Time is Neither Purely Cyclic or Simply Linear

It seems that the opposition between cyclical and linear time is much less radical than it serves ideological re-constructions1. These two conceptions are not in a situation of reciprocal exclusion. Indeed, the linear interpretation of the Christian time between Creation and Parousia is not illegitimate, however it does not reflect what is to be read in the whole Christian tradition. As example, Christ, as Alpha and Omega, makes time into a circle where destiny meets the origin. Similarly, a philosophical analysis of the concept of eternal return, sustained by some antique Greek doctrines (Stoics, late Pythagoreans, Empedocles), shows that the multitude of repeatable identical cycles can be linearly counted. Also, if these cycles really are strictly identical (excluding the quality of being after or before another one), the perfect identity excludes any repeatability and imposes the unicity of the temporal cycle. So not only indefinite series of identical cycles is linear time, but pure or absolute recurrence reduces to unicity.

Now, the one who affirms the eternal return, is he part of the cyclical series of events, which thus reduces to a single cycle as demonstrated, or is it said by someone who can speak from beyond the eternal return and exempt himself from it? If someone (Nietzsche) escape the repetition, that means that he doesn’t come back as such but continues in time, linearly. In the end, he is just the man, subject to the future.

No difference, in this respect, with the “traditional” conceptions, in which the classical representation of cycles (which are then not identical but analogical) is made of spires around a temporal axis, which again is linear. This is not the place to discuss the various durations, but, when one cycle lasts several hundred thousand billion years2, the linearity at human perspective is irrefragable. Not it is the place neither to discuss the number of ages within a cycle (manvantara), as, from a largely repeated number of four ages3, that number may in fact be five (Hesiod) or above seventy (India).

The Descent of Christ in Time

Plato describes the social and political fate of the City as « king-philosophers » being replaced by « warriors » or « guardians », i.e. the tyranny, then by a Government by the people, i.e. the predominance of the most inferior desires of man. Doing that, he mostly describes the alternate dominancy of each human soul: intellective, affective and desiring; this is rather “natural history”.

With Christianism, it is the supernatural event that creates history and it may even be it that signs the birth certificate of historical conscience; there is a before and an after Christ (the BC and AC in common usage)4. Therefor this astonishing fact: Christian thinking (e.g. S. Paul), takes into its soteriological « chronosophia », the history of the whole mankind. This is unique and new to any other religion or traditional culture (Jews, Greeks, Hindus). The Christic advent marks a clear break with Hesiod, Plato or the Indian texts, where the Indo-European tradition shows the ages of mankind as an inevitable degeneration in terms of spiritual capacity. Besides any question of cyclicity or linearity, these views set up kind of an impersonal tribunal making mankind innocent of any cosmic inevitable woes. This is far from the sacred history of the Immanuel (God with us), with the specificity of this unique revelation: the message is the Messenger himself5; e.g. Christ does not say « I say the truth », but « I am the Truth » (Jn 14:6). “The Word was made flesh” (Jn 1:14), if one can contemplate what that means. Incidentally, no surprise then if the concept of religion came from this unique advent, and could then be applied to any society where sacrality and sociality never had been distinguished.

Christic Time is Cyclo-Linear or Rather Beyond such Categories

If the purely cyclical conception of time paradoxically implies its linearity (given the linear succession of cycles), Christian time has been artificially reduced to linearity, despite the way a Christian lives his Church or what Fathers of the Church always taught.

Lithurgic time is fundamentally and expressly cyclic. Christian life is an annual initiation to the life cycle of Christ, from birth to Ascent, such as end meets start, rise meets descent. As example, this is why the first Sunday of Advent also is an eschatological announce.

Besides, ecclesiastic writers (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory of Nyssa, etc.), all present the cosmogonic hebdomad as the structure, which governs the cycle of time, while the soul in beatitude lives kind of a straight immobile movement, eternally growing in the enjoyment of the infinite Object.

Augustine, in his work on time, shows how the seven days of Genesis are prophetic of both the age of world and the man’s life cycle6. While he knew well the distinction between cyclic and linear time, nothing in his teaching indicates any reciprocal exclusion, which is purely modern, and, to the contrary, combines the two views.

Thomas Aquinas has developed the most powerful and most precise philosophical elaboration of this question. The cycle is metaphysic: from God, via the world and via the Christ, toward God, « ultimate perfection of any thing is reached by conjunction to its principle »7. Human nature too tends to its accomplishment through history: this is precisely the salvation history of the man, of the mankind; the accomplishment of the “man-image”. So, the circularity exitus & veditus (“out & back in”) “necessarily” opens on the linearity of the events process.

