Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series I/Volume I/Confessions/Book XI/Chapter 23

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Chapter XXIII.—That Time is a Certain Extension.

29. I have heard from a learned man that the motions of the sun, moon, and stars constituted time, and I assented not.[1] For why should not rather the motions of all bodies be time? What if the lights of heaven should cease, and a potter’s wheel run round, would there be no time by which we might measure those revolutions, and say either that it turned with equal pauses, or, if it were moved at one time more slowly, at another more quickly, that some revolutions were longer, others less so? Or while we were saying this, should we not also be speaking in time? Or should there in our words be some syllables long, others short, but because those sounded in a longer time, these in a shorter? God grant to men to see in a small thing ideas common to things great and small. Both the stars and luminaries of heaven are “for signs and for seasons, and for days and years.”[2] No doubt they are; but neither should I say that the circuit of that wooden wheel was a day, nor yet should he say that therefore there was no time.

30. I desire to know the power and nature of time, by which we measure the motions of bodies, and say (for example) that this motion is twice as long as that. For, I ask, since “day” declares not the stay only of the sun upon the earth, according to which day is one thing, night another, but also its entire circuit from east even to east,—according to which we say, “So many days have passed” (the nights being included when we say “so many days,” and their spaces not counted apart),—since, then, the day is finished by the motion of the sun, and by his circuit from east to east, I ask, whether the motion itself is the day, or the period in which that motion is completed, or both? For if the first be the day, then would there be a day although the sun should finish that course in so small a space of time as an hour. If the second, then that would not be a day if from one sunrise to another there were but so short a period as an hour, but the sun must go round four-and-twenty times to complete a day. If both, neither could that be called a day if the sun should run his entire round in the space of an hour; nor that, if, while the sun stood still, so much time should pass as the sun is accustomed to accomplish his whole course in from morning to morning. I shall not therefore now ask, what that is which is called day, but what time is, by which we, measuring the circuit of the sun, should say that it was accomplished in half the space of time it was wont, if it had been completed in so small a space as twelve hours; and comparing both times, we should call that single, this double time, although the sun should run his course from east to east sometimes in that single, sometimes in that double time. Let no man then tell me that the motions of the heavenly bodies are times, because, when at the prayer of one the sun stood still in order that he might achieve his victorious battle, the sun stood still, but time went on. For in such space of time as was sufficient was that battle fought and ended.[3] I see that time, then, is a certain extension. But do I see it, or do I seem to see it? Thou, O Light and Truth, wilt show me.


  1. Compare Gillies (Analysis of Aristotle, c. 2, p. 138): “As our conception of space originates in that of body, and our conception of motion in that of space, so our conception of time originates in that of motion; and particularly in those regular and equable motions carried on in the heavens, the parts of which, from their perfect similarity to each other, are correct measures of the continuous and successive quantity called Time, with which they are conceived to co-exist. Time, therefore, may be defined the perceived number of successive movements; for, as number ascertains the greater or lesser quantity of things numbered, so time ascertains the greater or lesser quantity of motion performed.” And with this accords Monboddo’s definition of time (Ancient Metaphysics, vol. i. book 4, chap. i.), as “the measure of the duration of things that exist in succession by the motion of the heavenly bodies.” See xii. sec. 40, and note, below.
  2. Gen. i. 14.
  3. Josh. x. 12–14.