Hilary on Trinity 82
1201 1). At length, with the Holy Ghost speeding our way, we are approaching the safe, calm harbour of a firm faith. We are in the position of men, long tossed about by sea and wind, to whom it very often happens, that while great heaped-up waves delay them for a time around the coasts near the ports, at last that very surge of the vast and dreadful billows drives them on into a trusty, well-known anchorage. And this, I hope, will befall us, as we struggle in this twelfth book against the storm of heresy; so that while we venture out trusty bark therein upon the wave of this grievous impiety, this very wave may bring us to the haven of rest for which we long. For while all are driven about by the uncertain wind of doctrine, there is panic here and danger there, and then again there often is even shipwreck, because it is maintained on prophetic authority that God Only-begotten is a creature—so that to Him there belongs not birth but creation, because it has been said in the character of Wisdom, The Lord created Me as the beginning of His ways1 . This is the greatest billow in the storm they raise, this is the big wave of the whirling tempest: yet when we have faced it, and it has broken without damage to our ship, it will speed us forward even to the all-safe harbour of the shore for which we long.
2. Yet we do not rest, like sailors, on uncertain or on idle hopes: whom, as they shape their course to their wish, and not by assured knowledge, at times the shifting, fickle winds forsake or drive from their course. But we have by our side the unfailing Spirit of faith, abiding with us by the gift of the Only-begotten God, and leading us to smooth waters in an unwavering course. For we recognise the Lord Christ as no creature, for indeed He is none such; nor as something that has been made, since He is Himself the Lord of all things that are made; but we know Him to be God, God the true generation of God the Father. All we indeed, as His goodness has thought fit, have been named and adopted as sons of God: but He is to God the Father the one, true Son, and the true and perfect birth, which abides only in the knowledge of the Father and the Son. But this only, and this alone, is our religion, to confess Him as the Son not adopted but born, not chosen but begotten. For we do not speak of Him either as made, or as not born; since we neither compare the Creator to His creatures, nor falsely speak of birth without begetting. He does not exist of Himself, Who exists through birth; nor is He not born, Who is the Son; nor can He, Who is the Son, come to exist otherwise than by being born, because He is the Son.
3. Moreover no one doubts that the assertions of impiety always contradict and resist the assertions of religious faith; and that that cannot be piously held now which is already condemned as impiously conceived; as, for instance, the discrepancy and variance which these new correctors of the apostolic faith maintain between the Spirit of the Evangelists and that of Prophets; or their assertion that the Prophets prophesied one thing and the Evangelists preached another, since Solomon calls upon us to adore a creature, while Paul convicts those who serve a creature. And certainly these two texts do not seem to agree together, according to the blasphemous theory, whereby the Apostle, who was trained by the law, and separated by divine appointment, and spoke through Christ speaking in him, either was ignorant of the prophecy, or was not ignorant but contradicted it; and thus did not know Christ to be a creature when he named Him the Creator; and forbade the worship of a creature, warning us that the Creator alone is to be served, and saying, Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and served the creature, passing by the Creator Who is blessed far ever and ever2 .
4. Does Christ, Who is God, speaking in Paul, fail to refute this impiety of falsehood? Does He fail to condemn this lying perversion of truth? For through the Lord Christ all things were created; and therefore it is His proper name that He should be the Creator. Does not both the reality and the title of His creative power belong to Him? Melchisedec is our witness, thus declaring God to be Creator of heaven and earth: Blessed be Abraham of God most high, Who created heaven and earth3 . The prophet Hosea also is witness, saying, I am the Lord thy God, that establish the heavens and create the earth, Whose hands have created all the host of heaven4 . Peter too is witness, writing thus, Committing your souls as to a faithful Creator5 . Why do we apply the name of the work to the Maker of that work? Why do we give the same name to God and to our fellowmen? He is our Creator, He is the Creator of all the heavenly host.
