Hilary De Trin., 1.18; 2.6f; 3.9f, 23; 4.14, 36; 5.20f; 6.13-16; 8.52

1.18. And you, whose warmth of faith and passion for a truth unknown to the world and its philosophers shall prompt to read me, must remember to eschew the feeble and baseless conjectures of earthly minds, and in devout willingness to learn must break down the barriers of prejudice and half-knowledge. The new faculties of the regenerate intellect are needed; each must have his understanding enlightened by the heavenly gift imparted to the soul. First he must take his stand upon the sure ground [substantia = upostai ] of God, as holy Jeremiah says, that since he is to hear about that nature [substantial he may expand his thoughts till they are worthy of the theme, not fixing some arbitrary standard for himself, but judging as of infinity. And again, though he be aware that he is partaker of the Divine nature, as the holy apostle Peter says in his second Epistle, yet he must not measure the Divine nature by the limitations of his own, but gauge God’s assertions concerning Himself by the scale of His own glorious self-revelation. For he is the best student who does not read his thoughts into the book, but lets it reveal its own; who draws from it its sense, and does not import his own into it, nor force upon its words a meaning which he had determined was the right one before he opened its pages. Since then we are to discourse of the things of God, let us assume that God has full knowledge of Himself, and bow with humble reverence to His words. For He Whom we can only know through His own utterances is the fitting witness concerning Himself.


2.6. It is the Father to Whom all existence owes its origin. In Christ and through Christ He is the source of all. In contrast to all else He is serf-existent. He does not draw His being from without, but possesses it from Himself and in Himself. He is infinite, for nothing contains Him and He contains all things; He is eternally unconditioned by space, for He is illimitable; eternally anterior to time, for time is His creation. Let imagination range to what you may suppose is God’s utmost limit, and you will find Him present there; strain as you will there is always a further horizon towards which to strain. Infinity is His property, just as the power of making such effort is yours. Words will fail you, but His being will not be circumscribed. Or again, turn back the pages of history, and you will find Him ever present; should numbers fail to express the antiquity to which you have penetrated, yet God’s eternity is not diminished. Gird up your intellect to comprehend Him as a whole; He eludes you, God, as a whole, has left something within your grasp, but this something is inextricably involved in His entirety. Thus you have missed the whole, since it is only a part which remains in your hands; nay, not even a part, for you are dealing with a whole which you have failed to divide. For a part implies division, a whole is undivided, and God is everywhere and wholly present wherever He is.

Reason, therefore, cannot cope with Him, since no point of contemplation can be found outside Himself and since eternity is eternally His. This is a true statement of the mystery of that unfathomable nature which is expressed by the Name ‘Father:’ God invisible, ineffable, infinite. Let us confess by our silence that words cannot describe Him; let sense admit that it is foiled in the attempt to apprehend, and reason in the effort to define. Yet He has, as we said, in ‘Father’ a name to indicate His nature; He is a Father unconditioned. He does not, as men do, receive the power of paternity from an external source. He is unbegotten, everlasting, inherently eternal. To the Son only is He known, for no one knoweth the Father save the Son and him to whom the Son willeth to reveal Him, nor yet the Son save the Father. Each has perfect and complete knowledge of the Other. Therefore, since no one knoweth the Father save the Son, let our thoughts of the Father be at one with the thoughts of the Son, the only faithful Witness, Who reveals Him to us.

2.7. It is easier for me to feel this concerning the Father than to say it. I am well aware that no words are adequate to describe His attributes. We must feel that He is invisible, incomprehensible, eternal. But to say that He is self-existent and self-originating and self-sustained, that He is invisible and incomprehensible and immortal; all this is an acknowledgment of His glory, a hint of our meaning, a sketch of our thoughts, but speech is powerless to tell us what God is, words cannot express the reality. You hear that He is self-existent; human reason cannot explain such independence. We can find objects which uphold, and objects which are upheld, but that which thus exists is obviously distinct from that which is the cause of its existence. Again, if you hear that He is self-originating, no instance can be found in which the giver of the gift of life is identical with the life that is given. If you hear that He is immortal, then there is something which does not spring from Him and with which He has, by His very nature, no contact; and, indeed, death is not the only thing which this word ‘immortal’ claims as independent of God. If you hear that He is incomprehensible, that is as much as to say that He is non-existent, since contact with Him is impossible. If you say that He is invisible, a being that does not visibly exist cannot be sure of its own existence. Thus our confession of God fails through the defects of language; the best combination of words we can devise cannot indicate the reality and the greatness of God. The perfect knowledge of God is so to know Him that we are sure we must not be ignorant of Him, yet cannot describe Him. We must believe, must apprehend, must worship; and such acts of devotion must stand in lieu of definition.


