by Saint Augustine
Confessions Book XI Summary
- If God already knows everything, then what's the point of Augustine writing it down? To tell everybody else about his sins and the glory of God, of course.
- Now Augustine asks God to let him use his way with words to tell his readers about the Scriptures. Augustine just really, really wants to understand them.
- Get ready to dive deep into Genesis. And by deep we mean the first two lines. "In the Beginning God created the heaven and the earth." Easy, right? Well, actually, no.
- Earth and heaven must have been created, because they couldn't have created themselves.
- You can't make something from nothing (that is, unless you're Stephen Hawking). So it must have been God's utterance that made everything.
- When God uttered that sentence that made everything, did He speak in a sentence that had a beginning, end, and a certain amount of time in which it was said?
- Well, that leads Augustine to another query: where the heck did God's mouth come from? How could it have existed before the existence of everything?
- Because God's Word is eternal. Duh.
- So God's Word, by which Augustine means Christ, is the Beginning and the eternal Truth (lots of capitalized words here because they're referring to specific things). Everything changes but the Truth.
- Augustine calls Wisdom (capitalized again) an awesome light that He wants to shine on him. Sounds pretty nice.
- Houston, we have a problem. Some people ask what God was up to before He created everything. If He one day made the decision to create the universe, then his will is not eternal and unchangeable.
- It's all about time, says Augustine. Eternity isn't like time, in which there is a past, present, and future. Eternity is the ability to grasp everything at once.
- Augustine's answer is that before God made heaven and earth, God made nothing. Well that was anti-climactic wasn't it?
- So why did God wait ages and ages before creating the universe? Well, he didn't, because he hadn't created time yet. Eternity, remember?
- But what is time? If the past is no longer and the future is not yet then how can they exist?
- If the past and the future don't exist, how can we talk about "a long time" and "a short time"? Augustine breaks it down and it looks like you can't even do that for the present either.
- Now Augustine claims that time can only be measured while it is passing (but he doesn't mean with a clock, because those don't exist yet).
- Okay, okay, the past and the future must exist, so Augustine needs to keep thinking about this.
- Where are the past and the future? Augustine can think of things from the past but his memories were formed at a previous "present" time. Likewise, he can assume things about the future from observations that he makes in the present.
- How does God reveal the future to his prophets?
- It seems like the "past" and the "future" don't actually exist, except in the form of memories (for the past) and expectation (for the future).
- So Augustine will keep using the words "past" and "future" but he actually means these latter things.
- How do we measure time when the present has no duration and is in between two things that do not exist? This is going to be a particularly tough question for Augustine to answer, so naturally, he beseeches God.
- Time measures the movement of bodies—not just celestial bodies like the sun, but things on earth too. Augustine thinks about what exactly one "day" measures. Is it the movement of the sun to rise and set once? (He's assuming that the sun rotates around the earth. Oops. We're still a long time before Galileo, here.) Or, is it a specific length of time? The length of day varies throughout the year…
- Augustine is doin' physics. And he concludes that time is not the movement of a body, heavenly or otherwise.
- Augustine is getting frustrated because he still doesn't know what time is. He knows it exists, and he knows that he can measure it, but… that's about all he knows.
- Now, instead of bodies, Augustine is going to think about time and sounds.
- He concludes that we can tell when a sound lasts longer than another sound by comparing them, which must mean that the length of a sound must stay in his memory. Oh, we get it. So, time is measured in the mind.
- Time passes from the past into the future. The future is long because we have a long expectation of it, and the past seems long because we have a long memory of it. Makes sense so far, right?
- If Augustine recites a psalm, as he speaks, the psalm passes from his expectation (future) to his attention (present), to his memory (past)… until he has recited the whole thing. But he is able to contemplate the psalm as a whole, even though while he's in the middle of his recitation, half of the psalm is in the future and half of it is in the past, technically. Cool.
- Augustine thinks of his life in the same way as time: as something that has passed, and as something that has a future that will eventually become the past. Really, though, he should be thinking about eternity with God.
- Augustine wishes that people would stop asking all these pesky questions about God. A little bit of the pot calling the kettle black here, eh?
- God doesn't just know things in the way that a person might know things. His knowledge is, like, way more intense in ways that we just can't understand.
- Therefore, God was able to make heaven and earth without changing his actions. But whether people understand this or not, says Augustine, everyone should praise God.
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