Thralls of the Metronome: The Fall of the Demons into Devastated Time

“The angels are first among creatures,” writes Paul Griffiths—“first, that is, in time, and first, also, in intimacy with the LORD. When the created order comes into being by the LORD’s fiat, the light that exists before the lights given by the heavenly bodies is angelic light, participant intimately in the light that belongs to the Trinity” (Decreation, p. 132). Like all other creatures, they are spatio-temporal beings, locatable within the beautiful and good cosmos God has made, made from out of nothing cum tempore, with time, unfallen time, what Griffiths calls systolic time, time perfectly attuned to the eternity and beatitude of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “The unfallen angels are enfolded into the systole with intellectual and affective perfection” (p. 146).

Of this unfallen time we may say very little, as the only time we know is the time that was damaged by the fall. Griffiths describes this fallen time as metronomic. Metronomic time is chronological, ordered, computable, calculated according to creaturely movements of various kinds. We speak of years, days, minutes, seconds, micro-seconds. “Metronomic time, therefore, is measurable duration. It is cosmic, regular, repeating, providing duration that is what it is independently of how it seems to creatures such as ourselves” (p. 91). It all seems neutral and normal enough, perhaps even proper. “Spatio-temporal presence to himself is what the LORD intends for creatures,” states Griffiths, “and the spatio-temporal relations we bear to one another are therefore also features of us that are loved” (p. 91). Yet in the monotonous beat of the metronome, we also hear the decay and dissolution that characterizes the cosmos—“the metronomic countdown to death” (p. 91). Death makes the measurement of time possible:

This characterization of metronomic time depends upon the view that death is an artifact of the fall. Not all Christians have thought this, but most have: it is almost a universal feature of Christian discourse, and it is a position I endorse. It means, among other things, that the motions and the time of creatures in Eden did not mark a path toward death; they began to do that only after the banishing of Eve and Adam from the garden. The temporal course of unfallen, creaturely life, though still properly temporal, was therefore not measurable in the same way that devastated creaturely life is, and that is because the essential feature of temporal measurability, of the act of timing, is that one thing with motion-duration is held up against another, and that both are end-stopped, which is to say that they constitute a period in the sense that the motion-duration of each comes to an end. If one motion is endless and the other is not, then timing the duration of the endless one by means of the end-stopped one is impossible: imagining [sic] measuring the duration of the life of a tree that never dies by a clock. The reverse is equally problematic: you cannot time (measure the duration of) a period by means of an endless duration. And if both the measurer and the measured are endless, matters are even worse. In either case, metronomic time, the time whose law is measure is impossible. In an Edenic world in which there is only creaturely motion without end because there is no death, there is nothing end-stopped to use as a measure or to be measured. There are no periods, and especially not the final period that is death. Death and the metronome are therefore inseparable: the absence of the former in Eden entails the absence of the latter. (pp. 92-93)

We measure our lives with coffee spoons, the poet says, and the measuring is intolerable, escape impossible. Tick-tock, tick-tock. Times flies, but except for rare moments of ecstasy it never does. Tempus non fugit. “The metronome’s omnipresence and unavoidability, its literal unendurability—the fact, that is, that we cannot live long with it, cannot put up with it, cannot survive it—is, exactly, time’s devastation” (p. 92).

Macbeth memorably soliloquizes:

Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

In contrast, the unfallen angels know time as systolic, folded into the Trinitarian life of the Creator: “The angels see what they see of the LORD, and love what they see, according to a repetitive rhythm of in- and out-breathing, returning in that rhythm the gift of being and of vision and of love granted them by the Trinity” (p. 145). Unfallen spirits, therefore, do not experience the monotonous, unendurable tick-tock leading to nothingness and death. Theirs is an endless (not linear but perhaps helical or eliptical) existence of praise and bliss, coupled with certitude of their future in God. “The time of the unfallen angels is that of the systole: they have no subjective sense of time’s metronomic passage, and, still more important, there is no such passage for them” (p. 133). They have nothing to wait for, for they already possess the fullness of their beatitude. They are everything they will be. There are no clocks in heaven; they are not needed. Nor do they move toward anything, for they already live in the systole. Yet a question arises: Do not the angels look forward to the cosmos renewed, when God will be all-in-all? This would not be the tick-tock of the metronome but a duration pregnant with eschatological anticipation. Perhaps this duration cannot be measured; perhaps the angels do not desire to measure it. When enraptured by uncreated glory, what is time?

