SAINT HILARY of POITIERS (c.313-368), bishop and Doctor of the Church
Today, the Church honors Saint Hilary of Poitiers, a fourth-century philosopher turned bishop, whose studies made him a champion of orthodox Trinitarian theology during one of the most difficult periods of Church history.
Little is known about Saint Hilary’s life before he became a bishop. What historians do know about him is derived mostly from personal details contained within his extensive theological works. Those remarks indicate that Hilary was born about the year 313 to a pagan family in the city of Poitiers in the western-central region of France.
Hilary himself grew up apparently without any significant Christian influence, but received an otherwise comprehensive education in the Latin and Greek classics. Not unusual for his era, he rigorously studied both Greek philosophy and the Bible. Like many other early Church Fathers, he came to accept the truths contained within the Bible by recognizing its compatibility with philosophy and the sciences.
This was a gradual process for him, however, and it was not until the year 345 – by which time he was already married and had a daughter – that Hilary committed himself to full membership in the Catholic Church by receiving Baptism with the rest of his family. His rise within the Church, however, was not gradual at all; around 353, the people of Poitiers called for him to be made their bishop.
Hilary’s election as the bishop of Poitiers coincided with the second wave of the Church’s first great doctrinal controversy, in which he would play a significant role. Although the Council of Nicea in 325 had confirmed the Church’s rejection of Arianism – a heresy which claimed Jesus was only human, not Divine – powerful forces within both the Church and the empire clung to this heretical thinking.
Only a few years after his election to the Episcopal rank, Bishop Hilary found himself virtually alone in defending Jesus’ Divine Nature before a hostile crowd of bishops in the southern French region of Gaul. The bishops appealed to Emperor Constantius II, who favored a modified version of Arianism and declared Hilary exiled from Gaul. While in exile, Hilary wrote his most important work, “On the Trinity”, showing the Bible’s consistent witness to the central mystery of the Christian faith.
Hilary even traveled to Constantinople, during his exile, to explain to the city’s bishops why their emperor was not orthodox. After the death of Constantius II in 361, Hilary was able to return to his diocese at Poitiers. Once exiled for opposing Arianism in Gaul, he lived to see it condemned in the local Church after his return.
Saint Hilary died from natural causes in Poitiers on January 13, 368, after having passed on his teachings and way of life to a number of students, including Saint Martin of Tours.
Long regarded and celebrated as a saint within the Church, Saint Hilary was also declared a Doctor of the Church in 1851 by Blessed Pope Pius IX.
We commemorate his feastday on January 13.
(From catholicnewsagency.com, saints.sqpn.com, americancatholic.org, catholicculture.org and newadvent.org)
(The following prayer is from the Roman Breviary from the Proper for Saint Hilary)
“All-powerful God, as Saint Hilary defended the Divinity of Christ Your Son, give us a deeper understanding of this mystery and help us to profess it in all truth.
“Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”