“Accent the Consubstantiality” (Feast of Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor, 367)

The following sermon was preached on Wednesday, January 13, 2016, the Feast of Hilary of Poitiers, at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Lafayette, Louisiana.  

Collect: “O Lord our God, who raised up your servant Hilary to be a champion for the catholic faith: Keep us steadfast in that true faith which we professed at our baptism, that we may rejoice in having you for our Father, and may abide in your Son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; who live and reign for ever and ever.  Amen.”

Readings: I John 2.18-25; Luke 12.8-12

“If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.”—I John 2.24[1]

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Today the Church calls to our minds the memory of Hilary, who, during the midpoint of the 4th century AD, served as the Bishop of Poitiers in West Central Gaul, now present-day France. It was during this time that the Arian Controversy was making its way through certain portions of the Christian Church, polluting the minds of the faithful from the truth concerning the Person of Jesus Christ. Named for Arius, a late 3rd and early 4th century North African priest and the heresy’s progenitor, what the Arian Controversy taught was that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was not fully God and equal in substance with the Father, whereas orthodox Christianity asserts belief in Jesus as being “God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God, begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father; by whom all things were made…”  The Arian Controversy is best summarized by this quote: “There was a time in the world when the Son was not.”

Hilary vigorously opposed Arianism and was referred to as “the Athanasius of the West,” a reference to the 4th century bishop of Alexandria who was Arius’s chief opponent. He was banished from his episcopal see for his refusal to condemn Athanasius in an Arian stronghold in 357, but was sent back three years later because of his constant troubling of Eastern Arians. So great was Hilary’s dedication to the orthodox Christian position that one Arian bishop became persuaded away from the heretical view because of Hilary’s strong exegetical argument against it. He died in 367 and is today regarded as one of the most important theological minds of the early Christian Church.

What is it about Arius’s theology that made Hilary, Athanasius, Nicholas of Myra, and other early Church leaders of the like so up in arms against him? For the answer, we have to think about the exact implications that arise from Arius’s particular view. If Jesus is not consubstantial with God the Father, then it means, in the words of Phillips Brooks, that “the hopes and fears of all the years”[2] which we have placed upon Him is all for naught. Because of His subordinate status to God the Father, Jesus’ crucifixion is meaningless, because nobody unequal to God can make the requisite sacrifice for the forgiveness of sin. Jesus cannot offer the gift of grace and everlasting life, because only God Himself has the power to forgive and redeem. Without His humanity, Jesus cannot be our chief Mediator and Advocate to God the Father. Without His divinity, Jesus cannot be the full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice for all of the world’s sin. Without Jesus being equal in status to God the Father, the penalty for our sin remains unpaid and our souls in great peril. Without His humanity and divinity, being God in human form, humbling Himself “by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross,”[3] Jesus becomes just another religious figure of the past, not the Savior of the world.

But on this issue, Scripture is perfectly clear: Jesus is both God and Human, equal in substance to the Father and who, through His perfect offering of Himself, has taken away the world’s sin, forever opening the way for those who believe in Him to receive the gift of everlasting life and peace.[4] In his Gospel’s Prologue, Saint John says

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”[5]

Saint John is making an intentional connection of Jesus with God the Father, stating that not only was He at the very beginning with God, but that He was God in human flesh, come down to Earth in our time to dwell among and ransom us. Because of His divinity and equality with the Father, Jesus, the visible face of God, is both God and King who has the power to ransom, heal, restore, and forgive us and whose Kingdom will never end.

The Church’s remembrance of Hilary is a crucial reminder of the necessity of Christ being both human and divine and His coming down to Earth in the form and way by which He did. Saint John exhorts us in his first epistle, “Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you too will abide in the Son and in the Father.” And not only does the Father and the Son both abide in us, but the Holy Ghost, the continuance of the Father and the Son’s work among us in this time and place and in all times and everywhere, beckons us to partake of the riches of grace, which brings healing, restoration, and peace to our broken and weary souls. “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”[6] Because of Jesus, God in human flesh, equal in substance to the Father, there is hope; all is not lost. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners…”[7]

         What we see, yet again, through the commemoration of Hilary is the deep love of God made known to us in the Person of His Son Jesus. It was through Jesus that God Himself came down from Heaven to be with us. It was through Jesus that God personally did what needed to be done to bring us back to Himself, no longer being separated from Him. Instead of condemnation, it is through Jesus that God forgives and redeems. Through His coequal and coeternal Son, God has shown that He is the God of unconditional love.

Like Hilary, may we continue to have the faith and confidence to proclaim that which we have heard from the beginning: “Jesus, Emmanuel, God with us.”

In the Name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost. Amen

[1] Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations contained herein are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

[2] Phillips Brooks, “O Little Town of Bethlehem” (1867).

[3] Philippians 2.8

[4] John 3.16

[5] John 1.1-3

[6] Matthew 11.28

[7] I Timothy 1.15

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