3.9. The Son of God, therefore, having the charge of mankind, was first made man, that men might believe on Him; that He might be to us a witness, sprung from ourselves, of things Divine, and preach to us, weak and carnal as we are, through the weakness of the flesh concerning God the Father, so fulfilling the Father’s will, even as He says, I came not to do Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me. It was not that He Himself was unwilling, but that He might manifest His obedience as the result of His Father’s will, for His own will is to do His Father’s. This is that will to carry out the Father’s will of which He testifies in the words: Father, the hour is come; ,glorify Thy Son, that Thy Son may glorify Thee; even as Thou hast given Him power over all flesh, that whatsoever Thou hast given Him, He should give it eternal life. And this is life eternal, that they should know Thee the only true God, and Him Whom Thou didst send, Jesus Christ. I have glorified Thee upon earth, having accomplished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Me with Thine own Self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was. I have manifested Thy Name unto the men whom Thou hast given Me. In words short and few He has revealed the whole task to which He was appointed and assigned. Yet those words, short and few as they are, are the true faith’s safeguard against every suggestion of the devil’s cunning. Let us briefly consider the force of each separate phrase.

3.23. You hear the words, I and the Father are one. Why do you rend and tear the Son away from the Father? They are a unity: an absolute Existence having all things in perfect communion with that absolute Existence, from Whom He is. When you hear the Son saying, I and the Father are one, adjust your view of facts to the Persons; accept the statement which Begetter and Begotten make concerning Themselves. Believe that They are One, even as They are also Begetter and Begotten. Why deny the common nature? Why impugn the true Divinity? You hear again, The Father in Me, and I in the Father. That this is true of Father and of Son is demonstrated by the Son’s works. Our science cannot envelope body in body, or pour one into another, as water into wine; but we confess that in Both is equivalence of power and fulness of the Godhead. For the Son has received all things from the Father; He is the Likeness of God, the Image of His substance. The words, Image of His substance, discriminate between Christ and Him from Whom He is but only to establish Their distinct existence not to teach a difference of nature; and the meaning of Father in Son and Son in Father is that there is the perfect fulness of the Godhead in Both. The Father is not impaired by the Son’s existence, nor is the Son a mutilated fragment of the Father. An image implies its original; likeness is a relative term. Now nothing can be like God unless it have its source in Him; a perfect likeness can be reflected only from that which it represents; an accurate resemblance forbids the assumption of any element of difference. Disturb not this likeness; make no separation where truth shews no variance, for He Who said, Let us make man after our image and likeness, by those words Our likeness revealed the existence of Beings, Each like the Other. Touch not handle not, pervert not. Hold fast the Names which teach the truth, hold fast the Son’s declaration of Himself. I would not have you flatter the Son with praises of your own invention; it is well with you if you be satisfied with the written word.


