Recent Posts

Friday, 15 March 2013

Part 83: DoC and Perfection: Hilary of Poitiers

Of course, you know his name means "happy". For homeschooling parents who follow the Oxford Term, his feast day marks the beginning of Hilary Term, on or about January 13th. This saint is also the patron of children with learning disabilities. He himself was classically educated, which warms my heart.

Here is more from this great French Doctor. This is a long passage, but I did not want to break it up. Again, it is from the saint's book on the Trinity. My comments are in blue.

You hear the words, I and the Father are one649. Why do you rend and tear the Son away from the Father? They are a unity: an absolute Existence having all things in perfect communion with that absolute Existence, from Whom He is. When you hear the Son saying, I and the Father are one, adjust your view of facts to the Persons; accept the statement which Begetter and Begotten make concerning Themselves. Believe that They are One, even as They are also Begetter and Begotten. Why deny the common nature? Why impugn the true Divinity? You hear again, The Father in Me, and I in the Father650

Of course, Hilary is writing to the Arians, but also to us who are seeking perfection. Why? We must come to the realization of the Indwelling of the Trinity in us, through baptism and confirmation,  so that we do not squander our lives in foolishness, seeking either fame, fortune or false loves.

The only thing that matters is to desire and try to be saints, and saints are made, though suffering and grace. As the Trinity is one, so to we shall be one in God. This is our call, this is our goal. Hilary is, like Augustine and the others, not speaking from mere reflection or meditation, but from experience. He knew the Trinity from his conversion, from his walk with God, in his intellect, will, soul. As there is a perfect fullness of Christ in the Trinity, so as creatures, we are called to a perfection as much as we were created to be, to have, in Christ and in the Father, through the Spirit. As Christ is one, so we have our source in God and we, hopefully, go back to God at the end of our lives.

That this is true of Father and of Son is demonstrated by the Son’s works. Our science cannot envelope body in body, or pour one into another, as water into wine; but we confess that in Both is equivalence of power and fulness of the Godhead. For the Son has received all things from the Father; He is the Likeness of God, the Image of His substance. The words, Image of His substance651, discriminate between Christ and Him from Whom He is, but only to establish Their distinct existence, not to teach a difference of nature; and the meaning of Father in Son and Son in Father is that there is the perfect fulness of the Godhead in Both. The Father is not impaired by the Son’s existence, nor is the Son a mutilated fragment of the Father. An image implies its original; likeness is a relative term. Now nothing can be like God unless it have its source in Him; a perfect likeness can be reflected only from that which it represents; an accurate resemblance forbids the assumption of any element of difference. Disturb not this likeness; make no separation where truth shews no variance, for He Who said, Let us make man after our image and likeness652, by those words Our likeness revealed the existence of Beings, Each like the Other. Touch not handle not, pervert not. Hold fast the Names which teach the truth, hold fast the Son’s declaration of Himself. I would not have you flatter the Son with praises of your own invention; it is well with you if you be satisfied with the written word.

The image is our soul and its faculties and the likeness is grace, states St. Bernard. We have lost the likeness, through sin, and regain it in and through Christ and His Church, through the sacramental life of the Church.

24. Again, we must not repose so blind a confidence in human intellect as to imagine that we have complete knowledge of the objects of our thought, or that the ultimate problem is solved as soon as we have formed a symmetrical and consistent theory. Finite minds cannot conceive the Infinite; a being dependent for its existence upon another cannot attain to perfect knowledge either of its Creator or of itself, for its consciousness of self is coloured by its circumstances, and bounds are set which its perception cannot pass. 

We come to perfect knowledge of God through grace. This is a free gift from God, and when the CCC refers to 'divine life" in us, the authors mean grace. 

That we are totally dependent on grace to become perfect is a sure thing. We can chose to cooperate or not.

Its activity is not self-caused, but due to the Creator, and a being dependent on a Creator653 has perfect possession of none of its faculties, since its origin lies outside itself. Hence by an inexorable law it is folly for that being to say that it has perfect knowledge of any matter; its powers have limits which it cannot modify, and only while it is under the delusion that its petty bounds are coterminous with infinity can it make the empty boast of possessing wisdom. For of wisdom it is incapable, its knowledge being limited to the range of its perception, and sharing the impotence of its dependent existence. And therefore this masquerade654 of a finite nature boasting that it possesses the wisdom which springs only from infinite knowledge earns the scorn and ridicule of the Apostle, who calls its wisdom folly. He says, For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel, not in the language of wisdom, lest the cross of Christ should be made void. For the word of the cross is foolishness to them that are perishing, but unto them that are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent I will reject. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the enquirer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For seeing that in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom knew not God, God decreed through the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews ask for signs and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, unto Jews indeed a stumbling-block and to Gentiles foolishness, but unto them that are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. Because the weakness of God is stronger than men, and the foolishness of God is wiser than men655. Thus all unbelief is foolishness, for it takes such wisdom as its own finite perception can attain, and, measuring infinity by that petty scale, concludes that what it cannot understand must be impossible. Unbelief is the result of incapacity engaged in argument. Men are sure that an event never happened, because they have made up their minds that it could not happen.