Yet for some of the celestial beings, systolic time became metronomic. At the instant of creation, some (few? many?) deliberately separated themselves from the divine love and began to seek an existence independent of their Creator. In that act of self-alienation, they became demons:

Once existent, located in the systolic time that is the temporality of the cosmos unfallen, the angels delight in the vision of the LORD. Or most of them do. Some, however, immediately upon being created, do not. They, Satan being chief among their number and the representative figure of them all, avert their intellects from the LORD’s light, turning their gaze toward the only thing there is, which is darkness, turning their gaze toward the only other thing there is, which is darkness, the absence of being which is the void mentioned in the first verse of the book of Genesis. As they do this, they fall, interlacing their light with darkness, losing intimacy, though never completely, with the LORD, and beginning to seek, vainly of course, for a mode of existence independent of the LORD’s. They become, that is to say, demons: a Christian demonology is part of angelology because all demons are fallen angels. Demons, in their legions, are, then, discarnate beings impelled toward nothing, doing much damage as they use their remaining power to seek it. (p. 132)

We cannot fathom this radical turning from God. Unlike human beings, angels are not faced between choices between greater and lesser goods. Theirs is a choice between the Creator as the supreme Good and sheer nothingness, which is not anything at all—yet it is this nihil the demons seek, in futility and delusion. How might we understand their search? Perhaps, suggests Griffiths, we might compare it to our own attempts to comprehend a mathematical problem beyond our competence. We understand a part of it, which is simultaneously an admission of incomprehension. We continue to struggle, but the problem remains impenetrable. We cannot see the solution; we cannot break through the wall. Our frustration mounts. As we focus our attention, ever more intently, on the obscurities, the parts we cannot grasp expand in our visual field, until the only thing that we see is what we cannot see. There is only the darkness and our abiding failure. And so the demonic vision: “They know that they now know only in part, and that is an element proper to their torment” (p. 144). But do they also know that they cannot find their good outside the Good? Do they know there is nothing in nothingness? How can they not know?

The question remains: “How is it possible that creatures gifted with a capacity for unmediated vision of the Trinity should choose to turn their gaze away from it?” (p. 134). I see how it is that sin must be possible for rational creatures, both with respect to their freedom and to their origin ex nihilo. Griffiths suggests, however, that we should eschew explanation: “Seeking a causal explanation of sin’s possibility (and of its actuality when it happens) tends unavoidably toward elevating the sin, as both capacity and act, to the level of a something to be explained instead of a lack for which no causal explanation is possible” (p. 135). There is no understanding nothingness. The angelic quest to find their good in the nihil must always be judged an absurdity. Even so, the question remains: Whence this angelic madness? The responsibility cannot lie with God, who creates only good; hence we cannot posit an original inclination to evil. All creatures are created with a primal desire for God … yet Lucifer fell.

Lucifer fell and became a demon. Lucifer fell and with him the cosmos was devastated. Griffiths locates the ruination of God’s good creation in the failure of those angels who, at the moment of their creation, averted their gaze from the LORD. Think of “a  host of heavy iron objects, magnetized toward a lodestone, orbiting it and forming beautiful and symmetrical patterns because of that attraction; when some among them cease to be attracted by the lodestone for whatever reason, they fall to earth, spiraling down in chaos, damaging whatever gets in their way” (pp. 132-133). Or perhaps consider fireworks, designed to fly high into the air, dazzling all with their beauty and colors. Yet the defective bottle rockets barely leave the ground and “whizz about laying waste to everything around them” (p. 133). “The malice and destructiveness of the demons is an epiphenomenon,” comments Griffiths, “but an unavoidable one, of their willed aversion of themselves from the LORD, for intellectual intimacy with whom they were made” (p. 133).

