Hilary of Poitiers
Mid-Fourth Century Public Opinion Poll about Jesus Christ
Web Publication by Mountain Man Graphics, Australia
The article has two sections, the first being the reconstruction of a list of public opinion concerning Jesus Christ as at this Council of Sirmium c.351 CE. The second section presents some background material on this work of Hilary. In the preface, W. Sanday points out that Hilary was faced with a continual burden, which is to be defined in the thorough review of this work. He quotes Hilary ...
"The heretics compel us to speak
where we would far rather be silent.
If anything is said, this is what must be said," is his constant burden.
In the Introduction to this publication, further background information is provided concerning the various texts written by Hilary of Poitiers, and specifically the circular letter in which he records the anathemas of the Council of Sirmium, entitled De Synodis. This is described as "an able and well-written attempt to explain the Eastern position to Western theologians." It is evident, through these times that there was little unity between East and West. In the introduction, we read "If this open letter could convince the Eastern bishops that they were regarded in the West not with suspicion, as teachers of the inferiority of Christ, but with admiration, as steadfast upholders of His reality, a great step was made towards union.. We learn that Hilary wrote this letter early in 359 CE.
The introduction also outlines that Hilary provides details of the new creed approved at the Council at Antioch of 341, generally known as the Dedication Council. Perusal of this creed reveals that, just like the Oath of Nicaea, the presence of specific disclaimers. The disclaimers are expressed as follows:
An additional creed is described as according to the Council of the East is also presented, and has the following disclaimer clause appended:
Public Opinion about Jesus Christ c.351 CE
01: The Son is sprung from things non-existent, or from another substance and not from God, and that there was a time or age when He was not. 02: The Father and the Son are two Gods. 03: God is one, but Christ, God the Son of God, ministered not to the Father in the creation of all things 04: The Unborn God, or a part of Him, was born of Mary. 05: The Son born of Mary was, before born of Mary, Son only according to foreknowledge or predestination, and denies that He was born of the Father before the ages and was with God, and that all things were made through Him. 06: The substance of God is expanded and contracted 07: The expanded substance of God makes the Son; or names Son His supposed expanded substance. 08: The Son of God is the internal or uttered Word of God. 09: The man alone born of Mary is the Son. 10: Though saying that God and Man was born of Mary, understands thereby the Unborn God. 11: Men hearing The Word was made Flesh think that the Word was transformed into Flesh, or say that He suffered change in taking Flesh. 12: Men hearing that the only Son of God was crucified, say that His divinity suffered corruption, or pain, or change, or diminution, or destruction. 13: Saying "Let us make man" was not spoken by the Father to the Son, but by God to Himself. 14: Saying that the Son did not appear to Abraham, but the Unborn God, or a part of Him. 15: Saying that the Son did not wrestle with Jacob as a man, but the Unborn God, or a part of Him. 16: Men who do not understand that The Lord rained from the Lord to be spoken of the Father and the Son, but that the Father rained from Himself. 17: Saying that the Lord and the Lord, the Father and the Son are two Gods, because of the aforesaid words. 18: Saying that the Father and the Son and the Holy Ghost are one Person. 19: When speaking of the Holy Ghost the Paraclete says that He is the Unborn God. 20: Denying that, as the Lord has taught us, the Paraclete is different from the Son. 21: Saying that the Holy Spirit is a part of the Father or of the Son. 22: Saying that the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit are three Gods. 23: Men after the example of the Jews understand as said for the destruction of the Eternal Only-begotten God the words, I am the first God, and I am the last God, and beside Me there is no God, which were spoken for the destruction of idols and them that are no gods. 24: Saying that the Son was made by the will of God, like any object in creation. 25: Saying that the Son was born against the will of the Father. 26: Saying that the Son is incapable of birth and without beginning, saying as though there were two incapable of birth and unborn and without beginning, and makes two Gods. 27: Denying that Christ who is God and Son of God, personally existed before time began and aided the Father in the perfecting of all things; but saying that only from the time that He was born of Mary did He gain the name of Christ and Son and a beginning of His deity.Conspicuous in the primary positions are the words of Arius. A political observer in this epoch might form the opinion that many people thought Jesus Christ was fiction, and sprung from things non-existent.
