This Chapter offers no more than a tentative and imperfect outline of the theology of St. Hilary; it is an essay, not a monograph. Little attempt will be made to estimate the value of his opinions from the point of view of modern thought; little will be said about his relation to earlier and contemporary thought, a subject on which he is habitually silent, and nothing about the after fate of his speculations. Yet the task, thus narrowed, is not without its diffi- culties. Much more attention, it is true, has been paid to Hilary’s theology than to the history of his life, and the student cannot presume to dispense with the assistance of the books already written146. But they cannot release him from the necessity of collecting evidence for himself from the pages of Hilary, and of forming his own judgment upon it, for none of them can claim completeness and they differ widely as to the views which Hilary held. There is the further difficulty that a brief statement of a theologian’s opinions must be systematic. But Hilary has abstained, perhaps deliberately, from constructing a system; the scattered points of his teaching must be gathered from writings composed at various times and with various purposes. The part of his work which was, no doubt, most useful in his own day, his summary in the De Trinitate of the defence against Arianism, is clear and well arranged, but it bears less of the stamp of Hilary’s genius than any other of his writings. His characteristic thoughts are scattered over the pages of this great controversial treatise, where the exigencies of his immediate argument often deny him full scope for their development; or else they must be sought in his Commentary on St. Matthew, where they find incidental expression in the midst of allegorical exegesis; or again, amid the mysticism and exhortation of the Homilies on the Psalms. It is in some of these last that the Christology of Hilary is most completely stated; but the Homilies were intended for a general audience, and are unsystematic in construction and almost conversational in tone. Hilary has never worked out his thoughts in consistent theological form, and many of the most original among them have failed to attract the attention which they would have received had they been presented in such a shape as that of the later books of the De Trinitate.
This desultory mode of composition had its advantages in life and warmth of present interest, and gives to Hilary’s writings a value as historical documents which a formal and comprehensive treatise would have lacked. But it seriously increases the difficulty of the present undertaking. It was inevitable that Hilary’s method, though he is a singularly consistent thinker, should sometimes lead him into self-contradiction and sometimes leave his meaning in obscurity. In such cases probabilities must be balanced, with due regard to the opinion of former theologians who have studied his writings, and a definite conclusion must be given, though space cannot be found for the considerations upon which it is based. But though the writer may be satisfied that he has, on the whole, fairly represented Hilary’s belief, it is impossible that a summary of doctrine can be an adequate reflection of a great teacher’s mind. Proportions are altogether changed; a doctrine once stated and then dismissed must be set down on the same scale as another to which the author recurs again and again with obvious interest. The inevitable result is an apparent coldness and stiffness and excess of method which does Hilary an injustice both as a thinker and as a writer. In the interests of orderly sequence not only must he be represented as sometimes more consistent than he really is, but the play of thought, the undeveloped suggestions, often brilliant in their originality, the striking expression given to familiar truths, must all be sacrificed, and with the great part of the pleasure and profit to be derived from his writings. For there are two conclusions which the careful student will certainly reach; the one that every statement and argument will be in hearty and scrupulous consonance with the Creeds, the other that, within this limit, he must not be surprised at any ingenuity or audacity of logic or exegesis in explanation and illustration of recognised truths, and especially in the speculative connection of one truth with another. But the evidence that Hilary’s heart, as well as his reason, was engaged in the search and defence of truth must be sought, where it will be abundantly found, in the translations given in this volume. The present chapter only purposes to set out, in a very prosaic manner, the conclusions at which his speculative genius arrived, working as it did by the methods of strict logic in the spirit of eager loyalty to the Faith.
In his effort to render a reason for his belief Hilary’s constant appeal is to Scripture; and he avails himself freely of the thoughts of earlier theologians. But he never makes himself their slave; he is not the avowed adherent of any school, and never cites the names of those whose arguments he adopts. These he adjusts to his own system of thought, and presents for acceptance, not on authority, but on their own merits. For Scripture, however, he has an unbounded reverence. Everything that he believes, save the fundamental truth of Theism, of which man has an innate consciousness, being unable to gaze upon the heavens without the conviction that God exists and has His home there, is directly derived from Holy Scripture. Scripture for Hilary means the Septuagint for the Old Testament, the Latin for the New. He was, as we saw, no Hebrew Scholar, and had small respect either for the versions which competed with the Septuagint or for the Latin rendering of the old Testament, but there is little evidence that he was dissatisfied with the Latin of the New; in fact, in one instance, whether through habitual contentment with his Latin or through momentary carelessness in verifying the sense, he bases an argument on a thoroughly false interpretation. Of his relation to Origen and the literary aspects of his exegetical work, something has been said in the former chapter. Here we must speak of his use of Scripture as the source of truth, and of the methods he employs to draw out its meaning.
In Hilary’s eyes the two Testaments form one homogeneous revelation, of equal value throughout, and any part of the whole may be used in explanation of any other part. The same title of beatissimus is given to Daniel and to St. Paul when both are cited in Comm. in Matt. xxv. 3; indeed, he and others of his day seem to have felt that the Saints of the Old Covenant were as near to themselves as those of the New. Not many years had passed since Christians were accustomed to encourage themselves to martyrdom, in default of well-known heroes of their own faith, by the example of Daniel and his companions, or of the Seven Maccabees and their Mother. But Scripture is not only harmonious throughout, as Origen had taught; it is also never otiose. It never repeats itself, and a significance must be sought not only in the smallest differences of language, but also in the order in which apparent synonyms occur; in fact, every detail, and every sense in which every detail may be interpreted, is a matter for profitable enquiry. Hence, the text of Scripture not only bears, but demands, the most strict and literal interpretation. Hilary’s explanation of the words, ‘My soul is sorrowful even unto death,’ in Tract. in Ps. 141.8 and Trin. 10.36, is a remarkable instance of his method; as is the argument from the words of Isaiah, ‘We esteemed Him stricken,’ that this, so far as it signifies an actual sense of pain in Christ, is only an opinion, and a false one. Similarly the language of St. Paul about the treasures of knowledge hidden in Christ is made to prove His omniscience on earth. Whatever is hidden is present in its hiding-place; therefore Christ could not be ignorant. But this close adherence to the text of Scripture is combined with great boldness in its interpretation. Hilary does not venture, with Origen, to assert that some passages of Scripture have no literal sense, but he teaches that there are cases when its statements have no meaning in relation to the circumstances in which they were written, and uses this to enforce the doctrine, which he holds as firmly as Origen, that the spiritual meaning is the only one of serious importance. All religious truth is contained in Scripture, and it is our duty to be ignorant of what lies outside it. But within the limits of Scripture the utmost liberty of inference is to be admitted concerning the purpose with which the words were written and the sense to be attached to them. Sometimes, and especially in his later writings, when Hilary was growing more cautious and weaning himself from the influence of Origen, we are warned to be careful, not to read too much of definite dogmatic truth into every passage, to consider the context and occasion. Elsewhere, but this especially in that somewhat immature and unguarded production, the Commentary on St. Matthew, we find a purpose and meaning, beyond the natural sense, educed by such considerations as that, while all the Gospel is true, its facts are often so stated as to be a prophecy as well as a history; or that part of an event is sometimes suppressed in the narrative in order to make the whole more perfect as a prophecy. But he can derive a lesson not merely from what Scripture says but also from the discrepancies between the Septuagint as an independent and inspired authority for the revelation of the Old Testament. Its translators are ‘those seventy elders who had a knowledge of the Law and of the Prophets which transcends the limitations and doubtfulness of the letter. His confidence in their work, which is not exceeded by that of St. Augustine, encourages him to draw lessons from the differences between the Hebrew and the Septuagint titles of the Psalms. For instance, Psalm 142, has been furnished in the Septuagint with a title which attributes it to David when pursued by Absalom. The contents of the Psalm are appropriate neither to the circumstances nor to the date. But this does not justify us in ignoring the title. We must regard the fact that a wrong connection is given to the Psalm as a warning to ourselves not to attempt to discover its historical position, but confine ourselves to its spiritual sense. And this is not all. Another Psalm, the third, is assigned in the Hebrew to the same king in the same distress. But, though this attribution is certainly correct, here also we must follow the leading of the Septuagint, which was led to give a wrong title to one Psalm lest we should attach importance to the correct title of another. In both cases we must fix our attention not on the afflictions of David, but on the sorrows of Christ. Thus, negatively if not positively, the Septuagint must guide our judgement. But Hilary often goes even further, and ventures upon a purely subjective interpretation, which sometimes gives useful insight into the modes of thought of Gaul in the fourth century. For instance, he is thoroughly classical in taking it for granted that the Psalmist’s words, ‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills,’ cannot refer to the natural feature; that he can never mean the actual mountains bristling with woods, the naked rocks and pathless precipices and frozen snows. And even Gregory the Great could not surpass the prosaic grotesqueness with which Hilary declares it impious to suppose that God would feed the young ravens, foul carrion birds; and that the lilies of the Sermon on the Mount must be explained away, because they wear no clothing, and because, as a matter of fact, it is quite possible for men to be more brightly attired than they. Examples of such reasoning, more or less extravagant, might be multiplied from Hilary’s exegetical writings; passages in which no allowance is made for Oriental imagery, for poetry or for rhetoric.
But though Hilary throughout his whole period of authorship uses the mystical method of interpretation, never doubting that everywhere in Scripture there is a spiritual meaning which can be elicited, and that whatever sense, consistent with truth otherwise ascertained, can be extracted from it, may be extracted, yet there is a manifest increase in sobriety in his later as compared with his earlier writings. From the riotous profusion of mysticisms in the commentary on St. Matthew, where, for instance, every character and detail in the incident of St. John Baptist’s death becomes a symbol, it is a great advance to the almost Athanasian cautiousness in exegesis of the De Trinitate; though even here, especially in the early books which deal with the Old Testament, there is some extravagance and a very liberal employment of the method. His reasons, when he gives them, are those adduced in his other writings; the inappropriateness of the words to the time when they were written, or the plea that reverence or reason bids us penetrate behind the letter. His increasing caution is due to no distrust of the principle of mysticism.
Though Hilary was not its inventor, and was forced by the large part played by Old Testament exegesis in the Arian controversy to employ it, whether he would or not, yet it is certain that his hearty, though not indiscriminate, acceptance of the method led to its general adoption in the West. Tertullian and Cyprian had made no great use of such speculations; Irenæus probably had little influence. It was the introduction of Origen’s thought to Latin Christendom by Hilary and his contemporaries which set the fashion, and none of them can have had such influence as Hilary himself. It is a strange irony of fate that so deep and original a thinker should have exerted his most permanent influence not through his own thoughts, but through this dubious legacy which he handed on from Alexandria to Europe. Yet within certain limits, it was a sound and, for that age, even a scientific method; and Hilary might at least plead that he never allowed the system to be his master, and that it was a means which enabled him to derive from Scriptures which otherwise, to him, would be unprofitable, some treasure of true and valuable instruction. It never moulds his thoughts; at the most, he regards it as a useful auxiliary. No praise can be too high for his wise and sober marshalling not so much of texts as of the collective evidence of Scripture concerning the relation of the Father and the Son in the De Trinitate; and if his Christology be not equally convincing, it is not the fault of his method, but of its application. We cannot wonder that Hilary, who owed his clear dogmatic convictions to a careful and independent study of Scripture, should have wished to lead others to the same source of knowledge. He couples it with the Eucharist as a second Table of the Lord, a public means of grace, which needs, if it is to profit the hearer, the same preparation of a pure heart and life. Attention to the lessons read in church is a primary duty, but private study of Scripture is enforced with equal earnestness. It must be for all, as Hilary had found it for himself, a privilege as well as a duty.
His sense of the value of Scripture is heightened by his belief in the sacredness of language. Names belong inseparably to the things which they signify; words are themselves a revelation. This is a lesson learnt from Origen; and the false antithesis between the nature and the name of God, of which, according to the Arians, Christ had the latter only, made it of special use to Hilary. But if this high dignity belongs to every statement of truth, there is the less need for technical terms of theology. The rarity of their occurrence in the pages of Hilary has already been mentioned. ‘Trinity’ is almost absent, and ‘Person’ hardly more common, he prefers, by a turn of language which would scarcely be seemly in English, to speak of the ‘embodied’ Christ and of His ‘Embodiment,’ though Latin theology was already familiar with the ‘Incarnation.’ In fact, it would seem that he had resolved to make himself independent of technical terms and of such lines of thought as would require them. But he is never guilty of confusion caused by an inadequate vocabulary. He has the literary skill to express in ordinary words ideas which are very remote from ordinary thought, and this at no inordinate length. No one, for instance, has developed the idea of the mutual indwelling of Father and Son more fully and clearly than he; yet he has not found it necessary to employ or devise the monstrous ‘circuminsession’ or ‘perichoresis’ of later theology. And where he does use terms of current theology, or rather metaphysic, he shews that he is their master, not their slave. The most important idea of this kind which he had to express was that of the Divine substance. The word ‘essence’ is entirely rejected; ‘substance’ and ‘nature’ are freely used as synonyms, but in such alternation that both of them still obviously belong to the sphere of literature, and not of science. They are twice used as exact alternatives, for the avoidance of monotony, in parallel clauses of Trin. 6.18-19. So also the nature of fire in 7.29 is not an abstraction; and in 11.36 fin. the Divine substance and nature are equivalents. These are only a few of many instances. Here, as always, there is an abstention from abstract thoughts and terms, which indicates, on the part of a student of philosophy and of philosophical theology, a deliberate narrowing of his range of speculation. We may illustrate the purpose of Hilary by comparing his method with that of the author of a treatise on Astronomy without Mathematics. But some part of his caution is probably due to his sense of the inadequacy of the terms with which Latin theology was as yet equipped, and of the danger, not only to his readers’ faith, but to his own reputation for orthodoxy, which might result from ingenuity in the employment or invention of technical language.