The destructive consequence to the cosmos of the aboriginal angelic sin is real: with the fall of Satan and his retinue, there came “the tick-tock of the metronome, which is nothing other than the systole ravaged, moved entropically toward nothing” (p. 133). In turning from the eternity that is God toward the nothingness, the demons become aware of the linear passage of time. The metronome becomes reality; and the demons, like all creatures who come after them, are its thralls.

Just as there is no course or passage of time prior to creation, but, rather, creation is brought into being cum tempore, as temporal, with time, so there is no metronomic or clock-measurable time prior to the fall, but, rather, the fall occurs cum metronomia (if, this, barbaric, Latin may be permitted), as metronomic, with the metronome. The fall of the angels, then, is at least in part a fall into metronomy. (pp. 133-134)

Like the rowers in a Roman galley, they who inhabit time devastated can only hear the drum-beats of the hortator.

Griffith’s Augustinian speculations lead him to an important conclusion: the fallen cosmos, with all of its suffering and death, is a tragic fruit of the angelic fall:

Taking the angelic fall serious means taking seriously the thought that the created order is damaged, fallen, devastated, as soon as it is brought into being. All those creatures brought into being metronomically after the angels come into an already devastated world.  This is as true of the human creation as of the rest. The angelic fall provides the context and the frame for everything that is to follow. In the case of the human creation, and the experimental project of Eden (for Augustine does tend to present it as experimental), the picture is of an enclosure, exempt from death and suffering and from the metronome, into which humans are put, together with other creatures, to see whether they will replicate the angelic fall. As Genesis already suggests, the worm—the serpent—is already in the bud, and the human couple fall as the angels already have, responding to the serpent’s temptation by believing what it says and doing what it has done, replicating in the flesh what the angels have already done in intellectus and in their discarnate bodies. And then the story goes on in the familiar way, with demons and angels constantly interacting with one another and with the mass of fallen humans, a chaos of darkness and violence and death healed, eventually, by the people of Israel and the incarnation of the second person of the Trinity.

This reading of the Genesis narrative—and it is important to emphasize that Augustine consistently represents his version of the angelic fall as exegesis of Scripture, and especially of the opening chapters of Genesis—has a number of advantages for contemporary Christians. One is that it has no difficulty with the presence of nonhuman animals long prior, in the metronomic order of timespace, to the creation of human ones—this is, of course, already the plain-sense reading of Genesis, deepened by an Augustinian frame. A second is that it has a ready explanation for the massive presence of death among nonhuman animals prior to the human fall, as well as of chaos and entropy in the inanimate created order. (p. 134 [emphasis mine]); cf. J.R.R. Tolkiens’s creation myth)

We may not be able to explain how the fall of the angels had such a massive and devastating impact upon cosmic time, but Paul Griffith’s doctrinal proposal opens exciting avenues for further Christian reflection.

Tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock

 

(Go to “The Novissimum of Annihilation”)

 

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18 Responses to Thralls of the Metronome: The Fall of the Demons into Devastated Time

  1. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

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  2. Fascinating post. I have couple of thoughts:

    1) I’ve been reading Carlo Rovelli’s books on quantum theory and time, and the conceptual coherence between how Rovelli describes the physics of time and how Griffiths describes the metaphysics of time are striking. Time is both relative and directional, it is determined and measured by that which it is relative to, so there is no such thing as a fixed cosmic time; and it moves forward. Oddly enough, according to Rovelli, there is nothing in quantum theory that demands the directionality of time, and at the deepest quantum levels measurable time disappears. Time as we experience both directionally and relatively it is a function of thermodynamics (entropy vis-a-vis the 2nd law); time moves forward because of heat – the transfer of energy in the form of heat moves from the hotter body to the colder, not in the reverse which means we cannot go “back” in time even if at the quantum level there is nothing that dictates this. Energy is subject to entropy, and diffused throughout the cosmos, not regathered into more ordered and potent forms. At a physical/cosmic and metaphysical level, I suppose that systolic time could be a function of Divine energy which is not subject to entropy, so I wouldn’t be surprised if unfallen time functions relative to the Divine in a matter that is quite unlike metronomic time.

