Saint Hilary is also known as the Athanasius of the West. Saint
Jerome praised him as "a most eloquent man, and the trumpet of
the Latins against the Arians," and Saint Augustine called him "the illustrious teacher of
He was born in the year 315 at Poitiers, France, to noble pagan
parents, and his early life was uneventful. He studied rhetoric
and philosophy and became an orator. He married young, and his wife
bore him at least one child (a daughter who came to be known as Saint
Eventually, his continuing studies led him to the Bible.
His own writings describe the course that brought him there, starting
with his discovery of "the absurdity of polytheism." Upon
reading the verse where God tells Moses "I Am
Who I Am," Hilary was "amazed at such a clear definition of
God, which expressed the incomprehensible knowledge of divine nature
in words most suited to human intelligence." By the time he was
halfway through the New Testament, he found himself thoroughly
converted. Soon thereafter, he was baptised.
After his own conversion and baptism, Hilary worked successfully to
convert his wife and daughter. For a time, he separated himself from
all non-Christian company. Then he realized that the conversion
of Jews, pagans, and heretics required compassion on the part of
Christians, and he became less antisocial. His zeal so impressed the
leaders of the Church in Gaul that they made him bishop of Poitiers
in 353. At first Hilary was reluctant to accept the position, but
his resistance only made them more insistent. Eventually he gave in,
and from then on he lived separately from his wife.
It wasn't long before Hilary became embroiled in the fight against
the Arian heresy. He soon emerged as an outspoken champion of
orthodoxy. In 355, the Emperor Constantius held a synod at which
he required all bishops to sign a document condemning Athanasius
(the leading opponent of Arianism). Hilary refused to sign, and
Constantius banished him to Phrygia.
During his exile Hilary wrote many books, including De
Trinitate, a set of twelve volumes about the consubstantiality
of The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit which is
considered his most important work. His teachings and writings
resulted in many conversions. In an attempt to reduce Hilary's
noteriety, Constantius allowed him to return to Poitiers. Hilary's
opponents hoped that he would fade into obscurity there, but they were
He was welcomed back to Poitiers with great joy by his followers.
They had not replaced him, so he resumed his position as their bishop.
He continued to condemn Arianism with all his strength, at every
opportunity. In 364 he travelled to Milan, where he engaged in
public debate with the Arian bishop Auxentius and persuaded him of
the error of his ways. Mostly, though, he stayed in Poitiers,
writing. The Arians had been composing hymns to propagate their
beliefs, so Hilary wrote his own hymns in addition to numerous letters
and essays. His hymns are the first in the West with a known writer.
Hilary died of natural causes in 367 or 368 in Poitiers. He was
declared a Doctor of the Church in 1851 by Pope Pius IX, and his
feast is celebrated on January 13. His relics have been moved
several times. Some parts appear to be in Limousin. Some may have
been burned by the Huguenots in Poitiers. Most of his remains are
said to be in the abbey of Saint Denys, near Paris.
Many of Hilary's writings have survived the last 1600 years, although
they are so convoluted that it might be considered a penitential
practice to force oneself to read them. The spring term at the Law
Courts in England and at Oxford University are named for Hilary. He
is the patron saint of retarded children, and is invoked against
snakes and their bites.
Sasha Gabba Hey! says I was disappointed this writeup had nothing to do with Sidney Poitier.