is if we posit any of the intervening years of the hundred as the present: before it will be past years, and after it, future years. For this reason, a hundred years cannot be present.
But see, at least, if the year now going on is itself present. If the first month is current, then all the rest are to come; if it is the second, then the first is already past and the others are not yet here. Therefore the current year is not wholly present, and if it is not wholly present, then the year is not present. A year is made up of twelve months, of which any one month, which is current, is the present, and the others are either past or future. However, not even the current month is present, but only a single day. If it is the first day, the others are to come; if the last day, the others are past; if any intervening day, it is between those past and those to come.
(20) See how the present time, which alone we found worthy to be called long, is contracted to hardly the space of a single day. But let us examine it also, because not even a single day is present in its totality. It is completed in twenty-four hours of night and day, and of these the first has the others still to come, the last has them past it, and each of the intervening hours has those before it in the past and those after it in the future. That one hour itself goes on in fleeting moments; whatever part of it has flown away is past, whatever remains is future. If any point of time is conceived that can no longer be divided into even the most minute parts of a moment, that alone it is which may be called the present. It flies with such speed from the future into the past that it cannot be extended by even a trifling amount. For if it is extended, it is divided into past and future. The present has no space.
Where then is the time that we may call long? Is it to come? We do not say of it that it is long, because it does not yet exist, so as to be long. We say that it will be long. When, therefore, will it be? Even then, if it will still be to come, it will not be long, since that which will be long does not yet be. But suppose it will be long, at that time when out of the future, which does not yet be, it will first begin to be and will have become present, so that what may be long can actually exist. Then immediately present time cries out in the words above that it cannot be long.
TIME AND MEASUREMENT
(21) Still, O Lord, we perceive intervals of time. We compare them to one another and say that some are longer and some shorter. Also, we measure how much longer or shorter this time may be than that, and answer that this is twice or three times as long as another, or that that one is identical with or just as much as this. But it is passing times that we measure, and we make these measurements in perceiving them. As to past times, which no longer exist, or future, which as yet do not exist, who can measure them, except perhaps a man rash enough to say that he can measure what does not exist? Therefore, as long as time is passing by, it can be perceived and measured, but when it has passed by, it cannot be measured since it does not exist.
PROPHECY AND HISTORY
(22) Father, I ask questions; I do not make assertions. My God, govern me and guide me.1 Who is it that will tell me, not that there are three times, just as we learned as boys and as we have taught to boys,2 namely, past, present, and future, but that there is only present time, since the other two do not exist? Or do they too exist, but when the present comes into being from the future, does it proceed from some hidden source, and when past comes out of the present, does it recede into some hidden place? Where did they who foretold things to come see them, if they do not exist? A thing that does not exist cannot be seen. If those who narrate past events did not perceive them by their minds, they would not give true accounts. If such things were nothing at all, they could not be perceived in any way. Therefore, both future and past times have being.
INDUCTION AND PREDICTION
(23) Give me leave, “O Lord, my hope,”1 to make further search: do not let my purpose be diverted. If future and past times exist, I wish to know where they are. But if I am not yet able to do this, I still know that wherever they are, they are there neither as future nor as past, but as present. For if they are in that place as future things, they are not yet there, and if they are in that place as past things, they are no longer there. Therefore, wherever they are, and whatever they are, they do not exist except as present things. However, when true accounts of the past are given, it is not the things themselves, which have passed away, that are drawn forth from memory, but words conceived from their images. These images they implanted in the mind like footsteps as they passed through the senses.