5. Since by the faith of the Apostles and Evangelists these statements are referred in their meaning to the Son, through Whom all things were made, how shall He be made equal to the very works of His hands and be in the same category of nature as all other things? In the first place our human intelligence repudiates this statement that the Creator is a creature; since creation comes to exist by means of the Creator. But if He is a creature, He is both subject to corruption and exposed to the suspense of waiting, and is subjected to bondage. For the same blessed Apostle Paul says: For the long expectation of the creature waiteth for the revelation of the sons of God. For the creature was subject to vanity, not of its own will, but on account of Him Who has made it subject in hope. Because also the creature itself shall be freed from the slavery of corruption into the liberty of the glory of the children of God6 . If, therefore, Christ is a creature, it must needs be that He is in uncertainty, hoping always with a tedious expectation, and that His long expectation, rather than ours, is waiting, and that while He waits He is subjected to vanity, and is subjected through a subjection due to necessity, not of His own will. But since He is subjected not of His own will, He must needs be also a bondservant; moreover since tie is a bondservant He must needs also be dwelling in a corruptible nature. For the Apostle teaches that all these things belong to the creature, and that, when it shall be freed from these through a long expectation, it will shine with a glory proper to man. But what a thoughtless and impious assertion about God is this, to imagine Him exposed, through the insults which the creature bears, to such mockeries as that He should hope and serve, and be under compulsion and receive recognition, and be freed hereafter into a condition which is ours, not His; while really it is of His gift that we make our little progress.
6. But our impiety, by the licence of this forbidden language, waxes apace with yet deeper faithlessness; asserting that since the Son is a creature it is bound to maintain that the Father also does not differ from a creature. For Christ, remaining in the form of God, took the form of a servant; and if He is a creature Who is in the form of God, God can never be separate from the creature, because there is a creature in the form of God. But to be in the form of God can only be understood to mean, remaining in the nature of God ú whence also God is a creature, because there is a creature with His nature. But He Who was in the form of God, did not grasp at being equal with God, because from equality with God, that is, from the form of God, He descended into the form of a servant. But He could not descend from God into man, except by emptying Himself, as God, of the form of God. But when He emptied Himself, He was not effaced, so as not to be; since then He would have become other in kind than He had been. For neither did He, Who emptied Himself within Himself, cease to be Himself; since the power of His might remains even in the power of emptying Himself; and the transition into the form of a servant does not mean the loss of the nature of God, since to have put off the form of God is nothing less than a mighty act of divine power.
7. But to be in this way in the form of God is nothing else than to be equal with God: so that equality of honour is owed to the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is in the form of God, as He Himself says, That all men may honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father Who sent Him7 . There is never a difference between things which does not also imply a different degree of honour. The same objects deserve the same reverence; for otherwise the highest honour will be unworthily bestowed on those which are inferior, or with insult to the superior the inferior will be made equal to them in honour. But if the Son, regarded as a creation rather than a birth, be treated with a reverence equal to that paid the Father, then we grant no special meed of honour to the Father, since we charge ourselves with only such reverence towards Him as is shewn to a creature. But since He is equal to God the Father, inasmuch as He is born as God from Him, He is also equal to Him in honour, for He is a Son and not a creature.
83 8. This again is a notable utterance of the Father concerning Him: From the womb, before the morning star I begat Thee8 . Here, as we have often said already, nothing derogatory to God is implied in the concession to our weakness of understanding; as though, because He said that He begot Him from the womb, He were therefore composed of inner and outer parts, which unite to form His members, and owed Ills being to the same causes within time to which earthly bodies owe theirs; when in fact He Whose existence is due to no natural necessities, free and perfect, and eternal Lord of all nature, in explanation of the true character of the birth of His Only-begotten, points to power of His own unchangeable nature. For though Spirit be born of Spirit (consistently, be it remembered, with the true character of Spirit, through which itself is also Spirit), nevertheless its only cause for being born lies within those perfect and unchangeable causes. And though it is from a perfect and unchangeable cause that it is born, it must needs be born from that cause, in accordance with the true character of that cause. Now the necessary process of human birth is conditioned by the causes which operate upon the womb. But as God is not made up of parts, but is unchangeable as being Spirit, for God is Spirit, He is subject to no natural necessity working within Him. But since He was telling us of the birth of Spirit from Spirit, He instructed our understanding by an example from causes which work among us: not to give an example of the manner of birth, but to declare the fact of generation; not that the example might prove Him subject to necessity, but that it might enlighten our mind. If, therefore, God Only-begotten is a created being, what meaning is there in a revelation which uses the common facts of human birth to indicate that He was divinely generated?
