Friday, January 13, 2023

S. Hilary of Poitiers, 'the Athanasius of the West'.


St Hilary of Poitiers (315-368) was born into an aristocratic family in Poitiers, Gaul, (i.e. France), and was highly educated. He married and raised a family. In due course his natural curiosity and enquiring mind led him to study the Scriptures. That's when the created order began to make sense to him. No longer able to accept that all things were the result of random acts of nature, he came to believe in a single Creator God. 

Reflecting on his faith journey, Hilary recalls that when he read the Lord's words to Moses, 'I AM WHO I AM' (Exodus 3:14), 'I was frankly amazed at such a clear definition of God, which expressed the incomprehensible knowledge of the divine nature in words most suited to human intelligence.' He also discovered God’s power, love and beauty expressed in the Psalms, Prophets and the rest of Old Testament salvation history. He grew to understand God's love for him as a deeply personal reality.

His reading of the Gospels convinced him that Jesus Christ was his Saviour, the Word made Flesh. Embracing the full Catholic Faith, he was baptised about 345 A.D. He was soon ordained, and then elected bishop in Poitiers (against his will!) around 350 A.D.

When the emperor Constantius II attempted to impose Arianism on the western Church, Hilary led a vigorous opposition. He was exiled to Phrygia (in modern day Turkey) in 356. There he became such a defender and champion of orthodox teaching about Jesus that the emperor decided it would be less trouble to let him return to his diocese. Hilary continued to fight against Arianism until his death in 368.

Here is a passage from S. Hilary's On The Trinity XII: 55-56: PL 10, 468-472)

According to the apostle, Lord, your Holy Spirit fully understands and penetrates your inmost depths; he also intercedes on my behalf, saying to you things for which I cannot find the words.  Nothing can penetrate your being but what is divine already; nor can the depths of your immense majesty be measured by any power which itself is alien or extrinsic to you.  So, whatever enters into you is yours already, nor can anything which has the power to search your very depths ever have been other than your own. 

Your Holy Spirit proceeds through your Son from you; though I may fail to grasp the full meaning of that statement, I give it nonetheless the firm assent of my mind and heart.

I may indeed show dullness and stupidity in my understanding of these spiritual matters; it is as your only Son has said: Do not be surprised if I have said to you: You must be born again.  Just as the wind blows where it pleases and you hear the sound of it without knowing where it is coming from or going to, so will it be with everyone who is born again of water and the Holy Spirit.  By my regeneration I have received the faith, but I am still ignorant; and yet I have a firm hold on something which I do not understand. I am born again, capable of rebirth but without conscious perception of it.  The Spirit abides by no rules; he speaks when he pleases, what he pleases, and where he pleases.  We are conscious of his presence when he comes, but the reasons for his approach or his departure remain hidden from us.

John tells us that all things came into being through the Son who is God the Word abiding with you, Father, from the beginning.  Paul in his turn enumerates the things created in the Son, both visible and invisible, in heaven and on earth.  And while he is specific about all that was created in and through Christ, of the Holy Spirit he considers it enough simply to say that he is your Spirit.

Therefore I concur with those chosen men in thinking that just as it is not expedient for me to venture beyond my mental limitation and predicate anything of your only begotten Son save that, as those witnesses have assured us, he was born of you, so it is not fitting for me to go beyond the power of human thought and the teaching of those same witnesses by declaring anything regarding the Holy Spirit other than that he is your Spirit.  Rather than waste time in a fruitless war of words, I would prefer to spend it in the firm profession of an unhesitating faith.

I beg you therefore, Father, to preserve in me that pure and reverent faith and to grant that to my last breath I may testify to my conviction.  May I always hold fast to what I publicly professed in the creed when I was baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  May I worship you, the Father of us all, and your Son together with you and may I be counted worthy to receive your Holy Spirit who through your only Son proceeds from you.  For me there is sufficient evidence for this faith in the words: Father, all that I have is yours, and all that is yours is mine, spoken by Jesus Christ my Lord who remains, in and from and with you, the God who is blessed for endless ages. Amen.


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