Hilary on Trinity 85
85 30. I will ask this objector in reply, whether he remembers my calling Him anything else than born, and whether I did not say that existence before times eternal and birth have the same meaning in the case of Him that was, For the birth of One already existing is not really birth, but a self-wrought change through birth, and the eternal existence of One Who is born means that in His birth He is prior to any conception of time, and that there is no tooth for the mind to suppose that at any time He was unborn. And so an eternal birth before times eternal is not the same as existence before being born. But to have been born always before times eternal excludes the possibility of having had no existence be fore birth.
31. Again, this same fact excludes the possibility of saying that He existed before He was born; because He Who transcends perception transcends it in every respect. For if the notion of being born, though always existing, transcends thought, it is equally impossible that the notion that He did not exist before He was born should be a subject of thought. And so, since we must confess that to have been always born means for us nothing beyond the fact of birth, the question whether He did or did not exist before He was born cannot be determined under our conditions of thought; since this one fact that He was born before times eternal ever eludes the grasp of our thought. So He was born and yet has always existed; He Who does not allow anything else to be understood or said about Him than that He was born. For since He is prior to time itself within which thought exists (since time eternal is previous to thought), He debars thought from determining concerning Him, whether He was or was not before He was born; since existence before birth is incompatible with the idea of birth, and previous non-existence involves the idea of time. Therefore, while the infinity of times eternal is fatal to any explanation involving the idea of time—that is to say, to the notion that He did not exist; His birth equally forbids any that is inconsistent with it,—that is to say, the notion that He existed before He was born. For if the question of His existence or His non-existence can be determined under our conditions of thought, then the birth itself must be after time; for He Who does not always exist must, of necessity, have begun to be after some given point of time.
32. Therefore the conclusion reached by faith and argument and thought is that the Lord Jesus both was born and always existed: since if the mind survey the past in search of knowledge concerning the Son, this one fact and nothing else, will be constantly present to the enquirer’s perception, that He was born and always existed. As therefore it is a property of God the Father to exist without birth, so also it must belong to the Son to exist always through birth. But birth can declare nothing except that there is a Father and the title Father nothing else except that there is a birth. For neither those names nor the nature of the case, will allow of any intermediate position. For either He was not always a Father, unless there was always also a Son; or if He was always a Father, there was always also a Son; since whatever period of time is denied to the Son, to make His sonship non-eternal, just so much the Father lacks of having been always a Father: so that although He was always God, nevertheless He cannot have been also a Father for the same infinity during which He is God.
33. Now the declarations of impiety even go so far as not only28 to ascribe to the Son birth in time, but also generation in time29 to the Father; because the process of generation and the birth take place within one period.
34. But, heretic, do you consider it pious and devout to confess that God indeed always existed, yet was not always Father? For if it is pious for you to think so, you must then condemn Paul of impiety, when he says that the Son existed before times eternal30 : you must also accuse Wisdom itself, when it bears witness concerning itself that it was founded before the ages: for it was present with the Father when He was preparing the heaven. But in order that you may assign to God a beginning of His being a Father, first determine the starting-point at which the times must have begun. For if they had a beginning, the Apostle is a liar for declaring them to be eternal. For you all are accustomed to reckon the times from the creation of the sun and the moon, since it is written of them, And Let Them Be for Signs and for Times and for Years31 . But He Who is before the heaven, which in your view is even before time, is also before the ages. Nor is He merely before the ages, but also before the generations of generations which precede the ages. Why do you limit things divine and infinite by what is perishable and earthly and narrow? With regard to Christ, Paul knows of nothing except an eternity of times. Wisdom does not say that it is after anything, but before everything. In your judgment the times were established by the sun and the moon; but David shews that Christ remains before the sun, saying, His is name is before the sun32 . And lest you should think that the things of God began with the formation of this universe, he says again, And for generations of generations before the moon33 . These great men counted worthy of prophetic inspiration look down upon time: every opening is barred whereby human perception might penetrate behind the birth, which transcends times eternal. Yet let the faith of a devout imagination accept this as limit of its speculations, remembering that the Lord Jesus Christ, God Only-begotten, is born in a manner to be acknowledged as a perfect birth, and in the reverence paid to His divinity, not forgetting that He is eternal.
