The Six Enneads, by Plotinus

Seventh Tractate.

Time and Eternity.

1. Eternity and Time; two entirely separate things, we explain “the one having its being in the everlasting Kind, the other in the realm of Process, in our own Universe”; and, by continually using the words and assigning every phenomenon to the one or the other category, we come to think that, both by instinct and by the more detailed attack of thought, we hold an adequate experience of them in our minds without more ado.

When, perhaps, we make the effort to clarify our ideas and close into the heart of the matter we are at once unsettled: our doubts throw us back upon ancient explanations; we choose among the various theories, or among the various interpretations of some one theory, and so we come to rest, satisfied, if only we can counter a question with an approved answer, and glad to be absolved from further enquiry.

Now, we must believe that some of the venerable philosophers of old discovered the truth; but it is important to examine which of them really hit the mark and by what guiding principle we can ourselves attain to certitude.

What, then, does Eternity really mean to those who describe it as something different from Time? We begin with Eternity, since when the standing Exemplar is known, its representation in image — which Time is understood to be — will be clearly apprehended — though it is of course equally true, admitting this relationship to Time as image to Eternity the original, that if we chose to begin by identifying Time we could thence proceed upwards by Recognition [the Platonic Anamnesis] and become aware of the Kind which it images.

2. What definition are we to give to Eternity?

Can it be identified with the [divine or] Intellectual Substance itself?

This would be like identifying Time with the Universe of Heavens and Earth — an opinion, it is true, which appears to have had its adherents. No doubt we conceive, we know, Eternity as something most august; most august, too, is the Intellectual Kind; and there is no possibility of saying that the one is more majestic than the other, since no such degrees can be asserted in the Above-World; there is therefore a certain excuse for the identification — all the more since the Intellectual Substance and Eternity have the one scope and content.

Still; by the fact of representing the one as contained within the other, by making Eternity a predicate to the Intellectual Existents —“the Nature of the Exemplar,” we read, “is eternal”— we cancel the identification; Eternity becomes a separate thing, something surrounding that Nature or lying within it or present to it. And the majestic quality of both does not prove them identical: it might be transmitted from the one to the other. So, too, Eternity and the Divine Nature envelop the same entities, yes; but not in the same way: the Divine may be thought of as enveloping parts, Eternity as embracing its content in an unbroken whole, with no implication of part, but merely from the fact that all eternal things are so by conforming to it.

May we, perhaps, identify Eternity with Repose-There as Time has been identified with Movement-Here?

This would bring on the counter-question whether Eternity is presented to us as Repose in the general sense or as the Repose that envelops the Intellectual Essence.

On the first supposition we can no more talk of Repose being eternal than of Eternity being eternal: to be eternal is to participate in an outside thing, Eternity.

Further, if Eternity is Repose, what becomes of Eternal Movement, which, by this identification, would become a thing of Repose?

Again, the conception of Repose scarcely seems to include that of perpetuity — I am speaking of course not of perpetuity in the time-order (which might follow on absence of movement) but of that which we have in mind when we speak of Eternity.

If, on the other hand, Eternity is identified with the Repose of the divine Essence, all species outside of the divine are put outside of Eternity.

Besides, the conception of Eternity requires not merely Repose but also unity — and, in order to keep it distinct from Time, a unity including interval — but neither that unity nor that absence of interval enters into the conception of Repose as such.

Lastly, this unchangeable Repose in unity is a predicate asserted of Eternity, which, therefore, is not itself Repose, the absolute, but a participant in Repose.

3. What, then, can this be, this something in virtue of which we declare the entire divine Realm to be Eternal, everlasting? We must come to some understanding of this perpetuity with which Eternity is either identical or in conformity.

It must at once, be at once something in the nature of unity and yet a notion compact of diversity, or a Kind, a Nature, that waits upon the Existents of that Other World, either associated with them or known in and upon them, they collectively being this Nature which, with all its unity, is yet diverse in power and essence. Considering this multifarious power, we declare it to be Essence in its relation to this sphere which is substratum or underlie to it; where we see life we think of it as Movement; where all is unvaried self-identity we call it Repose; and we know it as, at once, Difference and Identity when we recognize that all is unity with variety.

Then we reconstruct; we sum all into a collected unity once more, a sole Life in the Supreme; we concentrate Diversity and all the endless production of act: thus we know Identity, a concept or, rather, a Life never varying, not becoming what previously it was not, the thing immutably itself, broken by no interval; and knowing this, we know Eternity.