    2) I am not so sure I can follow Griffiths’ approach entirely in terms of chronology. It might well be impossible to locate the angelic fall at a specific instance in time, say immediately after creation. Perhaps it comes some time well after cosmic time as we understand it began, perhaps before. I have heard Christian physicist Frank Tippler describe the cosmic fall as occurring sometime around the late Pre-Cambrian when violence and predation became a feature of life on earth. But, I’m not entirely convinced of this either. I’m still not sure anyone outside Scripture has conceived of the fall better than Tolkien, and I would frankly not be shocked if it didn’t take place in a strikingly similar way to how his mythology describes it.

    I wrote a piece after reading a couple of Rovelli’s books that is concordant with Griffiths’ observations of metronomic time, makes me want to pick up his writings. Here it is:

    https://stjudestavern.org/2018/05/17/cotton-candy/

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Jed, I have added a long quotation from Griffiths on the measurement of time. I think addresses some of your questions. In brief: only death makes the measurement of time possible.

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      • Robert Fortuin says:

        I am not following that at all, this makes matters worse. Becoming is intrinsic to the fall?

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          No, Griffith is not saying that—probably the opposite, given that in his view all creatures, including angels, are temporal beings. But he is proposing that the cosmos (timespace) was damaged by the angelic fall, which happened, so he posits, at the initial moment of creation.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Oh, you’re responding to his claim that angels are everything they will be, right? I think he sees that as a consequence of the beatific vision for intrinsically discarnate beings. They have nothing to wait for, as compared to discarnate souls who await the resurrection. On the other hand, he also has no problems with saying, contra Aquinas, that angels can take on accidental properties (e.g., like Gabriel announcing to Mary her conception of the eternal Son).

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          Robert, Griffiths devotes a chapter to the nature of temporality and four-dimensional existence. It’s above my head, so I won’t be blogging on it any time in the near (and probably far) future. He takes seriously the theory of special relativity.

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  3. Well, one thing is clear: Paul Griffiths is no mathematical physicist. If bits of iron orbiting a magnet ceased to experience the attraction of the lodestone, they wouldn’t “spiral down to earth”, they would shoot off into space in whatever direction they last happened to be moving, in accordance with Newton’s First Law. Which perhaps describes demons (or at least human sinners) better than the original analogy …

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      My apologies, Norman, for the delay in approving your comment. Once in a blue moon, a comment gets sent to the spam queue, which I only check occasionally, and I’m afraid this is what happened to yours.

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  4. Tom says:

    Griffiths: “Taking the angelic fall serious means taking seriously the thought that the created order is damaged, fallen, devastated, as soon as it is brought into being. All those creatures brought into being metronomically after the angels come into an already devastated world.”

    I’m not buying this camel. I’m suspicious of people who reduce taking an issue seriously to agreeing with them. Perhaps St. Paul should have amended his agreement with Epimenides to “In Satan we live and move and have our being,” for Griffiths effective understands Satan to be a demiurge who maintains and mediates creation’s being and possibilities.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      No, Tom, Griffiths does not see Satan as a demiurge. He (like all the angels) is created ex nihilo, just like all other creatures. Griffiths does not posit any mediatorial role to the angels in the act of divine creation.

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      • Tom says:

        Right – I grant Griffiths isn’t making so explicit a claim. Satan may be taken as created (as was the Demiurge). However, notwithstanding the points you highlight, it seems to me that all creation’s implication in a primordial angelic choice ‘functionally speaking’ reduces the relationship to that of a demiurge (if quasi-demiurgic is better, that’s fine). I’m not drawing a formal parallel.

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        • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

          So how does death and corruption enter the cosmos in your view, Tom? Adam and Eve? Would that not give them a demiurgic role, by your definition? Or did God create death?