Though, as we have seen, the contemplative state is not the ultimate happiness of man, yet the knowledge of God is essential to salvation; man, created in God’s image, is by nature capable of, and intended for, such knowledge, and Christ came to impart it, the necessary condition on the side of humanity being purity of mind, and the result the elevation of man to the life of God. Hilary does not shrink from the emphatic language of the Alexandrian school, which spoke of the ‘deification’ of man; God, he says, was born to be man, in order that man might be born to be God. If this end is to be attained, obviously what is accepted as knowledge must be true; hence the supreme wickedness of heresy, which destroys the future of mankind by palming upon them error for truth; the greater their dexterity the greater, because the more deliberate, their crime. And Hilary was obviously convinced that his opponents had conceived this nefarious purpose. It is not in the language of mere conventional polemics, but in all sincerity, that he repeatedly describes them as liars who cannot possibly be ignorant of the facts which they misrepresent, inventors of sophistical arguments and falsifiers of the text of Scripture, conscious that their doom is sealed, and endeavouring to divert their minds from the thought of future misery by involving others in their own destruction. He fully recognises the ability and philosophical learning displayed by them; it only makes their case the worse, and, after all, is merely folly. But it increases the difficulties of the defenders of the Faith. For though man can and must know God, Who, for His part, has revealed Himself, our knowledge ought to consist in a simple acceptance of the precise terms of Scripture. The utmost humility is necessary; error begins when men grow inquisitive. Our capacity for knowledge, as Hilary is never tired of insisting, is so limited that we ought to be content to believe without defining the terms of our belief. For weak as intellect is, language, the instrument which it must employ, is still less adequate to so great a task. Heresy has insisted upon definition, and the true belief is compelled to follow suit. Here again, in the heretical abuse of technical terms and of logical processes, we find a reason for the almost ostentatious simplicity of diction which we often find in Hilary’s pages. He evidently believed that it was possible for us to apprehend revealed truth and to profit fully by it, without paraphrase or other explanation. In the case of one great doctrine, as we shall see, no necessities of controversy compelled him to develop his belief; if he had had his way, the Faith should never have been stated in ampler terms than ‘I believe in the Holy Ghost.’
In a great measure he has succeeded in retaining this simplicity in regard to the doctrine of God. He had the full Greek sense of the divine unity; there is no suggestion of the possession by the Persons of the Trinity of contrasted or complementary qualities. The revelation he would defend is that of God, One, perfect, infinite, immutable. This absolute God has manifested Himself under the name ‘He that is,’ to which Hilary constantly recurs. It is only through His own revelation of Himself that God can be known. But here we are faced by a difficulty; our reason is inadequate and tends to be fallacious. The argument from analogy, which we should naturally use, cannot be a sufficient guide, since it must proceed from the finite to the infinite. Hilary has set this forth with great force and frequency, and with a picturesque variety of illustration. Again, our partial glimpses of the truth are often in apparent contradiction; when this is the case, we need to be on our guard against the temptation to reject one as incompatible with the other. We must devote an equal attention to each, and believe without hesitation that both are true. The interest of the De Trinitate is greatly heightened by the skill and courage with which Hilary will handle some seeming paradox, and make the antithesis of opposed infinities conduce to reverence for Him of Whom they are aspects. And he never allows his reader to forget the immensity of his theme; and here again the skill is manifest with which he casts upon the reader the same awe with which he is himself impressed.
Of God as Father Hilary has little that is new to say. He is called Father in Scripture; therefore He is Father and necessarily has a Son. And conversely the fact that Scripture speaks of God the Son is proof of the fatherhood. In fact, the name ‘Son’ contains a revelation so necessary for the times that it has practically banished that of ‘the Word,’ which we should have expected Hilary, as a disciple of Origen, to employ by preference. But since faith in the Father alone is insufficient for salvation, and is, indeed, not only insufficient but actually false, because it denies His fatherhood in ignoring the consubstantial Son, Hilary’s attention is concentrated upon the relation between these two Persons. This relation is one of eternal mutual indwelling, or ‘perichoresis,’ as it has been called, rendered possible by Their oneness of nature and by the infinity of Both. The thought is worked out from such passages as Isaiah 45.14, St. John 14.11, with great cogency and completeness, yet always with due stress laid on the incapacity of man to comprehend its immensity. Hilary advances from this scriptural position to the profound conception of the divine self-consciousness as consisting in Their mutual recognition. Each sees Himself in His perfect image, which must be coeternal with Himself. In Hilary this is only a hint, one of the many thoughts which the urgency of the conflict with Arianism forbade him to expand. But Dorner justly sees in it ‘a kind of speculative construction of the doctrine of the Trinity, out of the idea of the divine self-consciousness.’
The Arian controversy was chiefly waged over the question of the eternal generation of the Son. By the time that Hilary began to write, every text of Scripture which could be made applicable to the point in dispute had been used to the utmost. There was little or nothing that remained to be done in the discovery or combination of passages. Of that controversy Athanasius was the hero; the arguments which he used and those which he refuted are admirably set forth in the introduction to the translation of his writings in this series. In writing the De Trinitate, so far as it dealt directly with the original controversy, it was neither possible nor desirable that Hilary should leave the beaten path. His object was to provide his readers with a compendious statement of ascertained truth for their own guidance, and with an armoury of weapons which had been tried and found effective in the conflicts of the day. It would, therefore, be superfluous to give in this place a detailed account of his reasonings concerning the generation of the Son, nor would such an account be of any assistance to those who have his writings in their hands. Hilary’s treatment of the Scriptural evidence is very complete, as was, indeed, necessary in a work which was intended as a handbook for practical use. The Father alone is unbegotten; the Son is truly the Son, neither created nor adopted. The Son is the Creator of the worlds, the Wisdom of God, Who alone knows the Father, Who manifested God to man in the various Theophanies of the Old Testament. His birth is without parallel, inasmuch as other births imply a previous non-existence, while that of the Son is from eternity. For the generation on the part of the Father and the birth on the part of the Son are not connected as by a temporal sequence of cause and effect, but exactly coincide in a timeless eternity. Hilary repudiates the possibility of illustrating this divine birth by sensible analogies; it is beyond our understanding as it is beyond time. Nor can we wonder at this, seeing that our own birth is to us an insoluble mystery. The eternal birth of the Son is the expression of the eternal nature of God. It is the nature of the One that He should be Father, of the Other that He should be Son; this nature is co-eternal with Themselves, and therefore the One is co-eternal with the Other. Hence Athanasius had drawn the conclusion that the Son is ‘by nature and not by will’; not that the will of God is contrary to His nature, but that (if the words may be used) there was no scope for its exercise in the generation of the Son, which came to pass as a direct consequence of the Divine nature. Such language was a natural protest against an Arian abuse; but it was a departure from earlier precedent and was not accepted by that Cappadocian school, more true to Alexandrian tradition than Athanasius himself, with which Hilary was in closest sympathy. In their eyes the generation of the Son must be an act of God’s will, if the freedom of Omnipotence, for which they were jealous, was to be respected; and Hilary shared their scruples. Not only in the De Synodis but in the De Trinitate he assigns the birth of the Son to the omnipotence, the counsel and will of God acting in co-operation with His nature. This twofold cause of birth is peculiar to the Son; all other beings owe their existence simply to the power and will, not to the nature of God. Such being the relation between Father and Son, it is obvious that They cannot differ in nature. The word ‘birth,’ by which the relation is described, indicates the transmission of nature from parent to offspring; and this word is, like ‘Father’ and ‘Son,’ an essential part of the revelation. The same divine nature or substance exists eternally and in equal perfection in Both, un-begotten in the Father, begotten in the Son. In fact, the expression, ‘Only-begotten God’ may be called Hilary’s watchword, with such ‘peculiar abundance’ does it occur in his writings, as in those of his Cappadocian friends. But, though the Son is the Image of the Father, Hilary in his maturer thought, when free from the influence of his Asiatic allies, is careful to avoid using the inadequate and perilous term ‘likeness’ to describe the relation. Such being the birth, and such the unity of nature, the Son must be very God. This is proved by all the usual passages of the Old Testament, from the Creation, onwards. These are used, as by the other Fathers, to prove that the Son has not the name only, but the reality, of Godhead; the reality corresponding to the nature. All things were made through Him out of nothing; therefore He is Almighty as the Father is Almighty. If man is made in the image of Both, if one Spirit belongs to Both, there can be no difference of nature between the Two. But They are not Two as possessing one nature, like human father and son, while living separate lives. God is One, with a Divinity undivided and indivisible1; and Hilary is never weary of denying the Arian charge that his creed involved the worship of two Gods. No analogies from created things can explain this unity. Tree and branch, fire and heat, source and stream can only illustrate Their inseparable co-existence; such comparisons, if pressed, lead inevitably to error. The true unity of Father and Son is deeper than this; deeper also than any unity, however perfect, of will with will. For it is an eternal mutual indwelling, Each perfectly corresponding with and comprehending and containing the Other, and Himself in the Other; and this not after the manner of earthly commingling of substances or exchange of properties. The only true comparison that can be made is with the union between Christ, in virtue of His humanity, and the believer; such is the union, in virtue of the Godhead, between Father and Son. And this unity extends inevitably to will and action, since the Father is acting in all that the Son does, the Son is acting in all that the Father does; ‘he that hath seen Me hath seen the Father.’ This doctrine reconciles all our Lord’s statements in the Gospel of St. John concerning His own and His Father’s work.
But, notwithstanding this unity, there is a true numerical duality of Person. Sabellius, we must remember, had held for two generations the pre-eminence among heretics. To the Greek-speaking world outside Egypt the error which he and Paul of Samosata had taught, that God is one Person, was still the most dangerous of falsehoods; the supreme victory of truth had not been won in their eyes when Arius was condemned at Nicæa, but when Paul was deposed at Antioch. The Nicene leaders had certainly counted the cost when they adopted as the test of orthodoxy the same word which Paul had used for the inculcation of error. But the homoousion, however great its value as a permanent safeguard of truth, was the immediate cause of alienation and suspicion. And not only did it make the East misunderstand the West, but it furnished the Arians with the most effective of instruments for widening the breach between the two forces opposed to them. They had an excuse for calling their opponents in Egypt and the West by the name of Sabellians, the very name most likely to engender distrust in Asia. Hilary, who could enter with sympathy into the Eastern mind and had learnt from his own treatment at Seleucia how strong the feeling was, labours with untiring patience to dissipate the prejudice. There is no Arian plea against which he argues at greater length. The names ‘Father’ and ‘Son,’ being parts of the revelation, are convincing proofs of distinction of Person as well as of unity of nature. They prove that the nature is the same, but possessed after a different manner by Each of the Two; by the One as ingenerate, by the Other as begotten. The word ‘Image,’ also a part of the revelation, is another proof of the distinction; an object and its reflection in a mirror are obviously not one thing. Again, the distinct existence of the Son is proved by the fact that He has free volition of His own; and by a multitude of passages of Scripture, many of them absolutely convincing, as for instance, those from the Gospel of St John. But these two Persons, though one in nature, are not equal in dignity. The Father is greater than the Son; greater not merely as compared to the incarnate Christ, but as compared to the Son, begotten from eternity. This is not simply by the prerogative inherent in all paternity; it is because the Father is self-existent, Himself the Source of all being. With one of His happy phrases Hilary describes it as an inferiority generatione, non genere; the Son is one in kind or nature with the Father, though inferior, as the Begotten, to the Unbegotten. But this inferiority is not to be so construed as to lessen our belief in His divine attributes. For instance, when He addresses the Father in prayer, this is not because He is subordinate, but because He wishes to honour the Fatherhood; and, as Hilary argues at great length, the end, when God shall be all in all, is not to be regarded as a surrender of the Son’s power, in the sense of loss. It is a mysterious final state of permanent, willing submission to the Father’s will, into which He enters by the supreme expression of an obedience which has never failed. Again, our Lord’s language in St. Mark 13.32, must not be taken as signifying ignorance on the part of the Son of His Father’s purpose. For, according to St. Paul (Col. 2.3), in Him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge, and therefore He must know the day and hour of judgment. He is ignorant relatively to us, in the sense that He will not betray His Father’s secret. Whether or no it be possible in calmer times to maintain that the knowledge and the ignorance are complementary truths which finite minds cannot reconcile, we cannot wonder that Hilary, ever on the watch against apparent concessions to Arianism, should in this instance have abandoned his usual method of balancing against each other the apparent contraries. His reasoning is, in any case, a striking proof of his intense conviction of the co-equal Godhead of the Son.
Such is Hilary’s argument, very briefly stated. We may read almost all of it, where Hilary himself had certainly read it, in the Discourses against the Arians and elsewhere in the writings of Athanasius. How far, however, he was borrowing from the latter must remain doubtful, as must the question as to the originality of Athanasius. For the controversy was universal, and both of these great writers had the practical purpose of collecting the best arguments out of the multitude which were suggested in ephemeral literature or verbal debate. Their victory, intellectual as well as moral, over their adversaries was decisive, and the more striking because it was the Arians who had made the attack on ground chosen by themselves. The authority of Scripture as the final court of appeal was their premise as well as that of their opponents; and they had selected the texts on which the verdict of Scripture was to be based. Out of their own mouth they were condemned, and the work done in the fourth century can never need to be repeated. It was, of course, an unfinished work. As we have seen, Hilary concerns himself with two Persons, not with three; and since he states the contrasted truths of plurality and unity without such explanation of the mystery as the speculative genius of Augustine was to supply, he leaves, in spite of all his efforts, a certain impression of excessive dualism. But these defects do not lessen the permanent value of his work. Indeed, we may even assert that they, together with some strange speculations and many instances of which interpretation, which are, however, no part of the structure of his argument and could not affect its solidity, actually enhance its human and historical interest. The De Trinitate remains ‘the most perfect literary achievement called forth by the Arian controversy.