4.14. Such is their error, such their pestilent teaching; to support it they borrow the words of Scripture, perverting its meaning and using the ignorance of men as their opportunity of gaining credence for their lies. Yet it is certainly by these same words of God that we must come to understand the things of God. For human feebleness cannot by any strength of its own attain to the knowledge of heavenly things; the faculties which deal with bodily matters can form no notion of the unseen world. Neither our created bodily substance, nor the reason given by God for the purposes of ordinary life, is capable of ascertaining and pronouncing upon the nature and work of God. Our wits cannot rise to the level of heavenly knowledge, our powers of perception lack the strength to apprehend that limitless might. We must believe God’s word concerning Himself, and humbly accept such insight as He vouchsafes to give. We must make our choice between rejecting His witness, as the heathen do, or else believing in Him as He is, and this in the only possible way, by thinking of Him in the aspect in which He presents Himself to us. Therefore let private judgment cease; let human reason refrain from passing barriers divinely set. In this spirit we eschew all blasphemous and reckless assertion concerning God, and cleave to the very letter of revelation. Each point in our enquiry shall be considered in the light of His instruction, Who is our theme; there shall be no stringing together of isolated phrases whose context is suppressed, to trick and misinform the unpractised listener. The meaning of words shall be ascertained by considering the circumstances under which they were spoken words must be explained by circumstances not circumstances forced into conformity will words. We, at any rate, will treat our subject completely; we will state both the circumstances under which words were spoken, and the true purport of the words. Each point shall be considered in orderly sequence.

4.36. But lest these words, For I am, and before Me there is no other God, nor shall be after Me, be made a handle for blasphemous presumption, as proving that the Son is not God, since after the God, Whom no God precedes, there follows no other God, the purpose of the passage must be considered. God is His own best interpreter, but His chosen Servant joins with Him to assure us that there is no God before Him, nor shall be after Him. His oxen witness concerning Himself is, indeed, sufficient, but He has added the witness of the Servant Whom He has chosen. Thus we have the united testimony of the Two, that there is no God before Him; we accept the truth, because all things are from Him. We have Their witness also that there shall be no God after Him; but They do not deny that God has been born from Him in the past. Already there was the Servant speaking thus, and bearing witness to the Father; the Servant born in that tribe from which God’s elect was to spring. He sets forth also the same truth in the Gospels: Behold, My Servant Whom I have chosen, My Beloved in Whom My soul is well pleased. This is the sense, then, in which God says, There is no other God before Me, nor shall be after Me. He reveals the infinity of His eternal and unchanging majesty by this assertion that there is no God before or after Himself. But He gives His Servant a share both in the bearing of wireless and in the possession of the Name of God.


5.20. The Law in its progress still follows the sequence of the Gospel mystery, of which it is the shadow; its types are a faithful anticipation of the truths taught by the Apostles. In the vision of his dream the blessed Jacob saw God; this was the revelation of a mystery, not a bodily manifestation. For there was shown to him the descent of angels by the ladder, and their ascent to heaven, and God resting above the ladder; and the vision, as it was interpreted, foretold that his dream should some day become a revealed truth. The Patriarch’s words, The house of God and the gate of heaven, skew us the scene of Iris vision; and then, after a long account of what he did, the narrative proceeds thus: And God said unto Jacob, Arise, and go up to the place Bethel, and dwell there: and make there a Sacrifice unto God, that appeared unto thee widen thou fleddest from the face of Esau. If the faith of the Gospel has access through God the Son to God the Father, and if it is only through God that God can be apprehended, ellen shew us in what sense This is not true God, Who demands reverence for God, Who rests above the heavenly ladder. What difference of nature separates the Two, when Both bear the one name which indicates the one nature? It is God Who was seen; it is also God Who speaks about God Who was seen. God cannot be apprehended except through God; even as also God accepts no worship from us except through God. We could not understand that the One must be reverenced, unless the Other had taught us reverence for Him; we could not have known that the One is God, unless we had known the Godhead of the Other. The revelation of mysteries holds its appointed course; it is by God that we are initiated into the worship of God. And when one name, which tells of one nature, combines the Father with the Son, how can the Son so fall beneath Himself as to be other than true God?

5.21. Human judgment must not pass its sentence upon God. Our nature is not such that it Can lift itself by its own forces to the contemplation of heavenly things. We must learn from God what we are to think of God; we have no source of knowledge but Himself. You may be as carefully trained as you will in secular philosophy; you may have lived a life of righteousness. All this will contribute to your mental satisfaction, but it will not help you to know God. Moses was adopted as the son of the queen, and instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians; he had, moreover, out of loyalty to his race avenged the wrong of the Hebrew by slaying the Egyptian, and yet he knew not the God Who had blessed his fathers. For when he left Egypt through fear of the discovery of his deed, and was living as a shepherd in the land of Midian, he saw a fire in the bush, and the bush unconsumed.

