Rather, they are more like empty placeholders that designate a limit or boundary -- in this case, the boundary between finite and infinite; or just say knowable and unknowable, like a flashlight that illuminates a spherical area and leaves everything else in darkness. The finite is just a little luminous space in the infinite.
In space we are aware of four cardinal directions (north, west, east, and south), plus up and down. Likewise, in time we are aware of two directions that extend out from the present. But "as he moves in either of the two directions," writes Voegelin, "man the questioner will find himself both frustrated and illumined."
Try to imagine the situation of premodern man confronted with the enigma of time. It's both more difficult and easier than you might think, because each of us is superimposed, so to speak, on a premodern man, just as we are on a mammal (the midbrain) and a reptile (the hindbrain).
You might say that the whole phenomenon of existentialism emerged as a result of modern men who were suddenly denied the comforting -- and containing -- myths of antiquity, and therefore had to confront the vastness of time and space with no map and no direction home.
Thus, a Pascal -- who was not an existentialist but could see where history was headed -- described the terror of "the eternal silence of these infinite spaces," and of being "engulfed in the infinite immensity of spaces whereof I know nothing, and which know nothing of me."
So: "As he moves back on the time line," man will soon enough "discover the regress to be indefinite." One will not find any kind of beginning in time; rather, only more time, time after time.
Recall what was said above about the six directions of space and the two directions of time. It turns out that there two additional directions that extend out from the present. Let's just call them Up and Down; thus, in the present moment we may face forward, backward, up, or down.
The Up and Down need to be emphasized, for it is only because of them that it is possible to "see" the forward and the backward. Animals, for example, don't have a history because they have no vantage point to see -- or make -- it. They are both in and of time, whereas man is of time but partly of something else as well.
I won't dwell on it, but we've just hit on one of the essential distinctions between left and right. For the left there is no vantage point outside history, and thus no universal or permanent truths. Rather, everything is conditioned by history, and this historicism condemns man to be both in and of time, full stop.
Of course, no leftist believes this consistently or in his bones, because a leftist is still a man, with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto. Every leftist will still speak passionately of "social justice" or "women's rights" or "marriage equality," as if these things can exist outside his animal desires.
Back to the Beginning. Again, searching for it backward in time is (literally) a non-starter.
Okay, what about down? Good choice! "The ground [man] is seeking is to be found, not in the things of the cosmos and their time dimension, but in the mystery of a creative beginning of the cosmos in a time out of time."
Language suitable for describing profane time and space begins to break down when we try to apply it to higher and lower dimensions. Nevertheless, we need not "abandon the directional index" of before and after, "but use it analogically to symbolize the divinely-creative beginning of a reality that has a time dimension after all."
In other words, we are using the word "beginning," but applying it to the vertical instead of the horizontal. In so doing, this "analogical symbol will denote... a beginning in the analogical time of a creation story." The myths that arise from this ground serve to articulate "the truth of a cosmos that is not altogether of this world."
WE ALL KNOW -- on pain of cashing in our humanness -- that neither we nor the cosmos are reducible to This World. If that weren't the case, then you wouldn't even be free to disagree with me.
Therefore, "the reality of things, it appears, cannot be fully understood in terms of the world and its time; for the things are circumfused by an ambience of mystery that can be understood only in terms of the Myth."
Good word, "circumfused."
More miraculous than the creation story itself is the miracle of a human imagination that finds the symbols to express a myth that is adequate to the (infinite) subject. As we've mentioned before, the more one studies Genesis, the more one is convinced that it must have a divine source -- or that it specifically flourishes in the vertical space between man and God (no less today than 3,000 years ago).
We're talking about illiterate nomads on the lam here, not theologians or metaphysicians writing from the comfort of their book-lined slackatoreums. And yet, they came up with something to keep theologians and metaphysicians busy forever.
As Voegelin writes, we are converging on the reality "of an imagination and a language that is itself... not altogether of this world."
You don't say.
True, but you never stop trying.
Not much "time" this morning. "Out!"
(Unless otherwise indicated, all the quotes are from Voegelin)