Hitherto we have been considering the relations within the Godhead of Father and Son, together with certain characters which belong to the Son in virtue of His eternal birth. We now come to the more original part of Hilary’s teaching, which must be treated in greater detail. Till now he has spoken only of the Son; he now comes to speak of Christ, the name which the Son bears in relation to the world. We have seen that Hilary regards the Son as the Creator. This was proved for him, as for Athanasius, by the passage, Proverbs 8.22, which they read according to the Septuagint, ‘The Lord hath’ created Me for the beginning of His ways for His Works.’ These words, round which the controversy raged, were interpreted by the orthodox as implying that at the time, and for the purpose, of creation the Father assigned new functions to the Son as His representative. The gift of these functions, the exercise of which called into existence orders of being inferior to God, marked in Hilary’s eyes a change so definite and important in the activity of the Son that it deserved to be called a second birth, not ineffable like the eternal birth, but strictly analogous to the Incarnation. This last was a creation, which brought Him within the sphere of created humanity; the creation of Wisdom for the beginning of God’s ways had brought Him, though less closely, into the same relation, and the Incarnation is the completion of what was begun in preparation for the creation of the world. Creation is the mode by which finite being begins, and the beginning of each stage in the connection between the infinite Son and His creatures is called, from the one point of view, a creation, from the other, a birth. We cannot fail to see here an anticipation of the opinion that ‘the true Protevangelium is the revelation of Creation, or in other words that the Incarnation was independent of the Fall,’ for the Incarnation is a step in the one continuous divine progress from the Creation to the final consummation of all things, and has not sin for its cause, but is part of the original counsel of God. Together with this new office the Son receives a new name. Henceforth Hilary calls Him Christ; He is Christ in relation to the world, as He is Son in relation to the Father. From the beginning of time, then, the Son becomes Christ and stands in immediate relation to the world; it is in and through Christ that God is the Author of all things, and the title of Creator strictly belongs to the Son. This beginning of time, we must remember, is hidden in no remote antiquity. The world had no mysterious past; it came into existence suddenly at a date which could be fixed with much precision, some 5,600 years before Hilary’s day, and had undergone no change since then. Before that date there had been nothing outside the Godhead; from that time forth the Son has stood in constant relation to the created world.
Christ, for so we must henceforth call Him, has not only sustained in being the universe which He created, but has also imparted to men a steadily increasing knowledge of God. For such knowledge, we remember, man was made, and his salvation depends upon its possession. All the Theophanies of the Old Testament are such revelations by Him of Himself; and it was He that spoke by the mouth of Moses and the Prophets. But however significant and valuable this Divine teaching and manifestation might be, it was not complete in itself, but was designed to prepare men’s minds to expect its fulfilment in the Incarnation. Just as the Law was preliminary to the Gospel, so the appearances of Christ in human form to Abraham and to others were a foreshadowing of the true humanity which He was to assume. They were true revelations, as far as they went; but their purpose was not simply to impart so much knowledge as they explicitly conveyed, but also to lead men on to expect more, and to expect it in the very form in which it ultimately came. For His self-revelation in the Incarnation was but the treading again of a familiar path. He had often appeared, and had often spoken, by His own mouth or by that of men whom He had inspired; and in all this contact with the world His one object had been to bestow upon mankind the knowledge of God. With the same object He became incarnate; the full revelation was to impart the perfect knowledge. He became man, Hilary says, in order that we might believe Him;—‘to be a Witness from among us to the things of God, and by means of weak flesh to proclaim God the Father to our weak and carnal selves.’ Here again we see the continuity of the Divine purpose, the fulfilment of the counsel which dates back to the beginning of time. If man had not sinned, he would still have needed the progressive revelation; sin has certainly modified Christ’s course upon earth, but was not the determining cause of the Incarnation.
The doctrine of the Incarnation, or Embodiment as Hilary prefers to call it, is presented very fully in the De Trinitate, and with much originality. The Godhead of Christ is secured by His identity with the eternal Son and by the fact that at the very time of His humiliation upon earth He was continuing without interruption His divine work of maintaining the existence of the worlds. Indeed, by a natural protest against the degradation which the Arians would put upon Him, it is the glory of Christ upon which Hilary lays chief stress. And this is not the moral glory of submission and self-sacrifice, but the visible glory of miracles attesting the Divine presence. In the third book of the De Trinitate the miracles of Cana and of the feeding of the five thousand, the entrance into the closed room where the disciples were assembled, the darkness and the earthquake at the Crucifixion, are the proofs urged for His Godhead; and the wonderful circumstances surrounding the birth at Bethlehem are similarly employed in book 2. Sound as the reasoning is, it is typical of a certain unwillingness on Hilary’s part to dwell upon the self-surrender of Christ; he prefers to think of Him rather as the Revealer of God than as the Redeemer of men. But, apart from this preference, he constantly insists that the Incarnation has caused neither loss nor change of the Divine nature in Christ, and proves the point by the same words of our Lord which had been used to demonstrate the eternal Sonship. And the assumption of flesh lessens His power as little as it degrades His nature. For though it is, in one aspect, an act of submission to the will of the Father, it is, in another, an exertion of His own omnipotence. No inferior power could appropriate to itself an alien nature; only God could strip Himself of the attributes of Godhead.
But the incarnate Christ is as truly man as He is truly God. We have seen that He is ‘created in the body’; and Hilary constantly insists that His humanity is neither fictitious nor different in kind from ours. We must therefore consider what is the constitution of man. He is, so Hilary teaches, a physically composite being; the elements of which his body is composed are themselves lifeless, and man himself is never fully alive. According to this physiology, the father is the author of the child’s body, the maternal function being altogether subsidiary. It would seem that the mother does nothing more than protect the embryo, so giving it the opportunity of growth, and finally bring the child to birth. And each human soul is separately created, like the universe, out of nothing. Only the body is engendered; the soul, wherein the likeness of man to God consists, has a nobler origin, being the immediate creation of God. Hilary does not hold, or at least does not attach importance to, the tripartite division of man; for the purposes of his philosophy we consist of soul and body. We may now proceed to consider his theory of the Incarnation. This is based upon the Pauline conception of the first and second Adam. Each of these was created, and the two acts of creation exactly correspond. Christ, the Creator, made clay into the first Adam, who therefore had an earthly body. He made Himself into the second Adam, and therefore has a heavenly Body. To this end He descended from heaven and entered into the Virgin’s womb. For, in accordance with Hilary’s principle of interpretation, the word ‘Spirit’ must not be regarded as necessarily signifying the Holy Ghost, but one or other of the Persons of the Trinity as the context may require; and in this case it means the Son, since the question is of an act of creation, and He, and none other, is the Creator. Also, correspondence between the two Adams would be as effectually broken were the Holy Ghost the Agent in the conception, as it would be were Christ’s body engendered and not created. Thus He is Himself not only the Author but (if the word may be used) the material of His own body; the language of St. John, that the Word became flesh, must be taken literally. It would be insufficient to say that the Word took, or united Himself to, the flesh. But this creation of the Second Adam to be true man is not our only evidence of His humanity. We have seen that in Hilary’s judgment the mother has but a secondary share in her offspring. That share, whatever it be, belongs to the Virgin; she contributed to His growth and to His coming to birth ‘everything which it is the nature of her sex to impart.’ But though Christ is constantly said to have been born of the Virgin, He is habitually called the ‘Son of Man,’ not the Son of the Virgin, nor she the Mother of God. Such language would attribute to her an activity and an importance inconsistent with Hilary’s theory. For no portion of her substance, he distinctly says, was taken into the substance of her Son’s human body; and elsewhere he argues that St. Paul’s words ‘made of a woman’ are deliberately chosen to describe Christ’s birth as a creation free from any commingling with existing humanity. But the Virgin has an essential share in the fulfilment of prophecy. For though Christ without her co-operation could have created Himself as Man, yet He would not have been, as He was fore-ordained to be, the Son of Man. And since He holds that the Virgin performs every function of a mother, Hilary avoids that Valentinian heresy according to which Christ passed through the Virgin ‘like water through a pipe,’ for He was Himself the Author of a true act of creation within her, and, when she had fulfilled her office, was born as true flesh. Again, Hilary’s clear sense of the eternal personal pre-existence of the Word saves him from any contact with the Monarchianism combated by Hippolytus and Tertullian, which held that the Son was the Father under another aspect. Indeed, so secure does he feel himself that he can venture to employ Monarchian theories, now rendered harmless, in explanation of the mysteries of the Incarnation. For we cannot fail to see a connection between his opinions and theirs; and it might seem that, confident in his wider knowledge, he has borrowed not only from the arguments used by Tertullian against the Monarchian Praxeas, but also from those which Tertullian assigns to the latter. Such reasonings, we know, had been very prevalent in the West; and Hilary’s use of certain of them, in order to turn their edge by showing that they were not inconsistent with the fundamental doctrines of the Faith, may indicate that Monarchianism was still a real danger.
Thus the Son becomes flesh, and that by true maternity on the Virgin’s part. But man is more than flesh; he is soul as well, and it is the soul which makes him man instead of matter. The soul, as we saw, is created by a special act of God at the beginning of the separate existence of each human being; and Christ, to be true man and not merely true flesh, created for Himself the human soul which was necessary for true humanity. He had borrowed from the Apollinarians, consciously no doubt, their interpretation of one of their favourite passages, ‘The Word became flesh’; here again we find an argument of heretics rendered harmless and adopted by orthodoxy. For the strange Apollinarian denial to Christ of a human soul, and therefore of perfect manhood, is not only expressly contradicted, but repudiated on every page by the contrary assumption on which all Hilary’s arguments are based. Christ, then, is ‘perfect man, of a reasonable soul and Human flesh subsisting,’ for Whom the Virgin has performed the normal functions of maternity. But there is one wide and obvious difference between Hilary’s mode of handling the matter and that with which we are familiar. His view concerning the mother’s office forbids his laying stress upon our Lord’s inheritance from her. Occasionally, and without emphasis, he mentions our Lord as the Son of David, or otherwise introduces His human ancestry, but he never dwells upon the subject. He neither bases upon this ancestry the truth, nor deduces from it the character, of Christ’s humanity. Such is Hilary’s account of the facts of the Incarnation. In his teaching there is no doubt error as well as defect, but only in the mode of explanation, not in the doctrine explained. It will help us to do him justice if we may compare the theories that have been framed concerning another great doctrine, that of the Atonement, and remember that the strangely diverse speculations of Gregory the Great and of St. Anselm profess to account for the same facts, and that, so far as definitions of the Church are concerned, we are free to accept one or other, or neither, of the rival explanations.
Christ, then, Who had been perfect God from eternity, became perfect Man by His self-wrought act of creation. Thus there was an approximation between God and man; man was raised by God, Who humbled Himself to meet Him. On the one hand the Virgin was sanctified in preparation for her sacred motherhood; on the other hand there was a condescension of the Son to our low estate. The key to this is found by Hilary in the language of St. Paul. Christ emptied Himself of the form of God and took the form of a servant; this is a revelation as decisive as the same Apostle’s words concerning the first and the second Adam. The form of God, wherein the Son is to the Father as the exact image reflected in a mirror, the exact impression taken from a seal, belongs to Christ’s very being. He could not detach it from Himself, if He would, for it is the property of God to be eternally what He is; and, as Hilary constantly reminds us, the continuous existence of creation is evidence that there had been no break in the Son’s divine activity in maintaining the universe which He had made. While He was in the cradle He upheld the worlds. Yet, in some real sense, Christ emptied Himself of this form of God. It was necessary that He should do so if manhood, even the sinless manhood created by Himself for His own Incarnation, was to co-exist with Godhead in His one Person. This is stated as distinctly as is the correlative fact that He retained and exercised the powers and the majesty of His nature. Thus it is clear that, outside the sphere of His work for men, the form and the nature of God remained unchanged in the Son; while within that sphere the form, though not the nature, was so affected that it could truly be said to be laid aside. But when we come to Hilary’s explanation of this process, we can only acquit him of inconsistency in thought by admitting the ambiguity of his language. In one group of passages he recognises the self-emptying, but minimises its importance; in another he denies that our Lord could or did empty Himself of the form of God. And again, his definitions of the word ‘form’ are so various as to be actually contradictory. Yet a consistent sense, and one exceedingly characteristic of Hilary, can be derived from a comparison of his statements; and in judging him we must remember that we have no systematic exposition of his views, but must gather them not only from his deliberate reasonings, but sometimes from homiletical amplifications of Scripture language, composed for edification and without the thought of theological balance, and sometimes from incidental sayings, thrown out in the course of other lines of argument. To the minimising statements belongs his description of the evacuation as a ‘change of apparel,’ and his definition of the word ‘form’ as meaning no more than ‘face’ or ‘appearance,’as also his insistence from time to time upon the permanence of this form in Christ, not merely in His supramundane relations, but as the Son of Man. On the other hand Hilary expressly declares that the ‘concurrence of the two forms’ is impossible, they being mutually exclusive. This represents the higher form, that of God, as something more than a dress or appearance which could be changed or masked; and stronger still is the language used in the Homily on Psalm 8. There (§ 4) he speaks of Christ being exhausted of His heavenly nature, this being used as a synonym for the form of God, and even of His being emptied of His substance. But it is probable that the Homily has descended to us, without revision by its author, in the very words which the shorthand writer took down. This mention of ‘substance’ is unlike Hilary’s usual language, and the antithesis between the substance which the Son had not, because He had emptied Himself of it, and the substance which He had, because He had assumed it, is somewhat infelicitously expressed. The term must certainly not be taken as the deliberate statement of Hilary’s final opinion, still less as the decisive passage to which his other assertions must be accommodated; but it is at least clear evidence that Hilary, in the maturity of his thought, was not afraid to state in the strongest possible language the reality and completeness of the evacuation. The reconciliation of these apparently contradictory views concerning Christ’s relation to the form of God can only be found in Hilary’s idea of the Incarnation as a ‘dispensation,’ or series of dispensations. The word and the thought are borrowed through Tertullian from the Greek ‘economy’; but in Hilary’s mind the notion of Divine reserve has grown till it has become, we might almost say, the dominant element of the conception. This self-emptying is a dispensation, whereby the incarnate Son of God appears to be, what He is not, destitute of the form of God. For this form is the glory of God, concealed by our Lord for the purposes of His human life, yet held by Hilary, to a greater extent, perhaps, than by any other theologian, to have been present with Him on earth. In words which have a wider application, and must be considered hereafter, Hilary speaks of Christ as ‘emptying Himself and hiding Himself within Himself.’ Concealment has a great part to play in Hilary’s theories, and is in this instance the only explanation consistent with his doctrinal position.