We know it as a Life changelessly motionless and ever holding the Universal content [time, space, and phenomena] in actual presence; not this now and now that other, but always all; not existing now in one mode and now in another, but a consummation without part or interval. All its content is in immediate concentration as at one point; nothing in it ever knows development: all remains identical within itself, knowing nothing of change, for ever in a Now since nothing of it has passed away or will come into being, but what it is now, that it is ever.

Eternity, therefore — while not the Substratum [not the essential foundation of the Divine or Intellectual Principle]— may be considered as the radiation of this Substratum: it exists as the announcement of the Identity in the Divine, of that state — of being thus and not otherwise — which characterizes what has no futurity but eternally is.

What future, in fact, could bring to that Being anything which it now does not possess; and could it come to be anything which it is not once for all?

There exists no source or ground from which anything could make its way into that standing present; any imagined entrant will prove to be not alien but already integral. And as it can never come to be anything at present outside it, so, necessarily, it cannot include any past; what can there be that once was in it and now is gone? Futurity, similarly, is banned; nothing could be yet to come to it. Thus no ground is left for its existence but that it be what it is.

That which neither has been nor will be, but simply possesses being; that which enjoys stable existence as neither in process of change nor having ever changed — that is Eternity. Thus we come to the definition: the Life — instantaneously entire, complete, at no point broken into period or part — which belongs to the Authentic Existent by its very existence, this is the thing we were probing for — this is Eternity.

4. We must, however, avoid thinking of it as an accidental from outside grafted upon that Nature: it is native to it, integral to it.

It is discerned as present essentially in that Nature like everything else that we can predicate There — all immanent, springing from that Essence and inherent to that Essence. For whatsoever has primal Being must be immanent to the Firsts and be a First-Eternity equally with The Good that is among them and of them and equally with the truth that is among them.

In one aspect, no doubt, Eternity resides in a partial phase of the All-Being; but in another aspect it is inherent in the All taken as a totality, since that Authentic All is not a thing patched up out of external parts, but is authentically an all because its parts are engendered by itself. It is like the truthfulness in the Supreme which is not an agreement with some outside fact or being but is inherent in each member about which it is the truth. To an authentic All it is not enough that it be everything that exists: it must possess allness in the full sense that nothing whatever is absent from it. Then nothing is in store for it: if anything were to come, that thing must have been lacking to it, and it was, therefore, not All. And what, of a Nature contrary to its own, could enter into it when it is [the Supreme and therefore] immune? Since nothing can accrue to it, it cannot seek change or be changed or ever have made its way into Being.

Engendered things are in continuous process of acquisition; eliminate futurity, therefore, and at once they lose their being; if the non-engendered are made amenable to futurity they are thrown down from the seat of their existence, for, clearly, existence is not theirs by their nature if it appears only as a being about to be, a becoming, an advancing from stage to stage.

The essential existence of generated things seems to lie in their existing from the time of their generation to the ultimate of time after which they cease to be: but such an existence is compact of futurity, and the annulment of that futurity means the stopping of the life and therefore of the essential existence.

Such a stoppage would be true, also, of the [generated] All in so far as it is a thing of process and change: for this reason it keeps hastening towards its future, dreading to rest, seeking to draw Being to itself by a perpetual variety of production and action and by its circling in a sort of ambition after Essential Existence.

And here we have, incidentally, lighted upon the cause of the Circuit of the All; it is a movement which seeks perpetuity by way of futurity.

The Primals, on the contrary, in their state of blessedness have no such aspiration towards anything to come: they are the whole, now; what life may be thought of as their due, they possess entire; they, therefore, seek nothing, since there is nothing future to them, nothing external to them in which any futurity could find lodgement.

Thus the perfect and all-comprehensive essence of the Authentic Existent does not consist merely in the completeness inherent in its members; its essence includes, further, its established immunity from all lack with the exclusion, also, of all that is without Being — for not only must all things be contained in the All and Whole, but it can contain nothing that is, or was ever, non-existent — and this State and Nature of the Authentic Existent is Eternity: in our very word, Eternity means Ever-Being.

5. This Ever-Being is realized when upon examination of an object I am able to say — or rather, to know — that in its very Nature it is incapable of increment or change; anything that fails by that test is no Ever-Existent or, at least, no Ever-All-Existent.

But is perpetuity enough in itself to constitute an Eternal?

No: the object must, farther, include such a Nature-Principle as to give the assurance that the actual state excludes all future change, so that it is found at every observation as it always was.

Imagine, then, the state of a being which cannot fall away from the vision of this but is for ever caught to it, held by the spell of its grandeur, kept to it by virtue of a nature itself unfailing — or even the state of one that must labour towards Eternity by directed effort, but then to rest in it, immoveable at any point assimilated to it, co-eternal with it, contemplating Eternity and the Eternal by what is Eternal within the self.

