Eric Wickman is an adjunct faculty in the College of Christian Studies at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. Eric received his PhD from the University of Saint Louis in 2013 under the direction of Father Ken Steinhauser. His research focuses on Hilary of Poitiers and early Christian soteriology. We thank Professor Wickman for taking the time out of his schedule to answer a few questions for us about his upcoming article in Church History: Studies in Christianity and Culture, which is titled, “The Political Theology of Hilary of Poitiers.”

How did you come across the topic of your article?
This article came out of a doctoral seminar I took when I was still a PhD student. The seminar was something to the effect of “Politics in the Early Church.” I have to admit that at the time I was not interested in the politics of the early church because I was writing a dissertation on soteriology. The more I studied it, though, the more I realized how much of a role the emperors were playing in the Arian controversy. Since I am studying Hilary of Poitiers, that was a big part of it. After I finished my dissertation, I was looking for a new project. I realized that I had already done some significant research on Hilary and his work, so I decided to run with that.

What inspired you to write this article?
My interpretation of the primary sources was very different than the secondary sources that I was reading. Two and two just was not adding up to me. I felt like there was an opportunity for me to make a contribution to the field beyond what the current scholarship had done. Also, anytime I can make people a little more aware of Hilary of Poitiers, who gets overlooked fairly often, I am going to take it.

Is there a particular source you came across during the course of your research that you would like to share with us?
I probably could not have written this article without the book Hilary of Poitiers: Conflicts of Conscience and Law in the Fourth-Century Church, which is a translation of Hilary’s original Latin by Lionel R. Wickham. What Wickham did in this book was to take the old Latin critical edition of Hilary’s original work, which was written in the early twentieth century, and make sense of it. The critical edition that he uses is out of chronological order and is just a mess to read by itself. You are reading the Latin and then all of a sudden Hilary jumps ten years in the future and then goes backwards five years. Wickham did a very good job of putting everything in chronological order so that Hilary’s texts made sense. For a church historian, this whole series of translated texts is fantastic. Wickham’s work in particular does a great job making an ancient historical text accessible to a modern historian. It really was critical to have this.

Where did research for this article take you (archives, cities, etc.)?
I didn’t go to any archives for this article. We have a pretty small library at UMHB and I don’t have the patience for Interlibrary Loan sometimes. I utilized the libraries of Baylor and UT Austin because they have more resources that are readily accessible. But there wasn’t anything special in terms of archival research for this article. Everything that I needed for this article was published.

Is there anything else about this article and the process through which you wrote it that you would like to share?
Patience was key to this article. I had time to delve into Hilary’s text and every time I thought I was done with the article, something came up or somebody pointed something out to me that I had not addressed in the article. At that point, it was back to the library. I am really pleased with the whole process. The ability for me to be thorough with Hilary of Poitiers’ work is what led to what I think is a good result. I would also like to thank Donna Hawk-Reinhard, who read many versions of this article for me. I would also like to thank Richard Flower, who was kind enough to correspond with me about my article despite us never having met in person. He did not have to be that nice to me but I am very grateful to him and that was a very kind thing of him to do.

Abstract of “The Political Theology of Hilary of Poitiers”
Writing in the half century after the “conversion” of Constantine, Bishop Hilary of Poitiers wrote two works regarding Emperor Constantius II. The first, Ad Constantium, is a polite and formal letter, seeking an audience with the emperor. The second, In Constantium, is a harangue against the emperor. Some scholars have proposed that the difference in tone between these two documents indicates that Hilary had come to advocate for the emperor to be completely uninvolved in the affairs of the Church. Closer analysis reveals that Hilary always endorses a position in which the emperor should be involved in ecclesiastical affairs, so long as he submits to the higher authorities of Scripture and the ancient apostolic faith. Hilary would have had no concerns with a pro-Nicene emperor enforcing proto-orthodox church councils and creeds. Prior to Hilary, most of Christianity had accepted imperial involvement in the Church. But the involvement of the Roman emperors in ecclesial matters caused many to have to consider the problems of someone outside of the Church making decisions for the Church. Hilary’s efforts stand as one of the first western attempts to nuance and limit the emperor’s ecclesiastical role.

Leave a Comment