Thus the Son made possible the union of humanity with Himself. He ‘shrank from God into man’ by an act not only of Divine power, but of personal Divine will. He Who did this thing could not cease to be what He had been before; hence His very deed in submitting Himself to the change is evidence of His unchanged continuity of existence. And furthermore, His assumption of the servant’s form was not accomplished by a single act. His wearing of that form was one continuous act of voluntary self-repression, and the events of His life on earth bear frequent witness to His possession of the powers of God.
Thus in Him God is united with man; these two natures form the ‘elements’ or ‘parts’ of one Person. The Godhead is superposed upon the manhood; or, as Hilary prefers to say, the manhood is assumed by Christ. And these two natures are not confused, but simultaneously coexist in Him as the Son of Man. There are not two Christs, nor is the one Christ a composite Being in such a sense that He is intermediate in kind between God and Man. He can speak as God and can also speak as Man; in the Homilies on the Psalms Hilary constantly distinguishes between His utterances in the one and the other nature. Yet He is one Person with two natures, of which the one dominates, though it does not extinguish, the other in every relation of His existence as the Son of Man. Every act, bodily or mental, done by Him is done by both natures of the one Christ. Hence a certain indifference towards the human aspects of His life, and a tendency rather to explain away what seems humiliation than to draw out its lessons. And Hilary is so impressed with the unity of Christ that the humanity, a notion for which he has no name, would have been in his eyes nothing more than a collective term for certain attributes of One Who is more than man, just as the body of Christ is not for him a dwelling occupied, or an instrument used, by God, but an inseparable property of Christ, Who personally is God and Man.
Hence the body of Christ has a character peculiar to itself. It is a heavenly body, because of its origin and because of its Owner, the Son of Man Who came down from heaven, and though on earth was in heaven still. It performs the functions and experiences, the limitations of a human body, and this is evidence that it is in every sense a true, not an alien or fictitious body. Though it is free from the sins of humanity, it has our weaknesses. But here the distinction must be made, which will presently be discussed, between the two kinds of suffering, that which feels and that which only endures. Christ was not conscious of suffering from these weaknesses, which could inflict no sense of want of weariness or pain upon His body, a body not the less real because it was perfect. He took our infirmities as truly as He bore our sins. But He was no more under the dominion of the one than of the other. His body was in the likeness of ours, but its reality did not consist in the likeness, but in the fact that He had created it a true body. Christ, by virtue of His creative power, might have made for Himself a true body, by means of which to fulfil God’s purposes, that should have been free from these infirmities. It was for our sake that He did not. There would have been a true body, but it would have been difficult for us to believe it. Hence He assumed one which had for habits what are necessities to us, in order to demonstrate to us its reality. It was foreordained that He should be incarnate; the mode of the Incarnation was determined by considerations of our advantage. The arguments by which this thesis is supported will be stated presently, in connection with Hilary’s account of the Passion. It would be difficult to decide whether he has constructed his theory concerning the human activities of our Lord upon the basis of this preponderance of the Divine nature in His incarnate personality, or whether he has argued back from what he deems the true account of Christ’s mode of life on earth, and invented the hypothesis in explanation of it. In any case he has had the courage exactly to reverse the general belief of Christendom regarding the powers normally used by Christ. We are accustomed to think that with rare exceptions, such as the Transfiguration, He lived a life limited by the ordinary conditions of humanity, to draw lessons for ourselves from His bearing in circumstances like our own, to estimate His condescension and suffering, in kind if not in degree, by our own consciousness. Hilary regards the normal state of the incarnate Christ as that of exaltation, from which He stooped on rare occasions, by a special act of will, to self-humiliation. Thus the Incarnation, though itself a declension from the pristine glory, does not account for the facts of Christ’s life; they must be explained by further isolated and temporary declensions. And since the Incarnation is the one great event, knowledge and faith concerning which are essential, the events which accompany or result from it tend, in Hilary’s thought, to shrink in importance. They can and must be minimised, explained away, regarded as ‘dispensations,’ if they seem to derogate from the Majesty of Him Who was incarnate.
When we examine the interpretation of Scripture by which Hilary reaches the desired conclusions we find it, in many instances, strange indeed. The letter of the Gospels tells us of bodily needs and of suffering; Christ, though more than man, is proved to be Man by His obvious submission to the conditions of human life. But according to Hilary all human suffering is due to the union of an imperfect soul with an imperfect body. The soul of Christ, though truly human, was perfect; His body was that of a Person Divine as well as human. Thus both elements were perfect of their kind, and therefore as free from infirmity as from sin, for affliction is the lot of man not because he is man, but because he is a sinner. In contrast with the squalor of sinful humanity, glory surrounded Christ from the Annunciation onward throughout His course on earth. Miracle is the attestation of His Godhead, and He who was thus superior to the powers of nature could not be subject to the sufferings which nature inflicts. But, being omnipotent, He could subject Himself to humiliations which no power less than His own could lay upon Him, and this self-subjection is the supreme evidence of His might as well of His goodwill towards men. God, and only God, could occupy at once the cradle and the throne on high. Thus in emphasising the humiliation Hilary is extolling the majesty of Christ, and refuting the errors of Arianism. That school had made the most of Christ’s sufferings, holding them as proof of His inferiority to the Father. In Hilary’s eyes His power to condescend and His final victory are equally conclusive evidences of His co-equal Divinity. But if He stoops to our estate, and is at the same time God exercising His full prerogatives, here again there must be a ‘dispensation.’ He was truly subject to the limitations of our nature; that is a fact of revelation. But He was subject by a succession of detached acts of self-restraint, culminating in the act, voluntary like the others, of His death. Of His acceptance of the ordinary infirmities of humanity we have already spoken. Hilary gives the same explanation of the Passion as he does of the thirst or weariness of Christ. That He could suffer, and that to the utmost, is proved by the fact that He did suffer; yet was He, or could He be, conscious of suffering? For the fulfilment of the Divine purpose, for our assurance of the reality of His work, the acts had to be done; but it was sufficient that they should be done by a dispensation, in other words, that the events should be real and yet the feelings be absent of which, had the events happened to us, we should have been conscious. To understand this we must recur to Hilary’s theory of the relation of the soul to the body. The former is the organ of sense, the latter a lifeless thing. But the soul may fall below, or rise above, its normal state. Mortification of the body may set in, or drugs be administered which shall render the soul incapable of feeling the keenest pain. On the other hand it is capable of a spiritual elevation which shall make it unconscious of bodily needs or sufferings, as when Moses and Elijah fasted, or the three Jewish youths walked amid the flames. On this high level Christ always dwelt. Others might rise for a moment above themselves; He, not although, but because He was true and perfect Man, never fell below it. He placed Himself in circumstances where shame and wounds and death were inflicted upon Him; He had lived a life of humiliation, not only real, in that it involved a certain separation from God, but also apparent. But as in this latter respect we may no more overlook His glory than we may suppose Him ignorant, as by a dispensation He professed to be, so in regard to the Passion we must not imagine that He was inferior to His saints in being conscious, as they were not, of suffering268. So far, indeed, is He from the sense of suffering that Hilary even says that the Passion was a delight to Him, and this not merely in its prospective results, but in the consciousness of power which He enjoyed in passing through it. Nor could this be surprising to one who looked with Hilary’s eyes upon the humanity of Christ. He enforces his view sometimes with rhetoric, as when he repudiates the notion that the Bread of Life could hunger, and He who gives the living water, thirst, that the hand which restored the servant’s ear could itself feel pain, that He Who said, ‘Now is the Son of Man glorified,’ when Judas left the chamber, could at that moment be feeling sorrow, and He before Whom the soldiers fell be capable of fear, or shrink from the pain of a death which was itself an exertion of His own free will and power. Or else he dwells upon the general character of Christ’s manhood. He recognises no change in the mode of being after the Resurrection; the passing through closed doors, the sudden disappearance at Emmaus are typical of the normal properties of His body, which could heal the sick by a touch, and could walk upon the waves. It is a body upon the sensibility of which the forces of nature can make no impression whatever; they can no more pain Him than the stroke of a weapon can affect air or water; or, as Hilary puts it elsewhere, fear and death, which have so painful a meaning to us, were no more to Him than a shower falling upon a surface which it cannot penetrate. It is not the passages of the Gospel which tell of Christ’s glory, but those which speak of weakness or suffering that need to be explained; and Hilary on occasion is not afraid to explain them away. For instance, we read that when our Lord had fasted forty days and forty nights ‘He was afterward an hungred.’ Hilary denies that there is a connection of cause and effect. Christ’s perfect body was unaffected by abstinence; but after the fast by an exertion of His will He experienced hunger. So also the Agony in the Garden is ingeniously misinterpreted. He took with Him the three Apostles, and then began to be sorrowful. He was not sorrowful till He had taken them; they, not He, were the cause. When He said, ‘My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death,’ the last words must not be regarded as meaning that His was a mortal sorrow, but as giving a note of time. The sorrow of which He spoke was not for Himself but for His Apostles, whose flight He foresaw, and He was asserting that this sorrow would last till He died. And when He prayed that the cup might pass away from Him, this was no entreaty that He might be spared. It was His purpose to drink it. The prayer was for His disciples that the cup might pass on from Him to them; that they might suffer for Him as martyrs full of hope, without pain or fear. One passage, St. Luke 22.43-44, which conflicts with his view is rejected by Hilary on textual grounds, and not without some reason. He had looked for it, and found it absent, in a large number of manuscripts, both Greek and Latin. But perhaps the strangest argument which he employs is that when the Gospel tells us that Christ thirsted and hungered and wept, it does not proceed to say that He ate and drank and felt grief. Hunger and thirst, eating and drinking, were two sets of dispensations, unconnected by the relation of cause and effect; the tears were another dispensation, not the expression of personal grief. If, as a habit, He accepts the needs and functions of our body, this does not render His own body more real, for by the act of its creation it was made truly human; His purpose, as has been said, is to enable us to recognise its reality, which would otherwise be difficult. If He wept, He had the same object; this use of one of the evidences of bodily emotion would help us to believe. And so it is throughout Christ’s life on earth. He suffered but He did not feel. No one but a heretic, says Hilary, would suppose that He was pained by the nails which fixed Him to the Cross.
It is obvious that Hilary’s theory offers a perfect defence against the two dangers of the day, Arianism and Apollinarianism. The tables are turned upon the former by emphatic insistence upon the power manifested in the humiliation and suffering of Christ. That He, being what He was, should be able to place Himself in such circumstances was the most impressive evidence of His Divinity. And if His humanity was endowed with Divine properties, much more must His Divinity rise above that inferiority to which the Arians consigned it. Apollinarianism is controverted by the demonstration of His true humanity. No language can be too strong to describe its glories; but the true wonder is not that Christ, as God, has such attributes, but that He Who has them is very Man. The theory was well adapted for service in the controversies of the day; for us, however we may admire the courage and ingenuity it displays, it can be no more than a curiosity of doctrinal history. Yet, whatever its defects as an explanation of the facts, the skill with which dangers on either hand are avoided, the manifest anxiety to be loyal to established doctrine, deserve recognition and respect. It has been said that Hilary ‘constantly withdraws in the second clause what he has asserted in the first,’ and in a sense it is true. For many of his statements might make him seem the advocate of an extreme doctrine of Kenosis, which would represent our Lord’s self-emptying as complete. But often expressed and always present in Hilary’s thought, for the coherence of which it is necessary, is the correlative notion of the dispensation, whereby Christ seemed for our sake to be less than He truly was. Again, Hilary has been accused of ‘sailing somewhat close to the cliffs of Docetism,’ but all admit that he has escaped shipwreck. Various accounts of his teaching, all of which agree in acquitting him of this error, have been given; and that which has been accepted in this paper, of Christ by the very perfection of His humanity habitually living in such an ecstasy as that of Polycarp or Perpetua at their martyrdom, is a noble conception in itself and consistent with the Creeds, though it cannot satisfy us. In part, at any rate, it belonged to the lessons which Hilary had learned from Alexandria. Clement had taught, though his successor Origen rejected, the impassability of Christ, Who had eaten and drunk only by a ‘dispensation’;—‘He ate not for the sake of His body, which was sustained by a holy power, but that that false notion might not creep into the minds of His companions which in later days some have, in fact, conceived, that He had been manifested only in appearance. He was altogether impassible; there entered from without into Him no movement of the feelings, whether pleasure , or pain.’ Thus Hilary had what would be in his eyes high authority for his opinion. But he must have felt some doubts of its value if he compared the strange exegesis and forced logic by which it was supported with that frank acceptance of the obvious sense of Scripture in which he takes so reasonable a pride in His direct controversy with the Arians. And another criticism may be ventured. In that controversy he balances with scrupulous reverence mystery against mystery, never forgetting that he is dealing with infinities. In this case the one is made to overwhelm the other; the infinite glory excludes the infinite sorrow from his view. Here, if anywhere, Hilary needs, and may justly claim, the indulgence he has demanded. It had not been his wish to define or explain; he was content with the plain words of Scripture and the simplest of creeds. But he was compelled by the fault of others to commit a fault; and speculation based on sound principles, however perilous to him who made the first attempt, had been rendered by the prevalence of heresy a necessary evil. Again, we must bear in mind that Hilary was essentially a Greek theologian, to whom the supremely interesting as well as the supremely important doctrine was that God became Man. He does not conceal or undervalue the fact of the Atonement and of the Passion as the means by which it was wrought. But, even though he had not held his peculiar theory of impassibility, he would still have thought the effort most worth making not that of realising the pains of Christ by our experience of suffering and sense of the enormity of sin, but that of apprehending the mystery of the Incarnation. For that act of condescension was greater, not only in scale but in kind, than any humiliation to which Christ, already Man, submitted Himself in His human state.
