I have to admit that when I head this nickname for Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers I got a bit of a chuckle: “Hammer of the Arians;” nice name there, bish. But Hilary, who lived from around 300 A.D. to 368 A.D., was alive in a time when monarchs, warlords and even men of the church got cool nicknames. Athanasius, one of THE Fathers of the faith was nicknamed by his enemies, “The [angry] black dwarf,” and who can forget the eldest son of Lorenzo the Magnificent: Piero the Unfortunate? Then there is “Father Christmas,” St. Nicholas, who in a fit of Trinitarian, rage actually slapped Arius in the face at the First Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
The bitter fighting at the First Council of Nicea in 325 revolved primarily around the persons of the Holy Trinity. On the orthodox side were those who supported the Trinity as three equal persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The opposing side of the fight were those who followed the teachings of Arius, who believed that Christ, as “God the Son,” was a subordinate and therefore unequal entity to “God the Father.” The debates were brutal and the fighting was far from over at the conclusion of the council. Bishop Hilary of Poitiers spent a majority of his time as bishop railing against the Arian bishops in Europe. He wrote several key manuscripts that would later bring Augustine of Hippo to give him another nickname, “The illustrious doctor of the churches.” Hilary was a man who knew in what he believed. Not only was he passionate about his beliefs, he was able to express those beliefs in genuine, convincing and articulate ways.
The gospel reading assigned to Hilary’s saint day is Luke 12:8-12:
“Jesus said, ‘I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before others, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but whoever denies me before others will be denied before the angels of God. And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.’”
As a preacher there have been one or two occasions when these words have been a comfort during that climb into the pulpit when not ALL of the thoughts in the sermon, that will be momentarily delivered, are completely formed. But these words should also be a comfort to us all when we are asked, “Why do you believe all of that stuff about Jesus?” Or even when you are asked by another Christian, “So why exactly ARE you an Episcopalian?” I wonder how we each would respond to the question, “So what is so special about the Episcopal Church?” Or, how we would respond to the skeptical family member or friend who asks something a bit more personal, “Do you really think that you have a personal relationship with Jesus?”
My hunch is that we probably are not asked questions like those above a whole lot and I think it is a shame. They have become somewhat taboo in places of work, and even among family members. But when asked…how do we respond? What words do we use to express our beliefs or our feelings about the Episcopal Church? When was the last time we verbalized our beliefs and faith as answers to the questions above? If we were stopped on the street and questioned about our faith or our church, what would we say? Would we fumble for the words or would we answer with confidence? They are important questions and deserve some thought and reflection on which words best express what we believe.
The scripture passage above from Luke should come as some comfort as we think about our answers. Remember that the Holy Spirit, who gives us life and inspiration and who is, “God at work in the world and in the Church even now” (BCP p.852) is there to help guide our response and what we will say.
So speak boldly; profess your faith, your worship of Christ and your love of the Episcopal Church. While our answers might not earn us any cool nickname like, “Hammer of the Arians,” they might earn us respect and credibility with those who ask us about our religion, our denomination, and our faith lives and in the process strengthen our own convictions. So, “…do not worry about how you are to defend yourselves or what you are to say; for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that very hour what you ought to say.”
With Epiphany Blessings,