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Saint Hilary of Poitiers

Saint Hilary of Poitiers
  • Century: 4th Century
  • Patronage: Against Snake Bites, Fought Against Arianism
  • Feast Day: January 13th

St. Hilary was the Bishop of Poitiers and is a Doctor of the Church.  He was sometimes referred to as the “Hammer of the Arians”.  His name comes from the Latin word for happy or cheerful.  He was born at Poitiers about the end of the 3rd century to parents who were pagans, but of distinction. He received a good education, and his studies brought him to a conversion.  He, his wife and daughter were baptized and received into the Church.  

His respect was so great for the citizens of Poitiers that in 353, although still a married man, he was unanimously elected Bishop.  At that time Arianism was threatening to overrun the Western Church.  One of his first steps was to secure the excommunication, by those of the Gallican hierarchy who still remained orthodox, of Saturninus, the Arian Bishop of Arles, and of Ursacius and Valens, two of his prominent supporters.  He wrote to Emperor Constantius II a letter against the persecutions in which the Arians had sought to crush their opponents.  He was not successful at first, and at synod of Biterrae, he was banished and spent nearly four years in exile.  

When he returned to govern his diocese, he prepared two of the most important of his contributions to dogmatic and polemical theology.  The “De Fide Orientalium” an epistle expounding the true views of the Eastern Bishops on the Nicene controversy and “De Trinitate Libri XII” which express in Latin the theological subtleties elaborated in the original Greek.  Arianism was the theological teaching attributed to Arius, asserting that the Son of God was a subordinate entity to God the Father.  The Ecumenical First Council of Nicaea of 325 deemed Arius a heretic.  

St. Hilary spent two or three years in combating Arianism within his diocese, but in 364 extended his efforts once more beyond Gaul.  He is sometimes regarded as the first Latin Christian hymn writer.  The later years of his life were spent in contemplative quiet, devoted in part to his expositions and writings.  Towards the end of his Episcopate and with the encouragement of Martin, the future Bishop of Tours, he founded a Monastery at Liguge in his diocese.  He died in 368.  

Practical Take Away

St. Hilary was born to a pagan family, who through his studies came to know who he was in relationship to God.  He converted to Christianity, and he, his wife and daughter were baptized.  He went on to become the Bishop of Poitiers, and spent most of his life fighting Arianism.  He is credited as being one of the first Christian hymn writers, and wrote several epistles on dogmatic theology, theorizing the relationship between Jesus the Son, and God the Father.  He came to realize the relationship of who we really are, in comparison to God.