Christ, Whose properties as incarnate are thus described by Hilary, is one Person. This, of course, needs no proof, but something must be said of the use which he makes of the doctrine. It is by Christ’s own work, by an act of power, even of violence, exercised by Him upon Himself, that the two natures are inseparably associated in Him; so inseparably that between His death and resurrection His Divinity was simultaneously present with each of the severed elements of His humanity. Hence, though Hilary frequently discriminates between Christ’s utterances as God and as Man, he never fails to keep his reader’s attention fixed upon the unity of His Person. And this unity is the more obvious because, as has been said, the Manhood in Christ is dominated by the Godhead. Though we are not allowed to forget that He is truly Man, yet as a rule Hilary prefers to speak in such words as, ‘the only-begotten Son of God was crucified,’ or to say more briefly, ‘God was crucified.’ Judas is ‘the betrayer of God;’ ‘the life of mortals is renewed through the death of immortal God.’ Such expressions are far more frequent than the balanced language, ‘the Passion of Jesus Christ, our God and Lord,’ and these again than such an exaltation of the manhood as ‘the Man Jesus Christ, the Lord of Majesty.’ But once, in an unguarded moment, an element of His humanity seems to be deified. Hilary never says that Christ’s body is God, but he speaks of the spectators of the Crucifixion ‘contemplating the power of the soul which by signs and deeds had proved itself God.’
But though distinctions may be drawn, and though for the sake of emphasis and brevity Christ may be called by the name of one only of His two natures, the essential fact is never forgotten that He is God and man, one Person in two forms, God’s and the servant’s. And these two natures do not stand isolated and apart, merely contained within the limits of one personality. Just as we saw that Hilary recognises a complete mutual indwelling and interpenetration of Father and Son, so he teaches that in the narrower sphere of the Incarnation there is an equally exact and comprehensive union of the Godhead and Manhood in Christ. Jesus is Christ, and Christ is Jesus. Not merely is the one Christ perfect Man and perfect God, but the whole Son of Man is the whole Son of God. So far is His manhood from being merged and lost in His Divinity, that the extent of the one is the measure of the other. We must not imagine that, simultaneously with the incarnate, there existed a non-incarnate Christ, respectively submitting to humiliation and ruling the worlds; nor yet must we conceive of one Christ in two unconnected states of being, as though the assumption of humanity were merely a function analogous to the guiding of the stars. On the contrary, the one Person is co-extensive with all infinity, and all action lies within His scope. Whatever He does, whether it be, or be not, in relation to humanity, and in the former case whether it be the exaltation of man-hood or the self-emptying of Godhead, is done ‘within the sphere of the Incarnation,’ the sphere which embraces His whole being and His whole action. The self-emptying itself was not a self-determination, instant and complete, made before the Incarnation, but, as we saw, a process which continued throughout Christ’s life on earth and was active to the end. For as He hung, deliberately self-emptied of His glory, on the Cross, He manifested His normal powers by the earthquake shock. His submission to death was the last of a consistent series of exertions of His will, which began with the Annunciation and culminated in the Crucifixion.
Hilary estimates the cost of the Incarnation not by any episodes of Christ’s life on earth, but by the fact that it brought about a real, though partial, separation or breach within the Godhead. Henceforward there was in Christ the nature of the creature as well as that of the Creator; and this second nature, though it had been assumed in its most perfect form, was sundered by an infinite distance from God the Father, though indissolubly united with the Divinity of his Son. A barrier therefore was raised between them, to be overcome in due time by the elevation of manhood in and through the Son. When this elevation was complete within the Person of Christ, then the separation between Him and His Father would be at an end. He would still have true humanity, but this humanity would be raised to the level of association with the Father. In Hilary’s doctrine the submission of Christ to this isolation is the central fact of Christianity, the supreme evidence of His love for men. Not only did it thus isolate Him, truly though partially, from the Father, but it introduced a strain, a ‘division’ within His now incarnate Person. The union of natures was real, but in order that it might become perfect the two needed to be adjusted; and the humiliation involved in this adjustment is a great part of the sacrifice made by Christ. There was conflict, in a certain sense, within Himself, repression and concealment of His powers. But finally the barrier was to be removed, the loss regained, by the exaltation of the manhood into harmonious association with the Godhead of Father and of Son. Then He Who had become in one Person God and Man would become for ever fully God and fully Man. The humanity would gain, the Divinity regain, its appropriate dignity, while each retained the reality it had had on earth.
Thus Christ’s life in the world was a period of transition. He had descended; this was the time of preparation for an equal, and even loftier, ascent. We must now consider in what the preparation consisted; and here, at first sight, Hilary has involved himself in a grave difficulty. For it is manifest that his theory of Christ’s life as one lived without effort, spiritual or physical, or rather as a life whose exertion consisted in a steady self accommodation to the infirmities of men, varied by occasional and special acts of condescension to suffering, excludes the possibility of an advance, a growth in grace as well as in stature, such as Athanasius scripturally taught. We might say of Hilary, as has been said of another Father, ‘under his treatment the Divine history seems to be dissolved into a docetic drama.’ In such a life it might seem that there was not merely no possibility of progress, but even an absence of identity, in the sense of continuity. The phenomena of Christ’s life, therefore, are not manifestations of the disturbance and strain on which Hilary insists, for they are, when, rightly considered, proofs of His union with God and of His Divine power, not of weakness or of partial separation. It would, indeed, be vain for us to seek for sensible evidence of the process of adjustment, for it went on within the inmost being of the one Person. It did not affect the Godhead or the Manhood, both visibly revealed as aspects of the Person, but the hidden relation between the two. Our knowledge assures us that the process took place, but it is a knowledge attained by inference from what He was before and after the state of transition, not by observation of His action in that state. Both natures of the one Person were affected; ‘everything’—glory as well as humiliation—‘was common to the entire Person at every moment, though to each aspect in its own distinctive manner.’ The entire Person entered into inequality with Himself; the actuality of each aspect, during the state of humiliation, fell short of its idea—of the idea of the Son, of the idea of the perfect man, of the idea of the God-man. It was not merely the human aspect that was at first inadequate to the Divine; for, through the medium of the voluntary ‘evacuatio,’ it dragged down the Divine nature also, so far as is permitted it, to its own inequality.’ Such is the only explanation which will reconcile Hilary’s various, and sometimes obscure, utterances on this great subject. It is open to the obvious and fatal objection that it cuts, instead of loosening, the knot. For it denies any connection between the dispensation of Christ’s life on earth and the mystery of His assumption and exaltation of humanity; the one becomes somewhat purposeless, and the other remains unverified. But it is at least a bold and reverent speculation, not inconsistent with the Faith as a system of thought, though no place can be found for it in the Faith, regarded as a revelation of fact.
It was on behalf of mankind that this great sacrifice was made by the Son. While it separated Him from the Father, it united Him to men. We must now consider what was the spiritual constitution of the humanity which He assumed, as we have already considered the physical Man, as we saw is constituted of body and soul, an outward and an inward substance, the one earthly, the other heavenly. The exact process of his creation has been revealed. First, man—that is, his soul—was made in the image of God; next, long afterwards, his body was fashioned out of dust; finally by a distinct act, man was made a living soul by the breath of God, the heavenly and earthly natures being thus coupled together. The world was already complete when God created the highest, the most beautiful of His works after His own image. His other works were made by an instantaneous command; even the firmament was established by his hand; man alone was made by the hands of God;—‘Thy hands have made me and fashioned me.’ This singular honour of being made by a process, not an act, and by the hands, not the hand or the voice, of God, was paid to man not simply as the highest of the creatures, but as the one for whose sake the rest of the universe was called into being. It is, of course, the soul, made after the image of God, which has this high honour; an honour which no length of sinful ancestry can forfeit, for each soul is still separately created. Hence no human soul is akin to any other human soul; the uniformity of type is secured by each being made in the same pattern, and the dignity of humanity by the fact that this pattern is that of the Son, the Image of God. But the soul pervades the whole body with which it is associated, even as God pervades the universe. The soul of each man is individual, special to himself; his brotherhood with mankind belongs to him through his body, which has therefore something of universality. Hence the relation of mankind with Christ is not through his human soul; it was ‘the nature of universal flesh’ which He took that has made Him one with us in the Incarnation and in the Eucharist. The reality of His body, as we have seen, is amply secured by Hilary; its universality is assured by the absence of any individual human paternity, which would have isolated Him from others. Thus He took all humanity into His one body; He is the Church, for He contains her through the mystery of His body. In Him, by the same means, ‘there is contained the congregation, so to speak, of the whole race of men.’ Hence He spoke of Himself as the City set on a hill; the inhabitants are mankind. But Christ not only embraces all humanity in Himself, but the archetype after Whom, and the final cause for Whom, man was made. Every soul, when it proceeds from the hands of God, is pure, free and immortal, with a natural affinity and capacity for good, which can find its satisfaction only in Christ, the ideal Man. But if Christ is thus everything to man, humanity has also, in the foreordained purpose of God, something to confer upon Christ. The temporary humiliation of the Incarnation has for its result a higher glory than He possessed before, acquired through the harmony of the two natures.
The course of this elevation is represented by Hilary as a succession of births, in continuation of the majestic series. First there had been the eternal generation of the Son; then His creation for the ways and for the works of God, His appointment, which Hilary regards as equivalent in importance to another birth, to the office of Creator; next the Incarnation, the birth in time which makes Him what He was not before, namely Man. This is followed by the birth of Baptism, of which Hilary speaks thrice. He read in St. Matthew 3.17, instead of the familiar words of the Voice from heaven, ‘Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee.’ This was in his judgment the institution of the sacrament of Baptism; because Christ was baptized, we must follow His example. It was a new birth to Him, and therefore to us. He had been the Son; He became through Baptism the perfect Son by this fresh birth. It is difficult to see what Hilary’s thought was; perhaps he had not defined it to himself. But, with this reading in his copy of the Gospel, it was necessary that he should be ready with an explanation; and though there remained a higher perfection to be reached, this birth in Baptism might well be regarded as a stage in the return of Christ to His glory, an elevation of His humanity to a more perfect congruity with His Godhead. This birth is followed by another, the effect and importance of which is more obvious, that of the Resurrection, ‘the birthday of His humanity to glory.’ By the Incarnation He had lost unity with the Father; but the created nature, by the assumption of which He had disturbed the unity both within Himself and in relation to the Father, is now raised to the level on which that unity is again possible. In the Resurrection, therefore, it is restored; and this stage of Christ’s achievement is regarded as a New birth, by which His glory becomes, as it had been before, the same as that of the Father. But now the glory is shared by His humanity; the servant’s form is promoted to the glory of God and the discordance comes to an end. Christ, God and Man, stands where the Word before the Incarnation stood. In this Resurrection, the only step in this Divine work which is caused by sin, His full humanity partakes. In order to satisfy all the conditions of actual human life, He died and visited the lower world; and also, as man shall do, He rose again with the same body in which He had died. Then comes that final state, of which something has already been said, when God shall be all in all. No further change will be possible within the Person of Christ, for his humanity, already in harmony with the Godhead, will now be transmuted. The whole Christ, Man as well as God, will become wholly God. Yet the humanity will still exist, for it is inseparable from the Divinity, and will consist, as before, of body and soul. But there will be nothing earthly or fleshly left in the body; its nature will be purely spiritual. The only form in which Hilary can express this result is the seeming paradox that Christ will, by virtue of the final subjection, ‘be and continue what He is not.’ By this return of the whole Christ into perfect union with God, humanity attains the purpose of its creation. He was the archetype after Whose likeness man was fashioned, and in His Person all the possibilities of mankind are attained. And this great consummation not only fulfils the destinies of humanity; it brings also an augmentation of the glory of Him Who is glorified in Christ.
In the fact that humanity is thus elevated in Christ consists the hope of individual men. Man in Him has, in a true sense, become God; and though Hilary as a rule avoids the phrase, familiar to him in the writings of his Alexandrian teachers and freely used by Athanasius and other of his contemporaries, that men become gods because God became Man, still the thought which it coveys is constantly present to his mind. As we have seen, men are created with such elevation as their final cause; they have the innate certainty that their soul is of Divine origin and a natural longing for the knowledge and hope of things eternal. But they can only rise by a process, corresponding to that by which the humanity in Christ was raised to the level of the Divinity. This process begins with the new birth in the one Baptism, and attains its completion when we fully receive the nature and the knowledge of God. We are to be members of Christ’s body and partakers in Him, saved into the name and the nature of God. And the means to this is knowledge of Him, received into a pure mind. Such knowledge makes the soul of man a dwelling rational, pure and eternal, wherein the Divine nature, whose properties these are, may eternally abide. Only that which has reason can be in union with Him Who is reason. Faith must be accurately informed as well as sincere. Christ became Man in order that we might believe Him; that He might be a witness to us from among ourselves touching the things of God.
