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Shaping Church-State Relations After Constantine: The Political Theology of Hilary of Poitiers

  • Eric Wickman

Abstract

Writing in the half-century after the “conversion” of Constantine, Bishop Hilary of Poitiers wrote two works regarding Emperor Constantius II. The first, Ad Constantium, is a polite and formal letter, seeking an audience with the emperor. The second, In Constantium, is a harangue against the emperor. Some scholars have proposed that the difference in tone between these two documents indicates that Hilary had come to advocate for the emperor to be completely uninvolved in the affairs of the Church. Closer analysis reveals that Hilary always endorsed a position in which the emperor should be involved in ecclesiastical affairs, so long as he submitted to the higher authorities of scripture and the ancient apostolic faith. Hilary would have had no concerns with a pro-Nicene emperor enforcing proto-orthodox church councils and creeds. Prior to Hilary, most of Christianity had accepted imperial involvement in the Church. But the involvement of the Roman emperors in ecclesial matters caused many to have to consider the problems of someone outside of the Church making decisions for the Church. Hilary's efforts stand as one of the first western attempts to nuance and limit the emperor's ecclesiastical role.

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1 What I refer to here as Ad Constantium is sometimes referred to Liber II ad Constantium. The so-called Liber I ad Constantium is not a letter to Constantius in reality, but consists of Hilary's commentary on the letter of the western bishops from Serdica (343). See Wickham, Lionel, Hilary of Poitiers: Conflicts of Conscience and Law in the Fourth-Century Church (hereafter cited as Conflicts), Translated Texts for Historians 25 (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1997), xxvi .

2 Wilmart, Dom André, “ L'Ad Constantium liber primus de Saint Hilaire de Poitiers et les fragments historiques,” Revue Bénédictine 24, no. 2 (April 1907): 151 .

3 Setton, Kenneth M., Christian Attitudes towards the Emperor in the Fourth Century (New York: AMS, 1967), 100 .

4 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 1, 2, 5, 6, 11, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, Sources chrétiennes 334, ed. and trans. Rocher, André (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1987), 166, 168, 172, 176, 178, 192.

5 Barnes, Timothy, Constantine: Dynasty, Religion and Power in the Later Roman Empire (Chichester: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 57 .

6 Barnes ably demonstrates that the so-called “Edict of Milan” was not what truly ended the Great Persecution, nor did it legalize Christianity. See Barnes, Constantine, 93–97.

7 Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 24.9, in De la Mort des Persécuteurs, Sources chrétiennes 39, ed. Moreau, Jacques (Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1954), 1:106. For the details of Constantine's rise to power in the west and Galerius's endorsement of it, see Barnes, Constantine, 61–73; Stephenson, Paul, Constantine: Roman Emperor, Christian Victor (New York: Overlook, 2010), 113123 .

8 Barnes, Constantine, 66.

9 Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiastica 10.5.1–10.7.2, in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, trans. Cruse, C. F. (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998), 372377 . For a discussion of these laws, see Barnes, Constantine, 131–140. Fergus Millar suggests that Constantine's financing of church construction had more to do with his private resources than any sort of official imperial funding. See Millar, Fergus, The Emperor in the Roman World (London: Duckworth, 2010), 583 .

10 Digeser, Elizabeth DePalma, The Making of a Christian Empire: Lactantius and Rome (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2000), 123 .

11 Ibid., 138.

12 Ibid., 125–137. See also Jones, Christopher P., Between Pagan and Christian (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2014), 1618, 24; Markus, R. A., Christianity in the Roman World (New York: Charles Schribner's Sons, 1974), 94, 99; Rousseau, Phillip, The Early Christian Centuries (London: Longman, 2002), 218219 ; MacMullen, Ramsay, Christianizing the Roman Empire (a.d. 100–400) (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1984), 44 .

13 Barnes, Constantine, 100.

14 Millar, Emperor in the Roman World, 589.

15 Constantine, Constantine Summons the Council of Nicaea: Letter of Constantine ,” in A New Eusebius: Documents Illuminating the History of the Church to a.d. 337, ed. Stevenson, J. and Frend, W. H. C., 3rd ed. (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2013), 338 ; see Hanson, R. P. C., The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God: The Arian Controversy, 318–381 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 1988), 146149 .

