Podcast: Time

Mere FidelityIn our latest Mere Fidelity episode, Matt, Derek, and I take up the theme of time, exploring, among other things, some of the issues raised in my recent posts for the Theopolis Institute.

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About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Christian Experience, Controversies, Creation, Culture, Eschatology, Music, Podcasts, Providence, Theological. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Podcast: Time

  1. quinnjones2 says:

    I really enjoyed listening to this.
    I’m glad you spoke about ‘clock-time’ and transcendence, Alastair. Music scripts and performances are framed by clock-time ( beats to the bar, crotchets per minute and so on), yet I also find that I get ‘lost in time’ when I listen to music or play the piano – sometimes I find it difficult to believe that I have been listening or playing for maybe two hours or so! I am so pleased that Matt quoted from T.S. Eliot’s wonderful ‘Four Quartets’, and I liked Derek’s Augustin quote – that was a new one for me.

    • Pleased to hear that you enjoyed listening to the podcast; I think we all really enjoyed having the conversation!

      • quinnjones2 says:

        🙂
        I am still thinking about what you said about silence and I just found this about pause marks in music:
        ‘Extending silence ( by extending the duration of rests): When a fermata is shown over a rest (regardless of duration), the performer is expected to extend the duration of that rest until the conductor signals the beginning of the next note or rest.’ (Taken from OnMusic Dictionary)
        This puts me in mind of the Great Conductor, and God’s timing.

  2. Paul Griffiths, in one of his more recent books, Decreation, offers some really wonderful reflections on time. If you’re not familiar, the book is about eschatology, and I think some things that he observes there shed a great deal of light and are able to hold together a lot of the seemingly contrary positions explored in this conversation. In particular, I think it well complements what I’ve heard of Begbie’s claims about music and time from you, Alastair. Early versions of these reflections might also still be found in online postings of the Stanton Lectures given by Griffiths at Cambridge a few years ago.

    He begins with the question of what it could mean for a creature to reach its end, to come to a point where there is no more novelty for it (reflecting on “novissimum” from the Vulgate, though I don’t remember the passage, thinking that this question fits well the broadest tradition of about the end of creation as all things being brought to rest). There are three options, he contends: annihilation, simple stasis, repetitive stasis. Sounds cramped at first, at least to me, but then he does beautiful things with this notion of repetitive stasis.

    He suggests first that time (and space together with time) does not have a life of its own. It is a feature of creatures, it belongs necessarily to anything finite, only the Lord is properly eternal (which he wonderfully roots in the eternal relations of the Trinity), and so time (and space) come into being with the whole ensemble of creatures.

    Alastair mentioned “fallen time,” which Griffiths makes much of. He calls this the time of the metronome. A bit more colorfully, he describes it as “one damn thing after another.” This isn’t simply a faulty experience of time. It’s a result of the fall; time itself is literally devastated. It’s the kind of time that is a feature of the Lord’s creation marred by death, given over to entropy, is only discernible in terms of decay, and marks the creation’s ordering towards nothingness.

    Time is certainly complicated at this point, though, because some manner of devastated time comes about with the fall of many angels (though I’m guessing he would agree that some form of undamaged time persists in the unfallen angels?). At any rate, time is definitively redeemed in Jesus’s death and resurrection. When Jesus’s body is resurrected, the time belonging to that body is resurrected as well. Griffiths calls this “systolic time,” drawing on St. Paul’s comment that time has been “systolated,” drawn together, tensed like an animal ready to pounce, folded like a garment around Jesus’s resurrected body, no longer a mere succession of events or one damn thing after another, but all things being gather and released, gather and released along with the beating of Jesus’s risen heart. (I’m trying to give an impression that’s something like the impression Griffiths’ writing gives, but I’m just not very good at it; read the book to see these speculations worked out with their full elegance.)

    Redeemed time tends towards repetition. Discrete moments are not desperately separated from one another, past moments irrecoverably buried in the past, but they interpenetrate. I think the stuff he says here works well with the musical metaphor that Begbie works through. Properly speaking, it’s not yet fully arrived at its repetitive stasis, though it proleptically enacts that repetition. (We still have to have to have the resurrection of the dead and the renovatio mundi for the final repetitive stasis to be fully in place.)

    He gives the illustration of the icon, which may be another helpful metaphor to supplement that of music. In some icons you’ll seeseveral events displayed in one frame, with any sense of succession nowhere to be found. Seemingly separate events are gather together in the icon. This might be helpful for the observations MLA was making near the end of the conversation. In the folding of time, an array of events might be gathered together. But I think Griffiths would suggest that this is not in any sense a shedding or sloughing of time, but is something like what Alastair described as the transfiguration of time, where time resumes its place as an analog of the Lord’s eternity, while eternity itself remains something only properly enjoyed by the Lord. (Griffiths defines eternity as atemporality; creatures might be everlasting, but never eternal.)

    I think this account gains the most traction for me in the connections Griffiths draws with the cyclical repetition of liturgy, especially the Eucharist, as an advanced participation in the repetitive stasis of heaven. I don’t remember what Griffiths says about this, but for me this connects easily, though, to the Church calendar, through which we really encounter and are drawn into the events we celebrate. So when we celebrated the Paschal mystery the other week by observing the Triduum, we didn’t simply renew our baptism by absent-mindedly saying the words of the Apostles’ Creed again, but our death and resurrection with Jesus were refreshed in and through the rites of the Church.

    Oh and he also has great things to say about Space. But this has gone on way too long as it is. Really enjoyable conversation. I think a lot of this stuff was brought up one way or another, but to my mind Griffiths draws it together in a particularly coherent way. If you read the book, just know that he’s wrong about angels–they don’t have bodies. Also, I’ll post this comment over at Mere-O as well.

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