The Ontological Difference Between Time and Eternity

According to Cullmann, the quantitative difference between time and eternity derived from the need to find a comprehensive framework for his concept of salvation history. This resulted in an alienation of time and eternity from time consciousness because of the definition of time and eternity as external categories of the redemptive event. Concurrently, the distinction between time and eternity almost disappeared. The opposing movement, a positioning of the distinction between time and eternity in the internal world, is usually ascribed to Augustine's concept of time: Writing 1,500 years before Cullmann, "he moved time into the soul, in order to bring it back home, out of its externalization and diffusion in the world."214

If I deal at this point with Augustine, it is not because I am concerned with an overall account of Augustine's doctrine of time. This has been covered in various ways by others and has resulted in vast amounts of litera-ture.215 An account of Augustine must also struggle with the fact that it is easier to read something into his writings than to interpret them. To a shockingly high degree, the major preconception of a particular reader of Augustine seems to determine the outcome of the reading. Thus, Karl Hin-rich Manzke, for example, proceeds from a time-eternity relationship in which eternity is understood as the truth of time, and he therefore finds a relational time-eternity model in Augustine.216 Arguing from the premises of the overall conception of the Confessions and Greek ontology, Ulrich

Duchrow concludes that "Augustine's so-called psychological concept of time" does not represent any essentially new solution to the problem of time.217 Duchrow faults Augustine's lack of interest in connecting physical time to his psychological theory, which resulted in the abandonment of nature. He also criticizes the inconsistency of Augustine's statements on salvation history. Thus, on the one hand, the past tends to dissolve into nothingness; on the other hand, however, it establishes salvation. The future does then indeed promise eschatological redemption, but this redemption is simultaneously defined as the eternally existing present.218 Duchrow understands both shortcomings as the disastrous fruit of the combining of important elements of Greek ontology and Roman rhetoric; and, due to the pressures of this combination, Augustine was "not innocent in the development toward a modern diastasis between the subject and a world abandoned by the Spirit."219

Dalferth, in turn, deals with Augustine by proceeding from his preconception of the fateful superimposition of the ontological time difference on the eschatological. He accuses Augustine of domesticating the eschatologi-cal time difference, which in fact makes the timeless God irrelevant for orientation in time and abandons the world to a secular notion of progress.220 By contrast, Gilles Quispel, who believes that it is clearly evident in the church fathers "that the pathos of progress is a secularization of primitive Christian ideas,"221 describes Augustine's theology as just the opposite. Augustine's theology, he says, is "demythicized eschatology,"222 because Augustine's key terms for his theology of time—distentio and intentio—are "the primordial words of Judeo-Christian eschatology."223 Quispel is not concerned with a relation of eternity to time, as Manzke is, but rather with the individual human soul, which can come into contact with eternity by means of withdrawing from the external world via intentio.224

Four interpreters and four interpretations: I do not wish to add a fifth here, but rather ask how Augustine may have understood the ontological difference between time and eternity. Linked to this is the question of whether, or to what extent, it is adequate or fruitful to consider time and eternity as having different natures. For this purpose, I shall concentrate on the eleventh book of the Confessions.

For Augustine, eternity is semper stans, that is, unlimited stability.225 It is also totum esse praesens, complete simultaneity.226 Furthermore, as the constant present, it is the timeless foundation of all temporal things because time cannot create unity and wholeness out of itself.227 No possibility exists for comparing eternity to the temporibus numquam stantibus (the times that never stand still).228 Time as the past exists no longer; time as the future does not yet exist; time as the present becomes time only when it moves into the past, for a lasting present would be eternity. For this reason, it belongs to the essence of time that it "flows toward non-existence" [tendit non esse].229 This tendency toward nonexistence is evident when time appears as memory of an earlier present and as the expectation of a future at hand in the actual present. The present is at the heart of Augustine's doctrine of time,230 yet, even the present is constantly threatened by nonexistence. Given this characteristic, it is understandable why Augustine initially translates the question of the essence of time into the question of its place and its measurability.

Strictly speaking, the separate existence of time as past, present, and future cannot be expressed. Instead, one should say: "there are three times, a present of things past, a present of things present, a present of things to come."231 As memoria (memory), contuitus (observation, attention), and ex-pectatio (expectation), these three are in the soul.232 Thus, Augustine finally concludes that time is a kind of extension,233 namely, an extension of the mind itself [distentio animi].234 Along with creation, time was created by God, the operator omnium temporum (operator of all times).235 Time is not the movement of a body.236

Measured against eternity, the distentio animi takes on the negative taste of a shortcoming or a defect. The distentio is then no longer simply the solution to the problem of the measurability of time in the sense of extension; it is also, simultaneously, a synonym for fragmentation and being scattered. Temporality appears as the malady of scatteredness, and eternity, as the perfection of calmness. Only secundum intentionem, "in the manner of tense composure,"237 does a consoling hope for a less fragmented life open up. From this perspective, intentio is then no longer only the anticipation of an entire hymn before it is sung238 and the power that moves what is still in the future into the past;239 rather, it is hope in the "Last Things."240 Thus, intentio and distentio fall into a dialectic of praise and lament that can be resolved only through mystical language: "The storms of incoherent events tear to pieces my thoughts, the inmost entrails of my soul, until that day when, purified and molten by the fire of your love, I flow together to merge into

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