Saint of the Day – 5 May – Saint Hilary of Arles (c 400-449) Archbishop of Arles, Convert, Monk, learned Scholar and Writer, Reformer and although extremely gentle and kind, Hilary was also a strict leader of his flock, Miracle-worker. Born in c 400 at Lorraine, France and died in 449 of natural causes. Also known as – Hilarius, Ilario.
The Roman Martyrology states: “At Arles in France, the blessed Bishop Hilary, noted for his great learning and holiness.”
Hilary was born during the year c 400, most likely in the present-day French region of Loraine. He came from a wealthy pagan background and received a traditional aristocratic education in philosophy and rhetoric, which he expected to put to use in a secular career.
One of Hilary’s relatives, St Honoratus, had founded a Monastery in Lerins and given his life to the service of the Church. Honoratus was deeply concerned for Hilary’s salvation and urged him, with tear,s to abandon worldly pursuits for the sake of following Christ.
“On one side,” Hilary later recalled, “I saw the Lord calling me; on the other, the world offering me its seducing charms and pleasures. How often did I embrace and reject, will and not will, the same thing!”
“But in the end Jesus Christ triumphed in me. And three days after Honoratus had left me, the mercy of God, solicited by his prayers, subdued my rebellious soul.”
Hilary returned to his relative, humbling himself as Honoratus’ disciple and embracing his life of prayer, asceticism and Scripture study. He sold his property, gave the proceeds to the poor and wholeheartedly embraced the monastic life of the community in Lerins.
In 426, Honoratus became the Archbishop of Arles. Hilary initially followed him as a secretary but soon returned to the Monastery at Lerins. Honoratus, however, insisted on having the assistance of his relative and disciple and travelled to Lerins himself to retrieve him.
When Honoratus died in 429, Hilary again attempted to leave Arles and return to his Monastery. But the faithful of the City sent out a search party and had him brought back, so that he could be Consecrated as Honoratus’ successor.
Although he was not yet 30 years old, the new Archbishop was well-prepared by his years in religious life and the time spent assisting his predecessor. As Archbishop, he maintained the simplicity of a Monk. He owned few possessions, put the poor ahead of himself, and continued to do manual labour. Hilary was known for his kindness and charity vur the Archbishop was also remembered for publicly rebuking a government official who brought shame on the Church. And, he warned lukewarm Catholics that they would “not get out of hell, if you are once unhappily fallen into its dungeons.”
Following the example of St Augustine, he organised his Cathedral clergy into a “congregation,” devoting a great part of their time to social exercises and asceticism.
Hilary helped to establish Monasteries in his Diocese and strengthened the discipline and orthodoxy of the local Church through a series of Councils. He sold Church property in order to pay the ransoms of those who had been kidnapped and is said to have worked miracles during his lifetime.
St Hilary of Arles died on 5 May, 449. Although his life was marked by some canonical disputes with Pope St Leo I, the Pope himself praised the late Archbishop of Arles in a letter to his successor, honouring him as “Hilary of holy memory” and introduced his name into the Roman Martyrology.
During his lifetime, Hilary had a great reputation for learning and eloquence as well as for piety. His extant works (The Life of St Honorius and Metrum in Genesin) compare favourably with any similar literary productions of that period. A poem, De providentia, usually included among the writings of Prosper of Aquitaine, is actually believed to have been the work of St Hilary of Arles.