This means that all have the capacity to come to God and become one with Him. God does the work in us, if we but desire and cooperate.
The works we do are useless unless we are at the stage where God is doing the work through us. Look at the last two lines above. Unbelief stops the process of growing in holiness. The mind narrows and becomes concerned about useless things. Priorities change.

Some people give up, stating that holiness is not possible or too hard. I have heard people say that Catholicism is too hard. That is Hilary's point here. It is hard, but not impossible.

If we create a blockage in our own minds that we can never achieve holiness, perfection, then we shall not to do.

25. Hence the Apostle, familiar with the narrow assumption of human thought that what it does not know is not truth, says that he does not speak in the language of knowledge, lest his preaching should be in vain. To save himself from being regarded as a preacher of foolishness he adds that the word of the cross is foolishness to them that perish. He knew that the unbelievers held that the only true knowledge was that which formed their own wisdom, and that, since their wisdom was cognisant only of matters which lay within 

Does this sound familiar?

their narrow horizon, the other wisdom, which alone is Divine and perfect, seemed foolishness to them. Thus their foolishness actually consisted, in that feeble imagination which they mistook for wisdom. Hence it is that the very things which to them that perish are foolishness are the power of God to them that are saved; for these last never use their own inadequate faculties as a measure, but attribute to the Divine activities the omnipotence of heaven. 

Hilary's great insight...those who do not believe in the Perfection of Christ do not believe in the possibility of their own...

Sadly, so many atheists hold this position today, as do many Protestants. They accept what is...rather than what can be.

God rejects the wisdom of the wise and the understanding of the prudent in this sense, that just because they recognise their own foolishness, salvation is granted to them that believe. Unbelievers pronounce the verdict of foolishness on everything that lies beyond their ken, while believers leave to the power and majesty of God the choice of the mysteries wherein salvation is bestowed. There is no foolishness in the things of God; the foolishness lies in that human wisdom which demands of God, as the condition of belief, signs and wisdom. 

How many people make bargains with God? Bargaining is NOT part of the road to perfection. We cannot say, "God, if you do this, I shall do that."  We cannot ask for consolations. On the contrary, many of God's closest friends did not have consolations. Hilary was married and had a daughter, His wife and daughter both died. He lived like a lay brother, as a secular monk. He did not have consolations. 

If we get stuck in seeking consolations instead of absorbing suffering gladly, we shall not reach perfection and we shall not see God. This is why the Cross is so important to both St. Paul and St. Hilary  They know from experience that suffering brings goodness, purity, direction, enlightenment.

It is the foolishness of the Jews to demand signs; they have a certain knowledge of the Name of God through long acquaintance with the Law, but the offence of the cross repels them. The foolishness of the Greeks is to demand wisdom; with Gentile folly and the philosophy of men they seek the reason why God was lifted up on the cross. And because, in consideration for the weakness of our mental powers, these things have been hidden in a mystery, this foolishness of Jews and Greeks turns to unbelief; for they denounce, as unworthy of reasonable credence, truths which their mind is inherently incapable of comprehending. But, because the world’s wisdom was so foolish,—for previously through God’s wisdom it knew not God, that is, the splendour of the universe, and the wonderful order which He planned for His handiwork, taught it no reverence for its Creator—God was pleased through the preaching of foolishness to save them that believe, that is, through the faith of the cross to make everlasting life the lot of mortals; that so the self-confidence of human wisdom might be put to shame, and salvation found where men had thought that foolishness dwelt. 

I love this passage. It is our weaknesses, our "crosses" which bring us to perfection. But, we must crave, desire, with our whole hearts, and minds and souls the splendour which is a Person, Who is God. Not the law saves us, although once we are in Christ the law becomes easy. It is Christ Who saves us.

For Christ, Who is foolishness to Gentiles, and offence to Jews, is the Power of God and the Wisdom of God; because what seems weak and foolish to human apprehension in the things of God transcends in true wisdom and might the thoughts and the powers of earth.

26. And therefore the action of God must not be canvassed by human faculties; the Creator must not be judged by those who are the work of His hands. We must clothe ourselves in foolishness that we may gain wisdom; not in the foolishness of hazardous conclusions, but in the foolishness of a modest sense of our own infirmity, that so the evidence of God’s power may teach us truths to which the arguments of earthly philosophy cannot attain. 

Hilary is writing to the Dawkins of this world, to the list of foolish people found here, and there are so many:  (Why is the list of English atheists in politics so much longer than that of other countries?)

Hilary is also talking to the New Age proponents-the real holders of earthly philosophy.

For when we are fully conscious of our own foolishness, and have felt the helplessness and destitution of our reason, then through the counsels of Divine Wisdom we shall be initiated into the wisdom of God; setting no bounds to boundless majesty and power, nor tying the Lord of nature down to nature’s laws; sure that for us the one true faith concerning God is that of which He is at once the Author and the Witness.

Do not set boundaries to the graces that God wants to give to you. Do not limit Him or yourself in Him. If you limit His grace, you will not gain heaven, because the mediocre become evil so quickly.

To be continued...