Hilary - the Councils 84
“And in one our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, born of the Father, Only-begotten, that is, of the substance of the Father, God of God, Light of Light, Very God of very God, born not made, of one substance with the Father (which in Greek they call ojmoouvsion); By whom all things were made which are in heaven and in earth, Who for our salvation came down, And was incarnate, And was made man, And suffered, And rose again the third day, And ascended into heaven, And shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
“But those who say, There was when He was not, And before He was born He was not, And that He was made of things that existed not, or of another substance and essence, saying that God was able to change and alter, to these the Catholic Church says anathema.”
Here the Holy Council of religious men introduces no prior substance divided between two Persons, but the Son born of the substance of the Father. Do we, too, deny or confess anything else? And after other explanations of our common faith, it says, Born not made, of one substance with the Father (which in Greek they call ojmoouvsion). What occasion is there here for an erroneous interpretation? The Son is declared to be born of the substance of the Father, not made: lest while the word born implies His divinity, the word made should imply He is a creature. For the same reason we have of one substance, not to teach that there is one solitary divine Person, but that the Son is born of the substance of God and subsists from no other source, nor in any diversity caused by a difference of substance. Surely again this is our faith, that He subsists from no other source, and He is not unlike the Father. Is not the meaning here of the word ojmoouvsion) that the Son is produced of the Father’s nature, the essence of the Son having no other origin, and that both, therefore, have one unvarying essence? As the Son’s essence has no other origin, we may rightly believe that both are of one essence, since the Son could be born with no substance but that derived from the Father’s nature which was its source.
85 85. But perhaps on the opposite side it will be said that it ought to meet with disapproval, because an erroneous interpretation is generally put upon it. If such is our fear, we ought to erase the words of the Apostle, There is one Mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus49 , because Photinus uses this to support his heresy, and refuse to read it because he interprets it mischievously. And the fire or the sponge should annihilate the Epistle to the Philippians, lest Marcion should read again in it, And was found in fashion as a man50 , and say Christ’s body was only a phantasm and not a body. Away with the Gospel of John, lest Sabellius learn from it, I and the Father are one51 . Nor must those who now affirm the Son to be a creature find it written, The Father is greater than I52 . Nor must those who wish to declare that the Son is unlike the Father read: But of that day and hour knoweth no man, no, not tire angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father53 . We must dispense, too, with the books of Moses, lest the darkness be thought coeval with God who dwells in the unborn light, since in Genesis the day began to be after the night; lest the years of Methuselah extend later than the date of the deluge, and consequently more than eight souls were saved54 lest God hearing the cry of Sodom when the measure of its sins was full should come down as though ignorant of the cry to see if the measure of its sins was full according to the cry, and be found to be ignorant of what He knew; lest any one of those who buried Moses should have known his sepulchre when he was buried; lest these passages, as the heretics think, should prove that the contradictions of the law make it its own enemy. So as they do not understand them, we ought not to read them. And though I should not have said it myself unless forced by the argument, we must, if it seems fit, abolish all the divine and holy Gospels with their message of our salvation, lest their statements be found inconsistent; lest we should read that the Lord who was to send the Holy Spirit was Himself born of the Holy Spirit; lest He who was to threaten death by the sword to those who should take the sword, should before His passion command that a sword should be brought; lest He who was about to descend into hell should say that He would be in paradise with the thief; lest finally the Apostles should be found at fault, in that when commanded to baptize in the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost, they baptized in the name of Jesus only. I speak to ton, brethren, to you, who are no longer nourished with milk, but with meat, and are strong55. Shall we, because the wise men of the world have not understood these things, and they are foolish unto them, be wise as the world is wise and believe these things foolish? Because they are hidden from the godless, shall we refuse to shine with the truth of a doctrine which we understand? We prejudice the cause of divine doctrines when we think that they ought not to exist, because some do not regard them as holy. If so, we must not glory in the cross of Christ, because it is a stumbling-block to the world; and we must not preach death in connection with the living God, lest the godless argue that God is dead.
49 (1Tm 2,5,
50 (Ph 2,7,
51 (Jn 10,30,
86 86. Some misunderstand ojmoouvsion; does that prevent me from understanding it? The Samosatene was wrong in using the word ojmoouvsion; does that make the Arians right in denying it? Eighty bishops once rejected it; but three hundred and eighteen recently accepted it. And for my own part I think the number sacred, for with such a number Abraham overcame the wicked kings, and was blessed by Him who is a type of the eternal priesthood. The former disapproved of it to oppose a heretic: the latter surely approved of it to oppose a heretic. The authority of the fathers is weighty, is the sanctity of their successors trivial? If their opinions were contradictory, we ought to decide which is the better: but if both their approval and disapproval established the same fact, why do we carp at such good decisions?
87 87. But perhaps you will reply, ‘Some of those who were then present at Nicaea have now decreed that we ought to keep silence about the word ojmoouvsion.’ Against my will I must answer: Do not the very same men rule that we must keep silence about the word ojmoiouvsion? I beseech you that there may be found no one of them but Hosius, that old man who loves a peaceful grave too well, who shall be found to think that we ought to keep silence about both. Amid the fury of the heretics into what straits shall we fall at last, if while we do not accept both, we keep neither? For there seems to be no impiety in saying that since neither is found in Scripture, we ought to confess neither or both.