9. For often by means of these members of our bodies, God illustrates for us the method of His own operations, enlightening our intelligence by using terms commonly understood: as when He says, Whose hands created all the host of heaven9 ; or again, The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous10 ; or again, I have found David, the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart11 . Now by the heart is denoted the desire, to which David was well-pleasing through the uprightness of his character; and knowledge of the whole universe, whereby nothing is beyond God’s ken, is expressed under the term ‘eyes;’ and His creative activity, whereby nothing exists which is not of God, is understood by the name of ‘hands.’ Therefore as God wills and foresees and does everything, and even in the use of terms denoting bodily action must be understood to have no need of the assistance of a body; surely, now, in the statement that He begat from the womb, the idea is brought forward not of a human origin produced by a bodily act, but of a birth which must be understood as spiritual, since in the other cases where members are spoken of, this is done to represent to us other active powers in God.
10. Therefore since heart is put for desire, and eyes for sight, and hands for work achieved,—and yet, without in any way being made up of parts, God desires and foresees and acts, these same operations being expressed by the words heart, and eyes, and hand,—is not the meaning of the phrase that He begat from the womb an assertion of the reality of the birth? Not that He begat the Son from His womb, just as neither does He act by means of a hand, nor see by means of eyes, nor desire by means of a heart. But since by the employment of these terms it is made clear that He really acts and sees and wills everything, so from the word ‘womb’ it is clear that He really begot from Himself Him Whom He begat; not that he made use of a womb, but that He purposed to express reality. Just in the same way He does not trill or see or act through bodily faculties, but uses the names of these members in order that through the services performed by corporeal forces we may understand the power of forces which are not corporeal.
11. Now the constitution of human society does not allow, nor indeed do the words of our Lord’s teaching permit, that the disciple should be above his master, or the slave rule over his lord; because, in these contrasted positions, subordination to knowledge is the fitting state of ignorance, and unconditional submission the appointed lot of servitude. And since it is the common judgment of all that this is so, whose rashness now shall induce us to say or think that God is a creature, or that the Son has been made? For nowhere do we find that our Master and Lord spoke thus of Himself to His servants and disciples, or that He taught that His birth was a creation or a making. Moreover, the Father never bore witness to Him as being aught else but a Son, nor did the Son profess that God was aught else than His own true Father, assuredly affirming that He was born, not made nor created, as He says, Every one that loveth the Father, loveth also the Son Who is born of Him12 ).
12. On the other hand His works in creation are acts of making and not a birth through generation. For the heaven is not a son, neither is the earth a son, nor is the world a birth; for of these it is said, All things were made through Him13 ; and by the prophet, The heavens are the works of Thy hands14 ; and by the same prophet, Neglect not the works of Thy hands15 . Is the picture a son of the painter, or the sword a son of the smith or the house a son of the architect? These are the works of their making: but He alone is the Son of the Father Who is born of the Father.
13. And we indeed are sons of God, but sons because the Son has made us such. For we were once sons of wrath, but have been made sons of God through the Spirit of adoption, and have earned that title by favour, not by right of birth. And since everything that is made, before it was made, was not, so we, although we were not sons, have been made what we are. For formerly we were not sons: but after we have earned the name we are such. Moreover, we have not been born, but made; not begotten, but purchased. For God purchased a people for Himself, and by this act begot them. But we never learn that God begot sons in the strict sense of the term. For He does not say, “I have begotten and brought up My sons,” but only, I have begotten and brought up sons16 .
14. Yet perchance inasmuch as He says, My firstborn Son Israel17 , some one will interpret the fact that He said, My firstborn, so as to deprive the Son of the characteristic property of birth; as though, because God also applied to Israel the epithet Mine, the adoption of those who have been made sons was misrepresented as though it were an actual birth, and therefore the phrase used of Him, This is My beloved Son18 , is not solely applicable to the birth of God, since the epithet My is (so it is asserted) shared with those who clearly were not born sons. But that they were not really born, although they are said to have been born, is shewn even from that passage where it is said, A people which shall be born, whom the Lord hath made19 .