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          • Tom says:

            Yes – God created the material world mortal and subject to decay with a view toward becoming immortal (through the Incarnation). But mortality is the metaphysical price tag to getting created-embodied sentience into the kind of abiding, loving relationship God desires. Been saying that for some time. “Mortality” per se became “Death” the existential enemy when we misrelated to it in despair.

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        • Tom says:

          In other words – Why is a primordial angelic fall posited as an explanation of universal decay and mortality if some manner of mediation isn’t being presupposed as obtaining between angels and the material order? By what means does their fall implicated that order universally? That’s what I’m pointing to with demiurgic language.

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  5. David S says:

    I find the concept of systolic time a little ambiguous. On the one hand it sounds like Griffith’s is arguing that, in systolic time, there is no change or novelty whatsoever (similar to Moltmann and Pannenberg’s eschatology of all moments being gathered up into one eternal vision?). On the other, this is a kind of repetition – and if the resurrected Jesus and the angels now experience systolic time, do they not look forward to the coming general resurrection, and is that not a new thing? And if there was genuinely no change or novelty at all, how would that differ from being atemporal?

    If that’s so, it sounds like ‘systolic time’ isn’t saying much more than the blessed stay blessed, without undergoing any real constitutional change, but still experiencing things in temporal order – so no new ‘types’ of experiences, but still new experiences, in the sense that there is one moment of glory and then another. But if that’s so, I don’t really see how it’s helpful to think of this as a different type of time – time still goes tick tock, it just doesn’t suck.

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  6. Ted says:

    Fascinating post, Father. While reading, I was reminded of a bit from Fr. John Behr’s book, The Mystery of Christ, concerning St. Maximus’s treatment of The Fall. You’ve also blogged about it in a piece titled, “The Christ, the Fall, and Echoes of Eden.”

    I’m thinking specifically of this:
    “Echoes of Eden reverber­ate throughout the stories of Scripture. St Maximus the Confessor provides the necessary demythologization: at the “very instant” Adam was created, he subjected himself to sensible things, thus corrupting his natural desire of God (Q. Thal. 61.85). The fall of man was instantaneous with his creation. In Behr’s words: “There never was a ‘time,’ for Maxi­mus, in which human beings did not stand in need of Christ” (pp. 78-79). This positing of humanity’s embrace of autonomy at the moment of its creation, as Fr Panteleimon Manoussakis elaborates, “allows him [Maximus] to avoid the problems of a (historical) time of perfection, while distinguishing between creation as created and creation as fallen, or put differently, between creation as being and creation as the theater of human action” (“St. Augustine and St. Maximus the Confessor between the Beginning and the End,” pp. 8-9).”

    Do you see specific similarities between Maximus’/Behr’s and Dr. Griffiths’ proposals.

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    • Fr Aidan Kimel says:

      Yes, I do see similarities, particularly in Griffith’s discussion of systolic time (chap. 16). For example:

      ”The crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus lie at the heart of time. That time is contracted by those events, pleated and folded around them, gathered by them into a tensely dense possibility. By and in those events, the events of gthe passion, metronomic duration, the regularly measurable fabric of timespace, is sytolated: it has folds or gatherings in it because of its contraction. The principal fold is exactly that provided by the passion: there, time is folded most thickly, pleated most delicately and intricately, contracted—systolated—most tightly; there (then) eternity’s relation to the devastation’s metronomic death hammer is most intense and most transformative; it is that death hammer that drives the nails through the flesh of Jesus and the spear into his side, and it is the hyperdurational events that follow (death, deposition, burial, descent ad inferos, hell’s harrowing, resurrection, ascension) that remove them, and provide the necessary conditions for the casting of Christ’s blood out into the cosmos and into our hearts. The passion is to the fabric of timespace just as the heart’s systole is to our bodies. Time receives its proper order in the passion, and it an order opposed in every significant way to the time of the metronome. (p. 96)

      But please don’t ask me to explain any of this. 🙂

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