Saint Augustine, at most times, does not occupy himself with pure philosophy , but when he does he shows very great ability. He is the first of a long line whose purely speculative views are influenced by the necessity of agreeing with Scripture. This cannot be said of earlier Chrisitan philosophers, e.g Origen. In Origen, Christianity and Platonism lie side by side, and do not interpenetrate. In Saint Augustine, on the other hand, original thinking in pure philosophy is stimulated by the fact that Platonism, in certain respects, is not in harmony with Genesis.
The best purely philosophical work in Saint Augustine’s writings is the eleventh book of the “Confessions”. Popular editions of the “Confessions” end with Book X, on the ground that what follows is uninteresting; it is uninteresting because it is good philosophy, not biography. Book XI is concerned with the problem : creation having occurred as the first chapter of Genesis asserts, and as Augustine maintains against the Manichaens, it should have occurred as soon as possible. So he imagines an objector arguing.
The first point to realize, if his answer is to be understood, is that creation out of nothing, which was taught in the Old Testament, was an Idea wholly foreign to Greek philosophy. When Plato speaks of creation, he imagines a primitive matter to which God gives form, and the same is true of Aristotle. Their God is an artificer or architect, rather than a Creator. Substance is thought of as eternal and uncreated; only form is due to will of God. As against this view, Saint Augustine maintains as every orthodox Chrisitan must, that the world was created not from any certain matter, but from nothing. God created Substance, not only order and arrangement.
The Greek view, that creation out of nothing is impossible, has recurred at intervals in Christian times, and has led to pantheism. Pantheism holds that God and the world are not distinct and that everything in the world is part of God. This view is developed most fully in Spinoza, but is one to which almost all mystics are attracted. It has thus happened, throughout the Christian centuries, that mystics have had difficulty in remaining orthodox, since they find it hard to believe that the world is outside God. Augustine, however, feels no difficulty on this point; Genesis is explicit and that is enough for him. His view on this matter is essential to his theory of time.
Why was the world not created sooner? Because there was no “sooner”. Time was created when the world was created. God is eternal, in the sense of being timeless; in God, there is no before and after, but only an eternal present. God’s eternity is exempt from the relation of time; all time is present to Him at once. He did not precede His own creation of time, for that would imply that He was in time, whereas He stands eternally outside the stream of time. This leads Saint Augustine to a very admirable relativistic theory of time.