Augustine’s Ambivalence About Temporality: His Two Accounts of Time

Augustine’s Ambivalence About Temporality: His Two Accounts of Time

Gross, Charlotte (North Carolina State University)

Medieval Philosophy and Theology 8 (1999)


At the close of his discussion of time in Book 11 of the Confessions (397– 401), Augustine abandons his empirical inquiry for an impassioned prayer. He writes:

Behold, my life is a dispersion and a distraction. . . . I have been fragmented in times, the order of which I do not know; and my thoughts and the inmost viscera of my soul are torn apart with tumultuous change; until the day when I shall flow together into You, purified and made molten by the fire of your love (Conf. 11.29).

As this passage suggests, Augustine’s attitude toward time is profoundly ambivalent. On the one hand, time scatters and distracts the soul intending toward eternity, so that it loses sight of true Being and turns away from God. Working in the Neoplatonic tradition, Augustine associates time with all that is not, in the fullest sense of the word: with impermanence, mutability, materiality, and even, by a certain slippage, with sin

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