88 88. Holy brethren, I understand by ojmoouvsion God of God, not of an essence that is unlike, not divided but born, and that the Son has a birth which is unique, of the substance of the unborn God, that He is begotten yet co-eternal and wholly like the Father. I believed this before I knew the word ojmoouvsion but it greatly helped my belief. Why do you condemn my faith when I express it by ojmoouvsion while you cannot disapprove it when expressed by ojmoiouvsion? For you condemn my faith, or rather your own, when you condemn its verbal equivalent. Do others misunderstand it? Let us join in condemning the misunderstanding, but not deprive our faith of its security. Do you think we must subscribe to the Samosatene Council to prevent any one from using ojmoouvsion in the sense of Paul of Samosata? Then let us also subscribe to the Council of Nicaea, so that the Arians may not impugn the word. Have we to fear that ojmoiouvsion does not imply the same belief as ojmoouvsion? Let us decree that there is no difference between being of one or of a similar substance. The word ojmoouvsion can be understood in a wrong sense Let us prove that it can be understood in a very good sense. We hold one and the same sacred truth. I beseech you that we should agree that this truth, which is one and the same, should be regarded as sacred. Forgive me, brethren, as I have so often asked you to do. You are not Arians: why should you be thought to be Arians by denying the ojmoouvsion?
89 89. But you say: ‘The ambiguity of the word ojmoouvsion troubles and offends me.’ I pray you hear me again and be not offended. I am troubled by the inadequacy of the word ojmoiouvsion. Many deceptions come from similarity. I distrust vessels plated with gold, for I may be deceived by the metal underneath: and yet that which is seen resembles gold. I distrust anything that looks like milk, lest that which is offered to me be milk but not sheep’s milk: for cow’s milk certainly looks like it. Sheep’s milk cannot be really like sheep’s milk unless drawn from a sheep. True likeness belongs to a true natural connection. But when the true natural connection exists, the ojmoouvsion is implied. It is a likeness according to essence when one piece of metal is like another and not plated, if milk which is of the same colour as other milk is not different in taste. Nothing can be like gold but gold, or like milk that did not belong to that species. I have often been deceived by the colour of wine: and yet by tasting the liquor have recognized that it was of another kind. I have seen meat look like other meat, but afterwards the flavour has revealed the difference to me. Yes, I fear those resemblances which are not due to a unity of nature.
90 90. I am afraid, brethren, of the brood of heresies which are successively produced in the East: and I have already read what I tell you I fear. There was nothing whatever suspicious in the document which some of you, with the assent of certain Orientals, took on your embassy to Sirmium to be there subscribed. But some misunderstanding has arisen in reference to certain statements at the beginning which I believe you, my holy brethren, Basil, Eustathius, and Eleusius, omitted to mention lest they should give offence. If it was right to draw them up, it was wrong to bury them in silence. But if they are now unmentioned because they were wrong we must beware lest they should be repeated at some future time. Out of consideration for you I have hitherto said nothing about this: yet you know as well as I do that this creed was not identical with the creed of Ancyra. I am not talking gossip: I possess a copy of the creed, and I did not get it from laymen, it was given me by bishops.
91 91. I pray you, brethren, remove all suspicion and leave no occasion for it. To approve of ojmoiouvsion, we need not disapprove of ojmoouvsion. Let us think of the many holy prelates now at rest: what judgment will the Lord pronounce upon us if we now say anathema to them? What will be our case if we push the matter so far as to deny that they were bishops and so deny that we are ourselves bishops? We were ordained by them and are their successors. Let us renounce our episcopate, if we took its office from men under anathema. Brethren, forgive my anguish: it is an impious act that you are attempting. I cannot endure to hear the man anathematized who says ojmoouvsion and says it in the right sense. No fault can be found with a word which does no harm to the meaning of’ religion. I do not know the word ojmoiouvsion, or understand it, unless it confesses a similarity of essence. I call the God of heaven and earth to witness, that when I had heard neither word, my belief was always such that I should have interpreted ojmoiouvsion by ojmoouvsion. That is, I believed that nothing could be similar according to nature unless it was of the same nature. Though long ago regenerate in baptism, and for some time a bishop, I never heard of the Nicene creed until I was going into exile, but the Gospels and Epistles suggested to me the meaning of ojmoouvsion and ojmoiouvsion. Our desire is sacred. Let us not condemn the fathers, let us not encourage heretics, lest while we drive one heresy away, we nurture another. After the Council of Nicaea our fathers interpreted the due meaning of ojmoouvsion with scrupulous care; the books are extant, the facts are fresh in men’s minds: if anything has to be added to the interpretation, let us consult together. Between us we can thoroughly establish the faith, so that what has been well settled need not be disturbed, and what has been misunderstood may be removed.
92 92. Beloved brethren, I have passed beyond the bounds of courtesy, and forgetting my modesty I have been compelled by my affection for you to write thus of many abstruse matters which until this our age were unattempted and left in silence. I have spoken what I myself believed, conscious that I owed it as my soldier’s service to the Church to send to you in accordance with the teaching of the Gospel by these letters the voice of the office which I hold in Christ. It is yours to discuss, to provide and to act, that the inviolable fidelity in which you stand you may still keep with conscientious hearts, and that you may continue to hold what you hold now. Remember my exile in your holy prayers. I do not know, now that I have thus expounded the faith, whether it would be as sweet to return unto you again in the Lord Jesus Christ as it would be full of peace to die. That our God and Lord may keep you pure and undefiled unto the day of His appearing is my desire, dearest brethren.
52 Jn 14,29.
53 (Mc 13,32,
54 Mehtuselah’s age was a favourite problem with the early Church. See Aug. de Civ. Dei, 15,13, and de pexx. orig. 2,23, where it is said to be one of those points on which a Christian can afford to be ignorant. According to the septuagint, Methuselah lived for fourteen years after the deluge, so that more than ‘eitht souls0’’ survived, and 1P 3,20 appreared to be incorrect. According to the Hebrew and Vullgate there is not difficulty, as Methuselah is represented as dying before the deluge.
55 (He 5,12,
Hilary - the Councils 84