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St. Hilary of Poitiers, Father of the Church of the West, Doctor of the Church

By Eowyn @DrEowyn

Today the universal Church celebrates a most illustrious and wonderful Father and Doctor of the Church, St. Hilary of Poitiers, a fierce and determined defender of the Holy Trinity.

According to ancient sources, Hilary was born in or about 310 A.D. in Poitiers (Gaul, now known as France) to a wealthy family, wherein he received an excellent classical education.  He tells us in his writings of his quest for truth which lead him to Christianity.  He was baptized in or around 345 and was elected the Bishop of Poitiers in or about 353-354.  Hilary wrote his first work, a Commentary on St. Matthew’s Gospel, which is known as the oldest extant commentary in Latin on this particular Gospel.

In or about 356, Hilary attended the Synod of Beziers in the South of France, which he called the Synod of False Apostles, since this congregation consisted mainly of Philo-Arian Bishops who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ Our Lord.  These Arians taught that Jesus was a magnificent human being,  but was not the Son of God.  Hilary defended Jesus’ divinity and the Holy Trinity, wherein angering these false apostles, they asked the Emperor Constantius to have Hilary exiled.  Accordingly, in the summer of 356, Hilary was forced to leave Gaul and was exiled to Phyrgia, which is present-day Turkey.

Hilary found in this jurisdiction that same allegiance to Arianism.  As a Pastor, he worked diligently and passionately to fight this heresy and to defend the Faith as defined by the Council of Nicea.  In that defense, he wrote his famous work, On the Trinity, or De Trinitate.  Hilary showed to these Arians and the populace that both in the Old and the New Testaments, Christ’s mystery appeared, and that the Scriptures set forth the divinity of the Son and the mystical Body of Christ.  Indeed and in fact, to the Arians he insisted on the truth of the names of the Father and Son, and developed the entire Trinitarian theology based upon the formula of the Sacrament of Baptism given to us by Jesus Himself, “In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” indicating that the Father and the Son are the same nature. Jesus is both fully human, and fully divine, the hypostatic union.

In De Trinitate, Hilary writes:

Jesus has commanded us to baptize in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (cf. Mt 28:19), that is, in the confession of the Author, of the Only-Begotten One and of the Gift.  The Author of all things is one alone, for one alone is God the Father, from whom all things proceed.  And one alone is Our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom all things exist (cf. I Cor 8:6), and one alone is the Spirit (cf. Eph 4:4), a gift in all. . .In nothing can be found to be lacking so great a fullness, in which the immensity in the Eternal One, the revelation in the Image,  joy in the Gift, converge in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit.  God the Father, being wholly love, is able to communicate his divinity to his Son in its fullness. . .God knows not how to be anything other than love, He knows not how to be anyone other than the Father.  Those who love are not envious and the one who is the Father is so in His totality.  This name admits no compromise, as if God were Father in some aspects and not in others.  Accordingly, because of this logic and reasoning, the Son is fully God without any diminishment.  The One who comes from the perfect is perfect because He has all, He has given all. . . He has become the flesh of us all. . .He took on himself the nature of all flesh and through it became true life; He has in Himself the root of every vine shoot. . .Through the relationship with His flesh, access to Christ is open to all, on condition that they divest themselves of their former self (cf. Eph. 4:22), nailing it to the Cross.

He wrote another work while exiled in Turkey called, The Book of Synods, for his brother Bishops of Gaul, reproducing confessions of faith and his commentaries upon them, as well writing about other documents of synods which met in the East in or about the middle of the fourth century.

In or about 360 or 361, Hilary returned home to Poitiers and resumed his pastoral duties there, wherein the influence of his magisterium went far and wide.  In 360 or 361, a Synod was held in Paris, and the language therefrom was like that of the Council of Nicea.  Some ancient authors believed that this happened because of the strength and determination of Bishop Hilary.

During his last years, he composed the Treatises on the Psalms, a commentary on the 58 Psalms.  St. Hilary stated:

There is no doubt that all the things that are said in the Psalms should be understood in accordance with Gospel proclamation, so that, whatever the voice with which the prophetic spirit has spoken, all may be referred nevertheless to the knowledge of the coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Incarnation, Passion and Kingdom, and to the power and glory of our resurrection. 

Hilary died in 367 and his Memorial is celebrated today, January 13th.  In 1851, Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the universal Church.

St. Hilary demanded fidelity to God and wrote this beautiful prayer:

Obtain O Lord, that I may keep ever faithful to which I have professed in the symbol of my regeneration, when I was baptized in the Father, in the Son and in the Holy Spirit.  That I may worship you, our Father, and with you, your Son, that I may deserve your Holy Spirit, who proceeds from you through your Only Begotten Son.  Amen. (De Trinitate)

Respectfully,

Joan

Source: Vatican website


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