Then it was that he heard the voice of God, and asked His name, and learned His nature. Of all this he could have known nothing except through God Himself. And we, in like manner, must confine ourselves, in whatever we say of God, to the terms in which He has spoken to our understanding concerning Himself.


6.13. And again, what a wonderful example of heretical ingenuity is this:–“Nor as if He were previously in being, and afterwards born or created afresh, to be a Son.” God, since He was born from God, was assuredly not born from nothing, nor from things non-existent. His birth was that of the eternally living nature. Yet, though He is God, He is not identical with the pre-existing God; God was born from God Who existed before Him; in, and by, His birth He partook of the nature of His Source. If we are speaking words of our own, all this is mere irreverence; but if, as we shall prove, God Himself has taught us how to speak, then the necessity is laid upon us of confessing the Divine birth in the sense revealed by God. And it is this unity of nature in Father and in Son, this ineffable mystery of the living birth, which the madness of heresy is struggling to banish from belief, when it says, “Nor as if He were previously in being, and afterwards born, or created afresh, to be a Son.” Now who is senseless enough to suppose that the Father ceased to be Himself; that the same Person Who had previously existed was afterwards born, or created afresh, to be the Son? That God disappeared, and that His disappearance was followed by an emergence in birth, when, in fact, that birth is evidence of the continuous existence of its Author? Or who is so insane as to suppose that a Son can come into existence otherwise than through birth? Who so void of reason as to say that the birth of God resulted in anything else than in God being born? The abiding God was not born, but God was born from the abiding God; the nature bestowed in that birth was the very nature of the Begetter. And God by His birth, which was from God into God, received, because His was a true birth, not things new-created but things which were and are the permanent possession of God. Thus it is not the pre-existent God that was born; yet God was born, and began to exist, out of and with the properties of God. And thus we see how heresy, throughout this long prelude, has been treacherously leading up to this most blasphemous doctrine. Its object being to deny God the Only-begotten, it starts with what purports to be a defence of truth, to go on to the assertion that Christ is born not from God but out of nothing, and that His birth is due to the Divine counsel of creation from the non-existent.

14. And then again, after an interval designed to prepare us for what is coming, their heresy delivers this assault;–“While the Son, put forth outside time, and created and established before the worlds, did not exist before He was born.” This “He did not exist before He was born” is a form of words by which the heresy flatters itself that it gains two ends; support for its blasphemy, and a screen for itself if its doctrine be arraigned. A support for its blasphemy, because, if He did not exist before He was born, He cannot be of one nature with His eternal Origin. He must have His beginning out of nothing, if He have no powers but such as are coeval with His birth. And a screen for its heresy, for if this statement be condemned, it furnishes a ready answer. He that did exist, it will be said, could not be born; being in existence already, He could not possibly come into being by passing through the process of birth, for the very meaning of birth is the entry into existence of the being that is born. Fool and blasphemer! Who dreams of birth in the case of Him Who is the unborn and eternal? How can we think of God, Who is, being born, when being born implies the process of birth? It is the birth of God the Only-begotten from God His Father that you are striving to disprove, and it was your purpose to escape the confession of that truth by means of this “He did not exist before He was born;” the confession that God, from Whom the Son of God was born, did exist eternally, and that it is from His abiding nature that God the Son draws His existence through birth. If, then, the Son is born from God, you must confess that His is a birth of that abiding nature; not a birth of the pre-existing God, but a birth of God from God the pre-existent.