My boyhood, indeed, which no longer is, belongs to past time, which no longer is. However, when I recall it and talk about it, I perceive its image at the present time, because it still is in my memory. Whether there may be a like cause of predicting future events as well, namely, that actually existent images of things which as yet do not exist are perceived first, I confess, O my God, I do not know. But this I surely know, that we often premeditate our future actions and such premeditation is present to us, but the action that we premeditate does not yet exist, because it is to be. As soon as we have addressed ourselves to it and have begun to do what we were premeditating, then action will be existent. Then it will not be future, but present.2
(24) Howsoever this secret foresight of things to come takes place, nothing can be seen except what is present. But what now is is not future but present. Hence, when future things are said to be seen, it is not the things themselves, which are not yet existent, that is, the things that are to come, but their causes, or perhaps signs of them, which already exist, that are seen. Thus they are not future things, but things already present to the viewers, and from them future things are predicted as conceived in the mind. Again, these conceptions are already existent, and those who predict the future fix their gaze upon things present with them.
Let the vast multitude of such things offer me some example of this. I look at the dawn; I foretell the coming sunrise. What I look at is present; what I foretell is future. It is not the sun that is about to be, for it already exists, but its rising, which as yet is not. Yet if I did not picture within my mind this sunrise, just as when I now speak of it, I would be unable to predict it. Still that dawn, which I see in the sky, is not the sunrise, although it precedes the sunrise, nor is the picture in my mind the sunrise. Both these are perceived as present to me, so that the future sunrise may be foretold. Therefore, future things do not yet exist; if they do not yet exist, they are not; if they are not, they can in no wise be seen. However, they can be predicted from present things, which already exist and are seen.
A PRAYER FOR LIGHT
(25) O you, the ruler of your creation, in what manner do you teach souls those things which are to come? You have taught your prophets. What is that way by which you teach things to come, you to whom nothing is future? Or is it rather that you teach things present concerning what is to come? What does not exist surely cannot be taught. Too distant is this way for my sight. It is too strong for me, and of myself I will not be able to attain it.1 But with your help I will be able to attain to it, when you will give it to me, you, the sweet light of my hidden eyes.2
THREE KINDS OF TIME
(26) It is now plain and clear that neither past nor future are existent, and that it is not properly stated that there are three times, past, present, and future. But perhaps it might properly be said that there are three times, the present of things past, the present of things present, and the present of things future. These three are in the soul, but elsewhere I do not see them: the present of things past is in memory; the present of things present is in intuition; the present of things future is in expectation. If we are permitted to say this, then I see three times, and I affirm that there are three times. It may also be said that there are three times, past, present, and future, as common usage incorrectly puts it. This may be stated. Note that I am not concerned over this, do not object to it, and do not criticize it, as long as we understand what we say, namely, that what is future is not now existent, nor is that which is past. There are few things that we state properly, and many that we speak improperly,1 but what we mean is understood.
MEASURES OF TIME
(27) I said just a while ago that we measure passing times, so that we can say that this tract of time is double that single one, or that this one is just as long as the other, and whatever else as to periods of time we can describe by our measurements. Therefore, as I was saying, we measure passing times. If someone says to me, “How do you know this?” I may answer, “I know this because we make such measurements, and we cannot measure things that do not exist, and neither past nor future things exist.” Yet how do we measure present time, since it has no extent? Therefore, it is measured as it passes by, but once it has passed by, it is not measured, for what would be measured will no longer exist. But from where, and on what path, and to what place does it pass, as it is measured? From where, except from the future? By what path, except by the present? To what place, except into the past? Therefore, it is from that which does not yet exist, by that which lacks space, and into that which no longer exists.
But what do we measure if time is not in a certain space? We do not say single, or double, or threefold, or equal, or anything else of this sort in the order of time, except with regard to tracts of time. In what space, then, do we measure passing time? In the future, out of which it passes? But we do not measure what does not yet exist. Or in the present, by which it passes? We do not measure what is without space. Or in the past, into which it passes? We do not measure what no longer exists.
A NEW TASK
(28) My mind is on fire to understand this most intricate riddle. O Lord my God, good Father, I beseech you in the name of Christ, do not shut off, do not shut off these things, both familiar and yet hidden, from my desire, so that it may not penetrate into them, but let them grow bright, Lord, with your mercy bringing the light that lights them up. Of whom shall I inquire concerning them? To whom shall I more fruitfully confess my ignorance than to you, to whom my studies, strongly burning for your Scriptures, are not offensive.
