Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Hilary of Poitiers: The Natural Law as the Lord's Testimony

MALLEUS ARIANORUM, the "Hammer of the Arians," is how St. Hilary of Poitiers (ca. 300 - ca. 368) the Bishop of Poitiers (Pictavensis) and Doctor of the Church is often referred. Because of his devotion, indeed superlative zeal, at promoting the homoousian Nicene Creed in the divinity of Christ against the homoiousian creed of the Arians which denied his essential divinity, he also goes by the epithet Athanasius of the West. Both epithets emphasize St. Hilary's preoccupation with the orthodox definition of the divine personhood of Jesus, of a proper understanding of both the Trinity and the Incarnation, two central mysteries of the Christian faith. In his general audience of October 10, 2007, Pope Benedict XVI referred to St. Hilary as one who "devoted his whole life to defending faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ, Son of God and God as the Father who generated him from eternity." He was a hero of the Nicene Creed. His chef d'ouvre, his chief work, is his book on the Trinity, De trinitate libri XII which was written around 36o A.D. St. Hilary is also popularly regarded as the author of numerous Latin hymns, although these cannot be definitively attributed to him as author. Towards the last years of his life, St. Hilary composed an exposition on the Psalms (Tractatus super Psalmos). This Tractate is where we turn to for a passing reference to the natural law by this great Doctor of the Church, promoter of the divine dignity of the Word, from whose lips we received the doctrines of the natural moral law, from whose hands the grace to obey it and the merciful forgiveness for having disobeyed it.

Icon of St. Hilary of Poitiers

Though St. Hilary of Poitiers does not appear to have addressed the natural law in a systematic fashion in any of his extant writings, it is apparent that he adopted and advanced the notion of natural law in common with his predecessors and contemporaries. By the time St. Hilary wrote his Tractates on the Psalms, the teaching on the natural law was clearly part of the common patrimony of the early Christian Church. Though commonly sporting Stoic reasonble robes, at its heart it remains Scriptural. For the Christian, the Stoic notion of a universal law and the Christian concept of a universal law were brother beliefs, one naturally, and the other supernaturally, based.

St. Hilary's reference to the natural law is found in his Tractatus super Psalmos. Specifically, it arises in the context of his interpretation of Psalm 118:119-20. "I have accounted all the sinners of the earth prevaricators: therefore have I loved thy testimonies," or in the Latin Vulgate: Quasi scoriam conputasti omnes impios terrae propterea dilexi testimonia tua. During his commentary on this Psalm, St. Hilary has the opportunity to address the issue of God's justice or righteousness, and during his discussion he observes that God's justice encompasses all men, believers and unbelievers alike. The same moral principles that govern Christians thus also govern the behavior of the pagans. In fine, both are under the natural law. This natural law, redolent of the Decalogue, teaches men not to injure others, not to steal, not to perpetrate fraud, perjury, homicide, or adultery, and so forth. This is the law to which St. Paul refers when he says that the Gentiles who do not have the Mosaic law, naturally do what the law requires (Rom. 2:14).
Lex enim veluti naturalis est iniuriam nemine inferre, nil alienum praecipere, fraude ac perjurio abstinere, alien conjugio non insidari. Novit et hanc Apostolus legem, dicens: cum enim nationes, quae legem non habent, naturaliter secundum legem faciunt . . . .
Tra. in Ps., 118, litt xv, 119 (PL 9:604).

Medallion Depicting St. Hilary

The natural moral law is therefore an internal testimony of God the divine legislator and divine creator. Unfortunately, there is little effort on the part of St. Hilary to elaborate on the natural law, to develop the concept, and to situate it within the divine law or the law of reason. His testimony to the natural law doctrine as espoused by the Church is, unfortunately, obiter dicta. As Professor Colish puts it:
His stress here is on the point that people who disobey these principles sin against nature even if they are ignorant of the law of God. However, Hilary neither assimilates the law of nature to the law of God overtly, nor does he refer to the faculty of reason as the capacity enabling men to grasp the law of nature.
(Marcia L. Colish, The Stoic Tradition from Antiquity to the Early Middle Ages (E. J. Brill, 1985), 125). This, of course, does not imply that he did not equate the natural law with the eternal law, or that he did not find the natural law to be predicated upon man's reasoning faculty. It just means he did not elaborate. His mind, and his prodigious talent, was focused on the Trinity whom he adored.

Prayer of St. Hilary

Obtain, O Lord that I may keep ever faithful to
what I have professed in the symbol of my regeneration,
when I was baptized in the Father, in the Son, and in
the Holy Spirit. That I may worship you, our Father,
and with you, your Son; that I may deserve your Holy
Spirit, who proceeds from you through your
Only Begotten Son. Amen.

--St. Hilary of Poitiers


O God, Who didst give blessed Hilary to Thy people
as a minister of eternal salvation: grant,
we beseech Thee, that we, who have had him
for our teacher on earth, may deserve to
have him for our advocate in heaven.
Through our Lord.

-- 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

No comments:

Post a Comment