Pope Francis on Time – and Andrei Tarkovsky


Online: Catholic Commentary: http://rccommentary2.blogspot.com/2013/11/pope-francis-on-time-and-andrei.html

In a section of Evangelii Gaudium devoted to “The Common Good and Peace in Society”, the first of four principles offered by Pope Francis is that “time is greater than space” (nn. 222-225):

A constant tension exists between fullness and limitation. Fullness evokes the desire for complete possession, while limitation is a wall set before us. Broadly speaking, “time” has to do with fullness as an expression of the horizon which constantly opens before us, while each individual moment has to do with limitation as an expression of enclosure. People live poised between each individual moment and the greater, brighter horizon of the utopian future as the final cause which draws us to itself. Here we see a first principle for progress in building a people: time is greater than space.  

…. One of the faults which we occasionally observe in socio-political activity is that spaces and power are preferred to time and processes. Giving priority to space means madly attempting to keep everything together in the present, trying to possess all the spaces of power and of self-assertion; it is to crystallize processes and presume to hold them back. Giving priority to time, means being concerned about initiating processes rather than possessing spaces. Time governs spaces, illumines them and makes them links in a constantly expanding chain, with no possibility of return. What we need, then, is to give priority to actions which generate new processes in society and engage other persons and groups who can develop them to the point where they bear fruit in significant historical event; without anxiety, but with clear convictions and tenacity.  

This criterion also applies to evangelization, which calls for attention to the bigger picture, openness to suitable processes and concern for the long run. The Lord himself, during his earthly life, often warned his disciples that there were things they could not yet understand and that they would have to await the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 16:12-13). The parable of the weeds among the wheat (cf. Mt 13:24-30) graphically illustrates an important aspect of evangelization: the enemy can intrude upon the kingdom and sow harm, but ultimately he is defeated by the goodness of the wheat.

I have added the italics above because they represent the point in these paragraphs where the thought of Pope Francis most readily points to that of Andrei Tarkovsky, the Russian film director.  In writing about his film making in the book Sculpting in Time, Tarkovsky writes of the “image” that is presented in a film. What that “image” can do is take an impression of time, an imprint of time:

For the first time in the history of the arts, in the history of culture, man found the means to take an impression of time. And simultaneously the possibility of reproducing that time on screen as often as he wanted, to repeat it and go back to it…

In a discussion of the process of editing a film after it has been shot, Tarkovsky writes of “time imprinted in the [individual] frame” and of “time itself, running through the [different] shots”. It is in a section at the beginning of Chapter III of Sculpting in Time, entitled “Imprinted time”, where one can recognise in Tarkovsky’s thought something of what Pope Francis expresses in Evangelii Gaudium:

Time is necessary to man, so that, made flesh, he may be able to realise himself as a personality. But I am not thinking of linear time, meaning the possibility of getting something done, performing some action. The action is a result, and what I am considering is the cause which makes man incarnate in a moral sense.

History is still not Time; nor is evolution. They are both consequences. Time is a state: the flame in which there lives the salamander of the human soul.

Time and memory merge into each other; they are like the two sides of a medal. It is obvious enough that without Time, memory cannot exist either…. Memory is a spiritual concept!…. As a moral being, man is endowed with a memory which sows in him a sense of dissatisfaction. It makes us vulnerable, subject to pain.

… The time in which a person lives gives him the opportunity of knowing himself as a moral being, engaged in the search for the truth; yet this gift which man has in his hands is at once delectable and bitter. And life is no more than the period allotted to him, and in which he may, indeed must, fashion his spirit in accordance with his own understanding of the aim of human existence…. The human conscience is dependent upon time for its existence.

Time is said to be irreversible…. by contrast, I want to draw attention to how time in its moral implication is in fact turned back. Time cannot vanish without trace for it is a subjective, spiritual category; and the time we have lived settles in our soul as an experience placed within time.

I have no way of knowing whether or not Pope Francis was influenced by Tarkovsky in writing the passage of Evangelii Gaudium devoted to time. However, as I have observed in earlier posts – here, here and here – Pope Francis is very familiar with the charism of Communion and Liberation. And Communion and Liberation have been admirers of Andrei Tarkovsky for many years. Tarkovsky twice attended the Rimini meeting, and Communion and Liberation publications have over the years presented articles about him. At the very least, we can suggest that Tarkovsky’s thought helps us to understand what might otherwise appear a somewhat obscure piece of writing from Pope Francis.