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Century IV, Chapter XXII



A N account of the life of Hilary is delivered by a person, named Fortunatus, who wrote about two hundred years after him. This biographer, according ' ' to the taste of the age, which was still more credulous and superstitious than that of Hilary, is extremely barren in matters which really deserve attention, and is full of prodigies and fictions. The best account of him therefore is to be drawn from his contemporaries, and the ecclesiastical historians, and above all from his own writings. Of his life and actions little is known, that deserves to be recorded: yet so great a man merits distinct attention.

He was born at Poictiers in France, and being of a very noble family, and distinguished by a liberal education, he was enabled to throw a lustre on Christianity after he received it. In his boo k on the Trinity he gives us some account of his conversion *. He seriously considered the folly and * See Cave's Life of Hilary.

vanity of idolatry, and was led to conclude, that its professors could not possibly be competent to lead men to happiness. He contemplated the visible frame of things, and inferred an Omnipotent Eternal Being, as their Maker and Preserver. He observes, that happiness consists not in any external things, nor in the bare knowledge of the first principles of good and evil, but in the knowledge of the true God. By reading the books of Moses and the Prophets, he found his mind enlightened, and his judgment confirmed in these ideas*. The short but comprehensive account of God, in the book of Exodus, " I am that I am," affected him with admiration. When he was carried forward to the New Testament, there he learnt, that there is an eternal Word, the Son of God made man, who came into the world to communicate to it the fulness of grace. His hope of happiness was now enlarged: " since the Son of God Was made man, men may become the sons of God. A man, who with gladness receives this doctrine, renews his spirit by faith, and conceives a hope full of immortality. Having once learned to believe the Gospel, he rejects captious difficulties, and no longer judges after the maxims of the world. He now neither Fears death, nor is weary of life, and presses forward to a blessed immortality." In such a manner does Hilary give us the history of his own mind in religion. And when he enters on the subject of the Trinity, he gives ah excellent admonition; humility at least will think so, though pride will object to it. It is, that the reader would think of God according to the light of faith, and agreeably to the testimony of God himself, divesting his mind of the meanness of human opinions. "For," continues he, " the chief qualification required in a reader is, that he be willing to take the sense of an Author from what he reads, and not give him one of his own. He ought not to endeavour to find, in the passages which he reads, that, which he presumed * Du Pin.

ought to be there. In such passages as describe Cent. the character of the Supreme Being particularly, he . * ought at least to be persuaded, that God knew himself*." And in another part of the same treatise, he makes this observation ; " The blasphemies of the heretics oblige us to do those things which are forbidden us, to search into mysteries incomprehensible, to speak things ineffable, and to explain that which we are not permitted to examine. And instead of performing with a sincere faith that which is commanded us (which were otherwise sufficient) namely, to worship the Father and the Son, and to be filled with the Spirit, we are obliged to employ our weak reasonings in explaining things incomprehensible." Every sincere believer, in every age, has had occasion to make the same remark, when called to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.

His views of the Three Persons in the Trinity are remarkably perspicuous and scriptural. In speaking of the Holy Spirit, he says, that He enlightens our understandings and warms our hearts f; that he is the author of all grace, and will be with us to the end of the world; that he is our comforter here while we live in expectation of a future life, the earnest of our hopes, the light of our minds, and the warmth of our souls. He directs us to pray forthis Holy Spirit, to enable us to do good, and to persevere in faith and obedience.

There will be no occasion to take any farther notice of his writings, unless it be to mention his

* I apprehend, if this method had been followed in all ages, there never would have been found any one to oppose the doctrine of the Trinity. Agreeably to this, it appears that Hilary, by the study of the Scriptures alone, had obtained and steadily professed the Nicene faith, before he had ever seen the creed of that name, or knew any thing of the Arjan controversy.

t Thus owning his influence on the two leading powers of the human mind, the understanding and the will; not on one alone, hut on both, agreeably to the views of the best and wisest in all ages.

Chap- addresses to the emperor on the same subject. Two . he wrote with decency and moderation; in the third, he appears evidently to smart under the wounds of persecution, and treats the prince with an unchristian asperity, for which no other apology can be made, than the same which must be made for Athanasius, namely, " that oppression maketh a wise man mad." In general, there is a proportion preserved in the church between doctrinal light and holy practice. Sanctification is carried on by the knowledge of the truth. And the superior degree of that knowledge, in the first and second century, will account for the superior degree of Christian meekness and charity, in those, who suffered for the Gospel, compared with the practice of the saints of the fourth century.

Hilary, after his conversion, was singularly exemplary in his attachment to the Gospel, avoiding any appearance of countenancing the fashionable heresies, and employed himself in recommending his religion to others. He was married, and had by his wife a daughter called Abra, whose education he superintended with great exactness. The gradual progress of superstition may be remarked from his case. He certainly cohabited with his wife after he was appointed bishop of Poictiers, and yet he strongly recommended his daughter to devote herself wholly to the service of Christ by a state of virginity. To relate his active employment in the Arian controversy, would be again to introduce a subject with which the reader has been already satiated. Suffice it to say, that he spent some time in banishment, in Phrygia, for the sake of a good conscience ; that he was at length restored to his see; and that by his lenity on the one hand, which provoked the Luciferians, and by his constancy on the other, which offended the Arian emperor, he was yet enabled to be of signal service to the church, and was to the West what Athanasius was to the East, the pillar of orthodoxy. The Latin church, Cent. indeed, was never so much infested with Arianism l Ivj as the Greek; and France, in particular, was through him preserved from the reigning heresy. He died K}l"y at Poictiers about the year 367. To him the great 1C^' church at Poictiers is dedicated, and in the midst * of the city is a column erected to him, with an atthe»ge inscription, at once expressive of the admiration of of8°his virtues, and of the superstition of those who wrote it*.

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