16 Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantii 2.69–2.71, 3.18, in Life of Constantine, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (hereafter cited as NPNF) vol. 1, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 516–518, 524–525.

17 Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantii 3.10–3.13, in Life of Constantine, 522–523.

18 Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantii 2.64–2.72, 3.17, in Eusebius of Caesarea, Life of Constantine, 515–518, 524; Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 1.9.17, in Church History, NPNF vol. 2, trans. A. C. Zenos (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 13–17; see Chadwick, Henry, The Church in Ancient Society, Oxford History of the Christian Church, ed. Chadwick, Henry and Chadwick, Owen (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001), 198200 ; Rousseau, Early Christian Centuries, 228, 247.

19 Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 1.8, in Church History, 10.

20 Barnes, Timothy D., Athanasius and Constantius (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 172173 .

21 Eusebius of Caesarea, Vita Constantii 3.20–3.21, in Life of Constantine, 525–526; see Chadwick, Church in Ancient Society, 200.

22 Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, 169–170.

23 See Lactantius, De Mortibus Persecutorum 18.10, in De la Mort des Persécuteurs, 1:98.

24 Eusebius of Caesarea, Historia Ecclesiastica 10.9.6–10.9.9, in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, 382.

25 Greenslade, S. L., Church and State from Constantine to Theodosius (London: SCM, 1954), 11 . See also, Rahner, Hugo, Church and State in Early Christianity (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1992), 42 .

26 Rousseau, Early Christian Centuries, 247.

27 Julius Firmicus Maternus, De errore profanarum religionum 13.1, 17.1, 3.2, 6.1, 7.7, 8.4, 16.3, 16.4, 20.7, 24.9, 25.4, 28.6, 29.1, 29.3, 29.4, in De errore profanarum religionum, ed. Ziegler, Konrat (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1907), 8, 22, 38, 39, 40, 64, 67, 81, 82. It is worth noting here that in his Mathesis, which was written prior to his conversion to Christianity, Firmicus Maternus wrote of Constantine with similarly laudatory remarks. The conventions of the time were certainly to laud the emperor as being pious. However, it is significant that once Firmicus Maternus became a Christian, these laudatory remarks did not disappear from his writings. See Julius Firmicus Maternus, Matheseos Libri VIII, bk. 1, proemium, sec. 7, 1.10.13, 1.10.14, in Matheseos Libri VIII, ed. Kroll, W. and Skutsch, F. (Stuttgart: B. G. Teubner, 1897), 3, 37, 38.

28 Firmicus Maternus, De errore profanarum religionum 5.1, in De errore profanarum religionum, 12.

29 Cyril of Jerusalem, Epistola ad Constantium Imperator 5–6, in “Letter to Constantius,” Fathers of the Church: A New Translation 64, St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Works, Volume 2, trans. Leo, P. McCauley, SJ and Stephenson, Anthony A. (Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1970), 233234 . For the dating of the letter, see McCauley and Stephenson, “St. Cyril of Jerusalem,” in St. Cyril of Jerusalem: Works, Volume 2, 226.

30 Optatus of Milevis, Contra Parmenianum Donatistam 3.3, in Against the Donatists, Translated Texts for Historians 27, trans. and ed. Edwards, Mark (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 1997), 62 .

31 Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica 3.17, in Church History, NPNF vol. 2, trans. Hartranft, Chester D. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 297 . Cf. Sozomen, Historia Ecclesiastica 1.8, in Church History, 244–245.

32 Codex Theodosianus 16.10.4, in The Theodosian Code and Novels and the Sirmondian Constitutions: A Translation with a Commentary, Glossary and Bibliography, trans. Pharr, Clyde in collaboration with Davidson, Theresa S. and Pharr, Mary B. (Union, N.J.: Lawbook Exchange, 2001), 454 .

33 Frend, W. H. C., “The Church in the Reign of Constantius II: Mission-Monasticism-Worship,” in Entretiens sur L'Antiquite Classique, Église et l'empire au IVe siècle (Geneva: Fondation Hardt, 1989), 81 .

34 Mark Humphries makes the point that Constantius had largely adopted the ecclesiastical policies of his father, to the point that it seemed to some that Constantine was still ruling. See Humphries, Mark, “ In Nomine Patris: Constantine the Great and Constantius II in Christological Polemic,” Historia 46, no. 4 (1997): 451452 .