15. Therefore the people of Israel is born, in such wise that it is made; nor do we take the assertion that it is born as contradictory to the fact that it is made. For it is a son by adoption, not by generation; nor is this its true character, but its title. For although the words). My firstborn are written of it; there is yet a great and wide difference between My beloved Son, and My firstborn son. For where there is birth, there we see, My beloved Son; but where there is a choice from among the nations, and adoption through an act of will, there is My firstborn son.Here the people is God’s, in regard to its character as firstborn; in the former ease the fact that He is God’s, relates to His character as a Son. Again, in a case of birth the father’s ownership comes first, and then his love; in a case of adoption the primary fact is that the son is made a firstborn, and then comes the ownership. Thus to Israel, adopted for a son out of all the peoples of the earth, properly belonged the character of a firstborn; but to Him alone, Who is born God, properly belongs the character of a Son. Accordingly there is no true and complete birth where sonship is imputed rather than real: since it is not doubtful that that people, which is born into a state of sonship, is also made. But since it would not have been what it is now become, and inasmuch as its birth is but a name for its being made, it has no true birth, since it was something else before it was born. And for this reason it was not before it was born, that is, before it was made, because that which is a son from among the nations was a nation before it was a son: and accordingly it is not truly a son, because it was not always a son. But God Only-begotten was neither at any time not a Son, nor was He anything before He was a Son, nor is He Himself anything except a Son. And so He Who is always a Son, has rendered it impossible for us to think of Him that there was a time when He was not.
16. For indeed human births involve a previous non-existence, because, as a first reason, all are born from those, all of whom formerly were not. For although each one who is born has his origin from one who has been, nevertheless that very parent, from whom he is born, was not before he was born. Again, as a second reason, he who is born, is born after that he was not, for time existed before he was born. For if he is born to-day, in the time which was yesterday, he was not; and he has come into a state of being from a state of not being; and our reason enforces that that which is born to-day did not exist yesterday. And so it remains that his birth, by virtue of which he is, took place after a state of non-existence; since necessarily today implies the previous existence of yesterday, so that it is true of it that there was a time when it was not. And these facts hold good of the origin of everything relating to man: all receive a beginning, previously to which they had not been: firstly, as we have explained, in respect of time, and then in respect of cause And in respect of time indeed there is no doubt that things which now begin to be, formerly were not; and this is true also in respect of cause, since it is certain that their existence is not derived from a cause within themselves. For think over all the causes of beginnings, and direct your understanding to their antecedents: you will find that nothing began by self-causation, since nothing is born by the free act of the parent, but all things are created what they are through the power of God. Whence also it is a natural property of each class of things by virtue of actual heredity, that it once was not and then began to be, beginning after time began, and existing within time. And while all existing things have an origin later than that of time, their causes also, in their turn, were once nonexistent, being born from things which once were not. Even Adam, the first parent of the human race, was formed from the earth, which was made out of nothing, and after time, that is to say, after the heaven and earth, and the day and the sun, moon and stars, and he had no first beginning in being born, and began to be when he once had not been.
17. But for God Only-begotten, Who is preceded by no antecedent time, the possibility is excluded that at some time He was not, since that “some time” thus becomes prior to Him; and again, the assertion that He was not involves the potion of time: whence time will not begin to be after Him, but He Himself will begin to be after time, and, inasmuch as He was not before He was born, the very period when He was not will take precedence of Him. Further, He Who is born from Him Who really is, cannot be understood to have been born from that which was not: since He Who really is, is the cause of His existing, and His birth cannot have its origin in that which is not. And therefore since in His case it is not true either in regard of time that He ever was not, or in regard of the Father, that is, the Author of His being, that He has come into existence out of nothing, He has left no possibility with regard to Himself either of His having been born out of nothing, or of His not having existed before He was born.
