by St. Hilary of Poitiers
From On the Trinity – Book II
Believers have always found their satisfaction in that Divine utterance, which our ears heard recited from the Gospel at the moment when that Power, which is its attestation, was bestowed upon us:
Go now and teach all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I command you; and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.
What element in the mystery of man’s salvation is not included in those words? What is forgotten, what left in darkness? All is full, as from the Divine fulness; perfect, as from the Divine perfection. The passage contains the exact words to be used, the essential acts, the sequence of processes, an insight into the Divine nature. He bade them baptize
in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,
that is with confession of the Creator and of the Only-begotten, and of the Gift.
For God the Father is One, from Whom are all things; and our Lord Jesus Christ the Only-begotten, through Whom are all things, is One; and the Spirit, God’s Gift to us, Who pervades all things, is also One. Thus all are ranged according to powers possessed and benefits conferred;—the One Power from Whom all, the One Offspring through Whom all, the One Gift Who gives us perfect hope. Nothing can be found lacking in that supreme Union which embraces, in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, infinity in the Eternal, His Likeness in His express Image, our enjoyment of Him in the Gift.
But the errors of heretics and blasphemers force us to deal with unlawful matters, to scale perilous heights, to speak unutterable words, to trespass on forbidden ground. Faith ought in silence to fulfil the commandments, worshipping the Father, reverencing with Him the Son, abounding in the Holy Spirit, but we must strain the poor resources of our language to express thoughts too great for words. The error of others compels us to err in daring to embody in human terms truths which ought to be hidden in the silent veneration of the heart.
For there have risen many who have given to the plain words of Holy Writ some arbitrary interpretation of their own, instead of its true and only sense, and this in defiance of the clear meaning of words. Heresy lies in the sense assigned, not in the word written; the guilt is that of the expositor, not of the text. Is not truth indestructible? When we hear the name Father, is not sonship involved in that Name? The Holy Spirit is mentioned by name; must He not exist?
We can no more separate fatherhood from the Father or sonship from the Son than we can deny the existence in the Holy Spirit of that gift which we receive. Yet men of distorted mind plunge the whole matter in doubt and difficulty, fatuously reversing the clear meaning of words, and depriving the Father of His fatherhood because they wish to strip the Son of His sonship. They take away the fatherhood by asserting that the Son is not a Son by nature; for a son is not of the nature of his father when begetter and begotten have not the same properties, and he is no son whose being is different from that of the father, and unlike it.
Yet in what sense is God a Father (as He is), if He have not begotten in His Son that same substance and nature which are His own?
Since, therefore, they cannot make any change in the facts recorded, they bring novel principles and theories of man’s device to bear upon them. Sabellius, for instance, makes the Son an extension of the Father, and the faith in this regard a matter of words rather than of reality, for he makes one and the same Person, Son to Himself and also Father. Hebion allows no beginning to the Son of God except from Mary, and represents Him not as first God and then man, but as first man then God; declares that the Virgin did not receive into herself One previously existent, Who had been in the beginning God the Word dwelling with God, but that through the agency of the Word she bore Flesh; the ‘Word’ meaning in his opinion not the nature of the pre-existent Only-begotten God, but only the sound of an uplifted voice. Similarly certain teachers of our present day assert that the Image and Wisdom and Power of God was produced out of nothing, and in time. They do this to save God, regarded as Father of the Son, from being lowered to the Son’s level.
They are fearful lest this birth of the Son from Him should deprive Him of His glory, and therefore come to God’s rescue by styling His Son a creature made out of nothing, in order that God may live on in solitary perfection without a Son born of Himself and partaking His nature. What wonder that their doctrine of the Holy Spirit should be different from ours, when they presume to subject the Giver of that Holy Spirit to creation, and change, and non-existence. Thus do they destroy the consistency and completeness of the mystery of the faith. They break up the absolute unity of God by assigning differences of nature where all is clearly common to Each; they deny the Father by robbing the Son of His true Sonship; they deny the Holy Spirit in their blindness to the facts that we possess Him and that Christ gave Him.
They betray ill-trained souls to ruin by their boast of the logical perfection of their doctrine; they deceive their hearers by emptying terms of their meaning, though the Names remain to witness to the truth. I pass over the pitfalls of other heresies, Valentinian, Marcionite, Manichee and the rest. From time to time they catch the attention of some foolish souls and prove fatal by the very infection of their contact; one plague as destructive as another when once the poison of their teaching has found its way into the hearer’s thoughts.