35 Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 325.

36 Kopecek, Thomas A., A History of Neo-Arianism (Philadelphia: Philadelphia Patristic Foundation, 1979), 1:176–177; Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 357.

37 Ibid., 362.

38 Barnes notes that although Constantius was no more likely to appoint a Christian to political office than he was a pagan, when he appointed Christians, he certainly favored those with a subordinationist theology. See Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, 167.

39 In a letter preserved by Hilary from Germinius to Rufianus, among others, authorship of this creed is ascribed to Marcus of Arethusa. See Hilary of Poitiers, Collectanea Antiariana Parisina B VI.3, in Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (hereafter cited as CSEL) 65, ed. Feder, Alfred Leonhard (Vienna: F. Tempsky, 1916), 160 .

40 Socrates, Historia ecclesiastica 2.37, in Church History, 62–63; Athanasius, De Synodis 8, in Athanasius, On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, NPNF vol. 4, ed. and trans. Robertson, Archibald (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994), 453454 .

41 Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 364.

42 Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 73.22.7, in Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamius, trans. Williams, Frank, 2nd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 2013), 467 .

43 Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 365; for an example of Constantius's efforts to strong-arm bishops into reaching a theological decision of which Constantius approved, see his letter to the bishops at Ariminum, Hilary of Poitiers, Collectanea Ariana Parisina A VIII 1–2, in CSEL 65, p. 93; Wickham, Conflicts, 80–82.

44 Hilary of Poitiers, Collectanea Antiariana Parisina A V 1.1–2, A IX 1, in CSEL 65, pp. 95–96; Wickham, Conflicts, 81–84. Greenslade attests that this rejection of imperial power was due to the bishops’ pro-Nicene stance (Greenslade, Church and State, 35). Lewis Ayres wisely cautions against assuming this meant the bishops at Ariminum accepted the pro-Nicene stance of those like Hilary or Athanasius, only that the bishops present were suspicious of the vague language in the Dated Creed and found the Nicene Creed to be the logical choice to affirm instead of it. See Ayres, Lewis, Nicaea and its Legacy: An Approach to Fourth-Century Trinitarian Theology (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004), 160161 .

45 Hilary of Poitiers, Collectanea Antiariana Parisina A XVI 3.1–2, in CSEL 65, p. 86; Wickham, Conflicts, 86; Ayres, Nicaea and its Legacy, 161.

46 Socrates, Historia Ecclesiastica 4.12, in Church History, 102–103; Hilary of Poitiers, Collectanea Antiariana Parisina A VI 1–3, in CSEL 65, pp.87–88; Wickham, Conflicts, 87.

47 Hanson, The Search for the Christian Doctrine of God, 376.

48 Ibid., 379–380.

49 Wickham, Conflicts, xxii.

50 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 1, 2, in Wickham, Conflicts, 104.

51 Hilary of Poitiers, Collectanea Antiariana Parisina B II 1.1–5, in CSEL 65, pp.182–184; Wickham, Conflicts, 65. The letter from the bishops dates to 343. Hilary had collected this document by the end of 356.

52 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 2, in Wickham, Conflicts, 104.

53 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 4, in Wickham, Conflicts, 105.

54 Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis 9–62, in On the Councils, NPNF vol. 9, trans. Watson, E. W. (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 620 .

55 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 5, in Wickham, Conflicts, 106–107.

56 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 7, in Wickham, Conflicts, 107.

57 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 6, in Wickham, Conflicts, 107.

58 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 8, in Wickham, Conflicts, 108.

59 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 10, in Wickham, Conflicts, 108–109.

60 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 11, in Wickham, Conflicts, 109.

61 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 9, in Wickham, Conflicts, 108.

62 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 6, in Wickham, Conflicts, 107.

63 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 4, in Wickham, Conflicts, 105.

64 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 7, in Wickham, Conflicts, 107. Cf. Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate 12.1, in De Trinitate Libri VIII-XII, Corpus Christianorum Series Latina (hereafter cited as CCSL) 62A, ed. Smulders, P. (Turnhout: Brepols, 1980), 570 .

65 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 5, in Wickham, Conflicts, 106–107.

66 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 5, in  Wickham, Conflicts, 106.

67 Hilary of Poitiers, De Synodis 91, in On the Councils, 29.

68 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 7, in Wickham, Conflicts, 107.

