Saint of the Day – 13 January – St Hilary of Poitiers (315-368) Father & Doctor of the Church, Bishop, Confessor, Writer, Philosopher, Theologian, Preacher, Defender of the Faith. He was sometimes referred to as the “Hammer of the Arians” and the “Athanasius of the West.” His name comes from the Latin word for happy or cheerful. St Hilary was born in 315 at Poitiers, France and he died in 368 of natural causes. Patronages – against rheumatism, against snakes, against snake bites, backward children, children learning to walk, mothers, the sick/the infirm, 4 Cities.
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 marvelled 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.”
Fearing Hilary’s arguments, Arian’s followers begged the emperor to send Hilary home. The emperor, believing Hilary was also undermining his authority, recalled him. Hilary’s writings show that he could be fierce in defending the faith but in dealing with the bishops who had given in to the Arian heresy, he was charitable. He showed them their errors and helped them to defend their faith. Though the emperor called Hilary “disturber of the peace,” Saints Jerome and Augustine praised him as “teacher of the churches.”
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 who founded a monastery near Poitiers, which still exists today.
Hilary died in 367. His feast day is celebrated today throughout the universal Church. In 1851, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a doctor of the Church.