St. Hilary of Poitiers
Doctor of the Church
UPDATE: I accidently posted this too early. It was meant to appear on Jan. 13.)
(Hilary, by the way, means “happy” or “cheerful”. It’s from the same Greek root that gives us the word hilarious. However, St. Hilary’s theological enemies didn’t find him too funny.)
(Poitiers is in France, which was called Gaul by the Romans)
(Poitiers was also the site of one of the most important battles of ALL TIME, when Charles Martel, “The Hammer”, repulsed the Muslim Moor invasion of Western Europe – 732 AD -, preserving the heart of Europe for Christianity. It is also called the Battle of Tours.)
(See my series on the Doctors of the Church for the lives and importance of more great Doctors.)
(Boy, I sure put in a bunch of ( ), didn’t I!)
St. Hilary is known as the Doctor of Christ’s Divinity; and also as the Hammer Against Arianism, or the Athanasius of the West. He achieves his status as Doctor for his writings, especially those which refute the rampant Arianism of his time, and assert orthodox teaching about the true divinity of Jesus Christ.
St. Hilary was born around the beginning of the 4th Century (+/- 300 AD). He was noble-born to pagan parents. However, during his study of all things, he also studied Sacred Scripture. He realized the Truth contained in the Scriptures, renounced his idolatry and pagan ways; and he was baptized into the Catholic Church. His zeal, knowledge, and ability were so great that around 350 AD, Hilary was made bishop of Poitiers.
At the time, the heresy of Arianism was raging across the Roman Empire. There were bishops – especially in the East – who had fallen into this heresy. The most basic way of describing the heresy is this: Arianism denied that Jesus Christ was one-in-being with God the Father. Arians held that Jesus was a creation of God; a special creation, to be sure, but, nevertheless, a creation.
The heresy gets its name from Arius, bishop of Nicomedia, who held and promoted this error. Because of the threat that this teaching posed to orthodox Christianity, the very first Ecumenical Council was called – the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD. The great defender of the Faith at the Counci was St. Athanasius, was was a deacon at the time. (Today, St. Athanasius is also a Doctor of the Church.)
The Council defined the divinity of Christ, enshrining it in the Nicene Creed – which we continue to say at Mass every Sunday to this day! According to the Creed, Jesus Christ is “consubstantial” – of the same substance, the same being – as God the Father. He is “begotten, not made”. Jesus Christ, therefore, is God and is Divine.
As of yet, however, the heresy was not widespread across Western Europe. Nevertheless, there was an Arian bishop in Arles (southern France). Hilary attended a council convened by this Arian bishop to defend the orthodox teaching. Because the emperor was Arian, Hilary was exiled to Phrygia (modern-day central Turkey).
Hilary, however, redoubled his efforts, and he began to combat the Arians in the East, too. He even dialogued with the Semi-Arians, and his work helped to bring many back to the true Faith. The Eastern Arian bishops got fed up with Hilary — because he was winning the arguments. So, they had the emperor send Hilary back to France, where he was warmly welcomed back to his see.
If you want to read some of St. Hilary’s works, New Advent.org has a few of his writings – plus a whole lot more of the writings of the Church Fathers. Just scroll down to St. Hilary’s works. For more great information about St. Hilary of Poitiers – and ALL the Doctors of the Church — check out the wonderful Doctors of the Catholic Church website.
***These are my thoughts: We sure could use the help of St. Hilary today. Every time we turn around, it seems that someone wants to strip away the divinity of Jesus all over again. Some people say that they respect Jesus; His teachings were great, and they have a lot of merit. But he was only a “great prophet” and that’s all. The movement to deny the divinity of Christ continues today, in one form or another.***
Sacred Heart of Jesus, have mercy on us.
Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us.
St. Hilary, Doctor of the Divinity of Christ, pray for us.