Accepting this as a true account of an eternal, a perdurable Existent — one which never turns to any Kind outside itself, that possesses life complete once for all, that has never received any accession, that is now receiving none and will never receive any — we have, with the statement of a perduring Being, the statement also of perdurance and of Eternity: perdurance is the corresponding state arising from the [divine] substratum and inherent in it; Eternity [the Principle as distinguished from the property of everlastingness] is that substratum carrying that state in manifestation.

Eternity, thus, is of the order of the supremely great; it proves on investigation to be identical with God: it may fitly be described as God made manifest, as God declaring what He is, as existence without jolt or change, and therefore as also the firmly living.

And it should be no shock that we find plurality in it; each of the Beings of the Supreme is multiple by virtue of unlimited force; for to be limitless implies failing at no point, and Eternity is pre-eminently the limitless since (having no past or future) it spends nothing of its own substance.

Thus a close enough definition of Eternity would be that it is a life limitless in the full sense of being all the life there is and a life which, knowing nothing of past or future to shatter its completeness, possesses itself intact for ever. To the notion of a Life (a Living-Principle) all-comprehensive add that it never spends itself, and we have the statement of a Life instantaneously infinite.

6. Now the Principle this stated, all good and beauty, and everlasting, is centred in The One, sprung from It, and pointed towards It, never straying from It, but ever holding about It and in It and living by Its law; and it is in this reference, as I judge, that Plato — finely, and by no means inadvertently but with profound intention — wrote those words of his, “Eternity stable in Unity”; he wishes to convey that Eternity is not merely something circling on its traces into a final unity but has [instantaneous] Being about The One as the unchanging Life of the Authentic Existent. This is certainly what we have been seeking: this Principle, at rest within rest with the One, is Eternity; possessing this stable quality, being itself at once the absolute self-identical and none the less the active manifestation of an unchanging Life set towards the Divine and dwelling within It, untrue, therefore, neither on the side of Being nor on the side of Life — this will be Eternity [the Real-Being we have sought].

Truly to be comports never lacking existence and never knowing variety in the mode of existence: Being is, therefore, self-identical throughout, and, therefore, again is one undistinguishable thing. Being can have no this and that; it cannot be treated in terms of intervals, unfoldings, progression, extension; there is no grasping any first or last in it.

If, then, there is no first or last in this Principle, if existence is its most authentic possession and its very self, and this in the sense that its existence is Essence or Life — then, once again, we meet here what we have been discussing, Eternity.

Observe that such words as “always,” “never,” “sometimes” must be taken as mere conveniences of exposition: thus “always — used in the sense not of time but of incorruptibility and endlessly complete scope — might set up the false notion of stage and interval. We might perhaps prefer to speak of “Being,” without any attribute; but since this term is applicable to Essence and some writers have used the word “Essence” for things of process, we cannot convey our meaning to them without introducing some word carrying the notion of perdurance.

There is, of course, no difference between Being and Everlasting Being; just as there is none between a philosopher and a true philosopher: the attribute “true” came into use because there arose what masqueraded as philosophy; and for similar reasons “everlasting” was adjoined to “Being,” and “Being” to “everlasting,” and we have [the tautology of] “Everlasting Being.” We must take this “Everlasting” as expressing no more than Authentic Being: it is merely a partial expression of a potency which ignores all interval or term and can look forward to nothing by way of addition to the All which it possesses. The Principle of which this is the statement will be the All-Existent, and, as being all, can have no failing or deficiency, cannot be at some one point complete and at some other lacking.

Things and Beings in the Time order — even when to all appearance complete, as a body is when fit to harbour a soul — are still bound to sequence; they are deficient to the extent of that thing, Time, which they need: let them have it, present to them and running side by side with them, and they are by that very fact incomplete; completeness is attributed to them only by an accident of language.

But the conception of Eternity demands something which is in its nature complete without sequence; it is not satisfied by something measured out to any remoter time or even by something limitless, but, in its limitless reach, still having the progression of futurity: it requires something immediately possessed of the due fullness of Being, something whose Being does not depend upon any quantity [such as instalments of time] but subsists before all quantity.

Itself having no quantity, it can have no contact with anything quantitative since its Life cannot be made a thing of fragments, in contradiction to the partlessness which is its character; it must be without parts in the Life as in the essence.

