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History of the Christian Church, Volume III: Nicene and Post-Nicene Christianity. A.D. 311-600.
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§ 174. Hilary of Poitiers.


I. S. Hilarius Pictaviensis: Opera, studio et labore monach. S. Benedicti e congreg. S. Mauri. Paris, 1693, 1 vol. fol. The same ed. enlarged and improved by Scip. Maffei, Verona, 1730, 2 vols. fol. (reprinted in Venice, 1749). Am ed. by Fr. Overthür, Wirceburgi, 1785–’88, 4 vols.; and one by Migne, Petit-Montrouge, 1844–’45, in 2 vols. (Patrol. Lat. tom. ix. and x.).

II. The Praefatio et Vitae in the first vol. of the ed. of Maffei, and Migne (tom. i. 125 sqq.). Hieronymus: De viris illustr. c. 100. Tillemont (tom. vii.); Ceillier (tom. v.); and Butler, sub Jan. 14. Kling, in Herzog’s Encykl. vi. 84 ff. On the Christology of Hilary, comp. especially Dorner, Entwicklungsgeschichte, i. 1037 ff.


Hilary of Poitiers, or Pictaviensis, so named from his birth-place and subsequent bishopric in Southwestern France, and so distinguished from other men of the same name,20712071   As Hilarius Arelatensis († 449), celebrated for his contest with pope Leo I. was especially eminent in the Arian controversies for his steadfast confession and powerful defence of the orthodox faith, and has therefore been styled the “Athanasius of the West.”

He was born towards the end of the third century, and embraced Christianity in mature age, with his wife and his daughter Apra.20722072   We have from him an Epistola ad Apram (or Abram in other manuscripts), filiam suam, written in 358, in tom. ii. 549 (ed. Migne). He sent to her his famous morning hymn: “Lucia largitor splendide.” He found in the Holy Scriptures the solution of the riddle of life, which he had sought in vain in the writings of the philosophers. In the year 350 he became bishop of his native city, and immediately took a very decided stand against Arianism, which was at that time devastating the Gallic church. For this he was banished by Constantius to Phrygia in Asia Minor, where Arianism ruled. Here, between 356 and 361, he wrote his twelve books on the Trinity, the main work of his life.20732073   De trinitate libri xii. (tom. i. 26-472, ed. Migne). He was recalled to Gaul, then banished again, and spent the last years of his life in rural retirement till his death in 368.

We have from him, besides the theological work already mentioned several smaller polemic works against Arianism, viz., On Synods, or the Faith of the Orientals (358); fragments of a history of the Synod of Ariminum and Seleucia; a tract against the Arian emperor Constantius, and one against the Arian bishop Auxentius of Milan. He wrote also Commentaries on the Psalms (incomplete), and the Gospel of Matthew, which are partly a free translation of Origen,20742074   Jerome(De viris illustr. c. 100) says of his Commentary on the Psalms: “In quo opere imitatus Origenem, nonnulla etiam de suo addidit,” and of the Commentary on Matthew and the tract on Job: “Quos de Graeco Origenis ad sensum transtulit.” and some original hymns, which place him next to Ambrose among the lyric poets of the ancient church.

Hilary was a man of thorough biblical knowledge, theological depth and acuteness, and earnest, efficient piety. He had schooled himself in the works of Origen and Athanasius, but was at the same time an independent thinker and investigator. His language is often obscure and heavy, but earnest and strong, recalling Tertullian. He had to reproduce the profound thoughts of Athanasius and other Greek fathers in the Latin language, which is far less adapted to speculation than the copious, versatile, finely-shaded Greek. The incarnation of God was to him, as it was to Athanasius, the centre of theology and of the Christian life. He had an effective hand in the development of the dogma of the consubstantiality of the Son with the Father, and the dogma of the person of Christ. In this he was specially eminent for his fine use of the Gospel of John. But he could not get clear of subordinationism, nor call the Holy Ghost downright God. His Pneumatology, as well as his anthropology and soteriology, was, like that of all the fathers before Augustine, comparatively crude. In Christology he saw farther and deeper than many of his contemporaries. He made the distinction clear between the divine and the human in Christ, and yet held firmly to the unity of His person. He supposes a threefold birth of the Son of God: the eternal generation in the bosom of the Father, to whom the Son is equal in essence and glory; the incarnation, the humiliation of Himself to the form of a servant from the free impulse of love; and the birth of the Son of God out of the Son of Man in the resurrection, the transfiguration of the form of a servant into the form of God, at once showing forth again the full glory of God, and realizing the idea of humanity.20752075   Klingsays, l.c. p. 94: ”Hilaryholds a most important place in the development of Christology, and his massive analysis contains fruitful germs which in the succeeding centuries have been only in part developed; profound and comprehensive thoughts, the stimulating and fertilizing power of which reaches down even into our own time; nor need our time be ashamed to learn from this ancient master, as well as from other teachers of that age.”



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