Hilary de Trin., 4.1-7

1. THE earlier books of this treatise, written some time ago, contain, I think, an invincible proof that we hold and profess the faith in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, which is taught by the Evangelists and Apostles, and that no commerce is possible between us and the heretics, inasmuch as they deny unconditionally, irrationally, and recklessly, the Divinity of our Lord Jesus Christ. Yet certain points remained which I have felt myself bound to include in this and the following books, in order to make our assurance of the faith even more certain by exposure of every one of their falsehoods and blasphemies. Accordingly, we will enquire first What are the dangers of their teaching, the risks involved by such irreverence; next, what principles they hold, and what arguments they advance against the apostolic faith to which we adhere, and by what sleight of language they impose upon the can dour of their hearers; and lastly, by what method of comment they disarm the words of Scripture of their force and meaning.

2. We are well aware that neither the speech of men nor the analogy of human nature can give us a full insight into the things of God. The ineffable cannot submit to the bounds and limits of definition; that which is spiritual is distinct from every class or instance of bodily things. Yet, since our subject is that of heavenly natures, we must employ ordinary natures and ordinary speech as our means of expressing what our mind apprehends; a means no doubt unworthy of the majesty of God, but forced upon us by feebleness of our intellect, which can use only our own circumstances and our own words to convey to others our perceptions and our conclusions. This truth has been enforced already in the first book, but is now repeated in order that, in any analogies from human affairs which we adduce, we may not be supposed to think of God as resembling embodied natures, or to compare spiritual Beings with our passible selves, but rather be regarded as advancing the outward appearance of visible things as a clue to the inward meaning of things invisible.

3. For the heretics say that Christ is not from God, that is, that the Son is not born from the Father, and is God not by nature but by appointment; in other words, that He has received an adoption which consists in the giving of a name, being God’s Son in the sense m which many are sons of God; again, that Christ’s majesty is an evidence of God’s widespread bounty, He being God in the sense in which there are gods many; although they admit that in His adoption and naming as God a more liberal affection than in other cases was shewn, His adoption being the first in order of time, and He greater than other adopted sons, and first in rank among the creatures because of the greater splendour which accompanied His creation. Some add, by way of confessing the omnipotence of God, that He was created into God’s likeness, and that it was out of nothing that He, like other creatures, was raised up to be the Image of the eternal Creator, bidden at a word to spring from non-existence into being by the power of God, Who can frame out of nothing the likeness of Himself.

4. Moreover, they use their knowledge of the historical fact that bishops of a former time have taught that Father and Son are of one substance, to subvert the truth by the ingenious plea that this is a heretical notion. They say that this term ‘of one substance,’ in the Greek homoousion, is used to mean and express that the Father is the same as the Son; that is, that He extended Himself out of infinity into the Virgin, and took a body from her, and gave to Himself, in the body which He had taken, the name of Son. This is their first lie concerning the homoousion. Their next lie is that this word homoousion implies that Father and Son participate in something antecedent to Either and distinct from Both, and that a certain imaginary substance, or ousia, anterior to all matter whatsoever, has existed heretofore and been divided and wholly distributed between the Two; which proves, they say, that Each of the Two is of a nature pro-existent to Himself, and Each identical in matter with the Other. And so they profess to condemn the confession of the homoousion on the ground that term does not discriminate between Father and Son, and makes the Father subsequent in time to that matter which He has in common with the Son. And they have devised this third objection to the word homoousion, that its meaning, as they explain it, is that the Son derives His origin from a partition of the Father’s substance, as though one object had been cut in two and He were the severed portion. The meaning of ‘one substance,’ they say, is that the part cut off from the whole continues to share the nature of that from which it has been severed; but God, being impossible, cannot be divided, for, if He must submit to be lessened by division. He is subject to change, and will be rendered imperfect if His perfect substance leave Him to reside in the severed portion.

5. They think also that they have a compendious refutation of Prophets, Evangelists and Apostles alike, in their assertion that the Son was born within time. They pronounce us illogical for saying that the Son has existed from everlasting; and, since they reject the possibility of His eternity, they are forced to believe that He was born at a point in time. For if He has not always existed, there was a time when He was not; and if there be a time when He was not, time was anterior to Him. He who has not existed everlastingly began to exist within time, while He Who is free from the limits of time is necessarily eternal. The reason they give for their rejection of the eternity of the Son is that His everlasting existence contradicts the faith in His birth; as though by confessing that He has existed eternally, we made His birth impossible.

6. What foolish and godless fears! What impious anxiety on God’s behalf! The meaning which they profess to detect in the word homoousion, and in the assertion of the eternity of the Son, is detested, rejected, denounced by the Church. She confesses one God front Whom are all things; she confesses one Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom are all things; One from Whom, One through Whom; One the Source of all, One the Agent through Whom all were created. In the One from Whom are all things she recognises the Majesty which has no beginning, and in the One through Whom are all things she recognises a might coequal with His Source; for Both are jointly supreme in the work of creation and in rule over created things. In the Spirit she recognises God as Spirit, impossible and indivisible, for she has learnt from the Lord that Spirit has neither flesh nor bones; a warning to save her from supposing that God, being Spirit, could be burdened with bodily suffering and loss. She recognises one God, unborn from everlasting; she recognises also one Only-begotten Son of God. She confesses the Father eternal and without beginning; she confesses also that the Son’s beginning is from eternity. Not that He has no beginning, but that He is Son of the Father Who has none; not that He is self-originated, but that He is from Him Who is unbegotten from everlasting; born from eternity, receiving, that is, His birth from the eternity of the Father. Thus our faith is free from the guesswork of heretical perversity; it is expressed in fixed and published terms, though as yet no reasoned defence of our confession has been put forth. Still, lest any suspicion should linger around the sense in which the Fathers have used the word homoousion and round our confession of the eternity of the Son, I have set down the proofs whereby we may be assured that the Son abides ever in that substance wherein He was begotten from the Father, and that the birth of His Son has not diminished ought of that Substance wherein the Father was abiding; that holy men, inspired by the teaching of God, when they said that the Son is homoousios with the Father pointed to no such flaws or defects as I have mentioned. My purpose has been to counteract the impression that this ousia, this assertion that He is homoousios with the Father, is a negation of the nativity of the Only-begotten Son.

7. To assure ourselves of the needfulness of these two phrases, adopted and employed as the best of safeguards against the heretical rabble of that day, I think it best to reply to the obstinate misbelief of our present heretics, and refute their vain and pestilent teaching by the witness of the evangelists and apostles. They flatter themselves that they can furnish a proof for each of their propositions; they have, in fact, appended to each some passages or other from holy Writ; passages so grossly misinterpreted as to ensnare none but the illiterate by the semblance of truth with which perverted ingenuity has masked their explanation.