Christ, as principle and end of time as well as Son in Trinity refers to the infinite circle: the circuminsession (or perichoresis) that unifies the three persons of the Trinity. As one knows, a circle whose radius infinitely grows becomes a straight line. “This is how the transformal identity of circularity and straightness comes to fruition: far from excluding each other, there are only the formally distinct figures of a unique unfigurable reality. Now, the perfect ”logic” lays in the key of this accomplishment, this reciprocal conversion of the circular and the linear: the advent of the Logos in our flesh, the event-Christ, inexplicably and necessarily unique, eternity becoming time, so that time becomes eternity”.8

There is no Beginning and no End as such

This means that Christian, or better said, Christic time is neither some cyclic or continuous progress or degeneration. The proper Christian consciousness of time, the Christian time is the moment of the conversion. We are given time to convert. As such, “time is not Christian ‘by nature’ or ‘by state’, but ‘by act’”9. If time may be qualified of being Christic, this is because He is its ontologic master (“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”10), in Him, time opens and closes not only because He, the Word, transcends time, but also because, as Incarnate Word, He is in its heart. Beginning and end of time necessarily are not part of it, otherwise any such moment of time would be preceded or be followed by another temporal moment; this is why this necessarily transcends time. Complementarily, if the Alpha and the Omega were not in the heart of time, time would not pass at all, because at each instant it ends and begins (what theology calls continuous Creation).

Predictions of the End of Times are not Prophecies

What then does that mean to prophesy the end of times, like in the text of Revelation11? We will not discuss here the predictions about the end of the world or the Christian specific prophecies in terms of Parousia12, Millennialism13, and Pleroma14, but we will only point out what we believe counts when trying to think the end of times.

Talking about the end of the world, the provisory scientific theory, evolution between a big bang and a big crunch, is fair enough15; the multibillion years in between have no real signification at human scale, but may help to understand that it has a Beginning and an End that transcends it. “Transcends it” because any before or after, necessarily is of a different nature: sea does not limit sea, time does not limit time, space does not limit space. God’s absolute future is not intra-historic and what we have said so far about time dispels any historicism of any theology of history. Temptations to project the “Above” at the end of the “onward” always existed (recently from Teilhard de Chardin or liberation theology); it tends to reduce the metaphysics to the cosmologic, the spiritual to the psychic, and it excessively reifies the eschatological perspective.

No need then to review all failed predictions of the end of the world (e.g. Stifel, for 1553; Jan Matthijs, 1534; William Miller, 1844; Charles Taze Russell, 1874; Carl-Friedrich Zimpel, 1875; Jehovah’s Witnesses, 1914; Harold Camping, 1994; Nostradamus, 1999; Paul Sides, 2007; Jack Van Impe, 2012; etc.), but we may mention Newton’s one for 2060. Above anything, a prophecy is not a prediction as such. Metaphysically, and theologically, the world, at each instant, is created and, by consequence, is ending; all the rest is of secondary importance or even not interesting at all.

The Eschatological Destiny of an Individual and of the Mankind

The eschatological accomplishment promised by God concerns human as individual and as member of mankind. As such, eschatology deals with both individual death (immortality of the soul, eternal happiness…), solidary collective end (resurrection of the dead, Last judgement…) and “material” end (resurrection of bodies, new heaven/new earth…), which includes stones, plants & animals.

We will not review the teaching of the catechism about this matter, but would like here to emphasize a few enlightening paradoxes within Christian eschatology:

The Paradox of the Eschatological Hope.

Individual eschatology, while being a legitimate hope per Christ promise, cannot be a prospect; by no mean could it be. The hope related to an inexpressible is not the prospect of a conceivable something. “Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him”, said Job (13:15). The kind of hope we are talking about may be a ‘hope in’, but not some ‘hope of’, some ‘hope for’ or some ‘hope that’. Confidence in God’s love is the only possible type of hope, God’s grace requests its space and a total abandon only (or absolute surrender or unconditional renunciation) leaves the space open. “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” (Ro 8:26).

This means that all texts in the world can be studied, analyzed and even understood –and this includes the catechism—, hope may happen only in the mystic secret of the heart; it shall be no knowledge, for, if this is about intelligence, “the peace of God transcends all understanding” (Ph 4:7), and for, if this is about knowledge, this is where God knows Himself, and nobody else knows him. This means that if there is something man can do, this is to renounce to everything including oneself, to get empty up to complete annihilation and, as such, to even waive any residual hope16. Here, humility is not even a possible concept, because, as soon it is thought about, any humility is precluded. This is another paradox.

The Paradox of a ‘Universal Election’.

There are two wrong interpretations of being part of God’s elects. The first one happens when believing that being elected provides any superiority to others, while this is pure divine grace. However, this happens frequently when one discover some intelligibility in religious mysteries (reading some metaphysic or spiritual books or entering esoteric organizations like theosophy, anthroposophy, a.s.o.); then some will speak with condescendence, if not contempt, about “the man in the street”, while, as mentioned, humility still is too much a self. The second misinterpretation often draws on a decontextualized quote: “For many are invited, but few are chosen” (Mt 22:14). Yet, the parable of the Wedding Banquet relates that everybody is invited, and those who do not attend had just refused the invitation. Even, among the attendees (from the second invitation wave), the one who is said to be rejected, in fact refused to wear the wedding suit (traditionally supplied to any attendee). This means, beyond the decontextualized wording, that everyone is invited, but may refuse, one way or another.

