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Maynooth Philosophical Papers

Volume 10, 2020

John Milbank
Pages 5-56

The Confession of Time in Augustine

The apparent contradiction between subjective and objective approaches to time in Augustine can be resolved if it is understood that he regarded cosmic time and the finite things it engenders as being of itself, in some sense, both psychic and self-recording. This interpretation holds whether or not Augustine affirms a world soul. It is justifiable in terms of the continued applicability of his earlier liberal-arts writings to his later texts and his blending of Plotinian vitalism, Porphyrian spiritualism, and his own ‘theurgism’ (especially in his commentary on the Psalms), which is parallel to that of Iamblichus. Augustine’s ‘musical ontology’, which is also a metaphysics of number, word, and seminal reason, leads him to develop a theory of time and memory that anticipates more the spiritual realism of Bergson than it does idealist and phenomenological philosophies. However, for Augustine, time as an image of eternity remains aporetic, and its aporia is ‘resolved’ only by the Incarnation and its sustaining as the liturgical and political community of the Church. Through Christological, and not just angelic, mediation, our memories and expectations truly reach to past and future realities, just as our intentions reach to really located things, but only because all of these are both inherently psychic/intellectual and sustained by the divine eternity.

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