Wednesday, January 13, 2010

St. Hilary (315?-368)

This staunch defender of the divinity of Christ was a gentle and courteous man, devoted to writing some of the greatest theology on the Trinity, and was like his Master in being labeled a "disturber of the peace." In a very troubled period in the Church, his holiness was lived out in both scholarship and controversy. Raised a pagan, he was converted to Christianity when he met his God of nature in the Scriptures. His wife was still living when he was chosen, against his will, to be the bishop of Poitiers in France. He was soon taken up with battling what became the scourge of the fourth century, Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ. The heresy spread rapidly. St. Jerome said "The world groaned and marveled to find that it was Arian." When Emperor Constantius ordered all the bishops of the West to sign a condemnation of Athanasius, the great defender of the faith in the East, Hilary refused and was banished from France to far off Phrygia (in modern-day Turkey). Eventually he was called the "Athanasius of the West." While writing in exile, he was invited by some semi-Arians (hoping for reconciliation) to a council the emperor called to counteract the Council of Nicea. But Hilary predictably defended the Church, and when he sought public debate with the heretical bishop who had exiled him, the Arians, dreading the meeting and its outcome, pleaded with the emperor to send this troublemaker back home. Hilary was welcomed by his people.

The Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint Mark 1:29-39

As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. Simon's mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told Jesus about her. So he went to her, took her hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she began to wait on them. That evening after sunset the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was. Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: Everyone is looking for you! Jesus replied, Let us go somewhere else— to the nearby villages— so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come. He travelled throughout Galilee, preaching in their synagogues and driving out demons.

Christ and satan
(Homily by Fr. E. J. Tyler)

There is an intriguing and notable difference between the Gospels, considered as historical narratives, and other historical books in Sacred Scripture - such as the books of the Pentateuch, the books of Samuel and Kings, Maccabees, and others. I refer to the proliferation in the Gospels of the demons. There are no other books in all the inspired Scriptures in which the satanic world is present to the degree that it is recorded in the Gospels. In the Old Testament, Satan appears at the beginning to enter into converse with the woman, and brings about her fall. Through her, he brings to grief the man. In the book of Job, Satan is allowed to test Job’s fidelity to God. There are other references to Satan in the Old Testament, but they are relatively few. There are more references to the Angels. Raphael dominates the book of Tobit. But the situation is reversed in the Gospels. There are Angels who act in important ways, most especially in the infancy narratives. Angels minister to Christ in the wilderness after his encounter with Satan, following his baptism. Our Lord in his teaching refers to the Angels. An Angel assists him during his agony in the Garden. But there are many more references to Satan and to the devils. Following his baptism by John, Jesus is openly approached by the Prince of Hell, appearing perhaps as an angel of light. It is interesting to see the calm converse between the two at the beginning of our Lord’s public ministry and to compare it with the short shrift the demons get from Christ during his ministry. Our Lord allows Satan to approach him and to propose his temptations. Satan conducts himself as if he looked on himself as an equal to the Man before him. It looks as if our Lord is allowing a new beginning. The scene is a kind of repeat of what happened at the dawn of human history when the Serpent approached the woman and entered into converse with her. This time, Satan learns that a new Adam is afoot. The first Adam had been made in the image of God. In a far higher sense the second Adam was, as St Paul writes, the image of the unseen God. The encounter reveals to Satan that this second Adam is not as was the first. Our Lord may have allowed this repulsive meeting to show to Satan that he now has a fight on his hands of the first order.

A fight it was. In the wilderness, Satan had approached Jesus, and was sent packing. Once Jesus begins his public work, the demons vent their anger and disturb Christ’s work. They too are sent packing. Our Gospel passage today (Mark 1: 29-39) follows Matthew’s narrative of our Lord’s first address in the synagogue of Capernaum. There had been two sensations in the synagogue. The first was the amazing authority with which our Lord taught. It was spellbinding, "for he sat there teaching them like one who had authority, not like the scribes." This "authority" was new. They had not seen its like before. The second sensation was the sudden intervention of a demon in the synagogue itself. The demon in question in some sense had possession of a man in the congregation, and it bawled out at our Lord in undoubted anguish, "Jesus of Nazareth, have you come to make an end of us?" Christ silenced him. Following this drama, we read that our Lord went to Simon and Andrew’s house where he cured Simon’s mother-in-law of her fever. We notice in this healing, incidentally, that sickness is not necessarily due to the demonic - though in many cases in the Gospels it is. That evening, with the Sabbath now over, we read that "the people brought to Jesus all the sick and demon-possessed. The whole town gathered at the door, and Jesus healed many who had various diseases." Once again, the demons are present, and "he also drove out many demons, but he would not let the demons speak because they knew who he was." We observe the ease with which our Lord expelled them from the lives of those afflicted by them in any way, and how he "would not let them speak." Christ’s hand was supreme. The entire host of Satan could not withstand the word of Jesus. It was a harbinger of what was to come. Satan would engineer the hostility of our Lord’s enemies and bring about, so he thought, the downfall of the Messiah. But all this was allowed by Christ in obedience to the will of the Father, and by his seeming downfall he gained the victory and entered his glory.

More than any other part of the Scriptures, the Gospels show forth the two great sides. On the one side there is Christ, and on the other there is Satan. In modern secular culture the devil is a joke. He is a mythical imp with a tail, horns and a pitchfork. How sadly blind we can be to the realities! Our Gospel passage today shows a proliferation of the demonic. The Satanic world touches our own and causes grave problems. But we have a Redeemer, one in whom we can place all our hopes. He is the strong one. Let us then stand with him and take the fight to its end.

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