Class notes: January 23, 2006
Theo 383: De Trinitate
Hilary of Poitiers
Important dates: Hilary returned from exile: 360; died: 367.
Cappadocian Trinitarian theology: 380 (Basil wrote On the Holy Spirit
- Dr Barnes began our first “official” class by disparaging
Justo Gonzalez’ A History of Christian Thought, because he asserts (p.
328) that Augustine builds on Cappadocian theology which he knows
through Hilary. The slight, mind you, ever so slight, problem is
that Hilary’s exile in the east dates from 360-61, and he dies in 367 –
fully 11 years prior to the earliest possible date for the beginning of
Cappadocian Trinitarian theology. At this point our professor
drew certain observations with regard to the necessary intellectual
ability required for an endowed chair on the East coast – an
observation, which backfired upon him – because it simply encouraged
the class to rest comfortably in our ignorance.
A. History of scholarship
- Over the last 20 years (starting in the 60s and 70s, climaxing in
the 80s), scholars worked through the first stage of the Arian
controversy, viz., Arius’ theology. The 80s & 90s witnessed
an examination of Arianism after Arius. And since the 90s Nicene
theology has been studied.
- The old model/approach was that Nicene theology was completely
decided by 325. Things then went wrong, and then right again –
this model doesn’t work. Instead, the trajectory of Nicene
theology has 2 or 3 stages/types
B. Three trajectories of Nicene theology
1. Primitive Nicene theology
- Language: “from the essence (ousias) of the Father” – whatever is
the product of the essence is considered to have a common nature
- Jn 10.30 is prominent
- Ousia = hypostasis. A line is present in the Nicene creed
that anathematizes anyone who does not understand these two terms to
have the same meaning. This indicates a strong emphasis on the
“unity” of the Son-Father among the Greeks.
- Main proponents: Marcellus of Ancyra, Alexander of Alexandria, Council of Antioch 325.
- “from the essence of the Father” sounds very much like Marcellus,
it is likely that he exerted a large influence at Nicaea – which may be
indicated by the fact that the council was originally slated to occur
at Ancyra, but an earthquake caused it to meet at Nicaea
- Language: “from the Father”
- Jn 10.30 is still prominent
- While there is a grammatical “other,” there is no language for
what is many or plural in God; there is language for what is one in God.
- The argument for a common nature between Father and Son is
carried by the idea: “whatever is born of” has the same nature as its
source (eg, Hilary). In addition, the Son is the Father’s very
power (1 Cor 1.24).
- The argument for a common nature is carried by the idea: if the same power, then the same nature
- The reality of diversity is recognized from the relationships:
the Father is not the Son, and the Son is not the Father (this
understanding previously existed in Neo-Nicene thought as well).
The technical term for this is: “2 whatzits” theology.
- Jn 5.19 is prominent for common nature
- Few are interested in homoousios/consubstantialis language
- The Father and Son share the same power (1 Cor 1.24).
- These three categories develop sequentially, but they don’t
simply replace each other (the later category tends to develop prior to
the termination of the earlier category). Primitive Nicene
theology ends around 325 – Alexander’s letters (written prior to
Nicaea) may contribute to our understanding of this earlier doctrine.
- Early Athanasius is probably Primitive Nicene in character, later works are probably Neo-Nicene.
- Hilary has a little of both Neo- & Pro-Nicene (NB: he doesn’t
use the nature-person distinction often, NPNF’s De Trin.7.2 is an
- Augustine moves from Neo-Nicene to Pro-Nicene in De Trin 6-7
- Lewis Ayres uses “Pro-Nicene” to include Barnes’
“Neo-Nicene.” Dan Williams uses “Neo-Nicene” to include Barnes’
“Pro-Nicene.” The Germans use “Neo-Nicene” to include Barnes’
“Pro-Nicene” as well, though they really do not discuss “Pro-Nicene”
C. Two forms of “Nicene” trajectory/polemic
- Includes Alexandria, and its most visible proponent is Athanasius.
- May perhaps be a Rome-Alexandria style, particularly if it was
invented by Marcellus and Athanasius while they were in Rome applying
to Pope Julian for help.
- Bad guys are closet “Arians” – Marcellus used this tactic to
respond to Eusebius of Caesarea, who had been calling him a modalist.
- Arius is quoted to refute contemporary Non- or
Anti-Nicenes. Note: no one besides Athanasius quotes Arius’
Thelia, so it may not have circulated outside of Alexandria.
Moreover, 4 Latin traditions preserve Arius’ letters – zero Greek
traditions do so.
- Strong emphasis on homoousios and Nicaea. This emphasis
develops, for example, it is seen to increase in Athanasius’ works.
- No polemical attack on Arius as a “contemporary” opponent
- No quoting Arius
- No emphasis on homoousios or Nicaea, for example, Gregory of
Nyssa quotes Nicaea 6 times but they are all against Apollonarius – a
- Hilary tends to be “Western”, eg, On the Synods (369)
- Thus, the “Western” polemic is essentially the “invention” of
Arianism by Marcellus and Athanasius while in Rome (c. 341-43).
They genuinely believed that those who refused to accept Nicaea were
- For additional reading, see Barnes’ “The Fourth Century as
Trinitarian Canon” Christian Origins, eds. Ayres & Jones - on
II. Hilary’s Logic (an examination of De Trinitate 7.1-28)
- Chapters 1-4 – Hilary begins by stating that there is no isolated
God, nor are there two Gods; and that the heretics are misusing
- Chs 10-12 – the Name expresses nature; this includes a discussion of 1 Cor 1.24
- Chs 17-18 – nature, power, works; includes a discussion of Jn 5.19
- Chs 27-29 – Father-Son: nature communicated by birth; fire from fire illustration
III. Passages from Hilary’s De Trinitate
- The old argument as found in Athanasius is that God is never
without his X, therefore, X is eternal; with X = Son. However,
there are two ways to use/understand this logic: 1) X = eternal,
therefore, Son = eternal; 2) Son is identified with the property of
- Chapter 11 – “Word, Wisdom, Power” – all this is divine; the Son has these names, therefore, he is divine.
- Andrew Louth ("The Use of the Term Idios [in Greek] in
Alexandrian Theology from Alexander to Cyril," Studia Patristica XIX
(1989), 198-202.) notes that Athanasius uses idios (property) language
to talk about the Son, so Hilary may be objecting to Athanasius here.
- This is what Augie’s De Trin. 6-7 is all about.
- Hilary is saying that the names give the nature: so, since X is
the name of the divinity, if the Son has X name he must be divine.
- From the handout distributed in class (1/23/06): lines 20-21 of
VII.2 read: “For, that they are one in nature is referred to both of
them, and both are not one person.” However, neither “nature” nor
“person” occurs in the Latin: dum et quod unum sunt refertur ad
utrumque et uterque non unus est.