69 Hilary of Poitiers, Ad Constantium 7, in Wickham, Conflicts, 107.

70 To my knowledge, Richard Flower's work provides the best and most exhaustive discussion of the nature of In Constantium as an invective against Constantius. See Flower, Richard, Emperors and Bishops in Late Roman Invective (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 89115 .

71 Jerome, De Viris Illustribus 100, in Lives of Illustrious Men, NPNF vol. 3, trans. Richardson, Ernest Cushing (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 380 .

72 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 3, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 170.

73 Jerome, De Viris Illustribus 100, in Lives of Illustrious Men, 380.

74 Setton's subtle claim of cowardice on Hilary's part is overwrought. See Setton, Christian Attitudes, 102–103.

75 No doubt this was made possible with the rising power of Julian in the west, who initially, at least nominally, supported the Homoousian position.

76 Humphries, Mark, “Savage Humor: Christian Anti-panegyric in Hilary of Poitier's Against Constantius ,” in The Propaganda of Power, ed. Whitby, Mary (Boston: Brill, 1998), 206 .

77 Ibid.

78 Brennecke considers the letter to have been written in 361, as Jerome suggests, but before the death of Constantius. See Brennecke, Hanns Christof, Hilarius von Poitiers und die Bischofsopposition gegen Konstantius II: Untersuchungen zur dritten Phase des “arianischen Streites” (337–361) (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), 218219 .

79 Humphries, “Savage Humor,” 206; Rocher, André, introduction to Hilaire de Poitiers: Contre Constance, by Hilary of Poitiers, Sources chrétiennes 334, ed. and trans. Rocher, André (Paris: Editions du Cerf, 1987), 2938 .

80 Humphries, “Savage Humor,” 207.

81 For more on how and why Hilary did this, see Beckwith, Carl, Hilary of Poitiers on the Trinity: From De Fide to De Trinitate (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).

82 Ibid., 212.

83 Another possible means of explaining the inconsistency between Hilary's internal chronology and Jerome's report is that Hilary may have circulated In Constantium only among a small circle of friends in Gaul before Constantius's death. After Constantius's death the letter went into wider circulation, leading some to believe it was not written until after Constantius's death. See Flower, Emperors and Bishops, 88. I agree with Brennecke's main point that the text was written before Constantius's death, although Brennecke dates the work to early 361.

84 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 1, 2, 5, 6, 7, 11, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 166, 168, 172, 176, 178, 181, 192.

85 See also, Williams, Daniel H., “The Anti-Arian Campaigns of Hilary of Poitiers and the ‘Liber Contra Auxentium,’Church History 61, no. 1 (1992): 1112 . Despite his extensive work on Hilary's opposition to Constantius's religious policies, Brennecke is surprisingly quiet about the theology of In Constantium.

86 Ibid., 12.

87 Humphries, “Savage Humor,” 210.

88 Wickham, Conflicts, ix.

89 Setton, Christian Attitudes, 100. Setton's remark here is surprising, given Hilary's clear statement in Ad Constantium that those who reject the Nicene faith are the antichrist. As such, we should expect nothing less from Hilary in In Constantium than that Hilary will call Constantius the antichrist. Hilary's consistency here is, in many ways, a microcosm of Hilary's consistency in political theology.

90 Greenslade, Church and State, 42, 67.

91 Rahner, Church and State in Early Christianity, 49.

92 Flower's work intentionally does not address the political theology of Hilary, but it should be noted that he recognizes that the shift in rhetoric does not necessarily equate to a change in political theology, but only demonstrates a change in circumstances for the author. See Flower, Emperors and Bishops, 20–26.

93 Athanasius, Historia Arianorum 44, in Athanasius, Arian History, NPNF vol. 4, trans. and ed. Robertson, Archibald (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994), 286 .

94 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 27, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 222: “Sed non licet tibi nunc regno potenti etiam in posterum praeiudicare.”

95 Athanasius, Historia Arianorum 33, in Arian History, 281.

96 Barnes, Athanasius and Constantius, 131.

97 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 27, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 220, 222.

98 Humphries, “In Nomine Patris,” 462.

99 Humphries observes that Hilary disassociates Constantius from Constantine, naming the devil and oppressive emperors as the true father of Constantius. While the disassociation serves primarily to attack Constantius, we might observe that it equally shields Constantine from the “filth” of Constantius. The pious Constantine could not truly be the father of the heretic Constantius. See Humphries, “In Nomine Patris,” 460.

