January 13th - St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church
- From: "Waldtraud" <richarra@xxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Tue, 13 Jan 2009 10:36:42 -0600
January 13th - St. Hilary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church
Born in Poitiers, Aquitaine, France, 315; died there c. 368 (whether on
1 or January 13 is now indiscernible); declared Doctor of the Divinity of
by Pope Pius IX in 1851; feast day formerly on January 14.
Saint Hilary has been praised by Saint Augustine, Saint Jerome, and quite
generally by all the theologians and Church historians as one of the great
pillars of the Church. Saint Augustine praises him as "the illustrious
of the churches." Saint Jerome says that Hilary was "a most eloquent man,
the trumpet of the Latins against the Arians." In another place he writes
God transplanted "two fair cedars"-SS. Cyprian and Hilary-"out of the world
into His Church."
For Saint Hilary, born of wealthy, noble parents, was raised as a pagan. He
himself testifies that he was brought up on idolatry. He studied rhetoric
philosophy, became an orator, married early in life, and had a daughter.
In his own writings he describes how God led him in mid-life (c. 350) to
conversion. It involved a long process of discovering the absurdity of
polytheism by reason and meeting the God of Moses through Biblical study. In
first chapter of John's Gospel, he learned that the Divine Word is coeternal
consubstantial with the Father. Hilary checked his natural curiosity,
intricacies, and submitted his understanding to divine revelation. Just as
must learn to do if we are to grow in faith, he resolved to leave what
incomprehensible to the veracity and power of God, and not measure divine
mystery by the capacity of human understanding.
His study also led him to the conviction that man is in the world to
moral virtue that must be rewarded in the hereafter. After his own
and baptism, Hilary led his wife and daughter, Saint Abra (Abram, Afra, or
Apra), to God and separated himself from all un-Catholic company. At first
avoided all contact with Jews and heretics, but later came to realize that
conversion depended, in part, upon the compassion of Christians and relaxed
His wife was still living when he was made bishop of Poitiers around 350-353
(age 35). He resisted the appointment, but his humility made the people even
more insistent. He and his wife had to live separately thereafter in
continence. Soon after his consecration, he wrote a commentary on the Gospel
Saint Matthew, which survives, and which, together with Hilary's
the Psalms, Saint Jerome commended for reading especially by virgins and the
Almost at once he became involved in the Arian controversy, and from the
he was an outspoken champion of orthodoxy. Emperor Constantius II had
the Eastern churches to embrace Arianism, then moved for a time to Arles. At
council of Arles in 353, which turned out badly, Hilary took the initiative
oppose the forms and motions that he himself had translated for Constantius.
emperor had called a synod in Milan in 355 that required all bishops to sign
condemnation of Saint Athanasius. Those who declined were banished,
SS. Eusebius of Vercelli and Dionysius of Milan. Hilary considered
be right, and refused to attend.
In response to the action of the synod, Hilary wrote his First book to
Constantius, begging him to restore peace to the Church. At the synod of
(Bitterae) in 356, presided over by Arian Bishop Saturninus of Arles and
composed mainly of Arian bishops, Hilary was condemned for his orthodoxy.
that year, he was exiled by Constantius to Phrygia with Bishop Rhodanius,
friend from Toulouse.
During his banishment he did much of his writing, including his most
and celebrated work, "De Trinitate", twelve books proving the
of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit meant to refute the Arians. In 358 he
"On Synods or On the Faith of the Orientals" to explain the terms and
of the eastern Arians in their synods.
In 359, the emperor, again interfering in Church affairs, assembled a
Arians at Seleucia in Isauria to neutralize the decrees of the Council of
Nicaea. Saint Hilary, who had then been in Phrygia for three years, was
by the semi-Arians to attend. They had hoped he would be useful to their
in crushing those who adhered strictly to the Arian doctrine. Hilary so
argued against all enemies of orthodox Christianity that the Phrygians were
begging the emperor to send him back to Poitiers.
It seems that after defending Nicaea at Seleucia, Hilary withdrew to
Constantinople and there presented to the emperor a request, called his
book to Constantius, in which he begged the emperor's permission to hold a
public disputation about religion with Saturninus, the author of his
That is when the Arians, dreading such a trial, convinced Constantius to let
Hilary go back to his see in 360.