35. But we are accused of lying, and together with us the doctrine preached by the Apostle is attacked, because while it confesses the birth, it asserts the eternity of that birth: the result being that, while the birth bears witness to an Author of being, the assertion of eternity in the mystery of the divine birth transgresses the limits of human thought. For there is brought forward against us the declaration of Wisdom concerning itself, when it taught that it was created in these words The Lord created Me for the beginning of His ways34 .
36. And, O wretched heretic! you turn the weapons granted to the Church against the Synagogue, against belief in the Church’s preaching, and distort against the common salvation of all the sure meaning of a saving doctrine. For you maintain by these words that Christ is a creature, instead of silencing the Jew, who denies that Christ was God before eternal ages, and that His power is active in all the working and teaching of God, by these words of the living Wisdom! For Wisdom has in this passage asserted that it had been created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works from the commencement of the ages, lest perchance it might be supposed that it did not subsist before Mary; yet has not employed this word ‘created’ in order to signify that its birth was a creation, since it was created for the beginning of God’s ways and for His works. Nay rather lest any one should suppose that this beginning of the ways, which is indeed the starting-point for the human knowledge of things divine, was meant to subordinate an infinite birth to conditions of time, Wisdom declared itself established before the ages. For, since it is one thing to be created for the beginning of the ways and for the works of God, and another to be established before the ages, the establishing was intended to be understood as prior to the creation; and the very fact of its being established for God’s works before the ages was intended to point to the mystery of the creation; since the establishing is before the ages, but the creation for the beginning of the ways and for the works of God is after the commencement of the ages.
37. But now, test the terms ‘creation’ and ‘establishing’ should be an obstacle to belief in the divine birth, these words follow, Before He made the earth, before He made firm the mountains, before all the hills He begat Me35 . Thus He is begotten before the earth, Who is established before the ages; and not only before the earth, but also before the mountains and hills. And indeed in these expressions, since Wisdom speaks of itself, more is meant than is said. For all objects which are used to convey the idea of infinity must be of such a kind as to be subsequent in point of time to no single thing and to no class of things. But things existing in time cannot possibly be fitted to indicate eternity; because, from the very fact that they are posterior to other things, they are incapable of suggesting the thought of infinity as a beginning, themselves having their own beginning in time. For what wonder is it, that God should have begotten the Lord Christ before the earth, when the origin of the angels is found to be prior to the creation of the earth? Or why should He, Who was said to be begotten before the earth, be also declared to be born before the mountains, and not only before the mountains but also before the hills; the hills being mentioned, as an afterthought, after the mountains, and reason requiring that there should be a world before mountains could exist? For such reasons it cannot be supposed that these words were used merely in order that He might be understood to exist prior to hills and mountains and earth, Who surpasses by the eternity of His own infinity things which are themselves prior to earth and mountains and hills.
38. But this divine discourse has not left our understandings unenlightened, since it explains the reason of the phrase in what follows:—God made the regions, both the uninhabitable parts and the heights which are inhabited under the heaven. When He was preparing the heaven, I was with Him; and when He was setting apart His own seat. When above the winds He made the clouds huge in the upper air, and when He placed securely the springs under the heaven, and when He made firm the foundations of the earth, I was by Him, joining all things together36 . What period in time is here? Or how far are the conceptions of human intelligence allowed to reach beyond the infinite birth of God Only-begotten? By means of things whose creation we can conceive in our mind, it is not possible to understand the generation of Him, Who is prior to all these things; and hence we cannot maintain that He came, indeed, first in time, yet was not infinite, inasmuch as the only privilege bestowed upon Him was a birth prior to things temporal. For in that case, since they, by their constitution, are subject to the conditions of time, He, though prior to them all, would be equally subject to conditions of time, because their creation within time would define the time of His birth, namely that He was born before then; for that which is antecedent to temporal things stands in the same relation to time as they.