We have now followed Hilary through his great theory, in which we may safely say that no other theologian entirely agrees, and which, where it is most original, diverges most widely from the usual lines of Christian thought. Yet it nowhere contradicts the accepted standards of belief; and if it errs it does so in explanation, not in the statement of the truths which it undertakes to explain. Hilary has the distinction of being the only one of his contemporaries with the speculative genius to imagine this development ending in the abolition of incongruity and in the restoration of the full majesty of the Son and of man with Him. He saw that there must be such a development, and if he was wrong in tracing its course, there is a reverence and loyalty, a solidity of reasoning and steady grasp of the problems under discussion, which save him from falling into mere ingenuity or ostentation. Sometimes he may seem to be on the verge of heresy; but in each case it will be found that, whether his system be right or no, the place in it which he has found for an argument used elsewhere in the interests of error is one where the argument is powerless for evil. Sometimes—and this is the most serious reproach that can be brought against him—it must seem that his theology is abstract, moving in a region apart from the facts of human life. It must be admitted that this is the case; that though, as we shall presently see, Hilary had a clear sense of the realities of temptation and sin and of the need of redemption, and has expressed himself in these regards with the fervour and practical wisdom of an earnest and experienced pastor, still these subjects lie within the sphere of his feelings rather than of his thought. It was not his fault that he lived in the days before St. Augustine, and in the heat of an earlier controversy; and it is his conspicuous merit that in his zeal for the Divinity of Christ he traced the Incarnation back beyond the beginning of sin and found its motive in God’s eternal purpose of uniting man to Himself. He does not estimate the condescension of Christ by the distance which separates the Sinless from the sinful. To his wider thought sin is not the cause of that great sequence of Divine acts of grace, but a disturbing factor which has modified its course. The measure of the love of God in Christ is the infinity He overpassed in uniting the Creator with the creature.
But before we approach the practical theology of Hilary something must be said of his teaching concerning the Third Person of the Trinity. The doctrine of the Holy Spirit is little developed in his writings. The cause was, in part, his sympathy with Eastern thought. The West, in this as in some other respects, was in advance of the contemporary Greeks; but Hilary was too independent to accept conclusions which were as yet unreasoned. But a stronger reason was that the doctrine was not directly involved in the Arian controversy. On the main question, as we have seen, he kept an open mind, and was prepared to modify from time to time the terms in which he stated the Divinity of our Lord; but in other respects he was often strangely archaic. Such is the case here; Hilary’s is a logical position, but the logical process has been arrested. There is nothing in his words concerning the Holy Spirit inconsistent with the later definitions of faith, and it would be unfair to blame him because, in the course of a strenuous life devoted to the elucidation and defence of other doctrines, he found no time to develop this; unfair also to blame him for not recognising its full importance. In his earlier days, and while he was in alliance with the Semiarians, there was nothing to bring this doctrine prominently before his mind; in his later life it still lay outside the range of controversy, so far as he was concerned. Hilary, in fact, preferred like Athanasius to rest in the indefinite terms of the original Nicene Creed, the confession of which ended with the simple ‘And in the Holy Ghost.’ But there was a further and practical reason for his reserve. It was a constant taunt of the Arians that the Catholics worshipped a plurality of Gods. The frequency and emphasis with which Hilary denies that Christians have either two Gods or one God in solitude proves that he regarded this plausible assertion as one of the most dangerous weapons wielded by heresy. It was his object, as a skilful disputant, to bring his whole forces to bear upon them, and this in a precisely limited field of battle. To import the question of the Holy Spirit into the controversy might distract his reader’s attention from the main issue, and afford the enemy an opening for that evasion which he constantly accuses them of attempting. Hence, in part, the small space allowed to so important a theme; and hence the avoidance, which we noticed, of the very word ‘Trinity.’ The Arians made the most of their argument about two Gods; Hilary would not allow them the opportunity of imputing to the faithful a belief in three. This might not have been a sufficient inducement, had it stood alone, but the encouragement which he received from Origen’s vagueness, representative as it was of the average theology of the third century, must have predisposed him to give weight to the practical consideration. Yet Hilary has not avoided a formal statement of his belief. In Trin. 2.§§29–35, which is, as we saw, part of a summary statement of the Christian Faith, he sets it forth with Scripture proofs. But he shows clearly, by the short space he allows to it, that it is not in his eyes of co-ordinate importance with the other truths of which he treats. And the curious language in which he introduces the subject, in §29, seems to imply that he throws it in to satisfy others rather than from his own sense of its necessary place in such a statement. The doctrine, as he here defines it, is that the Holy Spirit undoubtedly exists; the Father and the Son are the Authors of His being, and, since He is joined with Them in our confession, He cannot, without mutilation of the Faith, be separated from Them. The fact that He is given to us is a further proof of His existence. Yet the title ‘Spirit’ is often used both for Father and for Son; in proof of this St. John 4.24 and 2 Cor. 3.17 are cited. Yet the Holy Spirit has a personal existence and a special office in relation to us. It is through Him that we know God. Our nature is capable of knowing Him, as the eye is capable of sight; and the gift of the Spirit is to the soul what the gift of light is to the eye. Again, in 7.§§55-56, the subject is introduced, as if by an after thought, and even more briefly than in the second book. As he has refused to style the Son a creature, so he refuses to give that name to the Spirit, Who has gone forth from God, and been sent by Christ. The Son is the Only-begotten, and therefore he will not say that the Spirit was begotten; yet he cannot call Him a creature, for the Spirit’s knowledge of the mysteries of God, of which He is the Interpreter to men, is the proof of His oneness in nature with God. The Spirit speaks unutterable things and is ineffable in His operation. Hilary cannot define, yet he believes. It must suffice to say, with the Apostle, simply that He is the Spirit of God. The tone of §56 seems that of silent rebuke to some excess of definition, as he would deem it, of which he had heard. To these passages must be added another in Trin. 8.19f., where the possession by Father and Son of one Spirit is used in proof of their own unity. But in this passage there occur several instances of Hilary’s characteristic vagueness. As in 2.30, so here we are told that ‘the Spirit’ may mean Father or Son as well as Holy Ghost, and instances are given where the word has one or other of the two first significations. Thus we must set a certain number of passages where a reference in Scripture to the Holy Spirit is explained away against a number, certainly no greater, in which He is recognised, and in the latter we notice a strong tendency to understate the truth. For though we are expressly told that the Spirit is not a creature, that He is from the Father through the Son, is of one substance with Them and bears the same relation to the One that He bears to the Other, yet Hilary refuses with some emphasis and in a conspicuous place, at the very end of the treatise, to call Him God. But both groups of passages, those in which the Holy Ghost is recognised and those in which reason is given for non-recognition, are more than counterbalanced by a multitude in which, no doubt for the controversial reason already mentioned, the Holy Spirit is left unnamed, though it would have been most natural that allusion should be made to Him. We find in Hilary ‘the premises from which the Divinity of the Holy Ghost is the necessary conclusion;’ and there is reason to believe that he would have stated the doctrine of the Procession in the Western, not in the Eastern, form; but we find a certain willingness to keep the doctrine in the background, which sufficiently indicates a failure to grasp its cardinal importance, and is, however natural in his circumstances and however interesting as evidence of his mode of thought, a blemish to the De Trinitate, if we seek in it a balanced exposition of the Faith.
We may now turn to the practical teaching of Hilary. Henceforth he will be no longer the compiler of the best Latin handbook of the Arian controversy, or the somewhat unsystematic investigator of unexplored regions of theology. We shall find him often accepting the common stock of Christian ideas of his age, without criticism or attempt at improvement upon them; often paraphrasing in even more emphatic language emphatic and apparently contradictory passages of Scripture, without any effort after harmony or balance. Yet sometimes we shall find him anticipating on one page the thoughts of later theologians, while on another he is content to repeat the views upon the same subject which had satisfied an earlier generation. His doctrine, where it is not traditional, is never more than tentative, and we must not be surprised, we must even expect, to find him inconsistent with himself.
No subject illustrates this inconsistency better than that of sin, of which Hilary gives two accounts, the one Eastern and traditional, the other an anticipation of Augustinianism. These are never compared and weighed the one against the other. In the passages where each appears, it is adduced confidently, without any reservation or hint that he is aware of another explanation of the facts of experience. The more usual account is that which is required by Hilary’s doctrine of the separate creation of every human soul, which is good, because it is God’s immediate work, and has a natural tendency to, and fitness for, perfection. Because God, after Whose image man is made, is free, therefore man also is free; he has absolute liberty, and is under no compulsion to good or to evil. The sin which God foresees, as in the case of Esau, He does not foreordain. Punishment never follows except upon sin actually committed; the elect are they who show themselves worthy of election. But the human body has defiled the soul; in fact, Hilary sometimes speaks as though sin were not an act of will but an irresistible pressure exerted by the body on the soul. If we had no body, he says once, we should have no sin; it is a ‘body of death’ and cannot be pure. This is the spiritual meaning of the ancient law against touching a corpse. When the Psalmist laments that his soul cleaveth to the ground, his sorrow is that it is inseparably attached to a body of earth; when Job and Jeremiah cursed the day of their birth, their anger was directed against the necessity of living surrounded by the weaknesses and vices of the flesh, not against the creation of their souls after the image of God. Such language, if it stood alone, would convict its author of Manicheanism, but Hilary elsewhere asserts that the desire of the soul goes half-way to meet the invitation of sin, and this latter in his normal teaching. Man has a natural proclivity to evil, an inherited weakness which has, as a matter of experience, betrayed all men into actual sin, with the exception of Christ. Elsewhere, however, Hilary recognises the possibility, under existing conditions, of a sinless life. For David could make the prayer, ‘Take from me the way of iniquity;’ of iniquity itself he was guiltless, and only needed to pray against the tendency inherent in his bodily nature. But such a case is altogether exceptional; ordinary men must confide in the thought that God is indulgent, for He knows our infirmity. He is propitiated by the wish to be righteous, and in His judgment the merits of good men outweigh their sins. Hence a prevalent tone of hopefulness about the future state of the baptized; even Sodom and Gomorrah, their punishment in history having satisfied the righteousness of God, shall ultimately be saved. Yet God has a perfect, immutable goodness of which human goodness, though real, falls infinitely short, because He is steadfast and we are driven by varying impulses. This Divine goodness is the standard and the hope set before us. It can only be attained by grace, and grace is freely offered. But just as the soul, being free, advances to meet sin, so it must advance to meet grace. Man must take the first step; he must wish and pray for grace, and then perseverance in faith will be granted him, together with such a measure of the Spirit as he shall desire and deserve. He will, indeed, be able to do more than he need, as David did when he spared and afterwards lamented Saul, his worst enemy,and St. Paul, who voluntarily abstained from the lawful privilege of marriage. Such is Hilary’s first account, ‘a naive, undeveloped mode of thought concerning the origin of sin and the state of man.’ Its inconsistencies are as obvious as their cause, the unguarded homiletical expansion of isolated passages. There is no attempt to reconcile man’s freedom to be good with the fact of universal sin. The theory, so far as it is consistent, is derived from Alexandria, from Clement and Origen. It may seem not merely inadequate as theology, but philosophical rather than Christian; and its aim is, indeed, that of strengthening man’s sense of moral responsibility and of heightening his courage to withstand temptation. But we must remember that Hilary everywhere assumes the union between the Christian and Christ. While this union exists there is always the power of bringing conduct into conformity with His will. Conduct, then, is, comparatively speaking, a matter of detail. Sins of action and emotion do not necessarily sever the union; a whole system of casuistry might be built upon Hilary’s foundation. But false thoughts of God violate the very principle of union between Him and man. However abstract they may seem and remote from practical life, they are an insuperable barrier. For intellectual harmony, as well as moral, is necessary; and error of belief, like a key moving in a lock with whose wards it does not correspond, forbids all access to the nature and the grace of God. A good example of his relative estimate of intellectual and moral offences occurs in the Homily on Psalm 1.§§6–8, where it is noteworthy that he does not trace back the former to moral causes.
Against these, the expressions of Hilary’s usual opinion, must be set others in which he anticipates the language of St. Augustine in the Pelagian controversy. But certain deductions must be made, before we can rightly judge the weight of his testimony on the side of original sin. Passages where he is merely amplifying the words of Scripture must be excluded, as also those which are obviously exhibitions of unguarded rhetoric. For instance such words as these, ‘Ever since the sin and unbelief of our first parent, we of later generations have had sin for the father of our body and unbelief for the mother of our soul,’ contradicting as they do Hilary’s well-known theory of the origin of the soul, cannot be regarded as giving his deliberate belief concerning sin. Again, we must be careful not to interpret strong language concerning the body (e.g. Tr. in Ps. 128, Caph, 5 fin.), as though it referred to our whole complex manhood. But after all deductions a good deal of strong Augustinianism remains. In the person of Adam God created all mankind, and all are implicated in his downfall, which was not only the beginning of evil but is a continuous power. Not only as a matter of experience, is no man sinless, but no man can, by any possibility, be free from sin. Because of the sin of one sentence is passed upon all; the sentence of slavery which is so deep a degradation that the victim of sin forfeits even the name of man. But Hilary not only states the doctrine; he approaches very nearly, on rare occasions, to the term ‘original sin.’ It follows that nothing less than a regeneration, the free gift of God, will avail; and the grace by which the Christian must be maintained is also His spontaneous and unconditional gift. Faith, knowledge, Christian life, all have their origin and their maintenance from Him. Such is a brief statement of Hilary’s position as a forerunner of St. Augustine. The passages cited are scattered over his writings, from the earliest to the latest, and there is no sign that the more modern view was gaining ground in his mind as his judgment ripened. He had no occasion to face the question, and was content to say whatever seemed obviously to arise from the words under discussion, or to be most profitable to his audience. His Augustinianism, if it may be called so, is but one of many instances of originality, a thought thrown out but not developed. It is a symptom of revolt against the inadequate views of older theologians; but it had more influence upon the mind of his great successor than upon his own. Dealing, as he did, with the subject in hortatory writings, hardly at all, and only incidentally, in his formal treatise on the Trinity, he preferred to regard it as a matter of morals rather than of doctrine. And the dignity of man, impressed upon him by the great Alexandrians, seemed to demand for humanity the fullest liberty.