The Paradox of a Unique Neighbor.

This comes from Christ being the prototype of the Relationship, whether theologically, ontologically or humanly17.

Theologically, Christ is the Son and as such the primary relation to the Father, thus prototype of the subsisting relationship. Christ-Son shows how a Person can be a Relationship (while the Holly Spirit shows how a Relationship can be a Person).

Cosmologically, He is the Word, the creating Act, the Link (Interconnection) between the Creator (the Father) and the creation. As such, He is the ontological Relationship from the Uncreated to the created (Creation) and from the created to the Uncreated (Redemption), the Mediator between all beings and the Principle of being, the ontologic Relationship in which subsist all beings and degrees of the creation.

In the human perspective, Christ, for He is the Son and the Word, founds the Relationship of “neighborness”, constitutive of the neighbor. He is the Mediator Dei et hominum and the Mediator of men among themselves. Because He is mediator by essence, this is through Christ that men engage into neighborness Relationship among themselves and into neighborness Relationship with God. This is why, in final Judgment: “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Mt 25:40).

So, this is in Jesus-Christ that one loves God, it is in Him as well that man becomes the neighbor of God, and this is via the humanity of the Christ-Word-Son –the pure human nature issued from the Virgin—that God may love all men. Thus, the neighbor is the Christ because Christ is the Neighbor. To love one’s neighbor is thus to love Christ, the unique Neighbor. Said otherwise, “the neighbor is the matter of the neighborness, Christ is the eternal Form of it”.

The Paradox of Renouncing the State of Bliss.

What we have just read is a key in approaching the mystery of the One and the many or, more prosaically, the paradoxical loneliness (at birth and death) of a homo socialis. Applied to eschatology, this means that true mystic state (insomuch it may reflect the eschatological instant) puts you at so low a level (ground Zero) –below humility—that every people (from all times and places), the whole mankind is in between you and God. “There” and “then”, you may see what happens. This spiritual or eschatological state, is known as bodhisattva in Buddhism; in Christianism, it is to be read in John Scotus Eriugena (c. 815-c. 877), Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-c. 1328): “All creatures come together in my intellect, so that they become intelligible in me. Me alone, I prepare them to return to God”18; or as testimony from St. Theresa of Lisieux19: “I would even like to have been a missionary since the creation of the world and be it until the consummation of ages” (Ms B, 3 r°); “I want to spend my time in Heaven to do good on earth until the end of the world” (JEV, 85).


  1. Whether a Guénonian esoterism based on Hindu tradition and promoting cyclic time as an exclusive truth, or the falsely name Enlightenment trying to reduce the Christian time into some exclusively linear course of time.[]
  2. Renou, Filliozat, L’Inde classique, t. I, § 1130, p. 550.[]
  3. Krita, treta, dvapara, kali per Guénon and many papers; gold, silver, bronze and iron in the Hesiodic tradition or in Daniel 2:31.[]
  4. The event-Christ breaches the cosmic cycles: “it transforms natural time, the time from the cosmic clock, into a supernatural time”; Jean Borella, op. cit., p. 277-278.[]
  5. This makes the drastic difference with prophetic or avataric revelations.[]
  6. First day ≈ Adam ≈ early childhood; Second day ≈ Noe ≈ childhood, etc.; De Genesi contra Manichaeos, I, 23, 35-41.[]
  7. Sum. Theol., I – II, Q. 3, a. 7, or Sum. contra Gent., II, 46, 2.[]
  8. Jean Borella, op. cit., p. 274.[]
  9. Jean Borella, op. cit., p. 276.[]
  10. Revelation 22:13.[]
  11. Also Mt 24:3-39 among many other verses.[]
  12. Future and visible return of Christ on earth.[]
  13. A so-called Second Coming corresponds to the establishment of a Kingdom of God on Earth for a thousand years. The Catholic Church keeps the light version of millennialism as a hypothesis.[]
  14. “Integration” of the whole creation into Christ as the Head and people the members (1 Co 12:27) and the fullness of God. “I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Eph. 3:17-19).[]
  15. Even if Big Crunch would precede Big Bang putting the universe into a cycle; cf. Timothy Clifton, Bernard Carr, Alan Coley, “Persistent Black Holes in Bouncing Cosmologies”, Class. Quantum Grav. 34 (2017) 135005, arXiv:1701.05750v2 [gr-qc].[]
  16. We have called it the first step of “the two steps cure” (Initiation à la métaphysique, L’Harmattan, 2009), the possible second step being entirely up to God.[]
  17. We follow here Jean Borella, Love and Truth, Angelico Press, 2018 (La Charité profanée, Cèdre, 1979).[]
  18. Sermon LVI (Pfeiffer ed., trad. A. de Libera, p. 388).[]
  19. Cf. François Chenique, Sagesse chrétienne et mystique orientale, Dervy, 1997, ch. 9 Une boddhisattvâ des temps modernes : sainte Thérèse de Lisieux.[]