Background to the Treatise De Synodis
At the same time the majority of the Eastern bishops were deliberately heretical. It was natural that Hilary should be anxious about the episcopate of the West. He had been in exile about three years and had corresponded with the Western bishops. From several quarters letters had now ceased to arrive, and the fear came that the bishops did not care to write to one whose convictions were different to their own. Great was his joy when, at the end of the year 358, he received a letter which not only explained that the innocent cause of their silence was ignorance of his address, but also that they had persistently refused communion with Saturninus and condemned the Blasphemia.
Early in 359 he dispatched to them the Liber de Synodis. It is a double letter, addressed to Western bishops, but containing passages intended for Orientals, into whose hands the letter would doubtless come in time.
Hilary had recognized that the orthodox of the West had kept aloof from the orthodox of the East,
These facts determined the contents of his letter. He begins with an expression of the delight he experienced on receiving the news that the Gallican bishops had condemned the notorious Sirmian formula. He praises the constancy of their faith. He then mentions that he has received from certain of their number a request that he would furnish them with an account of the creeds which had been composed in the East. He modestly accedes to this request beseeching his readers not to criticise his letter until they have read the whole letter and mastered the complete argument.
His aim throughout is to frustrate the heretic and assist the Catholic. In the first or historical division of the letter he promises a transcription, with explanations, of all the creeds drawn up since the Council of Nicaea. He protests that he is not responsible for any statement contained in these creeds, and leaves his readers to judge of their orthodoxy. The Greek confessions had already been translated into Latin, but Hilary considered it necessary to give his own independent translations, the previous versions having been half-unintelligible on account of their slavish adherence to the original.
The historical part of the book consists of fifty-four chapters (c.10-63). It begins with the second Sirmian formula, and the opposing formula promulgated at Ancyra in a.d. 358. The Sirmian creed being given in c. 10, Hilary, before proceeding to give the twelve anathemas directed against its teaching by the bishops who assembled at Ancyra, explains the meaning of essentia and substantia. Concerning the former he says, Essentia est res quae est, vel ex quibus est, et quae in eo quod maneat subsistit. This essentia is therefore identical with substantia, quia res quae est necesse est subsistat in sese. The Ancyran anathemas are then appended, with notes and a summary.
In the second division (c. 29-33) of the historical part, Hilary considers the Dedication creed drawn up at Antioch in a.d. 341. He interprets it somewhat favourably. After stating that the creed is perhaps not sufficiently explicit in declaring the exact likeness of the Father and the Son, he excuses this inadequacy by pointing out that the Synod was not held to contradict Anomoean teaching, but teaching of a Sabellian tendency. The complete similarity of the Son's essence to that of the Father appears to him to be guarded by the phrase Deum de Deo, totum ex toto.
The third division (c. 34-37) contains the creed drawn up by the Synod, or Cabal Synod, which met at Philippopolis in a.d. 343. Hilary does not discuss the authority of the Synod; it was enough for his purpose that it was composed of Orientals, and that its language emphatically condemns genuine Arianism and asserts the Son is God of God. The anathema which the creed pronounces on those who declare the Son to have been begotten without the Father's will, is interpreted by Hilary as an assertion that the eternal Birth was not conditioned by those passions which affect human generation.
The fourth division (c. 38-61) contains the long formula drawn up at Sirmium in a.d. 351 against Photinus. The twenty-seven anathemas are then separately considered and commended. The two remaining chapters of the historical part of the work include a reflection on the many-sided character of these creeds both in their positive and negative aspects. God is infinitus et immensus, and therefore short statements concerning His nature may often prove misleading. The bishops have used many definitions and phrases because clearness will remove a danger. These frequent definitions would have been quite unnecessary if it had not been for the prevalence of heresy.
Asia as a whole is ignorant of God,
presenting a piteous contrast to
the fidelity of the Western bishops.
Hilary is obliged to point out a defect in the letter which the Oriental bishops wrote at the Synod of Ancyra. The word homoousion is there rejected. The three grounds for such rejection could only be that
The first two grounds were only illusions, the third was equally fatal to the word homoiousion. Those who intelligibly maintained homoousion or homoiousion , meant the same thing and condemned the same impiety (c. 82). Why should any one wish to decline the word which the Council of Nicaea had used for an end which was unquestionably good? The argument is enforced by the insertion of the Nicene Creed in full. True, the word homoousion is quite capable of misconstruction. But the application of this test to the difficult passages in the Bible would lead to the chaos of all belief. The possible abuse of the word does not abolish its use.
The authority of the eighty bishops who condemned the Samosatene abuse of it does not affect the authority of the three hundred and eighteen who ratified its Nicene meaning.