14. The Angels and Time
Time is one of the most elusive notions. We all understand it well enough for practical purposes, but when there is question of clearly defining its nation, the lay mind, if not that of the philosopher, finds the task a baffling one.
All that is actual in time is the present moment, which we express by word now, and which almost ere we have spoken it, has ceased to be. It might be compared with an imaginary plane dividing, at any given point in the onward flow of a stream, the waters that have sped by from those which ahve to pass. For in the march of time the present is but the limit which separates the past from the future.
Time is the duration of things whose whole being is in a state of succession. It cannot properly be predicated of what in its nature is permanent. And here perhaps we may look for at least a partial explanation of certain words which occur in that striking scene in the Apocalypse, already quoted.
And the angel, whom I saw standing upon the sea and upon the earth, lifted up his hand to heaven. And he swore by him that liveth for ever and ever, who created heaven, and the things which are therein; and the earth, and the things which are in it; and the sea, and the things which are therein: That time shall be no longer. (Apocalypse 10:5-6)
After the Judgement Day, the status of men, no less than that of the angels, will be fixed forever. Their lot will then be one of uninterrupted, unending bliss, or of ceaseless misery. For them, consequently, time will have given place to eternity.
Now the whole being of the angels is changeless and permanent, and their highest and noblest operations, which have to do with the beatific vision, are equally so. They are in no way subject to the variations of the things in time.
Nevertheless the angels co-exist with our time, and hence their duration may be measured by it, and we may speak fo them as having existed for, say, six thousand years or more; whereas, were there no heavenly bodies by whose regular movements the years are computed, it would be impossible for us to assign any measure to their existence.
There is indeed a sense in which time may be predicated of the angels independently of all exterior terms of comparison. The accidental operations of the angelic mind and will, which have created things for their object, admit of succession – in face, succeed each other, much as ours do. And yet there is this important difference, that while in us there is a gradual transition from the imperfect to the perfect, in the angels the transition is instantaneous from one perfect act to another. Succession involves times and hence, with reference to those secondary acts, the angels are affected by time. But it is not time like ours – an onward, ceaseless, equable flow; rather may it be compared with the abrupt transition from book to book on the shelves of a library. It is tempus discretum, not continuum – discrete, not continuous, time.