Roman Catholic apologists are fond of quoting Book II of Hilary of Poitiers’ On the Trinity in Pneumatological debates about the Filioque. They commonly quote Par 29 of the book which they allege states, “we are bound to confess Him, proceeding, as He does, from Father and Son.”

There is a major problem with this–the Latin says something completely different:

Patre et Filio auctoribus

This states that the “Father and Son [are the Spirit’s] Authors.” To those that are not informed, they may feel that this “saves” the passage from a Filioquist interpretation. In fact, this statement is in reality 1,000 times worse. Taken literally and out of context, it would mean that the Filioque cannot be interpreted in the sense Saint Maximus taught. Instead, it would be teaching that the Father and Son originated the Spirit. Several scholars over the years have pointed this out, for example here, here, and here (p. 205-206). For this reason, my initial comments on Hilary were that I suspected that he, unlike Augustine, was a true Filioquist.

I disclose the preceding to reveal my bias–that I went into researching this presuming that Hilary had a heretical Pneumatology. I am grateful that upon further study, I have concluded that this is incorrect.

The Disputed Passage. As follows is something I found nowhere else–a complete translation of all the relevant parts of the paragraph. I did this translation myself (using something called a “Latin Dictionary” and my NY-Regents level Spanish) and ran it by someone else who read Latin. I disclose it here in full so someone on the grounds of my translation of Latin itself (and not appeals to authority or ad hominems) could scrutinize what it states. This translation is as literal as possible. The Latin can be found in Migne PL Vol 10. Col 69:

De Spiritu autem sancto nec tacere oportet, nec loqui necesse est: sed sileri a nobis, eorum causa qui nesciunt, non potest.

Of the Holy Spirit, nor [is it] proper [to be] silent, nor is it necessary [for us] to speak; but we keep silent who do not know the cause, [because we are] not able.

Loqui autem de eo non necesse est, qui Patre et Filio auctoribus, confitendus est

You [the Semi-Arians] do not need to talk about, [whether] it is confessed [that], the Father and the Son [are the Spirit’s] Authors.

Et quidem puto, an sit, non esse, tractandum. Est enim; quando quidem donator, accipitur, obinetur; et qui confessione Patris et Filii connexus est, non potest a confessione Patris et Filii separari…

And, indeed, I judge [it] cannot be discussed. For, [He] is given, received, indwelt; and it is confessed [that He] is connected [to the] Father and the Son [and] cannot be confessed [that He is] separate from the Father and the Son….

Unde quia est, et donator, et habetur, et Dei est, cesset hinc sermo ealumniantium.

And it is so–[He is] given, received, and of God; so stop [your] untrue talk.

Cum dicunt per quem sit, et ob quid sit, vel quails sit:

When you [i.e. the Semi-Arians] reply, “By which [He] is, and because what [He] is [i.e. why does He exist?], or what [He] is [i.e. what is His nature]?”

si responsio nostra displicebit dicentium, Per quem omnia, et ex quo omnia sunt, et quia Spiritus est De, donum fidelium; displiceant et Apostolu et Prophetae.

If they are displeased [with] our answer, “’By whom [are] all things and from Whom [are] all things’ [cf 1 Cor 8:6]; And about the Spirit [He] is given [to the] faithful,” [they are] displeased with the apostles and prophets.

As one can see, the entire thrust of the passage has nothing to do with teaching the Filioque. It is literally saying the Semi-Arians speculate that the Father and Son are the Authors of the Spirit (something which may be surprising as the Filioque was added to the Creed to deal with Arians century later). To the contrary, Hilary of Poitiers emphatically refuses to speculate on grounds he cannot find it in the Scriptures itself and feels that it is a mystery he cannot answer. This is a typical trope throughout the On the Trinity and is easy to miss if someone has not read the book cover to cover. Hilary is a Biblicist and repeatedly criticizes those for their unbiblical speculations and presents himself as defending the teaching of the Scriptures.

