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Hilary of Poitiers

Hilary of Poitiers

Hilary of Poitiers, Saint, c.315-367?, bishop of Poitiers from c.350, Doctor of the Church. A convert from paganism, he distinguished himself as a supporter of Athanasius against Arianism. For his zeal he was exiled (c.356). After his return (360) he aided Pope Liberius in the attempted purge of Arianism in the West. He wrote many theological works, mostly against the Arians, including the historically invaluable De synodis and the De trinitate (tr. by Stephen McKenna, 1954). He composed allegorical interpretations of the Bible and sacred poetry. His hymns were important in the early development of that form. Feast: Jan. 14; in England, Jan. 13 (Hilarymas). Hilary term, in English courts and schools, begins Jan. 11.

See W. N. Myers, ed. and tr., The Hymns of Saint Hilary of Poitiers (1928); C. F. A. Borchardt, Hilary of Poitiers' Role in the Arian Struggle (1966).

Hilarius or Saint Hilary (ca. 300 – 368) was bishop of Poitiers ('Pictavium') and considered an eminent doctor of the Western Christian Church. He was sometimes referred to as the malleus Arianorum ("hammer against Arianism") and the "Athanasius of the West". His name comes from the Greek word for happy or cheerful, the root also of the English word "hilarious". He died on January 13, which accordingly is his feast day in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints. In the past, when this date was occupied by the Octave Day of the Epiphany, his feast day was moved to 14 January.

Early life

He was born at Poitiers about the end of the 3rd century A.D. His parents were pagans of distinction. He received a good education, including what had even then become somewhat rare in the West, some knowledge of Greek. He studied, later on, the Old and New Testament writings, with the result that he abandoned his Neo-Platonism for Christianity, and with his wife and his daughter (traditionally named as Saint Abra) received the sacrament of baptism.

So great was the respect in which he was held by the citizens of Poitiers that about 353, although still a married man, he was unanimously elected bishop (clerical celibacy was not required by the church until the late Middle Ages). At that time Arianism was threatening to overrun the Western Church; to repel the disruption was the great task which Hilary undertook. 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.

About the same time, he wrote to Emperor Constantius II a remonstrance against the persecutions by which the Arians had sought to crush their opponents (Ad Constantium Augustum liber primus, of which the most probable date is 355). His efforts were not at first successful, for at the synod of Biterrae (Béziers), summoned in 356 by Constantius with the professed purpose of settling the longstanding disputes, Hilary was, by an imperial rescript, banished with Rhodanus of Toulouse to Phrygia, where he spent nearly four years in exile.

Theological work

Thence, however, he continued to govern his diocese; while he found leisure for the preparation of two of the most important of his contributions to dogmatic and polemical theology: the De synodis or De fide Orientalium, an epistle addressed in 358 to the Semi-Arian bishops in Gaul, Germany and Britain, expounding the true views (sometimes veiled in ambiguous words) of the Eastern bishops on the Nicene controversy; and the De trinitate libri XII, composed in 359 and 360, in which, for the first time, a successful attempt was made to express in Latin the theological subtleties elaborated in the original Greek. The former of these works was not entirely approved by some members of his own party, who thought he had shown too great a forbearance towards the Arians; he replied to their criticisms in the Apologetica ad reprehensores libri de synodis responsa.

In 359 Hilary attended the convocation of bishops at Seleucia Isauria, where, with the Egyptian Athanasians, he joined the Homoousian majority against the Arianizing party headed by Acacius of Caesarea; from there he went to Constantinople, and, in a petition (Ad Constantium Augustum liber secundus), personally presented to the emperor in 360, repudiated the calumnies of his enemies and sought to vindicate his trinitarian principles.

His urgent and repeated request for a public discussion with his opponents, especially with Ursacius and Valens, proved at last so inconvenient that he was sent back to his diocese, which he appears to have reached about 361, within a very short time of the accession of Julian.

Expulsion from Milan

He was occupied for two or three years in combating Arianism within his diocese; but in 364, extending his efforts once more beyond Gaul, he impeached Auxentius, bishop of Milan, and a man high in the imperial favour, as heterodox. Summoned to appear before Emperor Valentinian I at Milan and there maintain his charges, Hilary had the mortification of hearing the supposed heretic give satisfactory answers to all the questions proposed; nor did his denunciation of the metropolitan as a hypocrite save himself from an ignominious expulsion from Milan.

In 365 he published the Contra Arianos vel Auxentium Mediolanensem liber, in connection with the controversy; and also (but perhaps at a somewhat earlier date) the Contra Constantium Augustum liber, in which he pronounced that lately-deceased emperor to have been the Antichrist, a rebel against God, "a tyrant whose sole object had been to make a gift to the devil of that world for which Christ had suffered."

Hilary is sometimes regarded as the first Latin Christian hymnwriter, but none of the compositions assigned to him is indisputable.

The later years of his life were spent in comparative quiet, devoted in part to the preparation of his expositions of the Psalms (Tractatus super Psalmos), for which he was largely indebted to Origen; of his Commentarius in Evangelium Matthaei, an allegorical exegesis of the first Gospel; and of his no longer extant translation of Origen's commentary on Job.

While he thus closely followed the two great Alexandrians, Origen and Athanasius, in exegesis and Christology respectively, his work shows many traces of vigorous independent thought.

Towards the end of his episcopate and with his encouragement Martin, the future bishop of Tours, founded a monastery at Ligugé in his diocese.

He died in 368; no more exact date is trustworthy.

Discussion

He holds the highest rank among the Latin writers of his century prior to St. Ambrose. Designated already by Augustine of Hippo as "the illustrious doctor of the churches"; he, by his works, exerted an increasing influence in later centuries; and by Pope Pius IX he was formally recognized as universae ecclesiae doctor (i.e. Doctor of the Church) at the synod of Bordeaux in 1851.

Hilary's day in the Roman calendar is January 13, from which the name of Hilary term is derived.

Editions of his writings were produced by Erasmus (Basel, 1523, 1526, 1528). An English translation by E. W. Watson appears in Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers. Several of his works have appeared in Sources Chrétiennes (i.e. commentaries on Psalm 118 and St. Matthew, his attack on the emperor Constantius, on the Mysteries and most recently, in three volumes, on the Trinity).

Recent research has distinguished between Hilary's thought before his period of exile in Phrygia under Constantius and the quality of his later major works.

He was, perhaps, mentioned by Augustine as being the author of Ambrosiaster.

A vita of Hilary was written by Venantius Fortunatus c.550 but is not considered reliable. More trustworthy are the notices in Jerome (De vir. illus. 100), Sulpicius Severus (Chron. ii. 39-45) and in Hilary's own writings.

Cult

The cult of Saint Hilary developed in association with that of St. Martin of Tours as a result of Sulpicius Severus' Vita Sancti Martini and spread early to western Britain. The villages of St Hilary in Cornwall and Glamorgan and that of Llanilar in Cardiganshire bear his name.

In France the majority of dedications to Saint Hilary are to be found to the west (and north) of the Massif Central from which areas the cult eventually extended to Canada.

In north-west Italy the church of sant’Ilario at Casale Monferrato was dedicated to him as early as 380 AD.

In the context of English educational and legal institutions Saint Hilary's festival lies at the start of the Hilary Term which begins in January.

References

External links

References

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