Died At Age: 57
Also Known As: Saint Hilarius of Poitiers
Born Country: France
Born in: Pictavium, Gaul (modern-day Poitiers, France)
Famous as: Saint
children: Abra of Poitiers
Died on: 367
place of death: Pictavium, Gaul (modern-day Poitiers, France)
Who was Hilary of Poitiers?
Hilary of Poitiers, also known as the “Hammer of the Arians,” was a French bishop and a Doctor of the Church. He was born and raised in Poitiers, France, to Pagan parents. He received a Pagan education during his early years. As he grew up, his constant pursuit of achieving enlightenment led him to study about Christianity. He ardently studied the ‘New Testament’ and the ‘Old Testament’ and got influenced. He was highly inspired by Christianity and that led him to abandon his previous beliefs and become a Christian. There were about 350 Christians in Poitiers back then, and they unanimously chose Hilary as their bishop. Back then, Arianism threatened to disrupt the presence of orthodoxy in Gaul, and Hilary stood against Arianism strongly. However, the council of Emperor Constantius II mostly consisted of Arians. Thus, the fight was not of much use. Even among the common public, there were many factions of Arians. Hilary was thus sent into exile to a distant part of Greece. In the 4 years of his exile, Hilary composed many important works, including hymns. He spent the rest of his life writing and preaching. He is still remembered for composing books such as ‘De Trinitate’ and ‘De Synodis.’
Childhood & Early Life
Hilary of Poitiers was born in 310, in Pictavium, Gaul (modern-day Poitiers), France. His exact date of birth is not known, and he is assumed to have been born either in the last few years of the third century or the first few years of the fourth century.
He was born into a heavily influential and wealthy Pagan family, and his early education (mostly in Greek) was also based on his parents’ beliefs. However, Hilary questioned every bit of education he received, and even though his parents ensured that Hilary received the best education possible, he somehow could not rely on his Pagan roots, which laid stress on worshipping many Gods.
He had a firm belief that there must be one true God somewhere, and he attained enlightenment when he began studying Christianity. He began attending churches, read gospels, and became well-versed in the ‘New Testament’ and the ‘Old Testament.’ He liked what he studied. Christianity made more sense to him than neo-Platonism.
He was then baptized and became a Christian. He was known to be a modest and intelligent man. He was also seen as a man who possessed great leadership qualities. In Poitiers, there was a considerably small population of Christians (around 350 people). The Christians had invaded the Pagan culture of the Poitiers in the third century, but due to the lack of a leader, they were limited in numbers. Hilary was thus made the bishop.
There is no record of the presence of bishops in Poitiers before Hilary. Hilary became famous, as he was known to strongly oppose heresy.
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Exile & Works
Arianism was the biggest threat to the existence of Christian orthodoxy. While orthodox Christians believed that Jesus Christ was the same as God, as he was his son, Arians believed that Jesus was lesser than God and that they were two different beings.
During that time, the popes did not have enough authority to oppose Arianism. Thus, Arianism had entered many parts of the country and had also made its presence felt in Gaul. Many Christians who lived in Poitiers were secret supporters of Arianism, and this posed a great danger to Hilary and his ideologies.
Saturninus, the Arian bishop of Arles, was one of the most powerful and active Arians in the region. He had a strong influence over the council and worked extremely hard to establish his doctrine.
Hilary did not accept this and wrote a letter to Emperor Constantius II. Hilary tried his best to defend orthodoxy, but as the council mostly consisted of people who followed Arianism, there was no hope for him to win the argument. The emperor himself was Arian, and as a result, Hilary was sent into exile to a distant coast of Phrygia, Greece.
Hilary was known to be a great thinker and writer. He was highly influenced by two famous Alexandrians, Origen and Athanasius. His works exhibited many independent thoughts.
Instead of feeling disheartened following his exile, Hilary put forth great efforts to study further and complete his works that he had begun much earlier. One of his most important early works was his treatise on the Synods.
In 359, he was invited to the city of Seleucia to attend an assembly of bishops. Almost all of the bishops were either Anomoeans or semi-Arians. Despite that, Hilary was invited for his intellect and strong presence of mind. The governor of the province where the assembly was held sent horses for Hilary.
Many intense and violent discussions took place with the aim of bringing all the faiths together, but the event eventually ended up going nowhere. Hilary then moved to Constantinople, which was known as the stronghold of heresy. There, he continued his battle against the opposing forces.
The semi-Arians were less powerful than the Arians, and they asked Hilary to help them reconcile with the Arians. Emperor Constantius allowed Hilary to re-enter his homeland in 361. By then, he was a widely respected man, owing to his efforts to protect his thoughts and his attempts to bridge the gap between the Arians and the semi-Arians.
While on exile, he had heard hymns that propagated different schools of thoughts, and he believed that they were excellent tools to impress a huge number of people. He himself began composing hymns and gospels. He is widely known to be the first Latin Christian hymn writer. However, his credibility as a hymn writer is disputable.
One of his most well-known theological works was the collection of 12 books known as ‘De Trinitate.’ He started writing it while he was in exile and did not finish it until he was back in Poitiers. ‘De Synodis’ was another of his major literary works.
Death & Legacy
Hilary of Poitiers passed away in 367, in Poitiers. The real cause of his death still remains unknown.
He was married once and also had a daughter.
His writings eventually became hugely influential in the west. Augustine of Hippo termed him “the illustrious doctor of the churches.”
His feast day is celebrated on January 13 every year. He is considered to be a patron saint of lawyers.