The phrase “He was good” [used by Plato of the Demiurge] refers to the Idea of the All; and its very indefiniteness signifies the utter absense of relation to Time: so that even this Universe has had no temporal beginning; and if we speak of something “before” it, that is only in the sense of the Cause from which it takes its Eternal Existence. Plato used the word merely for the convenience of exposition, and immediately corrects it as inappropriate to the order vested with the Eternity he conceives and affirms.

7. Now comes the question whether, in all this discussion, we are not merely helping to make out a case for some other order of Beings and talking of matters alien to ourselves.

But how could that be? What understanding can there be failing some point of contact? And what contact could there be with the utterly alien?

We must then have, ourselves, some part or share in Eternity.

Still, how is this possible to us who exist in Time?

The whole question turns on the distinction between being in Time and being in Eternity, and this will be best realized by probing to the Nature of Time. We must, therefore, descend from Eternity to the investigation of Time, to the realm of Time: till now we have been taking the upward way; we must now take the downward — not to the lowest levels but within the degree in which Time itself is a descent from Eternity.

If the venerable sages of former days had not treated of Time, our method would be to begin by linking to [the idea of] Eternity [the idea of] its Next [its inevitable downward or outgoing subsequent in the same order], then setting forth the probable nature of such a Next and proceeding to show how the conception thus formed tallies with our own doctrine.

But, as things are, our best beginning is to range over the most noteworthy of the ancient opinions and see whether any of them accord with ours.

Existing explanations of Time seem to fall into three classes:

Time is variously identified with what we know as Movement, with a moved object, and with some phenomenon of Movement: obviously it cannot be Rest or a resting object or any phenomenon of rest, since, in its characteristic idea, it is concerned with change.

Of those that explain it as Movement, some identify it with Absolute Movement [or with the total of Movement], others with that of the All. Those that make it a moved object would identify it with the orb of the All. Those that conceive it as some phenomenon, or some period, of Movement treat it, severally, either as a standard of measure or as something inevitably accompanying Movement, abstract or definite.

8. Movement Time cannot be — whether a definite act of moving is meant or a united total made up of all such acts — since movement, in either sense, takes place in Time. And, of course, if there is any movement not in Time, the identification with Time becomes all the less tenable.

In a word, Movement must be distinct from the medium in which it takes place.

And, with all that has been said or is still said, one consideration is decisive: Movement can come to rest, can be intermittent; Time is continuous.

We will be told that the Movement of the All is continuous [and so may be identical with Time].

But, if the reference is to the Circuit of the heavenly system [it is not strictly continuous, or equable, since] the time taken in the return path is not that of the outgoing movement; the one is twice as long as the other: this Movement of the All proceeds, therefore, by two different degrees; the rate of the entire journey is not that of the first half.

Further, the fact that we hear of the Movement of the outermost sphere being the swiftest confirms our theory. Obviously, it is the swiftest of movements by taking the lesser time to traverse the greater space the very greatest — all other moving things are slower by taking a longer time to traverse a mere segment of the same extension: in other words, Time is not this movement.

And, if Time is not even the movement of the Kosmic Sphere much less is it the sphere itself though that has been identified with Time on the ground of its being in motion.

Is it, then, some phenomenon or connection of Movement?

Let us, tentatively, suppose it to be extent, or duration, of Movement.

Now, to begin with, Movement, even continuous, has no unchanging extent [as Time the equable has], since, even in space, it may be faster or slower; there must, therefore, be some unit of standard outside it, by which these differences are measurable, and this outside standard would more properly be called Time. And failing such a measure, which extent would be Time, that of the fast or of the slow — or rather which of them all, since these speed-differences are limitless?

Is it the extent of the subordinate Movement [= movement of things of earth]?

Again, this gives us no unit since the movement is infinitely variable; we would have, thus, not Time but Times.

The extent of the Movement of the All, then?

The Celestial Circuit may, no doubt, be thought of in terms of quantity. It answers to measure — in two ways. First there is space; the movement is commensurate with the area it passes through, and this area is its extent. But this gives us, still, space only, not Time. Secondly, the circuit, considered apart from distance traversed, has the extent of its continuity, of its tendency not to stop but to proceed indefinitely: but this is merely amplitude of Movement; search it, tell its vastness, and, still, Time has no more appeared, no more enters into the matter, than when one certifies a high pitch of heat; all we have discovered is Motion in ceaseless succession, like water flowing ceaselessly, motion and extent of motion.

