Thursday, January 13, 2011

Saint Hilary of Poitiers

Saint Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop, Early Church Father and Doctor of the Church

Saint Hilary of Poitiers, a Latin Father of the Church, and Doctor of the Church, was born in Poitiers, Gaul (France), around 300-315 A.D (sources vary, many say his birth year cannot be accurately determined, yet was near the end of the third century A.D.). His parents were wealthy pagan nobility and Hilary was raised as a polytheist. He apparently received a good education, which included the study of Greek, which was a rare thing in the education of someone from the west. Hilary is sometimes referred to as “Hammer of the Arians” and “Athanasius of the West”.
Hilary's early life was uneventful as he married, had children (including Saint Abra), and studied on his own. He began to realize the absurdity of polytheism, and through his studies he came to believe in salvation through good works, and then monotheism. He set about learning what God is, and after some research into the nature of God, he was convinced that there can be only one God. His studies led him to read the Bible for the first time, where he literally read himself into the faith, and was converted by the end of the New Testament. He was baptized, and by his endeavors to confirm others in the faith and to encourage them to virtue, though a layman, that he seemed already to possess the grace of the priesthood. Saint Hilary lived the faith so well he was made bishop of Poitiers in 353, even though he was married and a father (the concept of clerical celibacy was just beginning to emerge in the west). Hilary is the only Doctor of the Church to have been married and a father.
Being aware of the rampant success of the Arian heresy in the eastern Church, Hilary opposed both the introduction of Arianism into Gaul and the emperor's attempt to run Church matters. He was exiled by Emperor Constantius II to Phrygia (present-day west central Turkey) in 356. There he assisted at the synod of Seleucia (Asia Minor) in 359, and he did so well in defending the Church against the Arians, that the heretics had him sent back to Gaul in 361. Hilary introduced Eastern theology to the Western Church.
Saint Hilary was a prolific writer, and Saint Jerome mentions several of his works including: “twelve books Against the Arians and another book On Councils ”, Commentaries on the Psalms, a valuable commentary On Matthew, and many others.
Saint Hilary died in Poitiers in 368 of natural causes. His feast day is January 13.
Saint Jerome wrote that the Church had two “fair cedars” to oppose Arianism, Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the west, and Saint Athanasius the Great in the east.
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Saint Jerome mentions Saint Hilary of Poitiers in his book “Lives of Illustrious Men” as follows:
Hilary the bishop
Hilary, a bishop of Poitiers in Aquitania, was a member of the party of Saturninus bishop of Arles. Banished into Phrygia... he composed twelve books Against the Arians and another book On Councils written to the Gallican bishops, and Commentaries on the Psalms that is on the first and second, from the fifty-first to the sixty-second, and from the one hundred and eighteenth to the end of the book. In this work be imitated Origen, but added also some original matter. There is a little book of his To Constantius which he presented to the emperor while he was living in Constantinople, and another On Constantius which he wrote after his death and a book Against Valens and Ursacius, containing a history of the Ariminian and Selucian Councils and To Sallust the prefect or Against Dioscurus, also a book of Hymns and mysteries, a commentary On Matthew and treatises On Job, which he translated freely from the Greek of Origen, and another elegant little work Against Auxentius and Epistles to different persons. They say he has written On the Song of Songs but this work is not known to us. He died at Poitiers during the reign of Valentinianus and Valens.
Below are some quotations from Some of Saint Hilary of Poitiers' works which can be read online in full by clicking here:
From On the Trinity, Book I:
While my mind was dwelling on these and on many like thoughts, I chanced upon the books which, according to the tradition of the Hebrew faith, were written by Moses and the prophets, and found in these words spoken by God the Creator testifying of Himself I Am that I Am, and again, He that is hath sent me unto you. I confess that I was amazed to find in them an indication concerning God so exact that it expressed in the terms best adapted to human understanding an unattainable insight into the mystery of the Divine nature. For no property of God which the mind can grasp is more characteristic of Him than existence, since existence, in the absolute sense, cannot be predicated of that which shall come to an end, or of that which has had a beginning, and He who now joins continuity of being with the possession of perfect felicity could not in the past, nor can in the future, be non-existent; for whatsoever is Divine can neither be originated nor destroyed. Wherefore, since God's eternity is inseparable from Himself, it was worthy of Him to reveal this one thing, that He is, as the assurance of His absolute eternity.
From a Homily On Psalms by Saint Hilary of Poitiers:
We have been promised, and he who made the promise is trustworthy: "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you."
Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek you and to open when we knock.
Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about you, the one God the Father, and the one Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny you, to honor you as God, who is not alone, and to proclaim this as truth.

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