Lent 2015, Day Nineteen—Hilary of Poitiers (1)

Today’s citation comes from Hilary of Poitiers (AD 300-368), from his Homily on Psalm 53 (in the Greek Septuagint translation; but Psalm 54 in the Masoretic text and most English translations).  You can access the full homily here.

Now, by the Law, sprinkling was a cleansing from sins; it purified the people through faith by the sprinkling of blood, of which this same blessed David thus speaks: “Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop and I shall be cleansed”; the Law, through faith, providing as a temporary substitute, in the blood of whole burnt-offerings, a type of the sprinkling with the blood of the Lord, which was to be.

He who bore the infirmities and took on Him the sins of men approached God in prayer with the humility proper to men.

Now in view of our repeated, nay our unbroken assertion both that it was the Only-begotten Son of God Who was uplifted on the cross, and that He was condemned to death Who is eternal by virtue of the origin which is His by the nature which He derives from the eternal Father, it must be clearly understood that He was subjected to suffering of no natural necessity, but to accomplish the mystery of man’s salvation; that He submitted to suffering of His own Will, and not under compulsion. And although this suffering did not belong to His nature as eternal Son, the immutability of God being proof against the assault of any derogatory disturbance, yet it was freely undertaken, and was intended to fulfil a penal function without, however, inflicting the pain of penalty upon the sufferer: not that the suffering in question was not of a kind to cause pain, but because the divine Nature feels no pain. God suffered, then, by voluntarily submitting to suffering; but although He underwent the sufferings in all the fulness of their force, which necessarily causes pain to the sufferers, yet He never so abandoned the powers of His Nature as to feel pain.

For next there follows: “I will sacrifice unto Thee freely.” The sacrifices of the Law, which consisted of whole burnt-offerings and oblations of goats and of bulls, did not involve an expression of free will, because the sentence of a curse was pronounced on all who broke the Law. Whoever failed to sacrifice laid himself open to the curse. And it was always necessary to go through the whole sacrificial action because the addition of a curse to the commandment forbad any trifling with the obligation of offering. It was from this curse that our Lord Jesus Christ redeemed us, when, as the Apostle says: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made curse for us, for it is written: cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Thus He offered Himself to the death of the accursed that He might break the curse of the Law, offering Himself voluntarily a victim to God the Father, in order that by means of a voluntary victim the curse which attended the discontinuance of the regular victim might be removed. Now of this sacrifice mention is made in another passage of the Psalms: “Sacrifice and offering thou wouldest not, but a body hast thou prepared for Me”; that is, by offering to God the Father, Who refused the legal sacrifices, the acceptable offering of the body which He received. Of which offering the holy Apostle thus speaks: “For this He did once for all when He offered Himself up,” securing complete salvation for the human race by the offering of this holy, perfect victim.

For the Only-begotten Son of God was not cut off by death. It is true that in order to take the whole of our nature upon Him He submitted to death, that is to the apparent severance of soul and body, and made His way even to the realms below, the debt which man must manifestly pay: but He rose again and abides for ever and looks down with an eye that death cannot dim upon His enemies, being exalted unto the glory of God and born once more Son of God after becoming Son of Man, as He had been Son of God when He first became Son of Man, by the glory of His resurrection. He looks down upon His enemies to whom He once said: “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will build it up.” And so, now that this temple of His body has been built again, He surveys from His throne on high those who sought after His soul, and, set far beyond the power of human death, He looks down from heaven upon those who wrought His death, He who suffered death, yet could not die, the God-Man, our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is blessed for ever and ever. Amen.

Jerry Shepherd
March 11, 2015

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