Succession or repetition gives us Number — dyad, triad, etc. — and the extent traversed is a matter of Magnitude; thus we have Quantity of Movement — in the form of number, dyad, triad, decade, or in the form of extent apprehended in what we may call the amount of the Movement: but, the idea of Time we have not. That definite Quantity is merely something occurring within Time, for, otherwise Time is not everywhere but is something belonging to Movement which thus would be its substratum or basic-stuff: once more, then, we would be making Time identical with Movement; for the extent of Movement is not something outside it but is simply its continuousness, and we need not halt upon the difference between the momentary and the continuous, which is simply one of manner and degree. The extended movement and its extent are not Time; they are in Time. Those that explain Time as extent of Movement must mean not the extent of the movement itself but something which determines its extension, something with which the movement keeps pace in its course. But what this something is, we are not told; yet it is, clearly, Time, that in which all Movement proceeds. This is what our discussion has aimed at from the first: “What, essentially, is Time?” It comes to this: we ask “What is Time?” and we are answered, “Time is the extension of Movement in Time!”

On the one hand Time is said to be an extension apart from and outside that of Movement; and we are left to guess what this extension may be: on the other hand, it is represented as the extension of Movement; and this leaves the difficulty what to make of the extension of Rest — though one thing may continue as long in repose as another in motion, so that we are obliged to think of one thing Time that covers both Rest and Movements, and, therefore, stands distinct from either.

What then is this thing of extension? To what order of beings does it belong?

It obviously is not spatial, for place, too, is something outside it.

9. “A Number, a Measure, belonging to Movement?”

This, at least, is plausible since Movement is a continuous thin; but let us consider.

To begin with, we have the doubt which met us when we probed its identification with extent of Movement: is Time the measure of any and every Movement?

Have we any means of calculating disconnected and lawless Movement? What number or measure would apply? What would be the principle of such a Measure?

One Measure for movement slow and fast, for any and every movement: then that number and measure would be like the decade, by which we reckon horses and cows, or like some common standard for liquids and solids. If Time is this Kind of Measure, we learn, no doubt, of what objects it is a Measure — of Movements — but we are no nearer understanding what it is in itself.

Or: we may take the decade and think of it, apart from the horses or cows, as a pure number; this gives us a measure which, even though not actually applied, has a definite nature. Is Time, perhaps, a Measure in this sense?

No: to tell us no more of Time in itself than that it is such a number is merely to bring us back to the decade we have already rejected, or to some similar collective figure.

If, on the other hand, Time is [not such an abstraction but] a Measure possessing a continuous extent of its own, it must have quantity, like a foot-rule; it must have magnitude: it will, clearly, be in the nature of a line traversing the path of Movement. But, itself thus sharing in the movement, how can it be a Measure of Movement? Why should the one of the two be the measure rather than the other? Besides an accompanying measure is more plausibly considered as a measure of the particular movement it accompanies than of Movement in general. Further, this entire discussion assumes continuous movement, since the accompanying principle; Time, is itself unbroken [but a full explanation implies justification of Time in repose].

The fact is that we are not to think of a measure outside and apart, but of a combined thing, a measured Movement, and we are to discover what measures it.

Given a Movement measured, are we to suppose the measure to be a magnitude?

If so, which of these two would be Time, the measured movement or the measuring magnitude? For Time [as measure] must be either the movement measured by magnitude, or the measuring magnitude itself or something using the magnitude like a yard-stick to appraise the movement. In all three cases, as we have indicated, the application is scarcely plausible except where continuous movement is assumed: unless the Movement proceeds smoothly, and even unintermittently and as embracing the entire content of the moving object, great difficulties arise in the identification of Time with any kind of measure.

Let us, then, suppose Time to be this “measured Movement,” measured by quantity. Now the Movement if it is to be measured requires a measure outside itself; this was the only reason for raising the question of the accompanying measure. In exactly the same way the measuring magnitude, in turn, will require a measure, because only when the standard shows such and such an extension can the degree of movement be appraised. Time then will be, not the magnitude accompanying the Movement, but that numerical value by which the magnitude accompanying the Movement is estimated. But that number can be only the abstract figure which represents the magnitude, and it is difficult to see how an abstract figure can perform the act of measuring.

And, supposing that we discover a way in which it can, we still have not Time, the measure, but a particular quantity of Time, not at all the same thing: Time means something very different from any definite period: before all question as to quantity is the question as to the thing of which a certain quantity is present.

Time, we are told, is the number outside Movement and measuring it, like the tens applied to the reckoning of the horses and cows but not inherent in them: we are not told what this Number is; yet, applied or not, it must, like that decade, have some nature of its own.

Or “it is that which accompanies a Movement and measures it by its successive stages”; but we are still left asking what this thing recording the stages may be.