39. But the voice of God, our instruction in true wisdom, speaks what is perfect, and expresses the absolute truth, when it teaches that itself is prior not merely to things of time, but even to things infinite. For when the heaven was being prepared, it was present with God. Is the preparation of the heaven an act of God within time; so that an impulse of thought suddenly surprised His mind, as though it had been previously dull and inert. and after the fashion of men He sought for materials and instruments for fashioning the heaven? Nay, the prophet’s conception of the working of God is far different, when He says, By the word of the Lord were the heavens established, and all their power by the breath of His mouth37 . Yet the heavens needed the command of God, that they might be established; for their arrangement and excellence in this firm unshaken constitution, which they display, did not arise from the blending and commingling of some kind of matter, but from the breath of the mouth of God. What then does it mean, that Wisdom begotten of God was present with Him, when He was preparing the heaven? For neither does the creation of heaven consist in a preparation of material, nor does it consist with the nature of God to linger over preliminary thoughts concerning His work. For everything, which there is in created things, was always with God: for although these things in respect of their creation have a beginning, nevertheless they have no beginning in respect of the knowledge and power of God. And here the prophet is our witness, saying, O God, Who hast made all things which shall be38 . For although things future, in so far as they are to be created, are still to be made, yet to God, with Whom there is nothing new or sudden in creation they have already been made; since there is a dispensation of times for their creation, and in the prescient working of the divine power they have already been made. Here, therefore, Wisdom, in teaching that it was born before the ages, teaches that it is not merely prior to things which have been created, but is even co-eternal with what is eternal, to wit, with the preparation of the heaven, and the setting apart of the abode of God. For this abode was not set apart at the time when it was actually made, for setting apart and fashioning an abode are different things. Nor again was the heaven formed at the time when it was (ideally) prepared, for Wisdom was with God both when He prepared and when He set apart the heaven. And afterwards it was fashioning the heaven by the side of God Who formed it: it proves its eternity by its presence with Him as He prepares; it reveals its functions, when it fashions by the side of God Who forms. Therefore, in the passage before us it said that it was begotten even before the earth and mountains and hills, because it meant to teach that it was present at the preparation of the heaven; in order that it might shew that, even when the heaven was being prepared, this work was already finished in the counsel of God, for to Him there is nothing new.
40. For the preparation for creation is perpetual and eternal: nor was the frame of this universe actually made by isolated acts of thought, in the sense that first the heaven was thought of, and afterwards there came into God’s mind a thought anti plan concerning the earth; that He thought of each part singly, so that first the earth was spread out as a plain, and then through better counsels was made to rise up in mountains, and yet again was diversified with hills, and in the fourth place was also made habitable even in the heights; that so the heaven was prepared an I the abode of God set apart, and huge clouds in the upper air held the exhalations caught up by the winds; then afterwards sure springs began to run under the heaven, and, last of all, the earth was made firm with strong foundations. For Wisdom declares that it is prior to all these things. But since all things under the heaven were made through God, and Christ was present at the fashioning of the heaven, and preceded even the eternity of the heaven which was prepared, this fact does not allow us to think in respect to God of disconnected thoughts on details, since the whole preparation of these things is co-eternal with God. For although, as Moses teaches, each act of creation had its proper order;—the making the firmament solid, the laying bare of the dry land, the gathering together of the sea, the ordering of the stars, the generation by the waters and the earth when they brought forth living creatures out of themselves; yet the creation of the heaven and earth and other elements is not separated by the slightest interval in God’s working, since their preparation had been completed in like infinity of eternity in the counsel of God.
86 41. Thus, though Christ was present in God with these infinite and eternal decrees, He has granted to us nothing more than a knowledge of the fact of His birth; in order that, just as an apprehension of the birth is the means which leads to faith in God, so also the knowledge of the eternity of His birth might avail to sustain piety; since neither reason nor experience allow us to speak of any but an eternal Son as proceeding from a Father Who is eternal).
