Hilary - the Councils 1500

1500 (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, firstly from ignorance of events, secondly from misunderstanding of the word oJmoonvsio", and thirdly from the feelings of distrust then prevalent. 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 Nic!a. 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 Anomcean 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.

The theological part of the work opens in c. 64 with Hilary’s exposition of his own belief. He denies that there is in God only one personality, as he denies that there is any difference of substance. The Father is greater in that He is Father, the Son is not less because He is Son. He asks his readers to remember that if his words fall short, his meaning is sound. This done, he passes to discuss the meaning of the word oJoouvsion. Three wrong meanings may be attributed to it. Firstly, it may be understood to deny the personal distinctions in the Trinity. Secondly, it may be thought to imply that the divine essence is capable of division. Thirdly, it may be represented as implying that the Father and the Son both equally partake of one prior substance. A short expression like oJoovsio" must therefore receive an exact explanation. A risk is attached to its use, but there is no risk if we understand it to mean that the Father is unbegotten and the Son derives His being from the Father, and is like Him in power, and honour, and nature. The Son is subordinate to the Father as to the Author of His being, yet it was not by a robbery that He made Himself equal with God. He is not from nothing. He is wholly God. He is not the Author of the divine life, but the Image. He is no creature, but is God. Not a second God, but one God with the Father through similarity of essence. This is the ideal meaning of oJoiouvsio", and in this sense it is not an error to assert, but to deny, the consubstantiality.

1600 Hilary then makes a direct appeal to the Western bishops. They might forget the contents of the word while retaining the sound, but provided that the meaning was granted, what objection could be made to the word? Was the word oJoiouvsion free from all possible objections? Hilary (c. 72–75) shews that really like means really equal. Scripture is appealed to as proving the assertion that the Son is both like God and equal to God. This essential likeness can alone justify the statement that the Father and the Son are one. It is blasphemous to represent the similarity as a mere analogy. The similitude is a similitude of proper nature and equality. The conclusion of the argument is that the word oJoiouvsio", if understood, leads us to the word oJoouvsio" which helps to guard it, and that it does not imply any separation between the Persons of the Trinity.

The saint now turns to the Eastern bishops, a small number of whom still remained faithful. He bestows upon them titles of praise, and expresses his joy at the decisions they had made, and at the Emperor’s repudiation of his former mistake. With Pauline fervour Hilary exclaims that he would remain in exile all his life, if only truth might be preached.

Then, in a chapter which displays alike his knowledge of the Bible and his power of refined sarcasm, he unveils his suspicions concerning Valens and Ursacius. He doubts whether they could have been so inexperienced as to be ignorant of the meaning of the word oJmoouvsioi when they signed the third Sirmian Creed. Furthermore he is obliged to point out a defect in the letter which the Oriental bishops wrote at the Synod of Ancyra. The word oJmoouvsion is there rejected. The three grounds for such rejection could only be that the word was thought to imply a prior substance, or the teaching of Paul of Samosata, or that the word was not in Scripture. The first two grounds were only illusions, the third was equally fatal to the word oJmoiouvsion. Those who intelligibly maintained oJmoouvsion or oJoiouvsion , 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 or oJoouvsion 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 Hilary adds a statement of great importance. Before he was acquainted with the term he had personally believed what it implied. The term has merely invigorated his previous faith (c. 88, cf. c. 9I). In other words, Hilary tells his contemporaries and tells posterity that the word oJmoouvsion, is Scripture because it is the sense of Scripture, and is truly conservative because it alone adequately preserves the faith of the fathers. The argument is interwoven with a spirited appeal to the Eastern bishops to return to that faith as expressed at Nicaea.

The last chapter (c. 92) is addressed to the Western bishops. It modestly defends the action of Hilary in writing, and urges a corresponding energy on the part of his readers. The whole concludes with a devout prayer.

The Liber de Synodis, like other works in which Catholicism has endeavoured to be conciliatory, did not pass unchallenged. It satisfied neither the genuine Arian nor the violently orthodox. The notes or fragments which we call Hilary’s Apology throw light upon the latter fact. Hilary has to explain that he had not meant that the Eastern bishops had stated the true faith at Ancyra, and tells his Lord and brother Lucifer that it was against his will that he had mentioned the word oJmoiouvsion. We must ourselves confess that Hilary puts an interpretation on the meaning of the Eastern formulae which would have been impossible if he had written after the Synod of Ariminum. Speaking when he did, his arguments were not only pardonable but right.

