Monday, November 15

Augustine Confessions Book 11

We are getting to the end of the Confessions. For my "essays/posts" on the first 8 books (of 13) here are the links:
  1. Book 1. part 1 2 and 3.
  2. Book 2
  3. Book 3.
  4. Book 4
  5. Book 5
  6. Book 6
  7. Book 7
  8. Book 8
  9. Book 9
  10. Book 10 and part 2.
For one explanation of what the heck this is all about and why I'm doing this, go here.

Our guide from the Companion for this Book is Robert P. Kennedy. Mr Kennedy is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia. He recieved his doctorate at Notre Dame in 1997. His thesis was The Ethics of Language: An Augustinian Critique of Modern Approaches to the Morality of Lying.

His title for his disussion Book 11 is "The Confessions as Eschatological Narrative". Augustine in this book is exploring the tension between an eternal god and a finite (temporal) Augustine, or "... how to reconcile his eternal existance in God with his created existence in time". Augustine tackles the concept of time in this book to bring this off. Time he holds is a simple concept, which when examined in detail fails to resolve itself in any easy fashion. Mr Kennedy identifies (following another commentator Roland Teske) three paradoxes concerning time which Augustine considers.
  1. Time is the present extended in the mind. Augustine notes that the past and future have no existance (the past is done and the future isn't here yet). However, we measure long and short times, so it does have some meaning. So he focuses on how we measure time. Here he gets a little stuck. He supposes the problem is in language. So he is lead to the mind and memory as the key to understanding time.
  2. The mind as the measure of time. But time clearly existed before man came to be. He still repeats that the nonexistance of things in the past and future. So he is then led to ....
  3. Time as a reflection of God's image. Augustine claims we don't measure time as it passes but the duration of transient events. Time is the product of our attention, an activity of our soul. Along with all the other finite (temporal creatures) we transcend this by being able to tell "our own story". Through language, dare I say blogging :), we transcend our ephemeral nature. In fact all creative acts do this. However, we should be reminded that all created meaning apart from God is false.
I found Mr Kennedy's conclusion striking so I'll quote it here:
Book Eleven explores the significance of human existance, in tension between God's gift of the way to the heavenly Jerusalem in the incarnation of the Word, and the full realization of that gift at the end of time. From the eschatological tension of Christian life there flows the basic moral tension between affirming the goodness of creation, especially ourselves, and not forgetting that the source and goal of all goodness is God. In his yearning to attain that final test, Augustine reminds himself and his readers both of their difference from God and of their intrinsic dignity. Because of its orientation to completion in God, there is a distinctively Christian temptation to denigrate temporal exsitence. Augustine's meditation on time counters this tendancey by affirming that God created us with the abilty to find stabilty and meaning in our lives by organizing sounds into words, words into sentences, and sentences into narratives. These narratives, in turn, give shape to our lives.