42. But perhaps the word ‘creation,’ and its employment of Him, disturbs us. Certainly the word ‘creation’ would disturb us, if birth before the ages and creation for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works were not affirmed of Him. For birth cannot be understood to denote creation, since the birth precedes causation, but the creation takes place through causation. For before the preparation of the heaven and before the commencement of the ages was He established, Who was created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works. Is it possible that to be created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works, means the same as to be born before all things? No: one of these ideas relates to time employed in action, but the other bears a sense which has no relation to time.
43. Or perhaps you wish the assertion that He was created for the works to be understood in the sense that He was created on account of the works; in other words that Christ was created for the sake of performing the works. In that case He exists as a servant and a builder of the universe, and was not born the Lord of Glory; He was created for the service of forming the ages, and was not always the beloved Son and the King of the ages. But, although the general understanding of Christians contradicts this impious thought of yours, recognising that it is one thing to be created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works, and another to be born before the ages, yet this very same passage thwarts your purpose of falsely asserting that the Lord Christ was created, on account of the formation of the universe, since it shews that God the Father is the Maker and Former of the universe, and shews it convincingly, since Christ Himself was present fashioning by the side of Him Who was forming all things. But, while all Scripture was designed to speak of the Lord Jesus Christ as the Creator of the universe, Wisdom, to destroy all occasion for impiety, has here declared that though God the Father was the Constructor of the universe, yet itself was not absent from Him while constructing it, since it was present with Him even when He was preparing it beforehand, and that when the Father formed the universe, Wisdom also was fashioning it by the side of Him Who formed it, and was present with Him even when He prepared it. Whence Wisdom would have us understand that it was not created on account of God’s works39 , by the very fact that it had been present at the eternal preparation of works yet to be, and proves Scripture not to be false, by the fact that it fashioned the universe by the side of God when He formed it.
44. Learn at last, heretic, from the revelation of Catholic teaching, what is the meaning of the saying that Christ was created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works; and be taught by the words of Wisdom itself the folly of your impious dulness. For thus it begins: If I shall declare unto you the things which are done every day, I will remember to recount those things which are from of old40 . For Wisdom had said before, You, O men, I entreat, and I utter my voice to the sons of men. O ye simple, understand subtilty, moreover ye unlearned, apply your heart41 ; and again, Through Me kings reign, and mighty men decree justice. Through Me princes are magnified, and through Me despots possess the earth42 ; and again, I walk in the ways of equity, and move in the midst of the paths of justice; that I may divide substance to those that love Me, and fill their treasures with good things43 . Wisdom is not silent about its daily work. And firstly entreating all men, it advises the simple to understand subtilty, and the unlearned to apply their heart, in order that a zealous and diligent reader may ponder the different and separate meanings of the words. And so it teaches that by its methods and ordinances all success, all attainment of knowledge or fame or wealth, is achieved: it shews that within itself are contained the reigns of kings and the prudence of the mighty, and the famous works of princes, and the justice of despots who possess the earth; that it moreover does not mingle with wicked deeds and has no part in acts of injustice; and that all this is done by Wisdom in order that, by taking part in every work of equity and justice, it may supply to those that love it, a wealth of eternal goods anti incorruptible treasures. Therefore Wisdom, after declaring that it will relate the things which are done every day, promises that it will also be mindful to recount the things which are from of old. And now what blindness is it, to think that things were performed before the beginning of the ages, which are expressly declared to date merely from the beginning of the ages! For every work among those which date from the beginning of the ages is itself posterior to that beginning: but on the contrary, things which are before the beginning of the ages, precede the ordering of the ages, which are later than they. And so Wisdom, after declaring that it is mindful to speak of the things which date from the beginning of the ages, says, The Lord created Me for the beginning of His ways for His works, by these words denoting things performed from the date of the beginning of the ages. Thus Wisdom’s teaching concerns not a generation declared to precede the ages, but a dispensation which began with the ages themselves.