On the Councils, or the Faith of the Easterns


1 To the most dearly loved and blessed brethren our fellow-bishops of the province of Germania Prima and Germania Secunda, Belgica Prima and Belgica Secunda, Lugdunensis Prima and Lugdunensis Secunda, and the province of Aquitania, and the province of Novempopulana, and to the laity and clergy of Tolosa in the Provincia Narbonensis, and to the bishops of the provinces of Britain, Hilary the servant of Christ, eternal salvation in God our Lord.

I had determined, beloved brethren, to send no letter to you concerning the affairs of the Church in consequence of your prolonged silence. For when I had by writing from several cities of the Roman world frequently informed you of the faith and efforts of our religions brethren, the bishops of the East, and bow the Evil One profiting by the discords of the times had with envenomed lips and tongue hissed out his deadly doctrine, I was afraid. I feared lest while so many bishops were involved in the serious danger of disastrous sin or disastrous mistake, you were holding your peace because a defiled and sin-stained conscience tempted you to despair. Ignorance I could not attribute to you; you had been too often warned. I judged therefore that I also ought to observe silence towards you, carefully remembering the Lord’s saying, that those who after a first and second entreaty, and in spite of the witness of the Church, neglect to hear, are to be unto us as heathen men and publicans1 .

2 2. But when I received the letters that your blessed faith inspired, and understood that their slow arrival and their paucity were due to the remoteness and secrecy of my place of exile, I rejoiced in the Lord that you had continued pure and undefiled by the contagion of any execrable heresy, and that you were united with me in faith and spirit, and so were partakers of that exile into which Saturninus, fearing his own conscience, had thrust me after beguiling the Emperor, and after that you had denied him communion for the whole three years ago until now. I equally rejoiced that the impious and infidel creed which was sent straightway to you from Sirmium was not only not accepted by you, but condemned as soon as reported and notified. I felt that it was now binding on me as a religious duty to write sound and faithful words to you as my fellow-bishops, who communicate with me in Christ. I, who through fear of what might have been could at one time only rejoice with my own conscience that I was free from all these errors, was now bound to express delight at the purity of our common faith. Praise God for the unshaken stability of your noble hearts, for your firm house built on the foundation of the faithful rock, for the undefiled and unswerving constancy of a will that has proved immaculate! For since the good profession at the Council of Biterrae, where I denounced the ringleaders of this heresy with some of you for my witnesses, it has remained and still continues to remain, pure, unspotted and scrupulous.

3 3. You awaited the noble triumph of a holy and steadfast perseverance without yielding to the threats, the powers and the assaults of Saturninus: and when all the waves of awakening blasphemy struggled against God, you who still remain with me faithful in Christ did not give way when threatened with the onset of heresy, and now by meeting that onset you have broken all its violence. Yes, brethren, you have conquered, to the abundant joy of those who share your faith: and your unimpaired constancy gained the double glory of keeping a pure conscience and giving an authoritative example. For the fame of your unswerving and unshaken faith has moved certain Eastern bishops, late though it be, to some shame for the heresy fostered and supported in those regions: and when they heard of the godless confession composed at Sirmium, they contradicted its audacious authors by passing certain decrees themselves. And though they withstood them not without in their turn raising some scruples, and inflicting some wounds upon a sensitive piety, yet they withstood them so vigorously as to compel those who at Sirmium yielded to the views of Potamius and Hosius as accepting and confirming those views, to declare their ignorance and error in so doing; in fact they had to condemn in writing their own action. And they subscribed with the express purpose of condemning something else in advance2 .

4 4. But your invincible faith keeps the honourable distinction of conscious worth, and content with repudiating crafty, vague, or hesitating action, safely abides in Christ, preserving the profession of its liberty. You abstain from communion with those who oppose their bishops with their blasphemies and keep them in exile, and do not by assenting to any crafty subterfuge bring yourselves under a charge of unrighteous judgment. For since we all suffered deep and grievous pain at the actions of the wicked against God, within our boundaries alone is communion in Christ to be found from the time that the Church began to be harried by disturbances such as the expatriation of bishops, the deposition of priests, the intimidation of the people, the threatening of the faith, and the determination of the meaning of Christ’s doctrine by human will and power. Your resolute faith does not pretend to be ignorant of these facts or profess that it can tolerate them, perceiving that by the act of hypocritical assent it would bring itself before the bar of conscience.