We may now turn to the Atonement, by which Christ has overcome sin. Hilary’s language concerning it is, as a rule, simply Scriptural. He had no occasion to discuss the doctrine, and his teaching is that which was traditional in his day, without any such anticipations of future thought as we found in his treatment of sin. Since the humanity of Christ is universal, His death was on behalf of all mankind, ‘to buy the salvation of the whole human race by the offering of this holy and perfect Victim.’ His last cry upon the cross was the expression of His sorrow that some would not profit by His sacrifice; that He was not, as He had desired, bearing the sins of all. He was able to take them upon Him because He had both natures. His manhood could do what His Godhead could not; it could atone for the sins of men. Man had been overcome by Satan; Satan, in his turn, has been overcome by Man. In the long conflict, enduring through Christ’s life, of which the first pitched battle was the Temptation, the last the Crucifixion, the victory has been won by the Mediator in the flesh. The devil was in the wrong throughout. He was deceived, or rather deceived himself, not recognising what it was for which Christ hungered. The same delusion as to Christ’s character led him afterwards to exact the penalty of sin from One Who had not deserved it. Thus the human sufferings of Christ, unjustly inflicted, involve His enemy in condemnation and forfeit his right to hold mankind enslaved. Therefore we are set free, and the sinless Passion and death are the triumph of the flesh over spiritual wickedness and the vengeance of God upon it. Man is set free, because he is justified in Christ, Who is Man. But the fact that Christ could do the works necessary to this end is proof that He is God. These works included the endurance of such suffering—in the sense, of course, which Hilary attaches to the word—as no one who was not more than man could bear. Hence he emphasises the Passion, because in so doing he magnifies the Divine nature of Him Who sustained it. He sets forth the sufferings in the light of deeds, of displays of power, the greatest wonder being that the Son of God should have made Himself passible. Yet though it was from union with the Godhead that His humanity possessed the purity, the willingness, the power to win this victory, and thought, in Hilary’s words, it was immortal God Who died upon the Cross, still it was a victory won not by God but by the flesh. But the Passion must not be regarded simply as an attack, ending in his own overthrow, made by Satan upon Christ. It is also a free satisfaction offered to God by Christ as Man, in order that His sufferings might release us from the punishment we had deserved, being accepted instead of ours. This latter was a thought peculiarly characteristic of the West, and especially of St. Cyprian’s teaching; but Hilary has had his share in giving prominence to the propitiatory aspect of Christ’s self-sacrifice. Yet it must be confessed that the death of Christ is somewhat in the background; that Hilary is less interested in its positive value than in its negative aspect, as the cessation from earthly life and the transition to glory. Upon this, and upon the evidential importance of the Passion as a transcendent exertion of power, whereby the Son of God held Himself down and constrained Himself to suffer and die, Hilary chiefly dwells. The death has not, in his eyes, the interest of the Resurrection. The reason is that it does not belong to the course of the Incarnation as fore-ordained by God, but is only a modification of it, rendered necessary by the sinful self-will of man. Had there been no Fall, the visible, palpable flesh would still have been laid aside, though not by death upon the Cross, when Christ’s work in the world was done; and there would have been some event corresponding to the Ascension, if not to the Resurrection. The body, laid aside on earth, would have been resumed in glory; and human flesh, unfallen and therefore not corrupt, yet free and therefore corruptible, would have entered into perfectly harmonious union with His Divinity, and so have been rendered safe from all possibility of evil. The purpose of raising man to the society of God was anterior to the beginnings of sin; and it is this broader conception that renders the Passion itself intelligible, while relegating it to a secondary place. But Hilary, though as a rule he mentions the subject not for its own sake but in the course of argument, has as firm a faith in the efficacy of Christ’s death and of His continued intercession in His humanity for mankind as he has in His triumphant Resurrection.
In regard to the manner in which man is to profit by the Atonement, Hilary shews the same inconsistency as in the case of sin. On the one hand, he lays frequent stress on know- ledge concerning God and concerning the nature of sin as the first conditions of salvation; on the other, he insists, less often yet with equal emphasis, upon its being God’s spontaneous gift to men, to be appropriated only by faith. We have already seen that one of Hilary’s positions is that man must take the first step towards God; that if we will make the beginning He will give the increase. This increase is the knowledge of God imparted to willing minds, which lifts them up to piety. He states strongly the superiority of knowledge to faith;—“There is a certain greater effectiveness in knowledge than in faith. Thus the writer here did not believe; he knew. For faith has the reward of obedience, but it has not the assurance of ascertained truth. The Apostle has indicated the breadth of the interval between the two by putting the latter in the lower place in his list of the gifts of graces. ‘To the first wisdom, to the next knowledge, to the third faith’ is his message; for he who believes may be ignorant even while he believes, but he who has come to know is saved by his possession of knowledge from the very possibility of unbelief.” This high estimation of sound knowledge was due, no doubt, to the intellectual character of the Arian conflict, in which each party retorted upon the other the charge of ignorance and folly; and it must have been confirmed by the observation that some who were conspicuous for the misinterpretation of Scripture were notorious also for moral obliquity. There was, however, that deeper reason which influenced all Hilary’s thought; the conviction that if there is to be any harmony, any understanding between God and the soul of man, it must be a perfect harmony and understanding. And knowledge is pre-eminently the sphere in which this is possible, for the revelation of God is clear and precise, and unmistakable in its import. But there was another, a directly practical reason for this insistence. Apprehension of Divine truths is the unfailing test of a Christian mind; conduct changes and faith varies in intensity, but the facts of religion remain the same, and the believer can be judged by his attitude towards them. Hence we cannot be surprised that Hilary maintains the insufficiency of ‘simplicity of faith,’ and ranks its advocates with heathen philosophers who regard purity of life as a substitute for religion. God, he says, has provided copious knowledge, with which we cannot dispense. But this knowledge is to embrace not only the truth concerning God, but also concerning the realities of human life. It is to be a knowledge of the fact that sins have been committed and an opening of the eyes to their enormity. This will be followed by confession to God, by the promise to Him that we will henceforth regard sin as He regards it, and by the profession of a firm purpose to abandon it. Here again the starting-point is human knowledge. When the right attitude towards sin, intellectually and therefore morally, has been assumed, when there is the purpose of amendment and an earnest and successful struggle against sensual and worldly temptations, then we shall become ‘worthy of the favour of God.’ In this light confession is habitually regarded; it is a voluntary moral act, a self-enlightenment to the realities of sin, necessarily followed by repugnance and the effort to escape, and antecedent to Divine pardon and aid. But in contrast to this, Hilary’s normal judgment, there are passages where human action is put altogether in the background. Forgiveness is the spontaneous bounty of God, overflowing from the riches of His loving-kindness, and faith the condition of its bestowal and the means by which it is appropriated. Even the Psalmist, himself perfect in all good works, prayed for mercy; he put his whole trust in God, and so must we. And faith precedes knowledge also, which is unattainable except by the believer. Salvation does not come first, and then faith, but through faith is the hope of salvation; the blind man believed before he saw. Here again, as in the case of sin, we have two groups of statements without attempt at reconciliation; but that which lays stress upon human initiative is far more numerous than the other, and must be regarded as expressing Hilary’s underlying thought in his exhortations to Christian conduct, to his doctrine of which we may now turn.
We must first premise that Christ’s work as our Example as well as our Saviour is fully recognised. Many of his deeds on earth were done by way of dispensation, in order to set us a pattern of life and thought. Christian life has, of course, its beginning in the free gift of Baptism, with the new life and the new faculties then bestowed, which render possible the illumination of the soul. Hilary, as was natural at a time when Baptism was often deferred by professed Christians, and there were many converts from paganism, seems to contemplate that of adults as the rule; and he feels it necessary to warn them that their Baptism will not restore them to perfect innocence. In fact, by a strange conjecture tentatively made, he once suggests that our Baptism is that wherewith John baptized our Lord, and that the Baptism of the Holy Ghost awaits us hereafter, in cleansing fires beyond the grave or in the purification of martyrdom. Hilary nowhere says in so many words that while Baptism abolishes sins previously committed, alms and other good deeds perform a similar office for later offences, but his view, which will be presently stated, concerning good works shews that he agreed in this respect with St. Cyprian; neither, however, would hold that the good works were sufficient in ordinary cases without the further purification. Martyrdoms had, of course, ceased in Hilary’s day throughout the Roman empire, but it is interesting to observe that the old opinion, which had such power in the third century, still survived. The Christian, then, has need for fear, but he has a good hope, for all the baptized while in this world are still in the land of the living, and can only forfeit their citizenship by wilful and persistent unworthiness. The means for maintaining the new life of effort is the Eucharist, which is equally necessary with Baptism. But the Eucharist is one of the many matters of practical importance on which Hilary is almost silent, having nothing new to say, and being able to assume that his readers and hearers were well informed and of one mind with himself. His reticence is never a proof that he regarded them with indifference.
The Christian life is thus a life of hope and of high possibilities. But Hilary frankly and often recognises the serious short-comings of the average believers of his day. Sometimes, in his zeal for their improvement and in the wish to encourage his flock, he even seems to condone their faults, venturing to ascribe to God what may almost be styled mere good- nature, as when he speaks of God, Himself immutable, as no stern Judge of our changefulness, but rather appeased by the wish on our part for better things than angry because we cannot perform impossibilities. But in this very passage he holds up for our example the high attainment of the Saints, explaining that the Psalmist’s words, ‘There is none that doeth good, no not one,’ refer only to those who are altogether gone out of the way and become abominable, and not to all mankind. Indeed, holding as he does that all Christians may have as much grace from God as they will take, and that the conduct which is therefore possible is also necessary to salvation, he could not consistently maintain the lower position. In fact, the standard of life which Hilary sets in the Homilies on the Psalms is very high. Cleanness of hand and heart is the first object at which we must aim, and the Law of God must be our delight. This is the lesson inculcated throughout his discourses on Psalm 119. He recognises the complexity of life, with its various duties and difficulties, which are, however, a privilege inasmuch as there is honour to be won by victory over them; and he takes a common-sense view of our powers and responsibilities. But though his tone is buoyant and life in his eyes is well worth living for the Christian, he insists not merely upon a general purity of life, but upon renunciation of worldly pleasures. Like Cyprian, he would apparently have the wealthy believer dispose of his capital and spend his income in works of charity, without thought of economy415. Like Cyprian, again, he denounces the wearing of gold and jewellery416, and the attendance at public places of amusement. Higher interests, spiritual and intellectual, must take the place of such dissipation. Sacred melody will be more attractive than the immodest dialogue of the theatre, and study of the course of the stars a more pleasing pursuit than a visit to the racecourse. Yet strictly and even sternly Christian as Hilary is, he does not allow us altogether to forget that his is an age with another code than ours. Vengeance with him is a Christian motive. He takes with absolute literalness the Psalmist’s imprecations. Like every other emotion which he expresses, that of delight at the punishment of evil doers ought to have a place in the Christian soul. This was an inheritance from the days of persecution, which were still within the memory of living men. Cyprian often encourages the confessors to patience by the prospect of seeing the wrath of God upon their enemies; but he never gives so strong expression to the feeling as Hilary does, when he enforces obedience to our Lord’s command to turn the other cheek by the consideration that fuller satisfaction will be gained if the wrong be stored up against the Day of Judgement. There is something hard and Puritan in the tone which Hilary has caught from the men of the times of persecution; and his conflict with heretics gave him ample opportunity for indulgence in the thought of vengeance upon them. This was no mere pardonable excitement of feeling; it was a Christian duty and privilege to rejoice in the future destruction of his opponents. But there is an even stranger difference between his standard and ours. Among the difficulties of keeping in the strait and narrow way he reckons that of truthfulness. A lie, he says, is often necessary, and deliberate falsehood sometimes useful. We may mislead an assassin, and so enable his intended victim to escape; our testimony may save a defendant who is in peril in the courts; we may have to cheer a sick man by making light of his ailment. Such are the cases in which the Apostle says that our speech is to be ‘seasoned with salt.’ It is not the lie that is wrong; the point of conscience is whether or no it will inflict injury upon another. Hilary is not alone in taking falsehood lightly, and allowance must be made for the age in which he lived. And his words cast light upon the history of the time. The constant accusations made against the character and conduct of theological opponents, which are so painful a feature of the controversies of the early centuries, find their justification in the principle which Hilary has stated. No harm was done, rather a benefit was conferred upon mankind, if a false teacher could be discredited in a summary and effective manner; such was certainly a thought which presented itself to the minds of combatants, both orthodox and heterodox. Apart from these exceptions, which, however, Hilary would not have regarded as such, his standard of life, as has been said, is a high one both in faith and in practice, and his exhortation is full of strong common sense. It is, however, a standard set for educated people; there is little attention paid to those who are safe from the dangers of intellect and wealth. The worldliness which he rebukes is that of the rich and influential; and his arguments are addressed to the reading class, as are his numerous appeals to his audience in the Homilies on the Psalms to study Scripture for themselves. Indeed, his advice to them seems to imply that they have abundant leisure for spiritual exercises and for reflection. But he does not simply ignore the illiterate, still mostly pagans, for the work of St. Martin of Tours only began, as we saw, in Hilary’s last days; in one passage at least he speaks with the scorn of an ancient philosopher of ‘the rustic mind,’ which will fail to find the meaning of the Psalms.
