- Transfiguring Time: Understanding Time in Light of the Orthodox Tradition by Olivier Clément
When he wrote Transfiguring Time—his first theological study, published in 1959—Olivier Clément was a young French thinker who embraced the Christian faith only six years prior. As a teacher of history, the question of time was central for him. It is thus deeply meaningful that he began his career as a theologian by tackling this subject, which would eventually lead him to become one of the main Orthodox thinkers of the second half of the twentieth century. Transfiguring Time offers a systematic analysis of time in an Orthodox perspective, linked with the central question of the becoming of mankind.
In the first part of the book, dedicated to the cyclic conception of time, the author briefly summarizes the pagan perception of time, conceived as a repetition that tries to reveal a lost paradise. The first theorizations [End Page 230] of time, in Greek Antiquity as well as in Indian philosophy, have a negative vision of this repetition as one that man should try to transcend by reaching an eternity given by "gnosis" (31), knowledge. This cyclic conception of time is not alien to Christianity: the fallen world that rejects God lives under the law of a tragic progressive degradation, only ending with death. But the author underlines the difference between the two conceptions: "What the Orthodox ascetic challenges is not the created being, but not-being, that constitutes a parasitic precipitate formed from the fundamental freedoms of the created being" (40).
In the second part of the book, Clément tackles the subject of the revelation of God inside time. He underlines the value that Judeo-Christian thought gives to time, as it reveals a God beyond time that creates it in order to build a personal relationship with each human person. "Biblical anthropomorphism confirms the positive value of time, in which the dialogue between God and man matures and in which the wedding feast of the Creator and the created is prepared and celebrated" (46). Using both the Scriptures and the fathers of the church, the author describes the eternity of God as always present and active in the history of mankind. Time thus becomes a place where eternity reveals itself, even after the Fall, and is meant to have an end, when the encounter between God and each human person will be accomplished. Through examples like the tower of Babel or the sacrifice of Abraham, Clément analyzes more precisely the linear time in the Old Covenant, showing the orientation of this special time toward revelation: "God's personality is revealed, but this personal God is … enclosed within his transcendent sovereignty" (76). Only the Incarnation of Christ, with the free consent of the humanity in the person of the Virgin Mary, can fill the gap, as Christ makes God enter into our fallen time to solve the opposition between time and eternity through personal love. "Our fallen existence in time, assumed by the Lord even in the depth of hell, is transformed into deified time" (82).
This "economy of the Son" opens to the "economy of the Spirit" that is the last part of the book. Clément develops the way the Holy Spirit actualizes now, in the church, deified time in the special period between Pentecost and the Second Coming of the Lord, when we live an eschatological tension between what is already accomplished by the economy of Christ and the fact that it is not yet fully actualized in all of us. The sacraments allow each believer to participate in a "time permeated with the eternity of the Savior [temporalité éternisée du Seigneur]" (100 [126 in the French original]), a participation that only saints manage to achieve more fully. Clément links the "kenosis" of the Holy Spirit to the humble face of the church, as well as the historical crisis—any kind of dramatic events happening in the temporal present existence of humanity—that must...