5 5. And although in all your actions, past and present, you bear witness to the uninterrupted independence and security of your faith; yet in particular you prove your warmth and fervour of spirit by the fact that some of you whose letters have succeeded in reaching me have expressed a wish that I, unfit as I am, should notify to you what the Easterns have since said in their confessions of faith. They affectionately laid the additional burden upon me of indicating my sentiments on all their decisions. I know that my skill and learning are inadequate, for I feel it most difficult to express in words my own belief as I understand it in my heart; far less easy must it be to expound the statements of others.

6 6. Now I beseech you by the mercy of the Lord, that as I will in this letter according to your desire write to you of divine things and of the witness of a pure conscience to our faith, no one will think to judge me by the beginning of my letter before he has read the conclusion of my argument. For it is unfair before the complete argument has been grasped, to conceive a prejudice on account of initial statements, the reason of which is yet unknown, since it is not with imperfect statements before us that we must make a decision for the sake of investigation, but on the conclusion for the sake of knowledge. I have some fear, not about you, as God is witness of my heart, but about some who in their own esteem are very cautious and prudent but do not understand the blessed apostle’s precept not to think of themselves more highly than they ought3 : for I am afraid that they are unwilling to know all those facts, the complete account of which I will offer at the end, and at the same time they avoid drawing the true conclusion from the aforesaid facts. But whoever takes up these lines to read and examine them has only to be consistently patient with me and with himself and peruse the whole to its completion. Perchance all this assertion of my faith will result in those who conceal their heresy being unable to practise the deception they wish, and in true Catholics attaining the object which they desire.

7 7. Therefore I comply with your affectionate and urgent wish, and I have set down all the creeds which have been promulgated at different times and places since the holy Council of Nicaea, with my appended explanations of all the phrases and even words employed. If they be thought to contain anything faulty, no one can impute the fault to me: for I am only a reporter, as you wished me to be, and not an author. But if anything is found to be laid down in right and apostolic fashion, no one can doubt that it is no credit to the interpreter but to the originator. In any case I have sent you a faithful account of these transactions: it is for you to determine by the decision your faith inspires whether their spirit is Catholic or heretical.

8 8. For although it was necessary to reply to your letters, in which you offered me Christian communion with your faith, (and, moreover, certain of your number who were summoned to the Council which seemed pending in Bithynia did refuse with firm consistency of faith to hold communion with any but myself outside Gaul), it also seemed fit to use my episcopal office and authority, when heresy was so rife, in submitting to you by letter some godly and faithful counsel. For the word of God cannot be exiled as our bodies are, or so chained and bound that it cannot be imparted to you in any place. But when I had learnt that synods were to meet in Ancyra and Ariminum, and that one or two bishops from each province in Gaul would assemble there, I thought it especially needful that I, who am confined in the East, should explain and make known to you the grounds of those mutual suspicious which exist between us and the Eastern bishops, though some of you know those grounds; in order that whereas you had condemned and they had anathematized this heresy that spreads from Sirmium, you might nevertheless know with what confession of faith the Eastern bishops had come to the same result that you had come to, and that I might prevent you, whom I hope to see as shining lights in future Councils, differing, through a mistake about words, even a hair’s-breadth from pure Catholic belief, when your interpretation of the apostolic faith is identically the same and you are Catholics at heart.

9 9. Now it seems to me right and appropriate, before I begin my argument about suspicions and dissensions as to words, to give as complete an account as possible of the decisions of the Eastern bishops adverse to the heresy compiled at Sirmium. Others have published all these transactions very plainly, but much obscurity is caused by a translation from Greek into Latin, and to be absolutely literal is to be sometimes partly unintelligible.

