St. Sebastian
Feast of St. Sebastian

Biography of St. Hilary of Poitiers

Birth: ~300
Death: ~367
Feast Day: January 13

St. Hilary  of PoitiersHilary was born at Poitiers around the year 300. Both of his parents were socially distinguished pagans. He received a good education, eventually mastering Greek. He eventually stumbled upon the scriptures and was struck by God's answer to Moses "I AM WHO I AM" (Exodus 3:14). Reading the New Testament, he was equally struck by the beginning of John's Gospel, which reads "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God" (John 1:1-2). As he studied the scriptures, he eventually abandoned his Neo-Platonism for Christianity along with his wife and daughter, St. Abra.

By about the year 350, the Christian community of Poitiers had grown to love and respect Hilary so much that they unanimously elected him their bishop. He came to be known as "Hammer of the Arians" because of his staunch defense of the faith against the Arian heresy, which was rampant at the time. He fought to excommunicate Saturninus, the Arian Bishop of Arles, and Ursacius and Valens, two of followers. He also wrote to Emperor Constantius II against the persecutions perpetrated by the Arians (Ad Constantium Augustum liber primus). This first book came to be known as "Book against Valens". He was exiled to Phrygia possibly for his opposition to the heresy, though the reason is not clear.

Spending 4 years in Phrygia, however, he still governed his diocese, as well as wrote two very important contributions to dogmatic and polemical theology: the "De synodis" or "De fide Orientalium", an epistle addressed in 358 to Semi-Arian bishops in Gaul, Germany and Britain. By studying the creeds of the Oriental bishops in the Councils of Ancyra, Antioch, and Sirmium, he realized that sometimes the difference between certain doctrines and orthodox beliefs was in the way ideas were expressed, rather than the ideas themselves. Because of this, he recommended that the bishops of the West be more reserved in their condemnation.

In 359-360, he composed, "De trinitate libri XII", which was the first faithful expression in Latin of that Council's theological conclusions, which had been recorded in Greek. Although some members of Hilary's own party thought the first had shown too great a forbearance towards the Arians, Hilary replied to their criticisms in the Apologetica ad reprehensores libri de synodis responsa. Hilary's defense of the Trinity was unflinching, accusing those who denied the divinity of Jesus, followers of the Antichrist.

While he was still in exile, Hilary attended several synods, including Seleucia in 359, where the homoion party forbade all discussion of the divine substance. In 360, he tried unsuccessfully to secure a personal audience with Emperor Constantius, as well as to address the council which met at Constantinople in 360. When that council ratified the conclusions of Ariminum and Seleucia, Hilary wrote "In Constantium", which depicted the Emperor Constantius as Antichrist and a persecutor of orthodox Christians. His greatest theological work was the twelve volume "De Trinitate", which he wrote while in exile. He repeatedly called out his opponents for debates, especially Ursacius and Valens. His efforts won him the return to his diocese in 361, about the same time as Julian became emperor.

Back in his diocese, Hilary spent much of the next few years trying to defeat the homoion heresy declaring it merely a form of Arianism. In about 361, Hilary encouraged Martin, the future bishop of Tours, to build a monastery at Ligugé in his diocese.

In 364, Hilary charged Auxentius, the politically connected bishop of Milan, as a heretic. Emperor Valentinian I called Hilary to Milan to state his case against Auxentius. Auxentius gave satisfactory answers to all the questions, but Hilary denounced Auxentius as a hypocrite. Hilary was expelled from Milan as a result. In 365 he published the "Contra Arianos vel Auxentium Mediolanensem liber", chronicling his unsuccessful campaign against Auxentius and the "Contra Constantium Augustum liber", in which he accused the lately deceased emperor of being the Antichrist in the words, "a tyrant whose sole object had been to make a gift to the devil of that world for which Christ had suffered."

Hilary died in Poitiers in 367. During his life, he was a prolific writer and great defender of the Trinity and the Christian faith in general. Pope Pius IX recognized him as a Universal Doctor of the Church in 1851. He is regarded as the Patron Saint of lawyers.