15. But the fiery zeal of this heresy is such that it cannot restrain itself from passionate outbreak. In its effort to prove, in conformity with its assertion that He did not exist before He was born, that the Son was born from the non-existent, that is, that He was not born from God the Father to be God the Son by a true and perfect birth, it winds up its confession by rising in rage and hatred to the highest pitch of possible blasphemy:–“As to such phrases as from Him, and from the womb, and I went out front the Father and am come, if they be understood to denote that the Father extends a part, and, as it were, a development of that one substance, then the Father will be of a compound nature and divisible and changeable and corporeal, according to them; and thus, as far as their words go, the incorporeal God will be subjected to the properties of matter.” The defence of the true faith against the falsehoods of heresy would indeed be a task of toil and difficulty, if it were needful for us to follow the processes of thought as far as they have plunged into the depths of godlessness. Happily for our purpose it is shallowness of thought that has engendered their eagerness to blaspheme. And hence, while it is easy to refute, the folly, it is difficult to amend the fool, for he will neither think out right conclusions for himself, nor accept them when offered by another. Yet I trust that they who in pious ignorance, not in wilful folly bred of self-conceit, are enchained by error, will welcome correction. For our demonstration of the truth will afford convincing proof that heresy is nothing else than folly.

6.16. You said in your unreason, and you are still repeating to-day, ignorant that your wisdom is a defiance of God, “As to such phrases as from Him, and from the womb, and I went out from the Father and am come,” I ask you, Are these phrases, or are they not, words of God? They certainly are His; and, since they are spoken by God about Himself, we are bound to accept them exactly as they were spoken. Concerning the phrases themselves, and the precise force of each, we shall speak i in the proper place. For the present I will only put this question to the intelligence of every reader; When we see From Himself, are we to take it as equivalent to “From sortie one else,” or to “From nothing,” or are we to accept it as the truth? It is not “From some one else,” for it is From Himself; that is, His Godhead has no other source than God. It is not “From nothing,” for it is From Himself; a declaration of the nature from which His birth is. It is not “Himself,” but From Himself; a statement that They are related as Father and Son. And next, when the revelation From the womb is made, I ask whether we can possibly believe that He is born from nothing, when the truth of His birth is clearly indicated in terms borrowed from bodily functions. It is not because He has bodily members, that God records the generation of the Son in the words, I bore Thee from the womb before the morning star . He uses language which assists our understanding to assure us that His Only-begotten Son was ineffably born of His own true Godhead. His purpose is to educate the faculties of men up to the knowledge of the faith, by clothing Divine verities in words descriptive of human circumstances. Thus, when He says, From the womb, He is teaching us that His Only-begotten was, in the Divine sense, born, and did not come into existence by means of creation out of nothing. And lastly, when the Son said, I went forth from the Father and am come, did He leave it doubtful whether His Divinity were, or were not, derived from the Father? He went out from the Father; that is, He had a birth, and the Father, and no other, gave Him that birth. He bears witness that He, from Whom He declares that He came forth, is the Author of His being. The proof and interpretation of all this shall be given hereafter.


8.52. Thus God out of regard for human weakness has not set forth the faith in bare and uncertain statements. For although the authority of our Lord’s mere words of itself compelled their acceptance, He nevertheless has informed our reason by a revelation which explains their meaning, that we might learn to know His words, I and the Father are one, by means of that which was itself the cause of the unity in question. For in saying that the Father speaks in His words, and works through His working, and judges through His judgment, and is seen in His manifestation, and reconciles through His reconciliation, and abides in Him, while He in turn abides in the Father,–what more fitting words, I ask, could He have employed in His teaching to suit the faculties of our reason, that we might believe in Their unity, than those by which, through the truth of the birth and the unity of the nature, it is declared that whatever the Son did and said, the Father said and did in the Son? This says nothing of a nature foreign to Himself, or added by creation to God, or born into Godhead by a partition of God, but it betokens the divinity of One Who by a perfect birth is begotten perfect God, Who has so confident an assurance of His nature that He says, I in the Father and the Father in Me, and again, All things whatsoever the Father hath are Mine. For nought of the Godhead is lacking in Him, in Whose working and speaking and manifestation God works and speaks and is beheld. They are not two Gods, Who in their working and words and manifestation put on a semblance of unity. Neither is He a solitary God. Who in the works and words and sight of God, Himself worked and spoke and was seen as God. The Church understands this. The Synagogue does not believe, philosophy does not know, that being One of One, Whole of Whole, God and Son, He has neither by His birth deprived the Father of His completeness, nor failed to possess the same completeness in Himself by right of His birth. And whosoever is caught in this folly of unbelief is a disciple either of the Jews or of the heathen.