January 14th – Fourth Century Tensions


Hilary of Poitiers, celebrated today, saw by 350 AD that new tensions entering Christianity’s structured practices were serious complicating anyone’s attempt to appreciate its message. He wrote to the emperor Constantius, whose family made bishops an empire-wide magistrate system (welcomed by some), asking him at least to stop encouraging Arian accounts of God. The new structure was unimaginable a century before. Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage, was executed by the governor. Hilary, in Gaul, admired Cyprian. He had seen the great difference between those who learn to obey God’s Spirit and those who do not. Some Christians gladly go beyond a routine of persevering in piety. Like the second rudder in Ammon’s imagery, they want an unworldly patience to keep them close to the divinity of Christ.

Stories told about holy men and bishops raising the dead were told, stressing powers present in the heart and mind of Christ, and made available to others through key church members. Athanasius’ writings against Arius, a couple of decades earlier, had sketched his sense of the divine reality present in Christ, but these had not been a sufficiently full depiction of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. Hilary and others aimed to provide a better view of the Trinity. They insisted that God can always bypass human distortions of what a community of faith should be like.

God’s call to the Gentiles should feel different, he said, from the previous call to Israel. Eusebius’ Arian sympathy with planning orderliness to please rulers was a mistake.



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