Hilary of Poitiers and the Concept of Divine Personhood

Author: Thorp, Ann

Date: 2019

Publisher: University of Otago

Type: Thesis

Link to this item using this URL: http://hdl.handle.net/10523/9539

University of Otago


The primary focus of this dissertation is the development of the notion of divine personhood in the writings of Hilary of Poitiers, doctor and bishop of the Church. The impetus for this study was my Licence thesis, where I first discovered Hilary and began exploring his profound contribution to the understanding of the Trinity in the early Church. This initial thesis has served as an important foundation for my further understanding of Hilary’s doctrine, which is expressed in this doctorate. Although Hilary never set out to present a systematic understanding of the divine persons, in his efforts to combat Arianism, and Sabellianism, this is what he effectively did, primarily in relation to the Father and the Son. I have chosen to approach his Trinitarian theology through this lens in order to bring out the fundamental insights and contributions, which he made to the development of doctrine. The significance of these, as I show, can be seen in the manner in which they were taken up and developed by important theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas. In chapter 1, I give an account of the milieu in which Hilary flourished, focusing on the reasons behind the theological crisis which characterised this period, and the significance of the council of Nicaea. In this chapter, I also provide an overview of Hilary’s life, which was greatly impacted by the Arian crisis; and in chapter 2, I summarize his most important doctrinal work, De Trinitate, which he wrote in response to this crisis. Given that this is the primary source of information for this study, included in my summary is an examination of the methodology which Hilary employed in writing this treatise. Chapters 3-8 encompass the main body of this dissertation. In these, I analyse in detail Hilary’s Trinitarian theology, focusing on his development of the notion of divine personhood. In chapter 3, I explore Hilary’s understanding of the divine nature, which is intrinsically linked to his concept of divine personhood; while chapter 4 serves as an introduction to chapters 5-7. In chapters 5 and 6, I examine Hilary’s notion of divine personhood in terms of the Father and the Son, and in chapter 7, their unity within the one divine substance. In chapters 8 and 9, I examine Hilary’s pneumatology. This is a challenging task, given that the Holy Spirit is not the main focus of his theology, and thus his pneumatology is not developed extensively. Furthermore, Hilary does not always express his views on the Spirit clearly and coherently. In order to understand Hilary’s pneumatology, I begin my analysis in chapter 8 with a review of the influences upon Hilary’s thought, followed by an extensive examination of the phenomenon known as Spirit Christology, which is prevalent in his works. This phenomenon is characterised by the use of the term spiritus in reference to the Holy Spirit as well as the Father, the Son and the divine nature, and was prevalent from the 2nd to the 4th century. Such a practice often led to ambiguity in the presentation of doctrine, as it does at times in Hilary’s writings, and has been associated by some scholars with binitarianism. Using the understanding gained in chapter 8, I examine Hilary’s perception of the person and being of the Holy Spirit in chapter 9. Finally, I draw the results of my analysis together, and present Hilary’s most significant insights into the divine personhood of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, showing the importance of this concept to the resolution of the Arian crisis.

Subjects: Trinity, Hilary of Poitiers, Arius, Arian crisis, Divine personhood, Trinitarian Theology, Church Fathers

Citation: ["Thorp, A. (2019). Hilary of Poitiers and the Concept of Divine Personhood (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy). University of Otago. Retrieved from http://hdl.handle.net/10523/9539"]

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