45. We must also enquire what is the meaning of the saying that God, born before the ages, was again created for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works. This surely is said because where there is a birth before the commencement of the ages, there is the eternity of an endless generation: but where the same birth is represented as a creation from the commencement of the ages, for the ways of God and for His works, it is applied as the creative cause to the works and to the ways. And first, since Christ is Wisdom, we must see whether He is Himself the beginning of the way of the works of God. Of this, I think, there is no doubt; for He says, I am the way, and, No man cometh to the Father except through Me44 . A way is the guide of those who go, the course marked out for those who hasten, the safeguard of the ignorant, a teacher, so to speak, of things unknown and longed for. Therefore He is created for the beginning of the ways, for the works of God; because He is the Way and leads men to the Father. But we must seek for the purpose of this creation, which is from the commencement of the ages. For it is also the mystery of the last dispensation, wherein Christ was again created in bodily form, and declared that He was the way of the works of God. Again, He was created for the ways of God from the commencement of the ages, when, subjecting Himself to the visible form of a creature, He took the form of a created being.
46. And so let us see for what ways of God, and for what works of God, Wisdom was created from the commencement of the ages, though born of God before all ages. Adam heard the voice of One walking in Paradise. Do you think that His approach could have been heard, had He not assumed the guise of a created being? Is not the fact, that He was heard as He walked, proof that He was present in a created form? I do not ask in what guise He spoke to Cain and Abel and Noah, and in what guise He was near to Enoch also, blessing him. An Angel speaks to Hagar, and certainly He is also God. Has He the same form, when He appears like an Angel, as He has in that nature, by virtue of which He is God? Certainly the form of an Angel is revealed, where afterwards mention is made of the nature of God. But why should I speak of an Angel? He comes as a man to Abraham. Under the guise of a man, in the shape of that created being, is not Christ present in that nature, which He possesses as being also God? A man speaks, and is present in the body, and is nourished by food; and yet God is adored. Surely He Who was an Angel is now also man, in order to save us from the assumption that any of these diverse aspects of one state, that of the creature, is His natural form as God. Again, He comes to Jacob in human shape, and even grasps him for wrestling; and He takes hold with His hands, and struggles with His limbs, and bends His flanks, and adopts every movement and gesture of ours. But again He is revealed, this time to Moses, and as a fire; in order that you might learn to believe that this created nature was to provide Him with an outward guise, not to embody the reality of His nature. He possessed, at that moment, the power of burning, but He did not assume the destructive property which is inherent in the nature of fire, for the fire evidently burned and yet the bush was not injured.
47. Glance over the whole course of time, and realist in what guise He appeared to Joshua the son of Nun, a prophet bearing His name, or to Isaiah, who relates that he saw Him, as the Gospel also bears witness45 , or to Ezekiel, who was admitted even to knowledge of the Resurrection, or to Daniel, who confesses the Son of Man in the eternal kingdom of the ages, or to all the rest to whom He presented Himself in the form of various created beings, for the ways of God and for the works of God, that is to say, to teach us to know God, and to profit our eternal state. Why dues this method, expressly designed for human salvation, bring about at the present time such an impious attack upon His eternal birth? The creation, of which you speak, dates from the commencement of the ages; but His birth is without end, and before the ages. Maintain by all means that we are doing violence to words, if a Prophet, or the Lord, or an Apostle, or any oracle whatever has described by the name of creation the birth of His eternal divinity. In all these manifestations God, Who is a consuming fire, is present, as created, in such a manner that He could lay aside the created form by the same power by which He assumed it, being able to destroy again that which had come into existence merely that it might be looked upon.
48. But that blessed and true birth of the flesh conceived within the Virgin the Apostle has named both a creating and a making, for then there was born both the nature and form of our created being. And without doubt in his view this name belongs to Christ’s true birth as a man, since he says, But when the fulness of the time came, God sent His Son, made of a woman, made under the law, in order that He might redeem those who are under the law, that we might obtain the adoption of sons46 . And so He is God’s own Son, Who is made in human form and of human origin; nor is He only made but also created, as it is said: Even as the truth is in Jesus, that ye put away according to your former manner of life, that old man, which becomes corrupt according to the lusts of deceit. However, be ye renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put ye on that new man, which is created according to God47 . So the new man is to be put on Who has been created according to God. For He Who was Son of God was born also Son Man. This was not the birth of the divinity, but the creating of the flesh; the new Man taking the title of the race, and being created according to God Who was born before the ages. And how the new man was created according to God, he explains in what follows, adding, in righteousness, and in holiness, and in truth48 . For there was no guile in Him; and He has been made unto us righteousness and sanctification, and is Himself the Truth. This, then, is the Christ, created a new man according to God, Whom we put on.