Give me what I love, for in truth I love it, and this you have given to me. Give this to me, Father, for “truly you know how to give good gifts to your children.”1 Give it to me, for “I studied that I might know this thing; it is a labor in your sight,”2 until you open it up. I beseech you in the name of Christ, in the name of him, the saint of saints, let no man interrupt me. “I have believed, therefore do I speak.”3 This is my hope, for this I live, “that I may contemplate the delight of the Lord.”4 “Behold, you have made my days old,”5 and they pass away, but how I do not know. We talk of time and time, of times and times: “How long ago did he say this?” “How long ago did he do this?” “How long a time since I saw that?” “This syllable takes twice the time of that short simple syllable.” We say these things, and we hear them, and we are understood, and we understand. They are most clear and most familiar, but again they are very obscure, and their solution is a new task.
BODILY MOTION AS TIME
(29) I have heard from a certain learned man that the movements of the sun, moon, and stars constitute time, but I did not agree with him.1 Why should not rather the movement of all bodies be times? In fact, if the lights of heaven should stop, while a potter’s wheel was kept moving, would there be no time by which we might measure those rotations? Would we say either that it moved with equal speeds, or, if it sometimes moved more slowly and sometimes more swiftly, that some turns were longer and others shorter? Or while we were saying this, would we not also be speaking in time? Or would there be in our words some long syllables and others short, except for the fact that some were sounded for a longer and others for a shorter time? Grant to men, O God, that they may see in a little matter evidence2 common to things both small and great. The stars and the lights of heaven are “for signs, and for seasons, and for days, and for years.”3 Truly they are such. Yet I should not say that the turning of that little wooden wheel constitutes a day, nor under those conditions should that learned man say that there is no time.
(30) I desire to know the power and the nature of time, by which we measure bodily movements, and say, for instance, that this movement is twice as long as that. I put this question: “Since a day is defined not only as the sun’s time over the earth—according to which usage, day is one thing and night another—but also as its entire circuit from east to east—and accordingly we say ‘So many days have passed,’ for they are termed ‘so many days’ with their nights included and are not reckoned as days apart from the night hours—since, then, a day is completed by the sun’s movement and its circuit from east to east, I ask whether the movement itself constitutes a day, or the period in which the movement is performed, or both together?”
If the first were a day, then there would be a day even if the sun completed its course in a period of time such as an hour. If the second, then there would not be a day, if from one sunrise to another there were as brief a period as an hour, whereas the sun would have to go around twenty-four times to complete a day. If both, it could not be called a day if the sun ran its entire course in the space of an hour, nor if, while the sun stood still, just so much time passed by as the sun usually takes to complete its entire course from morning to morning.
Therefore, I will not now ask what is it that is called a day, but rather what is time, by which we would measure the sun’s circuit and say that it was completed in half the time it usually takes, if it were finished in a period like twelve hours. Comparing both times, we should call the one a single period, the other a double period, even if the sun ran its course from east to east sometimes in the single period and sometimes in the double.
Let no man tell me, then, that movements of the heavenly bodies constitute periods of time.4 When at the prayer of a certain man,5 the sun stood still until he could achieve victory in battle, the sun indeed stood still, but time went on. That battle was waged and brought to an end during its own tract of time, which was sufficient for it. Therefore, I see that time is a kind of distention. Yet do I see this, or do I only seem to myself to see it? You, O Light, will show this to me.
MEASURES OF MOVEMENT
(31) Do you command me to agree with someone who says that time is the movement of a body? You do not command this. I hear that a body is never moved except in time: this you yourself affirm.1 But I do not hear that the movement of a body constitutes time: this you do not say. When a body is moved, I measure in time how long it is moved, from when it begins to be moved until it ceases. If I did not see when it began, and if it continues to be moved, so that I cannot see when it stops, I am unable to measure it, except perhaps from the time I begin to see it until I stop. If I look at it for long, I can merely report that it is a long time, but not how long. When we say how long, we say so by making a comparison, such as, “This is as long as that,” or “Twice as long as that,” or something of the sort.