18. Now I am not ignorant that most of those, whose mind being dulled by impiety does not accept the mystery of God, or who through the strong influence of a hostile spirit are ready to manifest, under the cover of reverence, a marl passion for disparaging God, are wont to make strange assertions in the ears of simple-minded men. They assert that since we say that the Son always has been, and that He never has been anything which He has not always been, we are therefore declaring that He is without birth, inasmuch as He always has been; since, according to the workings of human reason, that which always has existed cannot possibly have been born: since (so they urge) the cause of a thing being born, is that something, which was not, may come into existence, while the coming into existence of something which was not, means nothing else, according to the judgment of common sense, than its being born. They may add those arguments, subtle enough and pleasant to hear;—”If He was born, He began to be; at the time when He began to be, He was not: and when He was not, it cannot be that He was.” By such proofs let them maintain that it is the language of reasonable piety to say, “He was not before He was born: because in order that He might come to be, One Who was not, not One Who was, was born. Nor did He Who was, require a birth, although He Who was not was born, to the end that He might come to be.”
84 19. Now, first of all, men professing a devout knowledge of divine things, in matters where the truth preached by Evangelists and Apostles shewed the way, ought to have laid aside the intricate questions of a crafty philosophy, and rather to have followed after the faith which rests in God: because the sophistry of a syllogistical question easily disarms a weak understanding of the protection of its faith, since treacherous assertion lures on the guileless defender, who tries to support his case by enquiry into facts, till at last it robs him, by means of his own enquiry, of his certainty; so that the answerer no longer retains in his consciousness a truth which by his admission he has surrendered. For what answer accommodates itself so well to the questioner’s purpose, as the admission on our part, when we are asked, “Does anything exist before it is born?” that that which is born, did not previously exist? For it is contrary both to nature and to necessary reason that a thing which already exists should be born: since a thing must needs be born in order that it may come to be, and not because it already existed. But when we have made this concession, because it is rightly made, we lose the certainty of our faith, and being ensnared we fall in with their impious and unchristian designs.
20. But the blessed Apostle Paul, taking precaution against this, as we have often shewn, warned us to be on our guard, saying: Take heed lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the elements of the world, and not according to Christ, in Whom dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily20 . Therefore we must be on our guard against philosophy, and methods which rest upon traditions of men we must not so much avoid as refute. Any concession that we make must imply not that we are out-argued but that we are confused, for it is right that we, who declare that Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God, should not flee from the doctrines of men, but rather overthrow them; and we must restrain and instruct the simple-minded lest they be spoiled by these teachers. For since God can do all things, and in His wisdom can do all things wisely, for neither is His purpose unarmed with power nor His power unguided by purpose, it behoves those who proclaim Christ to the world, to face the irreverent and faulty doctrines of the world with the knowledge imparted by that wise Omnipotence, according to the saying of the blessed Apostle: For our weapons are not carnal but powerful for God, for the casting down of strongholds, casting down reasonings and every high thing which is exalted against the knowledge of God21 . The Apostle did not leave us a faith which was bare and devoid of reason; for although a bare faith may be most mighty to salvation, nevertheless, unless it is trained by teaching, while it will have indeed a secure retreat to withdraw to in the midst of foes, it will yet be unable to maintain a safe and strong position for resistance. Its position will be like that which a camp affords to a weak force after a flight; not like the undismayed courage of men who have a camp to hold. Therefore we must beat down the insolent arguments which are raised against God, and destroy the fastnesses of fallacious reasoning, and crush cunning intellects which hit themselves up to impiety, with weapons not carnal but spiritual, not with earthly, learning but with heavenly wisdom; so that in proportion as divine things differ from human, so may the philosophy of heaven surpass the rivalry of earth.