49. If, then, Wisdom, in saying that it was mindful of the things which have been performed since the beginning of the ages, said that it was created for the works of God and for the ways of God; and yet, while saying that it was created, taught that it was established before the ages, lest we should suppose that the mystery of that created form, so variously and frequently assumed, involved some change in its nature;—for although the firmness with which it was established would not allow of any disturbance that could overthrow it, yet, lest the establishment might seem to mean something less than birth, Wisdom declared itself to be begotten before all things:—if this is so, why is the term ‘creation’ now applied to the birth of that which was both begotten before all things, and also established before the ages? Because that which was established before the ages was created anew froth the commencement of the ages for the beginning of the ways of God and for His works. In this sense must we understand the difference between creation from the commencement of the ages and that birth which precedes the ages and all things. Impiety at least has not this excuse, that it can plead error as the cause of its profanity.
50. For although the weakness of the understanding might hinder the perceptions of a man devoutly disposed, so that, even after this explanation, he might fail to grasp the meaning of “creation,” nevertheless, even the letter of the Apostle’s saying, when he applies49 the term “making” to a true birth, should have sufficed for a sincere, if not intelligent, belief, that the term “creation” was designed to conduce to a belief in generation. For when the Apostle was minded to assert the birth of One from one Parent, that is to say, the birth of the Lord from a virgin without a conception due to human passions, he clearly had a definite purpose in calling Him “made of a woman,” Whom he knew and had frequently asserted to have been born. He desired that the ‘birth’ should point to the reality of the generation, and the ‘making’ should testify to the birth of One from one Parent; because the term ‘making’ excludes the idea of a conception by means of human intercourse, it being expressly stated that He was made of a virgin, though it is equally certain that He was born and not made. But see, heretic, how impious you are. No sentence of prophet, or evangelist, or apostle has said that Jesus Christ was created from God, rather than born from Him: yet you deny the birth. and assert the creation, but not according to the Apostle’s meaning, when he said that He was made, lest there should be any doubt that He was born as One from one Parent. You make your assertion in a most impious sense, implying that God did not derive His being by way of birth conveying nature; although a creature would rather have come into being out of nothing. This is the primary infection in your unhappy mind, not that you term birth a creating, but that you adapt your faith to the idea of creation instead of birth. And yet while it would mark a poor intellect, still it would not mark a man entirely undevout, if you had called Christ created, in order that men might recognise His impossible birth from God, as being that of One from One.
51. But none of these phrases does a firm apostolic faith permit. For it knows in what dispensation of time Christ was created, and in what eternity of times He was born. Moreover, He was born God of God, and the divinity of His true birth and perfect generation is not doubtful. For in relation to God we acknowledge only two modes of being, birth and eternity: birth, moreover, not after anything, but before all things, so that birth only bears witness to a Source of being, and does not predicate any incongruity between the offspring and the Source of being. Still, by common admission, this birth, because it is from God, implies a secondary position in respect to the Source of being, and yet cannot be separated from that Source, since any attempt of thought to pass beyond acceptance of the fact of birth, must also necessarily penetrate the mystery of the generation. And so this is the only pious language to use about God: to know Him as Father, and with Him to know also Him, Who is the Son born of Him. Nor assuredly are we taught anything concerning God, except that He is the Father of God the Only-begotten and the Creator. So let not human weakness overreach itself; and let it make this only confession, in which alone lies its salvation—that, before the mystery of the Incarnation, it is ever assured, concerning the Lord Jesus Christ, of this one fact that He had been born.
Hilary on Trinity 85