10 10. You remember that in the Blasphemia, lately written at Sirmium, the object of the authors was to proclaim the Father to be the one and only God of all things, and deny the Son to be God: and while they determined that men should hold their peace about oJmoiouvsion and oJmoiouvsion, they determined that God the Son should be asserted to be born not of God the Father, but of nothing, as the first creatures were, or of another essence than God, as the later creatures. And further that in saying the Father was greater in honour, dignity, splendour and majesty, they implied that the Son lacked those things which constitute the Father’s superiority. Lastly, that while it is affirmed that His birth is unknowable, we were commanded by this Compulsory Ignorance Act not to know that He is of God: just as if it could be commanded or decreed that a man should know what in future he is to be ignorant of, or be ignorant of what he already knows. I have subjoined in full this pestilent and godless blasphemy, though against my will, to facilitate a more complete knowledge of the worth and reason of the replies made on the opposite side by those Easterns who endeavoured to counteract all the wiles of the heretics according to their understanding and comprehension.

A copy of the Blasphemia composed at Sirmium by Osius and Polamius.

11 11. Since there appeared to be some misunderstanding respecting the faith, all points have been carefully investigated and discussed at Sirmium in the presence of our most reverend brothers and fellow-bishops, Valens, Ursacius and Germinius.

It is evident that there is one God, the Father Almighty, according as it is believed throughout the whole world; and His only Son Jesus Christ our Saviour, begotten of Him before the ages. But we cannot and ought not to say that there are two Gods, for the Lord Himself said, I will go unto My Father and your Father, unto My God and your God4 . So there is one God over all, as the Apostle hath taught us, Is He God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and the uncircumcision through faith. And in all other things they agreed thereto, nor would they allow any difference.

But since some or many persons were disturbed by questions concerning substance, called in Greek oujsiva, that is, to make it understood more exactly, as to ojmoouvsion, or what is called ojmoiouvsion, there ought to be no mention made of these at all. Nor ought any exposition to be made of them for the reason and consideration that they are not contained in the divine Scriptures, and that they are above man’s understanding, nor can any man declare the birth of the Son, of whom it is written, Who shall declare His generation5 ? For it is plain that only the Father knows how He begot the Son, and the Son how He was begotten of the Father. There is no question hat the Father is greater. No one can doubt hat the Father is greater than the Son in honour, dignity, splendour, majesty, and in the very name of Father, the Son Himself testifying, (He that sent Me is greater than I6 . And no one is ignorant that it is Catholic doctrine that there are two Persons of Father and Son; and that the Father is greater, and that the Son is subordinated to the Father, together with all things which the Father has subordinated to Him, and that the Father has no beginning and is invisible, immortal and impassible, but that the Son has been begotten of the Father God of God, Light of Light, and that the generation of this Son, as is aforesaid, no one knows but His Father, And that the Son of God Himself, our Lord and God, as we read took flesh, that body, that is, man of the womb of the Virgin Mary, of the Angel announced. And as all the Scriptures teach, and especially the doctor of the Gentiles himself, He took of Mary the Virgin, man, through whom He suffered. And the whole faith is summed up and secured in this, that the Trinity must always be preserved, as we read in the Gospel, Go ye and baptize all nations in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost7 . Complete and perfect is the number of the Trinity. How the Paraclete, the Spirit, is through the Son: Who was sent and came according to His promise in order to instruct, teach and sanctify the apostles and all believers.

Mt 13,15 ff.
2 Hosius, bishop of Cordova in Spain, had been sent by Constantine to Alexandria at the outbreak of the Arian controversy. He had presided at the Council of Nicaea in 325, and had taken part in the Council of Sardinica in 343, when the Nicene Creed was reaffirmed. In his extreme old age he was forced with blows to accept this extreme Arian Creed drawn up at the third Council of Sirmium in the summer of 357. This is what is stated by Socrates, and it is corroborated by Athanasius, Hist. Arian, c. 45, where it is added that he anathematized Arianism before dying. Hilary certainly does Hosius an injustice in deeclaring him to be joint-author of the ‘blasphemous0’ creed.
3 Rm 12,3,
4 (Jn 20,17,
5 (Is 53,8,
6 (Jn 14,28,
7 (Mt 28,19,

12 12. After these many and most impious statements had been made, the Eastern bishops on their side again met together and composed definitions of their confession. Since, however, we have frequently to mention the words essence and substance, we must determine the meaning of essence, lest in discussing facts we prove ignorant of the signification of our words. Essence is a reality which is, or the reality of those things from which it is, and which subsists inasmuch as it is permanent. Now we can speak of the essence, or nature, or genus, or substance of anything. And the strict reason why the word essence is employed is because it is always. But this is identical with substance, because a thing which is, necessarily subsists in itself, and whatever thus subsists possesses unquestionably a permanent genus, nature or substance. When, therefore, we say that essence signifies nature, or genus, or substance, we mean the essence of that thing which permanently exists in the nature, genus, or substance. Now, therefore, let us review the definitions of faith drawn up by the Easterns.

