Augustine opens up book 11 of the confessions by declaring that eternity is the Lords. He asks two important questions about God’s relationship to time. If eternity is the Lords, can he be ignorant of what we will say to him or does he only know what happens at the moment in time when it occurs? Augustine ends chapter one by noting that the mercy of the Lord endures forever. Does his mercy last forever because God is eternal and timeless? How could it last forever if God only knows what happens at each moment of time?
In Chapter 2, Augustine explains that his time is too precious to waste so he has the burning desire to mediate in the Law of the Lord and reflect upon his knowledge of it, including what he does not know about it. Why pray to God if he already knows what you will pray for and even what you would pray for? The answer lies in the fact that we are temporal beings and need the help of him who created time. God knows our thoughts, intentions, and actions before we even produce such things. It is wise to pray to God who formed us in the womb, since he knows what we need and what we don’t. As beings stuck in time, we need to seek the help of the one who is in control of time, we do this by prayer and confessing our sins to him.
Chapters 3-4 explain that truth comes from God and not those who deliver the truth. Not even from Moses or from any other spoken language. Truth is universal throughout all people and languages. We should ask for the forgiveness of our sins to the one who knows all truth and grants truth to the imago dei’s. God gives us the power to understand these words and to speak them just like he did with Moses, The Prophets, and those who deliver the truth. All created things have an extrinsic beauty from their creation, but their creator has the most intrinsic value since he is the originator of all created things and beyond their limitations. All created things are temporal while the creator is timeless and creates all temporal things.
Chapters 5-10 reflect on the questions, how did God make the Heavens and the Earth? Did God use an instrument like the craftsman does? Surely not, since he created all material things and souls that can create through Aristotle’s four types of causes. The craftsman is the sufficient cause that turns the material cause into the formal cause with the final cause of the mind. Meaning that humans form material things into different substances with the mind and the tools they possess. Does God do this with the Heavens and the Earth? God is the efficient cause of the universe, but did not need any material cause to do this since the beginning of the universe implies the beginning of all material things? This is known as creatio ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. How did God do this? Augustine ponders how God spoke the universe into existence. Was it the same voice that said “This is my beloved Son?” Was it eternally spoken since his words are eternal? God is the author of his word since it does have a beginning to explain to us the need we have for him and why we confess to him in the first place.
An important question is brought up, what was God doing before creation? If God willed something to happen before creation, then would it have come into existence? If God willed nothing previously, then why did he not remain eternally in this state? Doesn’t an act of creation require time? If God’s will is part of his substance, then should it not also be eternal? How can a personal being be timeless anyway? These are pondering questions that reflect the argument Augustine represents in chapter 10. One response he notes is, that God was preparing Hell for those who ask these questions. Augustine argues that the man who poses this does not understand God since they put him in the box of past and future events. Augustine ultimately says he does not know, but he knows that if God would have created before creation, then that would have been creation. Before any creature existed, there was not a creature that was created. God is present at all places at all times that he creates. He also argues that there was no time before time since God created all times and ages, so it’s meaningless to ask what was God doing before he created since there was no time. This brings up an even more difficult question, if there was no time before creation, then how could God create something before time existed?
Augustine in chapter 15 describes what we call The A-Theory of time, where the past has gone out of existence, the present is now, but the future is not in existence. Can we say the future exists since every new moment is the present? He turns this into an argument against definite periods of time, but yet says in chapter 16 that we do experience definite periods of time since we are temporal. If the past and future do not exist, then how can we measure time? If the future does not exist, then how can the prophets tell us about it? Augustine is not posing these questions against God, but rather asking them to learn and teach about God.
There is one view of time that says that experience of time is an illusion of human consciousness and that we are going through a block of events that all exist simultaneously. We experience this illusion of flowing time that make things really seem to go out of existence and come into existence, but B theory says otherwise. Augustine describes this in chapters 18-21 as he explains that if the future and past exist as the same time, then they are present rather than past and future. All time is present, but through our mind we perceive things from an A-theory perspective. Augustine begs God and confesses his desire to resolve all these questions he has proposed in chapter 22.
Augustine discusses whether time is measured by the heavenly bodies of the sun and moon or by something else. Time is measured by change of how matter and space interact. He wonders what time is, but time is change between material things that inhabit space. We know this from general relativity that shows space, matter, and time are co-relative. While Augustine didn’t have modern day science, he argued that time is not measured by the heavenly bodies since the Sun stood still for Joshua, but yet time did occur since a battle was fought. He also ponders whether time is measured by bodies in movement, but from that we can still not know what time is. Augustine confesses in chapter 25, that he does not understand time or that he does not know how to describe something that is known to him. He confesses this to the Lord, who does have the answer. He uses examples of syllables, sounds, and reciting psalms of describing how we measure instances of time. He sees this as an extension of time that the mind reflects on in three ways. We reflect on things from the past, what we experience now, and what we look forward to. Chapter 26-28 are repetitions of him struggling with the idea of past and future going out of existence and how we can even measure time because of this.
God’s relationship to time is important to discuss and how it relates to the nature of time. One view says that God is timeless and is in a static state. Another view says that God exists throughout all time, but for this to work time must be eternal. Otherwise, God begins to exist if time has a beginning. B-Theory would work best for this model since it would be plausible for time to be eternal in a block system. A final view is that time is part of God’s nature just like omnipotence is, so time would always exist along with God in an eternal state. Similar to the second option, but not the same since time isn’t separate from the being of God. The timeless view of God struggles with the question brought up before, can God create time before it exists? Especially, if God is in a static state where if he creates, then he is not timeless. The second view is unbiblical since the very first verse of the Bible implies the beginning of time, meaning that God begins to exists so he cannot create the Heavens and the Earths. The third view says God is changing, which would be difficult to reconcile with the Trinity, unless you are a modalist, which is heresy according to Augustine and many other church fathers. I propose that before God creates, he is timeless. When time begins to exist, God becomes temporal since he exists at all times. He exists in both the Heavens and the Earth. To answer whether God can create time before time exists, the answer relies on a third option. The creation of time is simultaneous with the creative act. Just like how a bowling bowl’s effect on a cushion are simultaneous, the same is for God when he creates the universe.
Augustine urges those who ask these questions in a challenging way to seek God since they do not understand him. He rejoices upon God’s knowledge of all time, both past, present, and futures times. He confesses to God who knows him better than himself. This applies to all of us since we are temporal beings that seek help from the creator of all times. Time is dependent upon God’s will to create it and so are we. All things are created by him, so before anything was created there was the Holy Trinity that needs not to create anything, but created all times as a gift from the loving relationship between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.