Saint of the Day – 13 January – St Hilary of Poitiers (c315-c368) Bishop/Confessor “”Hammer of the Arians” and “Athanasius of the West” – DOCTOR of the CHURCH. His name “Hilary” His name comes from the Latin word for happy or cheerful. His optional memorial in the General Roman Calendar is 13 January. In the past, when this date was occupied by the Octave of the Epiphany, his feast day was moved to 14 January.
Hilary was born to pagan parents of Poitiers, France, in 315. After training in the classics and philosophy, Hilary married. He and his wife had one daughter, Afra. All who knew Hilary said he was a friendly, charitable, gentle man. Hilary’s studies led him to read Scripture. He became convinced that there was only one God, whose Son became man and died and rose to save all people. This led him to be baptised along with his wife and daughter.
This gentle and courteous man, became a staunch defender of the divinity of Christ. He was devoted to writing some of the greatest theology on the Trinity and was, like his Master, in being labeled a “disturber of the peace.” In a very troubled period in the Church, his holiness was lived out in both scholarship and controversy.
The people of Poitiers chose Hilary to be their bishop in 353. As Bishop, he was soon taken up with battling what became the scourge of the fourth century, Arianism, which denied the divinity of Christ.
The heresy spread rapidly. Saint Jerome said “The world groaned and marveled to find that it was Arian.” When Emperor Constantius ordered all the bishops of the West to sign a condemnation of Athanasius, the great defender of the faith in the East, Hilary refused and was banished from France to far off Phrygia. There, too, his pastoral solicitude led him to work tirelessly for the re-establishment of the Church’s unity, based on the correct faith, as formulated by the Council of Nicea. To this end, he began writing his most important and most famous dogmatic work: “De Trinitatae” (On the Trinity). Eventually he was called the “Athanasius of the West” and the “Hammer of the Arians.”
During the years of his exile, Hilary also wrote the “Book of the Synod,” in which, for his brother bishops of Gaul, he reproduces and comments on the confessions of faith and other documents of the synods which met in the East around the middle of the 4th century. Always firm in his opposition to radical Arians, St. Hilary showed a conciliatory spirit with those who accepted that the Son was similar to the Father in essence, naturally trying to lead them toward the fullness of faith, which says that there is not only a similarity but a true equality of the Father and the Son in their divinity.
This also seems characteristic: His conciliatory spirit tries to understand those who still have not yet arrived to the fullness of the truth and helps them, with great theological intelligence to reach the fullness of faith in the true divinity of the Lord Jesus Christ.
In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return from exile to his homeland and immediately resumed the pastoral work in his Church but the influence of his teaching extended, in fact, well beyond its borders. A synod celebrated in Paris in 360 or 361 took up again the language used by the Council of Nicea. Some ancient authors think that this anti-Arian development of the bishops of Gaul was due, in large part, to the strength and meekness of the bishop of Poitiers.
During the last years of his life, he wrote “Treatises on the Psalms,” a commentary on 58 psalms, interpreted according to the principle highlighted in the introduction to the work: “There is no doubt that all the things said in the Psalms must be understood according to the Gospel proclamation, so that, independently of the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, everything refers to the knowledge of the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, incarnation, passion and kingdom, and the glory and power of our resurrection” (“Instructio Psalmorum,” 5).
In all of the Psalms, he sees this transparency of Christ’s mystery and of his body, which is the Church. On various occasions, Hilary met with St. Martin, the future bishop of Tours founded a monastery near Poitiers, which still exists today. Hilary died in 367. His feast day is celebrated on Jan. 13. In 1851, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a doctor of the Church.