Hilary of Poitiers
Several weeks ago, we celebrated the feast of St. Martin of Tours. It was Martin, as we saw then, who introduced, even before Benedict, the monastic movement into the Western Church. From Martin, sprang monasteries all over Europe, which ultimately flowered under St. Benedict over a century later. If Martin can be described as the Father of Western Monasticism, then Hilary, in a sense can be considered its grandfather, as it was Hilary who took the young Martin under his wing, and supported and encouraged him in his endeavours to establish the monastic movement into Europe.
Hilary was born about the year 315 and was baptized when he was about 30 years old. In 350 he was made a bishop. The church in the mid fourth century was not unlike ours. It was a time of controversy, division, and fragmentation. Then it was over the nature of God and the person of Jesus. The Arians believed that Jesus was subordinate, and not co-equal or co-eternal to the Father. The Catholics, of whom Hilary was a prime proponent, believed that the Son was both co-equal and co-eternal with the Father. For the Catholics, and for Hilary, the Arian view was problematic in that it denied the full divinity of Christ. But so what? What’s the big deal? Why is it important that the Son is both fully God and fully human, co-equal and co-eternal?
The big deal is what it says about us. For Hilary, salvation was about much more than liberation from sin. It was about sharing in the life of God. As 1 Peter puts it, through Christ we are participants in the divine nature of God. As Athanasius, who lived about a generation before Hilary said, God became human, so that humans might become God. We Brothers pick this same theme up in our Rule of Life when, in the chapter on The Mystery of Prayer we say a ceaseless interchange of mutual love unites the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our prayer is not merely communication with God, it is coming to know God by participation in this divine life. In prayer we experience what it is to be made “participants in the divine nature” … If in the incarnation the Son is not both fully God, and fully human, then it is not possible for us as humans to share in the life of God. This doctrine, known as theosis or divinization, is central to Catholic theology, and remains so today, because in it lies the Christian understanding of the dignity of all humanity. Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons? Will you respect the dignity of every human being? I will, with God’s help we promise in the Baptismal Covenant. Humans possess dignity, not simply because we are creatures made in the image and likeness of God, but because through the mystery of the Incarnation it is possible for us to be participants in the divine nature of God.
That we can be participants in the divine nature of God is crucial to our self-understanding as humans. It is this understanding that is rooted in the teaching of Hilary, and others like him. He may have lived nearly 2000 years ago, but his teaching on the nature of God and the person of Jesus, is as significant for our understanding of what it means to be human today, as it was then. And for that, we give thanks.
 Martin of Tours, feast day 11 November
 Benedict of Nursia, feast day 11 July
 2 Peter 1:4
 Athanasius of Alexandria, feast day 2 May
 SSJE, Rule of Life, The Mystery of Prayer, Chapter 21, page 42
 Episcopal Church, Book of Common Prayer 1979, page 305
We often imagine what it must have been like for those disciples to be living with Jesus during those years of ministry together in Galilee. Particularly in the Synoptic Gospels we come to know a Jesus in all his humanity: his kindness, his gentleness, his anger, his sadness, his love. There are times, especially in Jesus’ healing miracles and perhaps above all at the Transfiguration, when the disciples glimpse something of his divinity, but so often Jesus tells them not to tell anyone of this. More often, Jesus is portrayed as a very human, who draws close to us in his humanity.
But when we move to the Gospel of John, we breathe a very different atmosphere. Here, in this gospel, it is as if Jesus can barely conceal his divinity at all. At any moment his glory is likely to ‘flame out like shining from shook foil.’ In our Gospel today, we have such a moment. Jesus comes to his disciples, walking on the water, and they are terrified. On seeing Jesus, the disciples were experiencing what Rudolph Otto in his book ‘The Idea of the Holy’ described as the numinous. The experience of the numinous, he says, underlies all genuine religious experience. Scripture is packed with such experiences, and perhaps the first famous one is in the account of Moses and the burning bush in Exodus 3. The experience of the numinous has three components, which Otto calls ‘mysterium tremendum et fascinans.’ First is ‘mysterium’. The numinous experience is wholly other; entirely different to anything we experience in ordinary life, and it evokes a reaction of wonder. So, the disciples in the boat stare in awe and wonder at a man walking on water. Secondly the numinous is ‘tremendum’. It provokes terror, because it presents itself as an overwhelming power and majesty. And the poor disciples were terrified! But thirdly, the numinous is ‘fascinans’. We are attracted and drawn to it, as something merciful and gracious. The disciples longed for this terrifying figure on the water to come closer to them, and into the boat.
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
“It is not good for man to be alone; I will make a fitting helper for him.”[i]
In her masterful study of the book Genesis, Jewish scholar Avivah Zornberg notes that this is the first statement uttered by God in the creation narrative that does not immediately bring something into being. It is a brief soliloquy, an aside, a window into God’s thoughts. God does not act upon this thought directly. He creates the animals, and brings them to Adam to receive names. Among them, “there was not found a helper as his partner.” In his commentary on this text, the medieval rabbi Rashi proposes that God knew this would happen. He imagines Adam, the Human,as the one who seeks yet does not find, as God presents the animals to him already in pairs. At the conscious, painful realization of his human aloneness, sleep overwhelms him. Like God, Adam has been great in this aloneness. He has stood vertically, upright, among all the animals who creep, slither, and swarm horizontally upon the earth. But in greatness, aloneness, verticality, he has known no equivalent Other. For this to happen, Zornberg writes, Adam “must, in a sense, diminish himself” and “come to know the rightness of a more complex form of unity.”[ii] He falls, horizontally upon the earth, as if under divine anesthesia. Eve comes into being.
Who is Jesus Christ? This is a question that as Christians we must ask ourselves continuously. Who is this figure that stands at the heart of our faith? There is a tendency, a perfectly natural tendency, to focus on the humanity of Jesus, to see him, as it were, merely as a better version of ourselves. Jesus the good man. Jesus the wise teacher. Jesus the political activist. The one who hates to see injustice. Whilst none of these ideas are necessarily untrue, indeed they’re all right, by their very nature they only tell half the story. They only unveil half the picture.
Our Gospel reading today helps to shine light, perhaps give us some insights, into how the divinity of Jesus is manifested in his humanity. We hear of Jesus the healer. The miracle worker. The one who in raising the sick, and elsewhere in the Gospel of raising the dead, prefigures his own resurrection with the salvific importance that event has for all of creation. We hear of Jesus the cosmic warrior who, in casting out demons, is fighting a sort of proxy war on Earth in the constant, cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. We hear of Jesus Christ seated on his throne of judgment, looking forward to the end of all things when those who will dine at the heavenly banquet will be separated from those who will be cast into the outer darkness where we hear there will be much weeping and gnashing of teeth. We hear of Jesus the dynamic fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. The Messiah. The Christ. The one in whom all the hopes and expectations of Israel are met.