In any case, once a thing — whether by point or standard or any other means — measures succession, it must measure according to time: this number appraising movement degree by degree must, therefore, if it is to serve as a measure at all, be something dependent upon time and in contact with it: for, either, degree is spatial, merely — the beginning and end of the Stadium, for example — or in the only alternative, it is a pure matter of Time: the succession of early and late is stage of Time, Time ending upon a certain Now or Time beginning from a Now.

Time, therefore, is something other than the mere number measuring Movement, whether Movement in general or any particular tract of Movement.

Further: Why should the mere presence of a number give us Time — a number measuring or measured; for the same number may be either — if Time is not given us by the fact of Movement itself, the Movement which inevitably contains in itself a succession of stages? To make the number essential to Time is like saying that magnitude has not its full quantity unless we can estimate that quantity.

Again, if Time is, admittedly, endless, how can number apply to it?

Are we to take some portion of Time and find its numerical statement? That simply means that Time existed before number was applied to it.

We may, therefore, very well think that it existed before the Soul or Mind that estimates it — if, indeed, it is not to be thought to take its origin from the Soul — for no measurement by anything is necessary to its existence; measured or not, it has the full extent of its being.

And suppose it to be true that the Soul is the appraiser, using Magnitude as the measuring standard, how does this help us to the conception of Time?

10. Time, again, has been described as some sort of a sequence upon Movement, but we learn nothing from this, nothing is said, until we know what it is that produces this sequential thing: probably the cause and not the result would turn out to be Time.

And, admitting such a thing, there would still remain the question whether it came into being before the movement, with it, or after it; and, whether we say before or with or after, we are speaking of order in Time: and thus our definition is “Time is a sequence upon movement in Time!”

Enough: Our main purpose is to show what Time is, not to refute false definition. To traverse point by point the many opinions of our many predecessors would mean a history rather than an identification; we have treated the various theories as fully as is possible in a cursory review: and, notice, that which makes Time the Measure of the All-Movement is refuted by our entire discussion and, especially, by the observations upon the Measurement of Movement in general, for all the argument — except, of course, that from irregularity — applies to the All as much as to particular Movement.

We are, thus, at the stage where we are to state what Time really is.

11. To this end we must go back to the state we affirmed of Eternity, unwavering Life, undivided totality, limitless, knowing no divagation, at rest in unity and intent upon it. Time was not yet: or at least it did not exist for the Eternal Beings, though its being was implicit in the Idea and Principle of progressive derivation.

But from the Divine Beings thus at rest within themselves, how did this Time first emerge?

We can scarcely call upon the Muses to recount its origin since they were not in existence then — perhaps not even if they had been. The engendered thing, Time, itself, can best tell us how it rose and became manifest; something thus its story would run:

Time at first — in reality before that “first” was produced by desire of succession — Time lay, self-concentrated, at rest within the Authentic Existent: it was not yet Time; it was merged in the Authentic and motionless with it. But there was an active principle there, one set on governing itself and realizing itself [= the All-Soul], and it chose to aim at something more than its present: it stirred from its rest, and Time stirred with it. And we, stirring to a ceaseless succession, to a next, to the discrimination of identity and the establishment of ever-new difference, traversed a portion of the outgoing path and produced an image of Eternity, produced Time.

For the Soul contained an unquiet faculty, always desirous of translating elsewhere what it saw in the Authentic Realm, and it could not bear to retain within itself all the dense fullness of its possession.

A Seed is at rest; the nature-principle within, uncoiling outwards, makes way towards what seems to it a large life; but by that partition it loses; it was a unity self-gathered, and now, in going forth from itself, it fritters its unity away; it advances into a weaker greatness. It is so with this faculty of the Soul, when it produces the Kosmos known to sense — the mimic of the Divine Sphere, moving not in the very movement of the Divine but in its similitude, in an effort to reproduce that of the Divine. To bring this Kosmos into being, the Soul first laid aside its eternity and clothed itself with Time; this world of its fashioning it then gave over to be a servant to Time, making it at every point a thing of Time, setting all its progressions within the bournes of Time. For the Kosmos moves only in Soul — the only Space within the range of the All open to it to move in — and therefore its Movement has always been in the Time which inheres in Soul.

Putting forth its energy in act after act, in a constant progress of novelty, the Soul produces succession as well as act; taking up new purposes added to the old it brings thus into being what had not existed in that former period when its purpose was still dormant and its life was not as it since became: the life is changed and that change carries with it a change of Time. Time, then, is contained in differentiation of Life; the ceaseless forward movement of Life brings with it unending Time; and Life as it achieves its stages constitutes past Time.