How so many scholars so badly handle this passage, I can only speculate. I presume they were not reading the passage in context and further they were relying upon the extremely misleading popular English translation bearing almost no similarity with the Latin, which is as follows:

There is no need to speak, because we are bound to confess Him, proceeding, as He does, from Father and Son. For my own part, I think it wrong to discuss the question of His existence. He does exist, inasmuch as He is given, received, retained; He is joined with Father and Son in our confession of the faith, and cannot be excluded from a true confession of Father and Son; take away a part, and the whole faith is marred…Wherefore since He is, and is given, and is possessed, and is of God, let His traducers take refuge in silence. When they ask, Through Whom is He? To what end does He exist? Of what nature is He? We answer that He it is through Whom all things exist, and from Whom are all things, and that He is the Spirit of God, God’s gift to the faithful. If our answer displease them, their displeasure must also fall upon the Apostles and the Prophets

Hilary’s Pneumatology found elsewhere. I would dispute Scienscki (a Fordham educated Orthodox scholar) in his assertion that Hilary taught the same doctrine that was fundamentally the same as the modern Western view of the Filioque. For one, we see that Hilary refuses to even speculate on causal origins for the Spirit.

Second, we have no indication that Hilary has anything other than the Orthodox Pneumatological view of origin. Book XIII contains “the meat” of Hilary’s speculations (which are more of a torturous, Biblicist exegesis in the most minimalistic sense) on the topic. For example:

He says, When that advocate has come, “Whom I shall send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth Who proceeds from the Father, He shall testify of Me.” The Advocate shall come and the Son shall send Him from the Father, and He is the Spirit of truth Who proceeds from the FatherHe will send from the Father that Spirit of truth which proceeds from the Father; He therefore cannot be the Recipient, since He is revealed as the Sender. (Par 19)

Hilary simply iterates that the Spirit proceeds from the Father and then is sent to believers (i.e. the “Temporal Procession.”) This is no more than an affirmation of the confession he made in Book II, “And it is so–[He is] given, received, and of God; so stop [your] untrue talk.”

In the next paragraph, Hilary criticizes the Semi-Arians for “their licence of speculation, some of them holding that the Paraclete Spirit comes from the Father or from the Son.” This is ironic, because just as my translation above shown, Hilary does not take kindly to Arian assertions that the Spirit comes from the Son. It also shows my translation is fundamentally correct, as he again critizes the Semi-Arians for their speculation on exactly the same issue.

Some Filioquists may take issue with this by pointing out later in the paragraph Hilary states:

Accordingly He receives from the Son, Who is both sent by Him, and proceeds from the Father. Now I ask whether to receive from the Son is the same thing as to proceed from the Father. But if one believes that there is a difference between receiving from the Son and proceeding from the Father, surely to receive from the Son and to receive from the Father will be regarded as one and the same thing. (Par 20)

This is when the vagueries of the term procedit in Latin complicate theological explanation. After all, “proceed” in Latin can just as easily refer to a temporal procession as it does to an eternal one. So, what does Hilary have in mind when he says that for us to receive the Spirit from the Son “is the same thing as to proceed from the Father?”

It appears later in the same paragraph, Hilary tries to explain the difference between eternal and temporal procession:

For the Spirit of truth proceeds from the Father and is sent from the Father by the Son. All things that the Father has are the Son’s. (Par 20)

The point is simple. The temporal procession is shared between the Father and Son because they are the same essence. Yet, the eternal procession of the Spirit is not said to follow the same logic. We see this stated implied here and elsewhere:

The Spirit of Truth proceeds from the Father, He is sent by the Son and receives from the Son. But all things that the Father has are the Son’s, and for this cause He Who receives from Him is the Spirit of God but at the same time the Spirit of Christ. (Par 27)

As we can see, the Spirit is the “Spirit of Christ” in a causally different way. The statement “for this cause” clearly shows that the specific reason why the Holy Spirit may be referred to as the “Spirit of Christ” is because of the temporal procession. There is no indication that the eternal procession is in view, something Hilary forbids one speculating about twice.

Conclusion. Belaboring the point further is pointless, so I will end succinctly. Hilary’s On the Trinity simply does not teach the Filioque. In fact, he states things that mitigate against it. Hilary is admittedly scanty in his speculations on the topic as he appears unaware of an authoritative Scripture or interpretation from tradition. What we can surmise, however, is that he affirms the literal rendering of John 15:26 and appears to view the procession invoked there as causitive, differentiating between this and the temporal procession–but only in a vague way.

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