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Monday, January 13, 2014

Saint Hilary of Poitiers - January 13

Excerpt from Pope Benedict XVI 
October 10, 2007 General Audience Saint Peter's Square 

Today, I would like to talk about a great Father of the Church of the West, St. Hilary of Poitiers, one of the important episcopal figures of the fourth century.  In the controversy with the Arians, who considered Jesus the Son of God to be an excellent human creature but only human, Hilary devoted his whole life to defending faith in the divinity of Jesus Christ.

Ancient sources say that St. Hilary was born in Poitiers, probably in about the year 310 A.D.  From a wealthy family, he received a solid literary education, which is clearly recognizable in his writings.  It does not seem that he grew up in a Christian environment.  He himself tells us of a quest for the truth which led him little by little to recognize God the Creator and the incarnate God who died to give us eternal life.  Baptized in about 345, he was elected Bishop of his native city around 353 - 354.  In the years that followed, Hilary wrote his first work, Commentary on St. Matthew's Gospel.  It is the oldest extant commentary in Latin on this Gospel. In 356, Hilary took part as a Bishop in the Synod of Beziers in the South of France, the "synod of false apostles", as he himself called it since, the assembly was in the control of Philo-Arian Bishops who denied the divinity of Jesus Christ.  "These false apostles" asked the Emperor Constantius to have the Bishop of Poitiers sentenced to exile.  In the summer of 356, Hilary was forced to leave Gaul. 

Banished to Phrygia in present day Turkey, Hilary found himself in contact with a religious context totally dominated by Arianism.  This impelled him to work strenuously to re-establish the unity of the Church on the basis of right faith as formulated by the Council of Nicea.  To this end he began to draft his own most important work:  De Trinitate (On the Trinity).  Hilary explained in it his personal journey towards knowledge of God and took pains to show that not only in the New Testament but also in the Old Testament passages, in which Christ's mystery already appears, Scripture clearly testifies to the divinity of the Son and his equality with the Father. He developed his entire Trinitarian theology bases on the formula of Baptism given to us by the Lord himself:  "In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."  

In 360 or 361, Hilary was finally able to return home from exile and immediately resumed pastoral activity in his Church.  He died in 367.  His liturgical memorial is celebrated on 13 January.  In 1851 Blessed Pius IX proclaimed him a Doctor of the universal Church. 

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