21. Accordingly let misbelief abandon its efforts; let it not think, because it does not understand, that we deny a truth which, in fact, we alone rightly understand and believe. For while we declare in so many words that He was born, nevertheless we do not assert that He was ever not born22 . For it is not the same thing to be not born and to be born: since the latter term expresses origin derived from some other, the former origin derived from none. And it is one thing to exist always, as the Eternal, without any source of being, and another to be co-eternal with a Father, having Him for the Source of being. For where a father is the source of being, there also is birth; and further, where the Source of being is eternal, the birth also is eternal: for since birth comes from the source of being, birth which comes from an eternal Source of being must be eternal. Now everything which always exists, is also eternal. But nevertheless, not everything which is eternal is also not born; since that which is born from eternity has eternally the character of having been born; but that which is not born is ingenerate as well as eternal. But if that which has been born from the Eternal is not born eternal, it will follow that the Father also is not an eternal Source of being. Therefore if any measure of eternity is wanting to Him Who has been born of the eternal Father, clearly the very same measure is wanting to the Author of His being; since what belongs in an infinite degree to Him Who begets, belongs in an infinite degree to Him also Who is born. For neither reason nor intelligence allows of any interval between the birth of God the Son and the generation by God the Father; since the generation consists in the birth, and the birth in the generation. Thus each of these events coincides exactly with the other; neither took place unless both took place. Therefore that which owes its existence to both these events cannot be eternal unless they both are eternal; since neither of the two correlatives, apart from the other, has any reality, because it is impossible for one to exist without the other.
22. But some one, who cannot receive this divine mystery, will say, “Everything which has been born, once was not; since it was born in order that it might come into existence.”
23. But does any one doubt that all human beings that have been born, at one time were not? It is, however, one thing to be born of some one who once was not, and another to be born of One Who always is. For every state of infancy, since previously it had no existence, began from some point of time. And tiffs again, growing up into childhood, still later urges on youth to fatherhood. Yet the man was not always a father, for he advanced to youth through boyhood, and to boyhood through original infancy. Therefore he who was not always a father, also did not always beget: but where the Father is eternal, the Son also is eternal. And so if you hold, whether by argument or by instinct, that God, in the mystery of our knowledge of Whom one property is that He is Father, was not always the Father of the begotten Son, you hold also, as a matter of understanding and of knowledge, that the Son, Who was begotten, did not always exist. But if the property of fatherhood be co-eternal with the Father, then necessarily also the property of sonship must be co-eternal with the Son. And how will it square with our language or our understanding to maintain that He was not before He was born, Whose property it is that He always was what He has been born.
24. And so God Only-begotten, containing in Himself the form and image of the invisible God, in all things which are properties of God the Father is equal to Him by virtue of the fulness of true Godhead in Himself. For, as we have shewn in the former books, in respect of power and veneration He is as mighty and as worthy of honour as the Father: so also, inasmuch as the Father is always Father, He too, inasmuch as He is the Son, possesses the like property of being always the Son. For according to the words spoken to Moses, He Who is, hath sent Me unto you23 , we obtain the unambiguous conception that absolute being belongs to God; since that which is, cannot be thought of or spoken of as not being. For being and not being are contraries, nor can these mutually exclusive descriptions be simultaneously true of one and the same object: for while the one is present, the other must be absent. Therefore, where anything is, neither conception nor language will admit of its not being. When our thoughts are turned backwards, and are continually carried back further and further to understand the nature of Him Who is, this sole fact about Him, that He is, remains ever prior to our thoughts; since that quality, which is infinitely present in God, always withdraws itself from the backward gaze of our thoughts, though they reach back to an infinite distance. The result is that the backward straining of our thoughts can never grasp anything prior to God’s property of absolute existence; since nothing presents itself, to enable us to understand the nature of God, even though we go on seeking to eternity, save always the fact that God always is. That then which has both been declared about God by Moses, that of which our human intelligence can give no further explanation; that very quality the Gospels testify to be a property of God Only-begotten; since in the beginning was the Word, and since the Word was with God, and since He was the true Light, and since God Only-begotten is in the bosom of the Father24 , and since Jesus Christ is God over all25 .