100 Theodoret, Historia Ecclesiastica 2.13, in The Ecclesiastical History, NPNF vol. 3, trans. Jackson, Blomfield (Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1997), 78 .

101 Athanasius, Historia Arianorum 31, 67, 74, 76, in Arian History, 280, 295, 297–298; Athanasius, De Synodis 31, in On the Councils of Ariminum and Seleucia, 467.

102 Athanasius, Historia Arianorum 49–53, in Arian History, 298–290.

103 Greeenslade, Church and State, 27.

104 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 10, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 186.

105 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 7, 8, 9, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 180, 182, 184. Hilary was from Gaul, where Maximian was the Augustus during the reign of Diocletian. This may be why Hilary identifies Constantius with Maximian instead of Diocletian. It is possible this is a reference to Galerius.

106 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 1, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 166.

107 Ibid.: “Ponamus animas pro ovibus, quia fures introierunt, et leo saeviens circuit. . . . Intremus per ianuam: quia nemo uadit ad Patrem nisi per Filium.”

108 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 1, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 168: “Vlterius enim tacere, diffidentiae signum est, non modestiae ratio, quia non minus periculi est semper tacuisse quam numquam.”

109 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 5, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 176.

110 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 11, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 190.

111 Humphries, “Savage Humor,” 215, 216. Barnes also notes that the term tyrannus carries the meaning of illegitimate persecutor in the fourth century, especially in Hilary's In Constantium. See Barnes, Timothy, “Oppressor, Persecutor, Usurper: The Meaning of Tyrannus in the Fourth Century,” in Historiae Augustae Colloquium Barcinonense, ed. Bonamente, Giorgio and Mayer, Marc (Bari: Edipuglia, 1996), 5860 .

112 Hilary of Poitiers, In Constantium 7, in Hilaire de Poitiers Contre Constance, 7: “Doctor profanorum es, indoctus piorum; episcopatus tuos donas, bonos malis demutas. Sacerdotes custodiae mandas, exercitus tuos ad terrorem Ecclesiae dispones; synodos contrahis, et Occidentalium fidem ad impietatem compellis . . . dissimulatione deprauas.”

113 Brennecke, Hilarius von Poitiers, 363.

114 It is difficult to establish a direct link between Hilary's works and Augustine's thinking on the subject, but there is a significant similarity of ideas between the two western thinkers on the subject, at least in regard to Augustine's views on coercion and the Donatist Church. It is not unreasonable to think that a link may exist, though, since Hilary did have some impact on Augustine's Trinitarian theology; thus, some influence in other aspects of theology would be possible. See: Augustine, De Trinitate 6.10.11 in De Trinitate: Sancti Aurelii Augustini De Trinitate Libri XV (Libri I-XII), CCSL 50, ed. Mountain, W. J. (Turnhout: Brepols, 1978), 241 ; Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate 2.1, in De Trinitate Libri VIII-XII, CCSL 62, p.38. Compare also Augustine's use of donum as a proper term for the Holy Spirit in Augustine's De Vera Religione with Hilary's use of the term in De Trinitate (Augustine, De Vera Religione 5.8, 7.13, 12.25, in Sancti Aurelii Augustini De Doctrina Christiana De Vera Religion, CCSL 32, ed. Martin, Joseph (Turnhout: Brepols, 1962), 193, 196, 203; Hilary of Poitiers, De Trinitate 2.1, 2.3, 2.29, 2.30, 2.31, 2.33, 2.34, 2.35, 8.30, 10.5, in De Trinitate Libri VIII-XII, CCSL 62 and 62A, pp. 38, 39, 64, 65, 66–67, 69, 70, 71, 342, 462). For a brief introduction to Augustine and his theology of coercion, see Bonner, Gerald, St. Augustine of Hippo (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2002), 294311 .

I would like to thank Richard Flower, who graciously agree to read a draft of this article and greatly improved its content, as well as the anonymous peer-reviewers for their helpful suggestions. Further, I would like to thank my friend and colleague Donna Hawk-Reinhard for reading numerous drafts and improving the content and clarity of this article. Any shortcomings with this article, however, remain my own.

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