Book XI of Augustine’s Confessions consists almost entirely of him trying to figure out the nature of time based on a few clues in Genesis. Despite working from a bad Latin translation and having just a few phrases to work with anyway, Augustine describes several remarkably modern theories about the nature of time.
I’ll admit that this book was a bit hard to read. Augustine has some complicated theories that English just wasn’t built to handle, and at times he seems to chase himself around in circles.
However, there are some gems to be found. I was especially struck by this passage, where Augustine cries out to God for understanding about time:
My mind is on fire to solve this very intricate enigma. Do not shut the door, Lord my God. Good Father, through Christ I beg you, do not shut the door on my longing to understand these things which are both familiar and obscure. Do not prevent me, Lord, from penetrating them and seeing them illuminated by the light of your mercy. Whom shall I ask about them? And to whom but you shall I more profitably confess my incompetence? You are not irritated by the burning zeal with which I study your scriptures. Grant what I love. For I love, and this love was your gift. Grant it, Father. You truly know how to give good gifts to your children. Grant it, since I have undertaken to acquire understanding and the labour is too much for me until you open the way. Through Christ I beg you, in the name of him who is the holy of holy ones, let no one obstruct my inquiry.” – Augustine’s Confessions, XI, xxii (28)
Wow. I’ve prayed for scientific insight before (including the night before my IB physics test), but never with the fervor Augustine displays here. I love his hunger to understand and his understanding that God is the one who can provide it.