Time as a Moving Image of Eternity

In what manner is Time a moving image of Eternity? Proclus tells us that Eternity measures the intelligible, as a unity, while Time measures the things which are in becoming, as numbered. Eternity is a measure in the sense that the multiplicity of intelligibles in the autozoon are all beings, and as such they are all expressions of the unity which is the One-Being. Eternity is the principle which brings them forth into a permanent existence, and leads them back beyond itself to the One-Being, specifically because they manifest in a multiple form the unity which is the One-Being. It is a measure because the eternal multiplicity of intelligible genera strive towards the unity which it reveals while manifesting it in their own multiple way.

Beings which come to be and pass away, on the other hand, do not partake of the permanence of Eternity. They have only an image of that permanence, which we know as duration. Thus the principle which is their measure, the unity which they strive towards and manifest, is not Eternity, but Time.

So in the same manner as the cosmos is said to be an image (eikon) of the intelligible, so the cosmic measure is named an "image" of the measure of the intelligible. But Eternity is a measure because it is a unity (hos to hen), while Time is a measure because it is a number. Both of them measure, but Eternity measures what is unified, while Time measures what is numbered; Eternity measures the permanence of beings (diamonen ton onton), while Time measures the duration of things which become (paratasin ton ginomenon). The supposed opposition between them [Eternity and Time] does not indicate <some sort of> dissimilarity between the measures, but rather indicates the derivation of the secondary realities from the older ones. For procession (proodos) derives from remaining (mones) and number derives from unity (tou henos). (Proclus, In TimaeumIII. 17.25-18.02)

Plato tells us that Time "proceeds according to number" (Plato, Timaeus 37d), and measures things which become as numbered. Proclus contrasts this with Eternity which "remains in a One" and measures things as a unity. Eternity measures things as a unity because that which it measures is an unchanging multiplicity, or rather, a singular multiple reflection of the One-Being. Time, on the other hand, measures things as numbered, because things which come to be and pass away exhibit a diversity of periods, or cyclical activities, which makes up for them their duration. More importantly, their duration is numbered because they do not exist as a whole all at once, and if they are not to be completely without order their duration must be numbered. We should understand "number" here both in the common sense manner, as the number assigned to the periodic orbit of a planet, and in a sense more akin to logos or eidos. In this second sense, Time is the measure of encosmic beings because it is the number or order of their unfolding into multiplicity. Hence it contains the plan both of their unfolding and of their perfection.

Perhaps also Time is an image of Eternity because it is that which brings encosmic beings to perfection, just as Eternity does for [eternal] beings, as "that which holds them together" (sunocheus) and "guardian" (phrouros)}2 So that things which are unable to live according to nous are brought under the order of Fate (hupo ten tes heimarmenes agetai taxin), lest they flee the divine completely and come to be without order. Thus even that which has departed from Eternity and is unable to partake wholly in the perfection of Rest by remaining always all at once the same (hama kai aei tauta) is perfected through the sovereignty of Time. [Temporal things] are roused by Time into activities (energeias) which are profitable for them, and through certain recurrent periods are able to enjoy the perfection which is appropriate to them. (Proclus, In Timaeum III.18.02—12).

Each thing which is in becoming has its own period, and thus its own numbering of its period, which sets its boundaries and its circuit. In his characterisation of temporal things as periodic, Proclus has in mind primarily the periodic activity of Soul. However, he also has in mind the circular orbits of the planets, whose periodic return to their starting points is an image of the activity of Soul; and the periodic return of things to their point of origin in Nature, such as the seasons, and the procreation of animal species. The circuit of the species oak tree from acorn to maturity and then back to acorn again illustrates how Proclus thinks about this. The oak species has a period in the sense that there is a return to the beginning point, in the offspring. This period is numbered because it usually takes a certain number of years. However, it is also numbered in the sense that this period progresses along a certain bound circuit—acorns don't mature into elm trees, for example—and this boundary to the circuit of the life of this species is set according to Proclus by the monad of Time and the species' participation of the Forms in the monad of Time. While this characterisation of Time applies to all encosmic things, we will speak here only of the participation of the Soul in Time.13

Time is not only an image of Eternity, it is a moving image of Eternity. However, Proclus points out that nothing can move with regard to the whole of itself, as there must be a subject for movement which remains the same and undergoes the motion. Otherwise there would be a substantial change, and in moving with regard to the whole of itself Time would cease to be Time. Thus the monad of Time is in itself unmoving, and only moves in its participants.

So indeed the monad of Time remains (menei), because it is suspended from the Demiurge, but being filled with measuring power, and wishing to measure the motions of the soul's essence (ousia), and the activities (energeiai) and passions (pathemata) of the physical and bodily, it proceeded according to number. Time, remaining in its own partlessness and internal energeia, with regard to its external [energeia], that which is contained by what is measured by it, proceeds according to number, that is according to certain intellectual eide, or rather according to the first number itself, which presides over the intellectuals (ta noera), in a manner analogous to the One Being, as Parmenides says, which presides over the intelligibles. Time proceeds then according to that number, on account of which it provides the appropriate measure to each of the species (eide) of encosmic beings. (Proclus, In Timaeum III. 19.02-14)

The monad of Time itself stands above that which it measures, as Eternity stands above the intelligible genera. Notice that in order to be analogous to the intellectual orders, Proclus has distinguished the "first number itself" (auton ton protiston arithmon) from the monad of Time. This number is a higher unity than Time, just as the One-Being is a higher unity than Eternity. We can take this as an example of Proclus' idea of the analogous structures which hold between different levels of the universe. As there are higher unities than Time, Time itself not only measures, it is itself measured.

