Friday, January 13, 2006
St. Hilary of Poitiers

Image: Church of Notre-Dame-La Grande in Poitiers

Optional Memorial (1969 Calendar): January 13
SemiDouble (1954 Calendar): January 14

Today we remember and celebrate the life of St. Hilary of Poitiers (315 - 368), Doctor of the Church. Born at Poitiers near the end of the 3rd century A.D. to pagan parents, St. Hilary converted to the faith after intense reading of the Holy Bible. His wife and child also converted, and he eventually became the bishop of Poitiers (clerical celibacy was not yet mandatory). He lived the rest of his life for the Catholic faith and worked all of his life to defeat Arianism, a heresy denying the divinity of Jesus Christ. He has been called the "Hammer against Arianism" as well as the “Athanasius of the West." St. Hilary baptized St. Martin of Tours.

In his seminal work on the liturgical year, Dom Gueranger writes:
After having consecrated the joyous Octave of the Epiphany to the glory of the Emmanuel who was manifested to the earth, the Church—incessantly occupied with the Divine Child and his august Mother, during the whole time from Christmas Day to that whereon Mary will bring Jesus to the Temple, there to be offered to God, as the law prescribes—the Church, we say, has on her Calendar of this portion of the year the names of many glorious Saints, who shine like so many stars on the path which leads us, from the joys of the Nativity of our Lord, to the sacred mystery of our Lady’s Purification.

And firstly there comes before us, on the very morrow of the day consecrated to the Baptism of Jesus, the faithful and courageous Hilary—the pride of the Churches of Gaul, and the worthy associate of Athanasius and Eusebius of Vercelli in the battle fought for the Divinity of our Emmanuel. Scarcely were the cruel persecutions of paganism over, when there commenced the fierce contest with Arianism, which had sworn to deprive of the glory and honours of his divinity that Jesus who had conquered, by his Martyrs, the violence and craft of the Roman Emperors. The Church had won her liberty by shedding her blood, and it was not likely that she would be less courageous on the new battlefield into which she was driven. Many were the Martyrs that were put to death by her new enemies—Christian, though heretical, Princes: it was for the Divinity of that Lord, who had mercifully appeared on the earth in the weakness of human flesh, that they shed their blood. Side by side with these stood those holy and illustrious Doctors, who, with the martyr-spirit within them, defended by their learning and eloquence the Nicene Faith, which was the Faith of the Apostles. In the foremost rank of these latter we behold the Saint of to-day, covered with the rich laurels of his brave confessorship, Hilary: who, as St Jerome says of him, was brought up in the pompous school of Gaul, yet had culled the flowers of Grecian science, and became the Rhone of Latin eloquence. St Augustine calls him the illustrious Doctor of the Churches.

Though gifted with the most extraordinary talents, and one of the most learned men of the age, yet St Hilary's greatest glory is his intense love for the Incarnate Word, and his zeal for the liberty of the Church. His great soul thirsted after martyrdom, and, by the unflinching love of truth which such a spirit gave him, he was the brave champion of the Church in that trying period when Faith, that had stood the brunt of persecution, seemed to be on the point of being betrayed by the craft of Princes, and the cowardice of temporizing and unorthodox Pastors.


O God, Who didst give blessed Hilary to Thy people as a minister of eternal salvation: grant, we beseech Thee, that we, who have had him for our teacher on earth, may deserve to have him for our advocate in heaven. Through our Lord.

Prayer Source: 1962 Roman Catholic Daily Missal

1 comment(s):

del_button March 16, 2009 at 4:56 AM
Anonymous said...

The church of Notre Dame La Grande in Poitiers, a beautiful romanesque church which serves as a model of architecture, is however not the Cathedral of Poitiers. There is cathedral of Saint Peter (Pierre) which is a a monument of Plantagenet / Poitevin Gothic style, thought to be built by Eleanor of Aquitaine and her ANglo-Norman husaband Henri Plantagenet, king of England. THe Cathedral is just across the street in modern Poitiers from the b4th century baptistery of Hilary, which still exists, and was fed by a Roman aqueduct. Just some interesting notes!

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