Would it, then, be sound to define Time as the Life of the Soul in movement as it passes from one stage of act or experience to another?

Yes; for Eternity, we have said, is Life in repose, unchanging, self-identical, always endlessly complete; and there is to be an image of Eternity-Time — such an image as this lower All presents of the Higher Sphere. Therefore over against that higher life there must be another life, known by the same name as the more veritable life of the Soul; over against that movement of the Intellectual Soul there must be the movement of some partial phase; over against that identity, unchangeableness and stability there must be that which is not constant in the one hold but puts forth multitudinous acts; over against that oneness without extent or interval there must be an image of oneness, a unity of link and succession; over against the immediately infinite and all-comprehending, that which tends, yes, to infinity but by tending to a perpetual futurity; over against the Whole in concentration, there must be that which is to be a Whole by stages never final. The lesser must always be working towards the increase of its Being, this will be its imitation of what is immediately complete, self-realized, endless without stage: only thus can its Being reproduce that of the Higher.

Time, however, is not to be conceived as outside of Soul; Eternity is not outside of the Authentic Existent: nor is it to be taken as a sequence or succession to Soul, any more than Eternity is to the Divine. It is a thing seen upon Soul, inherent, coeval to it, as Eternity to the Intellectual Realm.

12. We are brought thus to the conception of a Natural-Principle — Time — a certain expanse [a quantitative phase] of the Life of the Soul, a principle moving forward by smooth and uniform changes following silently upon each other — a Principle, then, whose Act is sequent.

But let us conceive this power of the Soul to turn back and withdraw from the life-course which it now maintains, from the continuous and unending activity of an ever-existent soul not self-contained or self-intent but concerned about doing and engendering: imagine it no longer accomplishing any Act, setting a pause to this work it has inaugurated; let this outgoing phase of the Soul become once more, equally with the rest, turned to the Supreme, to Eternal Being, to the tranquilly stable.

What would then exist but Eternity?

All would remain in unity; how could there be any diversity of things? What Earlier or Later would there be, what long-lasting or short-lasting? What ground would lie ready to the Soul’s operation but the Supreme in which it has its Being? Or, indeed, what operative tendency could it have even to That since a prior separation is the necessary condition of tendency?

The very sphere of the Universe would not exist; for it cannot antedate Time: it, too, has its Being and its Movement in Time; and if it ceased to move, the Soul-Act [which is the essence of Time] continuing, we could measure the period of its Repose by that standard outside it.

If, then, the Soul withdrew, sinking itself again into its primal unity, Time would disappear: the origin of Time, clearly, is to be traced to the first stir of the Soul’s tendency towards the production of the sensible universe with the consecutive act ensuing. This is how “Time”— as we read —“came into Being simultaneously” with this All: the Soul begot at once the Universe and Time; in that activity of the Soul this Universe sprang into being; the activity is Time, the Universe is a content of Time. No doubt it will be urged that we read also of the orbit of the Stars being Times”: but do not forget what follows; “the stars exist,” we are told, “for the display and delimitation of Time,” and “that there may be a manifest Measure.” No indication of Time could be derived from [observation of] the Soul; no portion of it can be seen or handled, so it could not be measured in itself, especially when there was as yet no knowledge of counting; therefore the Soul brings into being night and day; in their difference is given Duality — from which, we read, arises the concept of Number.

We observe the tract between a sunrise and its return and, as the movement is uniform, we thus obtain a Time-interval upon which to measure ourselves, and we use this as a standard. We have thus a measure of Time. Time itself is not a measure. How would it set to work? And what kind of thing is there of which it could say, “I find the extent of this equal to such and such a stretch of my own extent?” What is this “I”? Obviously something by which measurement is known. Time, then, serves towards measurement but is not itself the Measure: the Movement of the All will be measured according to Time, but Time will not, of its own Nature, be a Measure of Movement: primarily a Kind to itself, it will incidentally exhibit the magnitudes of that movement.

And the reiterated observation of Movement — the same extent found to be traversed in such and such a period — will lead to the conception of a definite quantity of Time past.

This brings us to the fact that, in a certain sense, the Movement, the orbit of the universe, may legitimately be said to measure Time — in so far as that is possible at all — since any definite stretch of that circuit occupies a certain quantity of Time, and this is the only grasp we have of Time, our only understanding of it: what that circuit measures — by indication, that is — will be Time, manifested by the Movement but not brought into being by it.

This means that the measure of the Spheric Movement has itself been measured by a definite stretch of that Movement and therefore is something different; as measure, it is one thing and, as the measured, it is another; [its being measure or] its being measured cannot be of its essence.