Time itself is also measured, but not by anything extended (for it would be ridiculous to say that that which possesses the elder nature and worthiness is measured by that which comes after it). Rather, Time is measured by the single monad of Time, which its procession (proodos) is said to unfold (anelittein), and much more primarily by the Demiurge and by Eternity itself, of which we say it is an image, and with regard to which it is rendered mobile. (Proclus, In Timaeum III.31.04-10)

In other words, just as the intelligible genera unfold Eternity and the One-Being, that which partakes of Time unfolds the monad of Time, and the Demiurge, and Eternity. The term unfold (anelittein) has a technical meaning in Proclus. It refers to the unfolding or unrolling of the higher principle by the lower, by which the higher unity is manifest in the lower multiplicity. All unfoldings are multiple reflections not only of their immediate superiors, but of every analogous order above them. As that which measures, Time is a number. But it is a number in the sense of an intellectual eidos, so it measures its participants because it is an intellectual eidos which its participants unfold.

So Time has various levels, i) It is number as "what is numbered" or measured by itself, i.e. its presence in what participates in Time, ii) It is number as the measure of its participants, i.e. through itself as the monad which is the unmoving moment of Time itself, iii) Finally, Time as a whole is measured by what stands above it: the Demiurge, and Eternity. So Time as number exists in its participants as that which is measured by itself, as itself the measure of its participants, and as itself being measured by higher principles.

Proclus tells us that Time proceeds according to a number which is the intelligible number, referring either to the autozoon, Eternity, or the intelligible as a whole. However, when Timaeus says that Time proceeds according to number, he is referring primarily to Time itself as the intellectual number which numbers or measures the simple procession of Time and the complex procession of things in Time.14

So Time does proceed according to the intelligible number, and also in that it itself numbers its participants, and also again it proceeds according to the number in its participants by which they are numbered. This [last] is [Time as] numbered, and possesses only a sort of image (eidolon ti) of essential Time (ousiodous chronou), by which everything is numbered through the larger or smaller numbers of their own life, so that a cow lives for a certain time, a man for a certain time, and the sun, the moon, Saturn, and the other planets have their return and make their periodic revolutions by this or that measure. (Proclus, In Timaeum III. 19.24-32)

It is this middle sort of measure, Time as the measure of its participants, which is important for us here.

Time measures the duration of the life of its participants. More importantly, Time measures their circular activity, most prominently the orbits of the planets, and the circular activity of the soul of the cosmos and partial souls.15 Time brings itself to imitate Eternity, because as Eternity is comprehensive of the intelligible genera, Time is comprehensive of its participants. But it also brings temporal things themselves into a closer imitation of the intelligibles. Things in Time do not share in the permanence and unchanging identity of the intelligibles, but through their circular revolutions and periodic returns to their beginning points they imitate this intelligible immobile permanence (Proclus, In Timaeum III.20.00-21.05). Circular motion is in one sense motion, but in another sense it is a being at rest, because what is in motion always returns to its point of origin. In a certain sense, moreover, circular motion has no beginning point. One might think of a planet as desiring the rest of the centre of the circle which is its orbit, but being unable to attain that rest, it imitates it by its unbroken circling motion. By contrast, rectilinear motion leaves its point of departure never to approach it again. However, Time also embraces rectilinear motion, because even that which is below things which move in a circle are measured by their duration. For this reason Proclus says that Time is said to move in a spiral (helikoeide), because the spiral embraces in one single Form both the circular and the rectilinear (Proclus, In Timaeum III.21.02-05).

This measurement of the periodic energeiai of things is the primary sense of Time for Proclus. Time perfects things, and brings them to imitate the intelligible paradigms by measuring their periodic revolution around itself. Proclus does concede that we have another sort of measurement of Time, in our marking of the passage of Time. But the sort of measuring which we do, and which we normally consider to be Time in the primary sense, is performed with a certain notion (ennoia) which is only "about" Time and is not Time itself (touta gar he ennoia drai he peri chronou kai ouk autos ho chronos) (Proclus, In Timaeum III.20.02-03). If Time is to be the measure of our motion, it certainly could not be an ennoia which is in us. Even the motions of the heavenly bodies, which we think of as marking Time, are not the primary measure, because they themselves are also measured. They have determinate periods to their circular energeiai. The primary measure must be the monad of Time itself, which is a moving image of Eternity. "Image" because it embraces its participants with its number in the way Eternity embraces the intelligibles with its unity, and "moving" because its participants are in motion, although it itself is at rest.

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  • kyle
    Who said time is a moving image immobile eternity?
    2 years ago

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