Hilary is not content with setting a standard which his flock must strive to reach. He would have them attain to a higher level than is commanded, and at the same time constantly remember that they are failing to perform their duty to God. This higher life is set before his whole audience as their aim. He recognises the peculiar honour of the widow and the virgin, but has singularly little to say about these classes of the Christian community, or about the clergy, and no special counsel for them. The works of supererogation—the word is not his—which he preaches are within the reach of all Christians. They consist in the more perfect practice of the ordinary virtues. King David ‘was not content henceforth to be confined to the express commands of the Law, nor to be subject to a mere necessity of obedience.’ ‘The Prophet prays that these free-will offerings may be acceptable to God, because the deeds done in compliance to the Law’s edict are performed under the actual compulsion of servitude.’ As an instance he gives the character of David. His duty was to be humble; he made himself humble exceedingly, thus doing more than he was legally bound to do. He spared his enemies so far as in him lay, and bewailed their death; this was a free service to which he was bound by no compulsion. Such conduct places those who practice it on the same level with those whose lives are formally consecrated; the state of the latter being regarded, as always in early times, as admirable in itself, and not as a means towards higher things. Vigils and fasts and acts of mercy are the methods advocated by Hilary for such attainment. But they must not stand alone, nor must the Christian put his trust in them. Humility must have faith for its principle, and fasting be combined with charity. And the Christian must never forget that though he may in some respects be doing more than he need, yet in others he is certainly falling short. For the conflict is unceasing; the devil, typified by the mountains in the Psalm, has been touched by God and is smoking, but is not yet burning and powerless for mischief. Hence there is constant danger lest the Christian fall into unbelief or unfruitfulness, sins equally fatal; he must not trust in himself, either that he can deserve forgiveness for the past or resist future temptations. Nor may he dismiss his past offences from his memory. It can never cease to be good for us to confess our former sins, even though we have become righteous. St. Paul did not allow himself to forget that he had persecuted the Church of God. But there is a further need than that of penitence. Like Cyprian before him and Augustine after him, Hilary insists upon the value of alms in the sight of God. The clothing of the naked, the release of the captive plead with God for the remission of our sins; and the man who redeems his faults by alms is classed among those who win His favour, with the perfect in love and the blameless in faith.
Thus the thought of salvation by works greatly preponderates over that of salvation by grace. Hilary is fearful of weakening man’s sense of moral responsibility by dwelling too much upon God’s work which, however, he does not fail to recognise. Of the two great dangers, that of faith and that of life, the former seemed to him the more serious. God’s requirements in that respect were easy of fulfilment; He had stated the truth and He expected it to be unhesitatingly accepted. But if belief, being an exertion of the will, was easy, misbelief must be peculiarly and fatally wicked. The confession of St. Peter, the foundation upon which the Church is built, is that Christ is God; the sin against the Holy Ghost is denial of this truth. These are the highest glory and the deepest shame of man. It does not seem that Hilary regarded any man, however depraved, as beyond hope so long as he did not dispute this truth; he has no code of mortal sins. But heresy concerning Christ, whatever the conduct and character of the heretic, excludes all possibility of salvation, for it necessarily cuts him off from the one Faith and the one Church which are the condition and the sphere of growth towards perfection; and the severance is just, because misbelief is a wilful sin. Since, then, compliance or non-compliance with one of God’s demands, that for faith in His revelation, depends upon the will, it was natural that Hilary should lay stress upon the importance of the will in regard to God’s other demand, that for a Christian life. This was, in a sense, a lighter requirement, for various degrees of obedience were possible. Conduct could neither give nor deny faith, but only affect its growth, while without the frank recognition of the facts of religion no conduct could be acceptable to God. Life presents to the will a constantly changing series of choices between good and evil, while the Faith must be accepted or rejected at once and as a whole. It is clear from Hilary’s insistence upon this that the difficulties, apart from heresy, with which he had to contend resembled those of Mission work in modern India. There were many who would accept Christianity as a revelation, yet had not the moral strength to live in conformity with their belief. Of such persons Hilary will not despair. They have the first essential of salvation, a clear and definite acceptance of doctrinal truth; they have also the offer of sufficient grace, and the free will and power to use it. And time and opportunity are granted, for the vicissitudes of life form a progressive education; they are, if taken aright, the school, the training-ground for immortality. This is because all Christians are in Christ, by virtue of His Incarnation. They are, as St. Paul says, complete in Him, furnished with the faith and hope they need. But this is only a preparatory completeness; hereafter they shall be complete in themselves, when the perfect harmony is attained and they are conformed to his glory. Thus to the end the dignity and responsibility of mankind is maintained. But it is obvious that Hilary has failed to correlate the work of Christ with the work of the Christian. The necessity of His guidance and aid, and the manner in which these are bestowed, is sufficiently stated, and the duty of the Christian man is copiously and eloquently enforced. But the importance of Christ’s work within Himself, in harmonising the two natures, has withdrawn most of Hilary’s attention from His work within the believing soul; and the impression which Hilary’s writings leave upon the mind concerning the Saviour and redeemed mankind is that of allied forces seeking the same end but acting independently, each in a sphere of its own.
There still remains to be considered Hilary’s account of the future state. The human soul, being created after the image of God, is imperishable; resurrection is as inevitable as death436. And the resurrection will be in the body, for good and bad alike. The body of the good will be glorified, like that of Christ; its substance will be the same as in the present life, its glory such that it will be in all other respects a new body. Indeed, the true life of man only begins when this transformation takes place. No such change awaits the wicked; we shall all rise, but we shall not all be changed, as St. Paul says. They remain as they are, or rather are subjected to a ceaseless process of deterioration, whereby the soul is degraded to the level of the body, while this in the case of others is raised, either instantly or by a course of purification, to the level of the soul. Their last state is vividly described in language which recalls that of Virgil; crushed to powder and dried to dust they will fly for ever before the wind of God’s wrath. For the thoroughly good and the thoroughly bad the final state begins at the moment of death. There is no judgment for either class, but only for those whose character contains elements of both good and evil. But perfect goodness is only a theoretical possibility, and Hilary is not certain of the condemnation of any except wilful unbelievers. Evil is mingled in varying proportions with good in the character of men at large; God can detect it in the very best. All therefore need to be purified after death, if they are to escape condemnation on the Day of Judgment. Even the Mother of our Lord needs the purification of pain; this is the sword which should pierce through her soul. All who are infected by sin, the heretic who has erred in ignorance among them, must pass through cleansing fires after death. Then comes the general Resurrection. To the good it brings the final change to perfect glory; the bad will rise only to return to their former place. The multitude of men will be judged, and after the education and purification of suffering to which, by God’s mercy, they have been submitted, will be accepted by Him. Hilary’s writings contain no hint that any who are allowed to present themselves on the Day of Judgment will then be rejected.
We have now completed the survey of Hilary’s thoughts. Many of these were strange and new to his contemporaries, and his originality, we may be sure, deprived him of some of the influence he wished to exert in the controversies of his day. Yet he shared the spirit and entered heartily into the interests and conflicts of his age, and therefore his thoughts in many ways were different from our own. To this we owe, no doubt, the preservation of his works; writings which anticipated modern opinion would have been powerless for good in that day, and would not have survived to ours. Thus from his own century to ours Hilary has been somewhat isolated and neglected, and even misunderstood. Yet he is one of the most notable figures in the history of the early Church, and must be numbered among those who have done most to make Christian thought richer and more exact. If we would appreciate him aright as one of the builders of the dogmatic structure of the Faith, we must omit from the materials of our estimate a great part of his writings, and a part which has had a wider influence than any other. His interpretation of the letter, though not of the spirit, of Scripture must be dismissed; interesting as it always is, and often suggestive, it was not his own and was a hindrance, though he did not see it, to the freedom of his thought. Yet his exegesis in detail is often admirable. For instance, it would not be easy to overpraise his insight and courage in resisting the conventional orthodoxy, sanctioned by Athanasius in his own generation and by Augustine in the next, which interpreted St. Paul’s ‘first-born of every creature’ as signifying the Incarnation of Christ, and not His eternal generation. We must omit also much that Hilary borrowed without question from current opinion; it is his glory that he concentrated his attention upon some few questions of supreme importance, and his strength, not his weakness, that he was ready to adopt in other matters the best and wisest judgments to which he had access. An intelligent, and perhaps ineffective, curiosity may keep itself abreast of the thought of the time, to quote a popular phrase; Hilary was content to survey wide regions of doctrine and discipline with the eyes of Origen and of Cyprian. This limitation of the interests of a powerful mind has enabled him to penetrate further into the mysteries of the Faith than any of his predecessors; to points, in fact, where his successors have failed to establish themselves. We cannot blame him that later theologians, starting where he left off, have in some directions advanced further still. The writings of Hilary are the quarry whence many of the best thoughts of Ambrose and of Leo are hewn. Eminent and successful as these men were, we cannot rank them with Hilary as intellectually his equals; we may even wonder how many of their conclusions they would have drawn had not Hilary supplied the premises. It is a greater honour that the unrivalled genius of Augustine is deeply indebted to him. Nor may we blame him, save lightly, for some rashness and error in his speculations. He set out, unwillingly, as we know, but not half-heartedly, upon his novel journey of exploration. He had not, as we have, centuries of criticism behind him, and could not know that some of the avenues he followed would lead him astray. It may be that we are sober because we are, in a sense, disillusioned; that modern Christian thought which starts from the old premises tends to excess of circumspection. And certainly Hilary would not have earned his fame as one of the most original and profound of teachers, whose view of Christology is one of the most interesting in the whole of Christian antiquity, had he not been inspired by a sense of freedom and of hope in his quest. Yet great as was his genius and reverent the spirit in which he worked, the errors into which he fell, though few, were serious. There are instances in which he neglects his habitual balancing of corresponding infinities; as when he shuts his eyes to half the revelation, and asserts that Christ could not be ignorant and could not feel pain. And there is that whole system of dispensations which he has built up in explanation of Christ’s life on earth; a system against which our conscience and our common sense rebel, for it contradicts the plain words of Scripture and attributes to God ‘a process of Divine reserve which is in fact deception.’ We may compare Hilary’s method in such cases to the architecture of Gloucester and of Sherborne, where the ingenuity of a later age has connected and adorned the massive and isolated columns of Norman date by its own light and graceful drapery of stonework. We cannot but admire the result; yet there is a certain concealment of the original design, and perhaps a perilous cutting away of the solid structure. But, in justice to Hilary, we must remember that in these speculations he is venturing away from the established standards of doctrine. When he is enunciating revealed truths, or arguing onward from them to conclusions towards which they point, he has the company of the Creeds, or at least they indicate the way he must go. But in explaining the connection between doctrine and doctrine he is left to his own guidance. It is as though a traveller, not content to acquaint himself with the highroads, should make his way over hedge and ditch from one of them to another; he will not always hit upon the best and straightest course. But at least Hilary’s conclusions, though sometimes erroneous, were reached by honest and reverent reasoning, and neither ancient nor modern theology can afford to reproach him. The tendency of the former, especially offer the rise of Nestorius, was to exaggerate some of his errors; and the latter has failed to develop and enforce some of his highest teaching.
This is, indeed, worthy of all admiration. On the moral side of Christianity we see him insisting upon the voluntary character of Christ’s work; upon His acts of will, which are a satisfaction to God and an appeal to us. On the intellectual side we find the Unity in Trinity so luminously declared that Bishop French of Lahore, one of the greatest of missionaries, had the works of Hilary constantly in his hands, and contemplated a translation of the De Trinitate into Arabic for the benefit of Mohammedans. This was not because Hilary’s explanation of our Lord’s sufferings might seem to commend the Gospel to their prejudices; such a concession would have been repugnant to French’s whole mode of thought. It was because in the central argument on behalf of the Godhead of Christ, where he had least scope for originality of thought, Hilary has never suffered himself to become a mere mechanical compiler. The light which he has cast upon his subject, though clear, is never hard; and the doctrine which, because it was attractive to himself, he has made attractive to his readers, is that of the unity of God, the very doctrine which is of supreme importance in Mohammedan eyes.
But, above all, it is Hilary’s doctrine concerning the Incarnation as the eternal purpose of God for the union of the creature with the Creator, that must excite our interest and awaken our thoughts. He renders it, on the one hand, impossible to rate too highly the dignity of man, created to share the nature and the life of God; impossible, on the other hand, to estimate highly enough the condescension of Christ in assuming humanity. It is by His humiliation that we are saved; by the fact that the nature of man was taken by his Maker, not by the fact that Christ, being man, remained sinless. For sin began against God’s will and after His counsel was formed; it might deflect the march of His purpose towards fulfilment, but could no more impede its consummation than it could cause its inception. The true salvation of man is not that which rescues him, when corrupt, from sin and its consequences, but that which raises him, corruptible, because free, even though he had not become corrupt, into the safety of union with the nature of God. Human life, though pure from actual sin, would have been aimless and hopeless without the Incarnation. And the human body would have had no glory, for its glory is that Christ has taken it, worn it awhile in its imperfect state, laid it aside and finally resumed it in its perfection. All this He must have done, in accordance with God’s purpose, even though the Fall had never occurred. Hence the Incarnation and the Resurrection are the facts of paramount interest; the death of Christ, corresponding as it does to the hypothetical laying aside of the unglorified flesh, loses something of its usual prominence in Christian thought. It is represented as being primarily for Christ the moment of transition, for the Christian the act which enables him to profit by the Incarnation; but it is the Incarnation itself whereby, in Hilary’s words, we are saved into the nature and the name of God. But though we may feel that this great truth is not stated in its full impressiveness, we must allow that the thought which has taken the foremost place is no mere academic speculation. And, after all, sin and the Atonement are copiously treated in his writings, though they do not control his exposition of the Incarnation. Yet even in this there are large spaces of his argument where these considerations have a place, though only to give local colour, so to speak, and a sense of reality to the description of a purpose formed and a work done for man because he is man, not because he is fallen. But if Hilary has somewhat erred in placing the Cross in the background, he is not in error in magnifying the scope of the reconciliation which includes it as in a wider horizon. Man has in Christ the nature of God; the infinite Mind is intelligible to the finite. The Creeds are no dry statement of facts which do not touch our life; the truths they contain are the revelation of God’s self to us. Not for the pleasure of weaving theories, but in the interests of practical piety, Hilary has fused belief and conduct into the unity of that knowledge which Isaiah foresaw and St. John possessed; the knowledge which is not a means towards life, but life itself.