Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Hilary of Poitiers (PTT)

b.ca. 310-320, d. ca. 367-8. We know little of Hilary's early life, though we can probably date his consecration as bishop between 350 and 355. He shows knowledge of both Latin and Greek, a familiarity with Tertullian, Cyprian, and Novatian, and during his exile with emerging Greek theology. Beckwith dates his exile to the synod of Bézier 356, whence he was exiled to Phrygia 357-60 (Hilary was not present at Milan 355, but did receive correspondence of its events; he then did appear at Bézier, where he claims to oppose Saturninus of Arles and the anti-Nicenes). During this time Hilary associates with Basil of Ancyra and Eleusius of Cyzicus, among others, and is present at Seleucia 359. After an unsuccessful request for audience with Constantius, and Constantinople 360's Homoian declaration, Hilary returned from exile unauthorised, and became probably the pro-Nicene's most articulate defender in the West throughout the 360s.

Hilary's most significant works, for this study, are De Synodis, which is Hilary's attempt to make contemporary Eastern theological debate and thought accessible to the West, and De Trinitate, his extensive anti-Homoian/anti-Arian treatise on the Trinity. It is the latter which will occupy us below.

It seems almost certain that De Trinitate is a composite work. Beckwith's recent monograph analyses the constituent parts as De Fide (Bks 2-3), Adversus Arianos (Bks 4-6), with Bk 1 added later, Bks 2-3 substantially revised, to form De Fide, and a major shift in vision from Bk 7 onwards, whence Hilary has decided to turn Adversus Arianos into the magnum opus De Trinitate. Beckwith dates the change of vision to 357-8, the Blasphemy of Sirmium and the anti-Homoian influence of Basil of Ancyra. Notably, Bks 4-6 contain reflection on Arius letter to Alexander of Alexandria, a document no one at the time was engaged with or adhering to.

Turning then to the text of De Trinitate:
Bk 1 offers an introduction, including personal spiritual biography, the need to defend against errors, and an outline of the contents of the book. In 1.19 we get a glimpse of the latter concern with analogies, “we must therefore regard any comparison as helpful to man rather than as descriptive of God, since it suggests, rather than exhausts, the sense we seek.”.

Bks 2-3, the revised De Fide, were originally presented as a defense of Hilary's baptismal faith. Key changes appear to be a move towards a more polemical and apologetic engagement. Though he still speaks of a simple faith in the eternal generation, Hilary now realises that such simplicity of faith leaves believers open to deception. He casts his opponents polemically to the left and right, and is clear to offer his faith against both Homoians, by defending likeness of image and essence, as well as to clearly demarcate his position from Marcellus and Photinus. In particular, he does this by extensive scriptural work, the gospel of John is worked heavily.

When we come to Bks 4-6, we see clearly how Hilary has prefaced his work here with respect to Bks 1-3. This section is, oddly for his historical context, concerned with a detailed refutation of Arius' letter to Alexandria, which Hilary quotes in 4.12-13. No contemporary group is holding this position, and while anti-Arian rhetoric has been employed in both East and West (Athanasian and Marcellan circles), this is really something for the 350s! Nonetheless, although his arguments in this section lack the sophistication to deal with later moderate Eusebian positions, we see the fine grain detail of Hilary's exegesis, especially in dealing with the OT theophanies in a Latin tradition.

Bk 7 begins with a declaration of its excellence, and the situating of Hilary's work between Sabellians, Photinians, Arians, the whole lot. Now we see Hilary begin to deploy a more refined exegesis, particularly of John. So at 7.15, reflecting on Jn 5:18 he writes“equality cannot dwell with difference, nor yet in solitude”, showing his medial path between modalism and ditheism. In 7.28-29 we see Hilary cautiously deploying analogies, and in 7.30 speaking about the limits of analogy. This is due, I think, to the excessive deployment of untenable analogies by Basil of Ancyra, among others.

In Bk 8 onwards, Hilary speaks at more length concerning the Spirit. Ayres (p185) sees Hilary's pneumatology as “entirely economic” and that “in the case of Hilary we find a pneumatology that is clear about the function of the Spirit, proceeds polemically by applying to the Spirit arguments developed in the case of the Son, and deeply austere about the place of the Spirit in the Trinity itself.” Certainly Hilary's writing on the Spirit reads confusingly to myself.

In 9.3 Hilary gives us a clear statement of the dual natures, Christ “being of two natures united for that mediatorship, is the full reality of each nature; while abiding in each, he is wanting in neither; he does not cease to be God because he becomes man, nor fail to be man because he remains for ever God”, and this is followed in 9.5 by a statement of the principle of partitive exegesis, over against the univocalisation of his opponents. 9.58-74 treats of the problem of the ignorance of Christ, in economic terms. 9.68 has this statement, “manifestly, therefore, the ignorance of God is not ignorance but a mystery: in the economy of his actions and words and manifestations, he does not know and at the same time He knows, or knows and at the same time does not know.”

Bk 10 advances the curious (and I think erroneous argument) that Christ experienced the physical cause of pain but not the feeling of pain (Christus pati non dolere potest). I will pass over that subject. In Bk 11 he treats at length 1 Cor 15:21-28, specifically the troublesome Marcellan passage about the subjection of the Son and the Kingdom. 11.40 reveals the kind of confused thought Hilary has:

according to the Dispensation He becomes by His Godhead and His manhood the Mediator between men and God, and so by the Dispensation He acquires the nature of flesh, and by the subjection shall obtain the nature of God in all things, so as to be God not in part, but wholly and entirely. The end of the subjection is then simply that God may be all in all, that no trace of the nature of His earthly body may remain in Him. Although before this time the two were combined within Him, He must now become God only; not, however, by casting off the body, but by translating it through subjection; not by losing it through dissolutions, but by transfiguring it in glory: adding humanity to His divinity, not divesting Himself of divinity by His humanity.

Hilary's view, so far as I can make it out, is that the humanity of Christ will be transfigured into divinity, and caught up in this is our deification, but exactly what Hilary means by this I am unsure.

Bk 12 deals with Pr 8:22f at length, and shows clear traces of the partitive exegetical principle in practice, advancing the basically pro-Nicene treatment of the verse.

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