But if we can mark off the distances of the places from which and to which the body that is moved goes—or its parts, if it is moved as on a lathe—then we can say in how much time the movement of that body, or its part, from this place to that, is completed. Since the movement of a body is one thing and that by which we measure how long it takes another, who does not perceive which of the two is better called time? For if a body is sometimes moved in different ways and sometimes stands still, then we measure in time not only its movement but also its standing still. We say, “It stood still just as long as it was moved,” or “It stood still twice or three times as long as it was moved,” and whatever else our measurements either determine or reckon, more or less, as the saying goes. Time, therefore, is not the movement of a body.
THE DEEPENING PROBLEM
(32) I confess to you, O Lord, that I do not yet know what time is, and again I confess to you, O Lord, that I know that I say these things in time, and that I have now spoken at length of time, and that that very length of time is not long except by a period of time. How, then, do I know this, when I do not know what time is? Or perhaps I do not know how to express what I know? Woe is me, who do not even know what I do not know!1 Behold, O my God, before you I do not lie.2 As I speak, so is my heart. “You will light my lamp, O Lord, my God, you enlighten my darkness.”3
THE DEFINITION OF TIME
(33) Does not my soul confess to you with a true confession that I measure tracts of time? Yes, O Lord my God, I measure them, and know not what I measure, I measure the motion of a body in time. But again, do I not measure time itself? In fact, could I measure a body’s movement, as to how long it is and how long it takes from this place to that, unless I could measure the time in which it is moved? How, then, do I measure time itself? Do we measure a longer time by a shorter one, just as we measure the length of a rod by the length of a cubit?1 It is thus that we seem to measure the length of a long syllable by the length of a short syllable, and to say that it is twice as long. So also we measure the length of poems by the length of verses, the length of verses by the length of feet, the length of feet by the length of syllables, and the length of long syllables by the length of short ones. This is not as they are on the page—in that manner we measure spaces, not times—but as words pass by when we pronounce them. We say: “It is a long poem for it is composed of so many verses; the verses are long, for they consist of so many feet; the feet are long, for they extend over so many syllables; the syllable is long, for it is double a short one.”
But a reliable measure of time is not comprehended in this manner, since it can be that a shorter verse, if pronounced more slowly, may sound for a longer stretch of time than a longer but more hurried verse. So it is for a poem, so for a foot, so for a syllable. For this reason it seemed to me that time is nothing more than distention:2 but of what thing I know not, and the marvel is, if it is not of the mind itself. For what do I measure, I beseech you, my God, when I say either indefinitely, “This time is longer than that,” or even definitely, “This time is twice as long as that”? I measure time, I know. Yet I do not measure the future, because it does not yet exist; I do not measure the present, because it is not extended in space; I do not measure the past, because it no longer exists. What, then, do I measure? Times that pass, but are not yet past? So I have stated.