In exile Saint Hilary perceived that his opponents used hymns to spread
false views. He decided that Christians should popularize their beliefs in
same way, and he became the first Latin hymn-writer of the Church. Most of
hymns have been lost, but three survive: one about Jesus' temptations in the
wilderness; another about Easter; and a third, on the Trinity, seventy
He was one of the most prominent and esteemed theologians of his time.
his writing could be stern and uncompromising, he was a gentle, calm, pious,
polite, and friendly man. This face of Hilary can be seen in the still
letter that he wrote during his exile to his 13-year-old daughter in which
acquaints her with the inestimable riches Christ wanted to bestow on her if
would forego all earthly things, including spouse, fine garments, and
Most of Hilary's writing is difficult to read because his style is rather
convoluted to the point of obscurity. Origen, who was condemned long after
death because of the twists some of his followers took, strongly influenced
Hilary's writings. In addition to the previously mentioned commentaries on
Matthew's Gospel, Homilies on the Psalms, and De synodis, Hilary wrote Opus
historicum and much on the Arian controversy. His writings are also useful
their historical insight.
Returning to Gaul, Hilary travelled through Illyricum and Italy,
the morale of weaker Christians, and was received enthusiastically by the
of Poitiers. During his exile, no one replaced the saint as bishop of
The priests preferred, instead, to pretend that he was still with them. His
letters home during his exile showed that he was afraid, had little to eat,
was surrounded by enemies.
Upon his return to Poitiers, he had Arianism condemned by the Senate, set
reform, preaching and pastoral work with increased ardor. He convoked a
Gaul and condemned the synod of Rimini (359). Saturninus was excommunicated
deposed. Constantius died at Poitiers in 361, and the Arian persecution
In 364, Hilary went to Milan to engage its usurping Arian Bishop Auxentius
public dispute. His early training as an orator made him so successful that
Auxentius's protector, Emperor Valentinian, ordered him to leave Milan. His
greatest achievement was the re-establishment of order in the Church of his
All of Hilary's writings breathe a vein of extraordinary piety. He held it
the great work of his life to use all his faculties to evangelize and excite
men to the love of God. He earnestly recommended the practice of beginning
ending every action and discourse with prayer, to pray always and remember
all we do should praise and thank the Lord.
Hilary's relics have been moved several times. Some parts appear to be in
Limousin; some burned by the Huguenots in Poitiers; but most of his remains
in the abbey of Saint Denys, near Paris. Venantius Fortunatus, a
related many of the miracles wrought by Saint Hilary during his lifetime;
Gregory of Tours and others recorded many that occurred at his tomb.
The spring term at the Law Courts in England and at Oxford University are
for him-the Hilary Term-as are three English churches (Attwater,
Bentley, Butler, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Husenbeth, Walsh, White).
He is portrayed in art holding an open book of the Gospel; or as a bishop
three books; or with a child (sometimes in a cradle at his feet, raised to
by him); or with a pen or stick (White). Roeder says that he is identified
desk with books and a child in its cradle at his feet (so he is sometimes
confused with Saint Ambrose). Sometimes he is shown with Saint Martin of
(because he was his friend and spiritual director); or with a snake and
In a picture by the Master of Liesborn in the National Gallery of England is
Saint Hilary in armor, with SS Ambrose and Jerome. In view of the two
whose company he is, it seems likely that this should represent the great
of Poitiers, friend and teacher of Saint Martin of Tours, who began his
as a Roman officer. Saint Hilary, though a patrician by birth, is usually
represented as a bishop and scholar rather than a knight (Roeder).
He is the patron of retarded children and invoked against snakes (Roeder).
To those who wish to stand in God's grace, neither the guardianship of
nor the defenses of angels are wanting.
-Saint Hilary: Commentary on the Psalms, 365AD
"Little children follow and obey their father. They love their mother. They
nothing of covetousness, ill-will, bad temper, arrogance and lying. This
of mind opens the road to heaven. To imitate our Lord's own humility, we
return to the simplicity of God's little ones."
-Saint Hilary of Poitiers.
Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it to him that hath ten
talents. (Matthew 25:28)
Saint Anthony, Disperser of Devils
Dear St. Anthony, it is still as St. Peter said: The devil prowls
about, lion-like, looking for someone to devour. I confess that
I don't always resist him; I sometimes toy with temptation. St.
Anthony, Disperser of Devils, remind me of my duty to avoid
all occasions of sin. May I always pray in temptation that I
may remain loyal to my Lord Jesus. Pray for my other
intentions, please. (Name them.)
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