Hillary of Poitiers, Doctor of the Church (January 13)

Note: This is the first in a new series that I hope will be ongoing in which I will write (or link to) articles about various heroes and saints on days set for their remembrance. It may also include personal and family heroes from time-to-time.

That a man’s children carry on his faith in notable ways, in part due to his advice and teaching, speaks well of his faith. Saint Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers (France), who lived from 310-367 and was married, had a daughter named Abra who is recognized as a saint in her own right because of her work spreading the gospel and helping the poor of Poitiers.

Hilary himself has been called the “Athanasius of the West” by some for his consistent stand against the Arian heresy. As church historian Jaroslav Pelikan has noted, “Among the expositors of ‘the faith of Nicea,’ Athanasius, everyone agrees, should have pride of place; but…Hilary in the West, deserve[s] to be ranged alongside him” 1. He stood boldly against political leadership who promoted heretical teachings and, like Athanasius, was exiled for it.

Aside from being a defender of Orthodox Christology, Hilary was one of the earliest Latin expositors of Scripture. This was significant in a time when most expository and theological writing was in Greek, which was becoming less and less accessible even to the educated in half of the empire. One of his earliest works was a commentary of the gospel of Matthew. What follows is an edifying excerpt which I found here:

Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. This means that thanks to the power of the word and the renunciation of past sins, temporal gains are death to the soul, and temporal losses salvation. Apostles must therefore take death into their new life and nail their sins to the Lord’s cross. They must confront their persecutors with contempt for things present, holding fast to their freedom by a glorious confession of faith, and shunning any gain that would harm their souls. They should know that no power over their souls has been given to anyone, and that by suffering loss of this short life they achieve immortality.

From his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew

This is no merely academic musing from a man who was willing to confront emperors for their heresy.

  1. Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition: A History of the Development of Doctrine, Volume 1, The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600).

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