The Human Condition in Hilary of Poitiers

The Will and Original Sin between Origen and Augustine

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Isabella Image
Oxford Theology and Religion Monographs
  • Oxford, England: 
    Oxford University Press
    , October
     256 pages.
     For other formats: Link to Publisher's Website.


This engaging, articulate book traces a trajectory from Origen to Hilary to Augustine, especially with regard to notions of the fallen will and original sin in Hilary’s pre-exile Commentary on Matthew and his post-exile Commentary on Psalm 118. Hilary was among the patristic authors whom Augustine cited as authorities in support of the doctrine of original sin. By showing that hints of the notion of original sin (peccata originis) were already in Hilary, Image argues that its roots cannot be described as only “African.” Irenaeus, Tertullian, and especially Origen exerted a remarkable influence on Hilary. Chapter 2, through the case study of strophe gimel, argues that the Commentary on Psalm 118 is an ad sensum translation of Origen’s exegesis, recovered through Catenae and Ambrose’s version—indeed, Jerome attests that Hilary translated Origen’s Commentaries on Job and Psalms (Apology 1.2).

Chapter 3 shows that Hilary’s anthropology shifted from his Commentary on Matthew, composed before his acquaintance with Origen, to that on Psalm 118, in which he follows Origen’s double creation (first the human “in the image of God,” then the “molded human”), and even echoes Plato’s statement that the mortal body is a prison for the soul and facilitates vices. However, I note that Hilary’s remark in C.Matt. 5.8 (discussed on 53-57 with the correct note that Hilary was focusing on pre- and post-resurrection bodies), that souls, qua creatures, are always joined to a body, in fact agrees with the anthropology of Origen, who insisted that God alone is incorporeal, while creatures always have bodies—of different kinds, from spiritual and immortal to corruptible and mortal (see my “Origen” in A History of Mind and Body in Late Antiquity, ed. Anna Marmodoro and Sophie Cartwright, Cambridge University Press, 2018). That sins may be facilitated by mortal bodies, but depend on the will (C.Matt. 5.4) was also Origen’s line, like the association of sin and material existence (ibid. 15.10). But did Hilary already know Origen’s ideas in his Commentary on Matthew? My note above strengthens the argument by Thomas Torrance (“The Interpretation of Biblical and Theological Statements according to Hilary,” Journal for the Association of Ethio-Hellenic Studies 7 [1975]: 37-69), not cited by Image, who surmised that Origen influenced already Hilary’s Commentary on Matthew. This drew already on an excellent knowledge of the Bible. Its structure, following Matthew’s text as opus continuum, is that of Origen’s commentaries (Janet Sidaway, The Human Factor: “Deification” as Transformation in the Theology of Hilary of Poitiers, Peeters, 2016, 84). Image herself acknowledges that “any difference between the two texts [C.Matt., Tr.Ps.118] is more of degree than kind” (64).

Tr.Ps.118 10.6-7 states that the rational soul is in God’s image (what Origen emphasized, to highlight God’s immaterial nature) and distinguishes between Christ-Logos, “God’s image,” and humanity “in God’s image”—the same distinction that Philo and Origen drew. Hilary never embraced the idea that God’s image was lost with the Fall, but this is not really a divergence from Origen, as Image suggests. Origen insisted that sin darkens this image and covers it in the devil’s image, or a subhuman or earthly image, but cannot cancel it: “God’s Son is the painter of this image. And because its painter is such and so powerful, his image can be blurred/obscured by neglectfulness, but cannot be deleted by sin. For God’s image always endures in you, although you superimpose the earthly man’s image to it” (H.Gen.13.4; Cels.4.83;2.11). Origen thought God’s image is restored by Christ (C.Cant.3.8.10) and will shine forth again at restoration (Ramelli, The Christian Doctrine of Apokatastasis, Brill, 2013, 197-8).

Hilary insists on free will as the grounds for accountability (Tr.Ps.118 22.4), like Origen, and a metaphor in C.Matt.10.24 might be too confused to ascribe to him a theory of servile will after the Fall. Tr.Ps.118 15.6 is a direct expression of Origen’s theory that malitia is a possibility for all rational creatures, since their voluntas is mutable (only God is stable in the Good). Image is right that Hilary embraced hints of the concept of original sin “independently of Origen” (181), whose ethical intellectualism and doctrine of free will were indeed not fully compatible with a strong doctrine of original sin (as I argued in “Was Patristic Sin Different from Ancient Error? The Role of Ethical Intellectualism and the Invention of ‘Original Sin’,” lecture, Paris Institute of Advanced Study, 13 April 2017, forthcoming).

It is sensible to conclude, with Image, that Hilary’s reflections on original sin were shaped by the notion of Christ’s sinlessness and how this proceeded from a different origin than that of all humans. I find that embracing traducianism facilitated the doctrine of original sin. Origen, I would add, ridiculed traducianism; this is another element that would have made original sin difficult for him to accept. I agree with Image’s (and Mark Edwards’s) claim—which some readers will find controversial—that Origen first used ὁμοούσιος in reference to the Son’s consubstantiality with the Father (5). But the list of Origen’s doctrines from which Hilary took his distance (162) are in fact not Origen’s: subordination of the Son; preexistence of disembodied souls; the loss of God’s image at the Fall; the body created as a punishment for sin; non-bodily resurrection; exclusive allegorical reading. Origen rather argued for the Son’s coeternity and consubstantiality with the Father; the creation of intellectual creatures as substances with spiritual bodies; the blurring of God’s image through sin but not its cancellation; (spiritual) bodies created before sin; resurrection of body and soul (and intellect); historical and allegorical exegesis together. Thus, I am relieved that Image notes: “it is not necessarily the case that Origen himself held all of these positions” (162). Indeed, he likely held none.

Typos are rare (e.g. opus latissimus, 17). A short section is devoted to recent scholarship on Origen’s influence on Augustine (179-180): while some studies are mentioned, such as those by George Heidl, Roland Teske, and Dominic Keech, other substantial treatments, which would have been helpful to discuss, are missing: Vittorino Grossi (“L’origenismo latino negli scritti agostiniani,” Augustinianum 36, 2006, 51–88) and Ilaria Ramelli (“Origen in Augustine: A Paradoxical Reception,” Numen 60, 2013, 280-307). But Image is correct to suggest that Hilary was one of the trajectories of Origen’s influence on Augustine, especially through his commentaries on Job and the Psalms, which were widely cited by Augustine, still in his anti-Pelagian phase, and were free translations from Origen. A systematic investigation on Origen’s influence on Augustine in the various phases of his thought—from the anti-Manichaean to the anti-Pelagian—is a major desideratum in patristic scholarship. In sum, Image’s book is highly interesting and promotes further investigation.

About the Reviewer(s): 

Ilaria L. E. Ramelli is Professor of Theology and K. Britt Chair at the Graduate School, SHMS, Angelicum University.

Date of Review: 
February 21, 2018
About the Author(s)/Editor(s)/Translator(s): 

Isabella Image studied Classics at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. After time working as a civil servant she completed her doctorate at Harris Manchester, Oxford.


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