St. Hilary of Poitiers (315 – 367)
God is in Heaven and on Earth
The words ‘I AM THAT I AM’ are clearly adequate as an indication of God’s infinity, but, in addition, we need to apprehend the operation of His majesty and power. For while absolute existence is peculiar to Him Who, abiding eternally, had no beginning in a past however remote, we hear again an utterance worthy of Himself issuing from the eternal and Holy God, Who says, “Who holds the heaven in His palm and the earth in His hand,” and again, “The heaven is My throne and the earth is the footstool of My feet. What house will ye build Me, or what shall be the place of My rest?” The whole heaven is held in the palm of God, the whole earth grasped in His hand.
Now the word of God …reveals a deeper meaning to the patient student than to the momentary hearer. For this heaven which is held in the palm of God is also His throne, and the earth which is grasped in His hand is the footstool beneath His feet. From this …we should conclude that He has extension in space, as of a body, for that which is His throne and footstool is also held in hand and palm by that infinite Omnipotence. It was written that in all born and created things God might be known within them and without, overshadowing and indwelling, surrounding all and interfused through all, since palm and hand, which hold, reveal the might of His external control, while throne and footstool, by their support of a sitter, display the subservience of outward things to One within Who, Himself outside them, encloses all in His grasp, yet dwells within the external world which is His own. In this wise does God, from within and from without, control and correspond to the universe; being infinite, He is present in all things, in Him Who is infinite all are included. … Whether shall I go from Thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from Thy face? If I ascend up into heaven, Thou art there; if I go down into hell, Thou art there also; if I have taken my wings before dawn and made my dwelling in the uttermost parts of the sea, Thou art there. For thither Thy hand shall guide me and Thy right hand shall hold me. There is no space where God is not; space does not exist apart from Him. He is in heaven, in hell, beyond the seas; dwelling in all things and enveloping all. Thus He embraces, and is embraced by, the universe, confined to no part of it but pervading all.
Therefore … by the greatness of His works and the beauty of the things that He hath made the Creator of worlds is rightly discerned. The Creator of great things is supreme in greatness, of beautiful things in beauty. Since the work transcends our thoughts, all thought must be transcended by the Maker. Thus heaven and air and earth and seas are fair: fair also the whole universe, as the Greeks agree, who from its beautiful ordering call it “kosmos,” that is, order. But if our thought can estimate this beauty of the universe by a natural instinct – an instinct such as we see in certain birds and beasts whose voice, though it fall below the level of our understanding, yet has a sense clear to them though they cannot utter it, and in which, since all speech is the expression of some thought, there lies a meaning patent to themselves–must not the Lord of this universal beauty be recognized as Himself most beautiful amid all the beauty that surrounds Him? For though the splendor of His eternal glory overtax our mind’s best powers, it cannot fail to see that He is beautiful.
~ The Trinity, I, 1-13 (PL 10, 25-35). In Roots of christian Mysticism. By Oliver Clement. New City Press, 1995. p. 19-20.
Hilary is the most important Father of Roman Gaul, sometimes called the “Athanasius of the West.” He was born into a pagan family of landowner magistrates in Poitiers of Aquitaine, the most Roman of the provinces of Gaul. As a youth he relentlessly sought to understand God. He first studied hedonism; moved on to stoicism, explored a variety of cults and esoteric sects, and then Judaism before he converted to Christianity after reading the Gospel of John. For several years he studied in Asia Minor and absorbed the mystical theology of the Greek fathers. The heart of Hilary’s theology is the uniqueness of Christianity among all the religions of the world because it manifests the highest intuitions of God into the physical world and because it teaches us how to know God by following the example and path of Jesus Christ. After battling the Arian heresy, he gave up polemics and devoted himself to exegesis of the Scriptures. The theme of the beauty of God shining from the Father through the Son into the details of creation permeates his writings. He teaches that the individual, transformed by Christ, transforms even the physical matter of creation and brings God’s blessings into the world. Through Hilary the Eastern themes of transformation of creation through the light of Christ come into the West which was more accustomed to a moral approach to Christianity.
Why Creation is Beautiful
“From the greatness and beauty of created things comes a corresponding perception of their Creator” (Wisdom 13:5). The sky and the air are beautiful, the earth and the sea are beautiful. By divine grace, the universe was called by the Greeks “cosmos,” meaning “ornament.” … Surely the author of all created beauty must himself be the beauty of all beauty?
~ “On the Holy Trinity,” 1:1-3. Quoted in Spirituality of the Handmaid. By Kerry Walters. Paulist Press, 1999, p.129.