Sunday, January 13, 2019

Athanasius of the West

Today is the memorial for St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church. A pagan Neoplatonist, fluent in Greek despite being born in the West, he converted to Christianity with his wife and his daughter (St. Abra) after having begun to study the Bible. Somewhere between 350 and 353, he was chosen by the Christians at Poitiers to be their bishop, popular acclamation still being a significant component in the election of bishops in those days, despite the fact that he was married. He is the first bishop of Poitiers about which we know anything definite. As the Western bishop most thoroughly fluent in Greek and familiar with Greek philosophy, he became a significant player in the Arian controversies, being several times invited to participate in discussions with Eastern bishops, and he soon became one of the most important defenders of Athanasius of his day. Thus he received the two titles by which he is often known: "Hammer of the Arians" and "Athanasius of the West". From his book On the Trinity, Book I, Section 7:

Therefore, although my soul drew joy from the apprehension of this august and unfathomable Mind, because it could worship as its own Father and Creator so limitless an Infinity, yet with a still more eager desire it sought to know the true aspect of its infinite and eternal Lord, that it might be able to believe that that immeasurable Deity was apparelled in splendour befitting the beauty of His wisdom. Then, while the devout soul was baffled and astray through its own feebleness, it caught from the prophet's voice this scale of comparison for God, admirably expressed, "By the greatness of His works and the beauty of the things that He has made the Creator of worlds is rightly discerned." The Creator of great things is supreme in greatness, of beautiful things in beauty. Since the work transcends our thoughts, all thought must be transcended by the Maker. Thus heaven and air and earth and seas are fair: fair also the whole universe, as the Greeks agree, who from its beautiful ordering call it κόσμος, that is, order. But if our thought can estimate this beauty of the universe by a natural instinct — an instinct such as we see in certain birds and beasts whose voice, though it fall below the level of our understanding, yet has a sense clear to them though they cannot utter it, and in which, since all speech is the expression of some thought, there lies a meaning patent to themselves — must not the Lord of this universal beauty be recognised as Himself most beautiful amid all the beauty that surrounds Him? For though the splendour of His eternal glory overtax our mind's best powers, it cannot fail to see that He is beautiful. We must in truth confess that God is most beautiful, and that with a beauty which, though it transcend our comprehension, forces itself upon our perception.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please understand that this weblog runs on a third-party comment system, not on Blogger's comment system. If you have come by way of a mobile device and can see this message, you may have landed on the Blogger comment page, or the third party commenting system has not yet completely loaded; your comments will only be shown on this page and not on the page most people will see, and it is much more likely that your comment will be missed.