It's exam time in Rome. Most of the University students here are having to grind their minds in the effort to be prepared for the ordeal. As a result, many places experience great tension among the student body.
I am glad to say that none of this seems to be too apparent here at the Casa. Everyone, though working hard, seems fine. It has to be said that the habitus of "working hard" is well instilled into everyone here throughout the year and not just at exam time - and so the house is always buzzing with work. Furthermore, if there is any grinding noise going on from the Licence students, this is probably drowned out by the roar of the drilling operations undertaken by the Doctorate students. These poor students experience an on-going pressure and at times anxiety as they seek to complete on time, work hard at a constant pace, read, think, take notes, develop their arguments and divine their conclusions. Time out, though gratefully undertaken, is always laced with a trace of guilt.
Last night I experienced what most say they end up facing - a fairly sleepless night. I don't know why it happened. In the end I just read Simonetti's comprehensive history of the Arian crisis - useful background reading for my studies on Hilary. The section I read covered much of Hilary's history: his own arguments in favour of the Divinty of Christ as true Son of God in his De Trinitate which became the key text in the West in the debate with Arianism and semi-Arianism; his bravery, despite his gentle disposition, in opposing the Arians, backed up as they were by Imperial threat; his exile in the East and his fruitful study of Eastern theology, particularly Origen; his success in joining the Council of Seleucia in 359 and helping to transform it into an anti-Arian event; his eventual repatriation to the West because the pro-Arian authorities realised how much trouble he had caused - he was considered to be "discordiae seminarium et perturbator Orientis"; his return via Rome to Gaul where he united the Bishops at Paris, persuded them to denounce Arianism, affirm the Council of Nicea, condemn the main perpetrators of the heresy and to extend a level of understanding to those who had signed previous creeds under Imperial threat and who now wished to disown what they had signed and to the so-called semi-Arians many of whom were in reality homoousions (i.e., Catholics: the Son is of the same substance as the Father - in Latin "consubstantialis Patri") but were cautious about terms becuase they did not want to fall into the heresy of Sabellianism. Some of the homoiousions (i.e. semi-Arians: homoiousios = the Son is of a similar substance to the Father) of the East sent a letter to the Council of Paris to let the Gaul Bishops know why they had signed the pro-Arian creeds - again because of Imperial pressure. The reply from Paris was probably written by Hilary (it bears the full stamp of his style and thought): it is full of carefully crafted distinctions which bring out the Catholic understanding of homoousios and also show why homoiousios can be accepted but only because it logically points to homoousios: the true similarity of substance implies being of the same substance if it is to be wholly and utterly similar: similarity "veri Dei sit ad verum Deum."
Simonetti also laid bare how much the Arians and their supporters came to depend on Imperial power for their cause to be espoused and imposed: their violence, cunning and downright dishonesty is treated dispassionately by an author who at times appears critical of Athanasias.
This is a medieval depiction of St Hilary combatting the heresies. Of course, he never used a sword. His weapons were grace, the Catholic Faith, fidelity, something to write with and his mind. One thing is clear: he knew that heresies damage people's faith and their spiritual lives because they distort the living image of God which the Church conveys to us in her preaching and they replace that image with one made according to our subjective reason. That's why they must be combatted - in every time, in every place, including today.
I spent the rest of the day in the library working with his Treatise on the Psalms. It was slow work today after last night. I have a priest on either side of me on my desk in the library - Fr Tad Oxley on my right and Fr Derek Borak on my left. I have dubbed the whole table "Death Row". The clock is ticking and we all know why.