Good Friday 2015 marks 1982 years to the day that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified outside the walls of Jerusalem. The gap in time between now and then feels particularly large – in the two millennia which proceeded AD33, so much has changed, and so much time has passed. And the crucifixion of Christ is well and truly in the past. In our conception of time, one thing happens after another, when something is past, it is past. The present just is; it is homogeneous and univocal, extending a gulf between the past and the present.
The social imagery of time has not always been thus. During the Middle Ages, time was conceived of either belonging to either eternal or sacred time or the profane or mundane or secular time – saeculum. We would consider the later time normal time. However, mundane time could be punctuated by higher times, reordering the mundane and creating warps. According to Charles Taylor, ‘Events which were far apart in profane time could nevertheless be closely linked.’
Our social encasing in secular time today has changed this conception. Our experience of time is seen as natural and not a construction. Time for us is a commodity not to be wasted. It is tightly organized and measured, which seems natural to us. For the Greek philosophers, the eternal time was the most real of time. What happened in ordinary time was the embodiment of what take place in higher times, the realm of Ideas as Aristotle called it. What happened in ordinary time was less real than the timeless, destined to exist as a shadow, or as the Stoics had it, to return to the original undifferentiated state after the great conflagration.
It was Augustine of Hippo who launched the sacred and secular into medieval social imagination. Without abandoning eternity, Augustine argued that what happened in ordinary time cannot be less than fully real. It is the realm in which God interacted with humans, placing them in the garden, forming a covenant with them in Palestine, promising them a son who would reign on the throne, raising one from the dead who had been crucified. The Christian concept of time is different from the world it arose from; higher time is not timeless reality, but gathered time.
In Confessions XI, Augustine examination of lived time conceives of eternity not as Aristotle’s extensionless boundary of time periods, but ‘the gathering together of past into present to project a future. The past, which ‘objectively’ exists no more, is here in my present; it shapes this moment in which I turn to a future, which ‘objectively’ is not yet, but which is here qua project’ (Taylor: 2007).
For Augustine, rising to eternity is rising to participate in God's instant, as all times are present to him. He holds them all in this ‘extended simultaneity. His now contains all time.’ Ordinary time is dispersed time; we become cut off from our present and out of touch with our future. ‘We get lost in our little parcel of time’ says Taylor. But out of our longing for eternity, (for the one for whom we were made and our hearts our restless until they rest in him), we strive to go beyond our parcel, and invest it with eternal significance, which leads to idolizing things.
Eternity does not abolish time, but gathers it into an instant. In this social imaginary, ordinary time was punctuated and organized by the higher times. Ordinary time was not homogeneous, empty, or mutually interchangeable. It was space – instead ordinary time was ordered and coloured by its relation to higher times. It was the higher times of the liturgical calendar, with the remembrance and recapitulation of Christ’s time on earth, which ordered time.
This means that events can be situated in relation to more than one type of time. On this reasoning, this year’s Good Friday could be understood to be closer in time to the Crucifixion on 3 April 33 than 2 April 2015 would be.