WHERE TIME IS MEASURED
(34) Be steadfast, O my mind, and attend firmly. “God is our helper.”1 “He made us, and not we ourselves.”2 Look to where truth begins to dawn.3 See, as an example, a bodily voice begins to sound, and does sound, and still sounds, and then, see, it stops. There is silence now: that voice is past, and is no longer a voice. Before it sounded, the voice was to come, and could not be measured because it did not yet exist, and now it cannot be measured because it no longer is. Therefore, the time it was sounding, it could be measured, because at that time it existed. Even at that time it was not static, for it was going on and going away. Was it for that reason the more measurable? While passing away it was being extended over some tract of time, wherein it could be measured, for the present has no space. Therefore, if it could be measured at that time, let us suppose that another voice has begun to sound and still sounds on one continuous note without any break. Let us measure it while it is sounding, since when it has ceased to sound, it will be already past and there will be nothing that can be measured. Let us measure it exactly, and let us state how long it is. But it is still sounding, and it cannot be measured except from its beginning, when it begins to sound, up to its end, when it stops. We measure, in fact, the interval from some beginning up to some kind of end. Hence a voice that is never brought to a stop cannot be measured, so that one may say how long or short it is. Nor can it be said to be equal to another, or single or double or anything else with reference to something. But when it will be ended, it will no longer be. In what sense, then, can it be measured? Yet we do measure tracts of time, although not those which as yet are not, not those which no longer are, not those which are prolonged without a break, not those which have no limits. Neither future, nor past, nor present, nor passing times do we measure, and still we measure tracts of time.
(35) Deus creator omnium4—“God, creator of all things”—this verse of eight syllables alternates between short and long syllables. Hence the four short syllables, the first, third, fifth, and seventh, are simple with respect to the four long syllables, the second, fourth, sixth, and eighth. Each long syllable has a double time with respect to each of the others. This I affirm, this I report, and so it is, in so far as it is plain to sense perception. In so far as sense perception is clear, I measure the long syllable by the short one, and I perceive that it is exactly twice as long. But when one syllable sounds after another, and if the first is short and the second long, how will I retain the short syllable and how will I apply it to the long syllable while measuring it, so as to find that the latter is twice as long? For the long syllable does not begin to sound until the short one has ceased to sound. Do I measure the long syllable itself while it is present, since I do not measure it until it is completed? Yet its completion is its passing away. Therefore, what is it that I measure? Where is the short syllable by which I measure? Where is the long syllable that I measure? Both of them have sounded, have flown off, have passed away, and now they are not. Yet I make measurements, and I answer confidently—in so far as sense activity is relied upon—that this syllable is single and that one double, namely, in length of time. Yet I cannot do this, unless because they have passed away and are ended. Therefore, I do not measure the syllables themselves, which no longer are, but something in my memory that remains fixed there.
(36) It is in you, O my mind, that I measure my times. Do not interrupt me by crying that time is. Do not interrupt yourself with the noisy mobs of your prejudices. It is in you, I say, that I measure tracts of time. The impression that passing things make upon you remains, even after those things have passed. That present state is what I measure, not the things which pass away so that it be made. That is what I measure when I measure tracts of time. Therefore, either this is time, or I do not measure time.
How is it when we measure stretches of silence, and say that this silence has lasted for as much of time as that discourse lasted? Do we not apply our thought to measurement of the voice, just as though it were sounding, so that we may be able to report about the intervals of silence in a given tract of time? Even though both voice and mouth be silent, in our thought we run through poems and verses, and any discourse, and any other measurements of motion. We report about tracts of time: how great this one may be in relation to that, in the same manner as if we said them audibly.
If someone wished to utter a rather long sound and had determined by previous reflection how long it would be, he has in fact already silently gone through a tract of time. After committing it to memory, he has begun to utter that sound and he voices it until he has brought it to his proposed end. Yes, it has sounded and it will sound. For the part of it that is finished has surely sounded; what remains will sound. So it is carried out, as long as his present intention transfers the future into the past, with the past increasing by a diminution of future, until by the consumption of the future the whole is made past.
THE MENTAL SYNTHESIS
(37) But how is the future, which as yet does not exist, diminished or consumed, or how does the past, which no longer exists, increase, unless there are three things in the mind, which does all this? It looks forward, it considers, it remembers, so that the reality to which it looks forward passes through what it considers into what it remembers. Who, then, denies that future things are not yet existent? Yet there is already in the mind an expectation of things to come. Who denies that past things no longer exist? Yet there is still in the soul the memory of past things. Who denies that present time lacks spatial extent, since it passes away in an instant? Yet attention abides, and through it what shall be present proceeds to become something absent. It is not, then, future time that is long, but a long future is a long expectation of the future. Nor is past time, which is not, long, but a long past is a long memory of the past.
