- Time and Eternity: The Medieval Discourse
For anyone thinking about the past, time along with its meaning and nature are of central importance, though surprisingly often these topics are not explicitly considered by scholars. The 'Time and Eternity' stream of the 2000 International Medieval Congress, Leeds, followed the then recent excitement over the 'new millennium', and this substantial volume collects papers from that conference.
Wesley Stevens (who gave the plenary address) begins with a discussion of Augustine's musings on time and memory, and goes on to the problems of the calendars on which the dating of medieval annals and chronicles was based. Following Stevens's chapter, the first section of the book, 'Time, Its Computation and the Use of Calendars' contains technical papers about methods of computation, a number of which rest on the accepted wisdom that the system of counting years from the birth of Christ originated with Dionysius in the sixth century. McCarthy challenges this view, however, suggesting that it was Eusebius who determined which Julian year should be considered the year of Christ's birth. Verbist examines the accuracy of computations of this date, challenged at least as early as the tenth century, while Ohashi discusses problems in the transmission of the text of Bede's De Temporibus, and the effect this had on the calculation of the date of Easter. Papers by Kleist, Hill and Limacher-Riebold consider the implications of different ways of thinking of time, astronomical versus eschatological, the Roman solar versus the Judaic lunar calendar, and finally the liturgical calendar.
The second section of Time and Eternity focuses on Jewish concepts of time. Stern's discussion of the meaning of time in early rabbinic sources is situated in Norbert Elias's idea that the modern concept of time has come about through the 'civilising process' and modernization. For the rabbinic writers of the third to seventh centuries, however, Stern suggests that reality is subject to 'process, change and motion' without the abstract notion of time or even a word for it. When [End Page 143] time became a scarce resource and therefore a source of internal anxiety, ways of referring to time changed. Rudavsky and Maccoby consider the meanings of time and of eternity depending on whether one thinks from a 'scientific' viewpoint of the universe as created, or from a 'religious' perspective where the universe is eternal. Caputo more specifically investigates the significance of messianic redemption in the commentaries of the thirteenth-century Catalonian rabbi, Nahmanides.
The following three papers by Goris, Lewis and Matula focus on Christian ideas about eternity, Aquinas's thought contrasting with that of Hus. Lewis examines Hugh of St Victor's writings on Noah's ark and reconstructs the drawings of the ark that Hugh is known to have made. These works were explicitly educational but also had a greater purpose of elevating the monks to the band of the elect on its journey. Lewis suggests that Hugh does this by reinvesting with spiritual meaning the temporal dimension of human life (and history) which may seem cut off from eternity. The ark in this sense is a mnemonic device linking the mortal to eternity.
In the section 'Monastic and Clerical Conceptions', the theme of the preservation of the spiritual life of monks is continued in Verbaal's explication of how Bernard of Clairvaux used dramatic and rhetorical devices to keep his listeners focused on their ongoing spiritual progress rather than becoming sluggish in the tedium of the daily round of the monastic calendar. Caron considers the temporal liminality of the monastic space and of the celebration of the eucharist in Mechtild's Liber specialis gratiae, while Kircher's examination of the sea as an image of temporality points up the also liminal nature of this image. Cullum grounds his sense of time by comparing the life-cycle and life-course of clerics in northern England with their non-clerical counterparts: while life-course at first glance might...