25. Therefore He was, and He is, since He is from Him Who always is what He is. But to be from Him, that is to say, to be from the Father, is birth. Moreover, to be always from Him, Who always is, is eternity; but this eternity is derived not from Himself, but from the Eternal. And from the Eternal nothing can spring but what is eternal: for if the Offspring is not eternal, then neither is the Father, Who is the source of generation, eternal. Now since it is the special characteristic of His being that His Father always exists, and that He is always His Son, and since eternity is expressed in the name (He that is, therefore, since He possesses absolute being, He possesses also eternal being. Moreover, no one doubts that generation implies birth, and that birth points to one existing from that time forth, and not to one who does not continue. Furthermore, there can be no doubt that no one who already was in existence could be born. For no cause of birth can accrue to Him, Who of Himself continues eternal. But God Only-begotten, Who is the Wisdom of God, and the Power and the Word of God, since He was born, bears witness to the Father as the source of His being. Since He was born of One, Who eternally exists, He was not born of nothing. Since He was born before times eternal, His birth must necessarily be prior to all thought. There is no room for the verbal quibble, “He was not, before He was born.” For if He is within the range of our thought, in the sense that He was not before He was born, then both our thought and time are prior to His birth; since everything which once was not, is within the compass of thought and time, by the very meaning of the assertion that it once was not, which separates off, within time, a period when it did not exist. But He is from the Eternal, and yet has always been; He is not ingenerate, yet never was non-existent; since to have always been transcends time, and to have been born is birth.
26. And so we confess that God Only-begotten was born, but born before times eternal: since we must make our confession within such limits as the express preaching of Apostles and Prophets assigns to us; though at the same time human thought cannot grasp any intelligible idea of birth out of time, since it is inconsistent with the nature of earthly beings that any of them should be born before all times. But when we make this assertion, how can we reconcile with it, as part of the same doctrine, the contradictory statement that before His birth He was not, when according to the Apostle He is God Only-begotten before times eternal? If, therefore, the belief that He was born before times eternal is not only the reasonable conclusion of human intelligence, but the confession of thoughtful faith, then, since birth implies some author of being, and what surpasses all time is eternal, and whatever is born before times eternal transcends earthly perception, we are certainly exalting by impious self-will a notion of human reason, if we maintain in a carnal sense that before He was born He was not, since He is born eternal, beyond human perception or carnal intelligence. And again, whatever transcends time is eternal.
27. For we can embrace all time in imagination or knowledge, since we know that what is now to-day, did not exist yesterday, because what was yesterday is not now; and on the other hand what is now, is only now and was not also yesterday. And by imagination we can so span the past that we have no doubt that before some city was founded, there existed a time in which that city had not been founded. Since, therefore, all time is the sphere of knowledge or imagination, we judge of it by the perceptions of human reason; hence we are considered to hare reasonably asserted about anything, “It was not, before it was born,” since antecedent time is prior to the origin of every single thing. But on the other hand, since in things of God, that is to say, in regard to the birth of God, there is nothing that is not before time eternal: it is illogical to use of Him the phrase “before He was born,” or to suppose that He Who possesses before times eternal the eternal promise, is merely (in the language of the blessed Apostle26 ) in hope of eternal life, which God Who cannot lie has promised before times eternal, or to say that once He was not. For reason rejects the notion that He began to exist after anything, Who, so we must confess, existed before times eternal.
28. We may grant that for anything to be born before times eternal is not the way of human nature, nor a matter which we can understand; and yet in this we believe God’s declarations about Himself. How then does the infidelity of our own day assert, according to the conceptions of human intelligence, that that had no existence before it was born, which the Apostolic faith tells us was, in some manner inconceivable to the human27 understanding, always born, or in other words existed before times eternal? For what is born before time is always born; since that which exists before time eternal, always exists. But what has always been born, cannot at any time have had no existence; since non-existence at a given time is directly contrary to eternity of existence. Moreover, existing always excludes the idea of not having existed always. And the idea of not having existed always being excluded by the postulate that He has always been born, we cannot conceive the supposition that He did not exist before He was born. For it is obvious that He Who was born before times eternal, has always been born, although we can forth no positive conception of anything having been born before all time. For if we must confess (as is clearly necessary) that He has been born before every creature, whether invisible or corporeal, and before all ages and times eternal, and before all perception, Who always exists through the very fact that He has been so born;—then by no manner of thought can it be conceived that before He was born, He did not exist; since He Who has been born before times eternal, is prior to all thought, and we can never think that once He did not exist, when we have to confess that He always exists.
29. But our opponent cunningly anticipates us with this carping objection. “If,” be urges, “it is inconceivable that He did not exist before He was born, it must be conceivable that One Who already existed was born.”
Hilary on Trinity 82