(38) I am about to recite a psalm that I know. Before I begin, my expectation extends over the entire psalm. Once I have begun, my memory extends over as much of it as I shall separate off and assign to the past. The life of this action of mine is distended into memory by reason of the part I have spoken and into forethought by reason of the part I am about to speak. But attention is actually present and that which was to be is borne along by it so as to become past. The more this is done and done again, so much the more is memory lengthened by a shortening of expectation, until the entire expectation is exhausted. When this is done the whole action is completed and passes into memory. What takes place in the whole psalm takes place also in each of its parts and in each of its syllables. The same thing holds for a longer action, of which perhaps the psalm is a small part. The same thing holds for a man’s entire life, the parts of which are all the man’s actions. The same thing holds throughout the whole age of the sons of men, the parts of which are the lives of all men.
THE ONE AND THE MANY
(39) But since “your mercy is better than lives,”1 behold, my life is a distention, or distraction.2 But “your right hand has upheld me”3 in my Lord, the Son of man, mediator between you, the One, and us, the many, who are dissipated in many ways upon many things; so that by him “I may apprehend, in whom I have been apprehended,” and may be gathered together again from my former days, to follow the One; “forgetting the things that are behind” and not distended but extended, not to things that shall be and shall pass away, but “to those things which are before”; not purposelessly but purposively, “I follow on for the prize of my supernal vocation,”4 where “I may hear the voice of your praise,”5 and “contemplate your delights,”6 which neither come nor go.
But now “my years are wasted in sighs,”7 and you, O Lord, my comfort, my Father, are eternal. But I am distracted amid times, whose order I do not know, and my thoughts, the inmost bowels of my soul, are torn asunder by tumult and change, until being purged and melted clear by the fire of your love, I may flow altogether into you.
GOD ALONE IS ETERNAL
(40) I will stand and be firm in you, in your Truth, which is my mold. I will not endure the questions of men, who by a disease that is their punishment, thirst for more than they can hold, and say, “What did God do before he made heaven and earth?” or “How did it come to his mind to make anything, since he had never before made anything?”
Give them, O Lord, to think well on what they say, and to learn that the word “never” cannot be used where there is no time. Therefore, when a man is said never to have made anything, what else is said except that he made it at no time? Let them see, therefore, that there can be no time without creation, and let them cease to speak vanity.1 May they also reach out forth “to those things which are before,”2 and understand that you are before all times, the eternal creator of all times, and that times are not coeternal with you, nor is any creature such, even if there were a creature above time.3
UNCHANGING THOUGHT, UNCHANGING ACT
(41) O Lord my God, how deep are your secret places, and how far from them have the consequences of my sins cast me! Heal my eyes, and let me share in the joy of your light. Surely, if there is a mind possessed of such great knowledge and fore-knowledge, so that to it are known all things past and future, just as I know one well-known psalm, then supremely marvelous is that mind and wondrous and fearsome. From it whatever there is of ages past and of ages to come is no more hidden than there are hidden from me as I sing that psalm what and how much preceded from its beginning and what and how much remains to the end.
But far be it that you, creator of the universe, creator of souls and bodies, far be it that in such wise you should know future and past. Far, far more wonderfully, far more deeply do you know them! It is not as emotions are changed or senses filled up by expectation of words to come and memory of those past in one who sings well-known psalms or hears a familiar psalm. Not so does it befall you who are unchangeably eternal, that is, truly eternal, the creator of minds. Therefore, just as in the beginning you have known heaven and earth without change in your knowledge, so too “in the beginning you made heaven and earth”1 without any difference in your activity. Whosoever understands this, let him confess it to you, and whosoever does not understand it, let him confess it to you. O how exalted are you, and yet the humble of heart are your dwelling place!2 You lift up them that are cast down,”3 and they do not fall down, whose place aloft is you!