When the writing of Latin biblical commentaries was still in its infancy, a young bishop from Poitiers, in Gaul, penned a passage-by-passage exposition on the Gospel of Matthew. It is the first of its kind to have survived almost completely intact. Published now for the first time in English translation, Hilary’s commentary offers a close look at Latin theology and exegesis before the Nicene Creed was considered the sole standard of orthodoxy.
Likely the earliest of Hilary’s writings, this commentary has none of the polemic against the “Arians” that figured so prominently in most of his later works. Nonetheless, there exists in this text an oft-stated concern with those who interpreted the Incarnation as grounds for construing Christ as only a man rather than professing Christ as God and man.
Other noteworthy features of the commentary include Hilary’s interest in the relation between Law and Gospel and his articulation of a Pauline-based view of justification by faith. In his view, the importance of the Law before the Gospel was indisputable and necessary. For Jews, it was considered the way of redemption. With the advent of Christ, it became an eschatological guide directing all future believers into the grace that comes by faith. Hilary’s emphasis on God’s righteousness conferred on a helpless race represents a far more pronounced application of Paul’s thought than in any previous Latin writer.
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“It stands to reason that churches which have not followed the Word of God will be shipwrecked.5 This does not happen because Christ is relaxed in sleep, but because he is put fast asleep in us by our own sleep.6 That happens most often when we put our hope in God chiefly out of fear or worry [resulting] from danger. Even if our hope comes late,7 there is the assurance that it can evade the danger, because the power of Christ is awake within it!8 So the Lord leaves for us a perpetual memory of his rebuke when he said: Why are you fearful, men of little faith?9 In other words, when faith in Christ is awake, there is no need to fear the commotion of the world.” (Page 97)
“In other words, they possess Christ in the light of the mind.18 After he is taken from them, he says, they will have to fast,19 because all who do not believe that Christ was resurrected will not be entitled to the food of life. For it is by faith in the resurrection that the sacrament of the heavenly bread20 is received, and whoever is without Christ, will be left in want21 of the food of life.” (Pages 104–105)
“In these matters of which we are ignorant the way is opened for us to pursue truth, obtainable only through periods of prayer.10 So that we may perceive and believe all things, and cast off any uncertainty of a doubtful will, we have to ask, to seek, and to knock,11 discovering mercy by asking, progress in seeking, and an open door in making the attempt.” (Page 86)
“Thus, with the Lord’s entry into Peter’s house, that is, in his body, he cured the unbelief of those who are burning in the heat of their sins and who are dominated by the illness of their wickedness. Soon afterwards, now healed, she performs a servant’s role.” (Page 93)
Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300 – c. 368) was Bishop of Poitiers and is a Doctor of the Church. He was sometimes referred to as the “Hammer of the Arians” and the “Athanasius of the West. ” His name comes from the Greek word for happy or cheerful. His optional memorial in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints is 13 January. In the past, when this date was occupied by the Octave Day of the Epiphany, his feast day was moved to 14 January.