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