I. “If any one hearing that the Son is the image of the invisible God, says that the image of God is the same as the invisible God,

as though refusing to confess that He is truly Son: let him be anathema.”

13 13. Hereby is excluded the assertion of those who wish to represent the relationship of Father and Son as a matter of names, inasmuch as every image is similar in species to that of which it is an image. For no one is himself his own image, but it is necessary that the image should demonstrate him of whom it is an image. So an image is the figured and indistinguishable likeness of one thing equated with another. Therefore the Father is, and the Son is, because the Son is the image of the Father: and he who is an image, if he is to be truly an image, must have in himself his original’s species, nature and essence in virtue of the fact that he is an image.

II. “And if any one hearing the Son say, "As the Father hath life in Himself,

so also hath He given to the Son to have life in Himself8 , shall say that He who has received life from the Father, and who also declares, I live by the Father9 , is the same as He who gave life: let him be anathema.”

8 (Jn 5,26,
9 Jn 6,57.

14 14. The person of the recipient and of the giver are distinguished so that the same should not be made one and sole. For since he is under anathema who has believed that, when recipient and giver are mentioned one solitary and unique person is implied, we may not suppose that the selfsame person who gave received from Himself. For He who lives and He through whom He lives are not identical, for one lives to Himself, the other declares that He lives through the Author of His life, and no one will declare that He who enjoys life and He through whom His life is caused are personally identical.

III. “And if any one hearing that the Only-begotten Son is like the invisible God, denies that the Son

who is the image of the invisible God (whose image is understood to include essence) is Son in essence, as though denying His true Sonship: let him be anathema.”

15 15. It is here insisted that the nature is indistinguishable and entirely similar. For since He is the Only-begotten Son of God and the image of the invisible God, it is necessary that He should be of an essence similar in species and nature. Or what distinction can be made between Father and Son affecting their nature with its similar genus, when the Son subsisting through the nature begotten in Him is invested with the properties of the Father, viz., glory, worth, power, invisibility, essence? And while these prerogatives of divinity are equal we neither understand the one to be less because He is Son, nor the other to be greater because He is Father; since the Son is the image of the Father in species, and not disssimilar in genus; since the similarity of a Son begotten of the substance of His Father does not admit of any diversity of substance, and the Son and image of the invisible God embraces in Himself the whole form of His Father’s divinity both in kind and in amount: and this is to be truly Son, to reflect the truth of the Father’s forth by the perfect likeness of the nature imaged in Himself.

IV. “And if any one hearing this text, "For as the Father hath life in Himself so also He hath given to the Son

to have life in Himself10 ; denies that the Son is like the Father even in essence, though He testifies that it is even as He has said; let him be anathema. For it is plain that since the life which is understood to exist in the Father signifies substance, and the life of the Only-begotten which was begotten of the Father is also understood to mean substance or essence, He there signifies a likeness of essence to essence.”

10 (Jn 5,26,

16 16. With the Son’s origin as thus stated is connected the perfect birth of the undivided nature. For what in each is life, that in each is signified by essence. And in the life which is begotten of life, i.e. in the essence which is born of essence, seeing that it is not born unlike (and that because life is of life), He keeps in Himself a nature wholly similar to His original, because there is no diversity in the likeness of the essence that is born and that besets, that is, of the life which is possessed and which has been given. For though God begat Him of Himself, in likeness to His own nature, He in whom is the unbegotten likeness did not relinquish the property of His natural substance. For He only has what He gave; and as possessing life He gave life to be possessed. And thus what is born of essence, as life of life, is essentially like itself, and the essence of Him who is begotten and of Him who begets admits no diversity or unlikeness.

Hilary - the Councils 1500