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  • The Human Condition in Hilary of Poitiers: The Will and Original Sin between Origen and Augustine by Isabella Image
  • Jarred Mercer
Isabella ImageThe Human Condition in Hilary of Poitiers: The Will and Original Sin between Origen and Augustine
Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017
Pp. 241. $85.00.

Isabella Image confronts perhaps one of the thorniest questions in the study of early Christian theology: where did Augustine’s doctrine of original sin come from? She approaches this problem, however, through a new door, namely, the anthropology of Hilary of Poitiers. Augustine confidently claims Hilary as a source for his doctrine and berates his opponents for ignoring the tradition: “I did not make up original sin; the catholic faith believed it of old. You’re the ‘novel’ heretic here, for denying it!” (De nuptiis et concupiscentia 1.12.25). Scholarship has typically claimed that this is a false or exaggerated claim, but Image—through an investigation of Hilary’s understanding of will and original sin as a link between the thought of Origen and Augustine—raises the proposal that perhaps he is telling the truth (179).

The book accomplishes several other things along the way, not least an erudite account of Hilary’s anthropology and an engaging exploration of Origen’s influence on fourth-century Latin authors. Image does this through a study of two of Hilary’s commentaries in particular, on Matthew and Psalm 118. These are chosen as primary methodological boundaries for the study because they are of similar length (making statistical studies possible), because they share the same genre, and because they allow us to see progression in Hilary’s thought and use of sources, Hilary’s Commentarium in Matthaeum is his first work and Tractatus super Psalmos is among his last. Further, Psalm 118 in particular, as Image argues in Chapter Two, can be shown to be an ad sensum translation of Origen’s commentary on Psalm 118, and we know more about Origen’s original text on Psalm 118 than other Psalms due to the Palestinian Catena edition and the parallel use of Origen’s text by Ambrose. The comparison of Hilary’s texts proves that his Matthew commentary is independent and that Jerome’s words are true that Hilary “imitated” (De viris illustribus 100) or “translated” (Epistula ad Augustinum 112.20) Origen in his commentaries on the Psalms.

Investigating Jerome’s claim is fraught with methodological difficulties, and Image’s focus on a particular commentary of Origen has a more sure foundation than previous works (e.g., Goffinet, 1965). More importantly it enables us to see ways in which Origen directly (rather than simply indirectly through common currency of ideas) influenced fourth-century Latins. [End Page 682]

The shape of a book itself necessarily stipulates other boundaries (one cannot write about everything!). This leads Image to focus in Chapters Three through Eight on particular aspects of Hilary’s anthropology: the body and soul (Chapter Three), the imago Dei (Chapter Four), the “fall” of humanity (Chapter Five), the will, thoughts, and passions (Chapters Six and Seven), and original sin (Chapter 8). This leaves out the influence of closely related issues to anthropology in Hilary’s thought, including soteriology and Christology. As Weedman (2007) and Scully (2015) have argued generally, and I have argued specifically regarding anthropological concerns (2014), Hilary’s theology is synthesized and systematic, and without some thorough look at these surrounding (and intertwined) issues, there is potential to stifle Hilary’s anthropology (particularly its christological focus: Christ is homo noster [De Trinitate 11.19, et al.] who defines the human condition). However, within the methodological boundaries set for the study, Image’s exploration of Hilary’s anthropology is thorough and articulate. The work is on my view the most compelling to date on Hilary’s use of Origen, and it further succeeds in opening up a new perspective on Hilary as a presage for Augustine’s doctrine of original sin.

In the final chapter, Image argues that Hilary works as a link between Origen and Augustine on original sin. Much of modern scholarship argues that Augustine’s view of inherited guilt for sin is his own creation in debate with “Pelagians” and...


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pp. 682-684
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