We are no nearer knowledge than if we said that the foot-rule measures Magnitude while we left the concept Magnitude undefined; or, again, we might as well define Movement — whose limitlessness puts it out of our reach — as the thing measured by Space; the definition would be parallel since we can mark off a certain space which the Movement has traversed and say the one is equivalent to the other.

13. The Spheral Circuit, then, performed in Time, indicates it: but when we come to Time itself there is no question of its being “within” something else: it must be primary, a thing “within itself.” It is that in which all the rest happens, in which all movement and rest exist smoothly and under order; something following a definite order is necessary to exhibit it and to make it a subject of knowledge — though not to produce it — it is known by order whether in rest or in motion; in motion especially, for Movement better moves Time into our ken than rest can, and it is easier to estimate distance traversed than repose maintained. This last fact has led to Time being called a measure of Movement when it should have been described as something measured by Movement and then defined in its essential nature; it is an error to define it by a mere accidental concomitant and so to reverse the actual order of things. Possibly, however, this reversal was not intended by the authors of the explanation: but, at any rate, we do not understand them; they plainly apply the term Measure to what is in reality the measured and leave us unable to grasp their meaning: our perplexity may be due to the fact that their writings — addressed to disciples acquainted with their teaching — do not explain what this thing, measure, or measured object, is in itself.

Plato does not make the essence of Time consist in its being either a measure or a thing measured by something else.

Upon the point of the means by which it is known, he remarks that the Circuit advances an infinitesimal distance for every infinitesimal segment of Time so that from that observation it is possible to estimate what the Time is, how much it amounts to: but when his purpose is to explain its essential nature he tells us that it sprang into Being simultaneously with the Heavenly system, a reproduction of Eternity, its image in motion, Time necessarily unresting as the Life with which it must keep pace: and “coeval with the Heavens” because it is this same Life [of the Divine Soul] which brings the Heavens also into being; Time and the Heavens are the work of the one Life.

Suppose that Life, then, to revert — an impossibility — to perfect unity: Time, whose existence is in that Life, and the Heavens, no longer maintained by that Life, would end at once.

It is the height of absurdity to fasten on the succession of earlier and later occurring in the life and movement of this sphere of ours, to declare that it must be some definite thing and to call it Time, while denying the reality of the more truly existent Movement, that of the Soul, which has also its earlier and later: it cannot be reasonable to recognize succession in the case of the Soulless Movement — and so to associate Time with that — while ignoring succession and the reality of Time in the Movement from which the other takes its imitative existence; to ignore, that is, the very Movement in which succession first appears, a self-actuated movement which, engendering its own every operation, is the source of all that follows upon itself, to all which, it is the cause of existence, at once, and of every consequent.

But:— we treat the Kosmic Movement as overarched by that of the Soul and bring it under Time; yet we do not set under Time that Soul-Movement itself with all its endless progression: what is our explanation of this paradox?

Simply, that the Soul-Movement has for its Prior Eternity which knows neither its progression nor its extension. The descent towards Time begins with this Soul-Movement; it made Time and harbours Time as a concomitant to its Act.

And this is how Time is omnipresent: that Soul is absent from no fragment of the Kosmos just as our Soul is absent from no particle of ourselves. As for those who pronounce Time a thing of no substantial existence, of no reality, they clearly belie God Himself whenever they say “He was” or “He will be”: for the existence indicated by the “was and will be” can have only such reality as belongs to that in which it is said to be situated:— but this school demands another type of argument.

Meanwhile we have a supplementary observation to make.

Take a man walking and observe the advance he has made; that advance gives you the quantity of movement he is employing: and when you know that quantity — represented by the ground traversed by his feet, for, of course, we are supposing the bodily movement to correspond with the pace he has set within himself — you know also the movement that exists in the man himself before the feet move.

You must relate the body, carried forward during a given period of Time, to a certain quantity of Movement causing the progress and to the Time it takes, and that again to the Movement, equal in extension, within the man’s soul.

But the Movement within the Soul — to what are you to (relate) refer that?

Let your choice fall where it may, from this point there is nothing but the unextended: and this is the primarily existent, the container to all else, having itself no container, brooking none.

And, as with Man’s Soul, so with the Soul of the All.

“Is Time, then, within ourselves as well?”

Time in every Soul of the order of the All-Soul, present in like form in all; for all the Souls are the one Soul.

And this is why Time can never be broken apart, any more than Eternity which, similarly, under diverse manifestations, has its Being as an integral constituent of all the eternal Existences.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/p/plotinus/p72e/part3.7.html

Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24