Hilary of Poitiers, 367

Hilary was bishop of Poitiers and an important defender of Nicene trinitarianism. Conflict with Emperor Constantius led to his exile in Phrygia. He authored hymns, one of which appears in The Hymnal 1982. His most important theological was probably On the Trinity. Theologically, this was overshadowed by Augustine’s On the Trinity of the early fifth century.

But it is interesting in itself. He begins with himself, with his spiritual autobiography, but also with theological anthropology, just as Augustine would later do in his own trinitarian reflections.

7. Therefore, although my soul drew joy from the apprehension of this august and unfathomable Mind, because it could worship as its own Father and Creator so limitless an Infinity, yet with a still more eager desire it sought to know the true aspect of its infinite and eternal Lord, that it might be able to believe that that immeasurable Deity was apparelled in splendour befitting the beauty of His wisdom. Then, while the devout soul was baffled and astray through its own feebleness, it caught from the prophet’s voice this scale of comparison for God, admirably expressed, By the greatness of His works and the beauty of the things that He has made the Creator of worlds is rightly discerned. Wisdom 13:5 The Creator of great things is supreme in greatness, of beautiful things in beauty. Since the work transcends our thoughts, all thought must be transcended by theMaker. Thus heaven and air and earth and seas are fair: fair also the whole universe, as the Greeks agree, who from its beautiful ordering call it κόσμος, that is, order. But if our thought can estimate this beauty of the universe by a natural instinct— an instinct such as we see in certain birds and beasts whose voice, though it fall below the level of our understanding, yet has a sense clear to them though they cannot utter it, and in which, since all speech is the expression of some thought, therelies a meaning patent to themselves— must not the Lord of this universal beauty be recognised as Himself most beautiful amid all the beauty that surrounds Him? For though the splendour of His eternal glory overtax our mind’s best powers, it cannot fail to see that He is beautiful. We must in truth confess that God is most beautiful, and that with a beauty which, though it transcend our comprehension, forces itself upon our perception.

8. Thus my mind, full of these results which by its own reflection and the teaching of Scripture it had attained, rested with assurance, as on some peaceful watchtower, upon that glorious conclusion, recognising that its true nature made it capable of one homage to its Creator, and of none other, whether greater or less; the homage namely of conviction that His is a greatness too vast for our comprehension but not for our faith. For a reasonable faith is akin to reason and accepts its aid, even though that same reason cannot cope with the vastness of eternal Omnipotence.

9. Beneath all these thoughts lay an instinctive hope, which strengthened my assertion of the faith, in some perfect blessedness hereafter to be earned by devout thoughts concerning God and upright life; the reward, as it were, that awaits the triumphant warrior. For true faith in God would pass unrewarded, if the soul be destroyed by death, and quenched in the extinction of bodily life. Even unaided reason pleaded that it was unworthy of God to usher man into an existence which has some share of His thought and wisdom, only to await the sentence of life withdrawn and of eternal death; to create him out of nothing to take his place in the World, only that when he has taken it he may perish. For, on the only rational theory of creation, its purpose was that things non-existent should come into being, not that things existing should cease to be. (from New Advent)

What fascinates me is how he speaks of his “soul” and “mind” as independent things, certainly independent of the “I” speaking, and also of his body, as weighing down the soul’s efforts to attain to the mind of God. Perhaps I’ll read more, if I have time.