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The Catholic Defender: The Saint Hilary of Poitiers Story

Saint of the Day: The St. Hilary Story

"Beloved, being very eager to write to you of our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints." St. Jude St. Hilary was born at Poitiers, in modern day western France around 310 A.D. Much of the Roman world at the time was Pagan and Hilary was raised by Pagan Parents who ensured the best education becoming a Greek Scholar. Hilary would be about 15 years old when the great Council of Nicea (325 A.D.) took place that officially condemned the teaching of the Heretic Arius of Alexandria Egypt which denied the divinity of Jesus. This would eventually become very important to Hilary. Hilary's interest in philosophy kept him searching for truth, as a Pagan, he was much like the people whom St. Paul preached to at the Areopagus in Greece:​​ St. Paul said: "Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. For as I passed along, and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, 'To an unknown god.' What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything." Acts 17:22-25 Hilary would forsake his Platonic background once he had been exposed to the Catholic Faith. He began searching the Scriptures and upon his reading of Moses at the burning bush was captivated on who the real God truly is. "God said to Moses, "I AM WHO AM." And he said, "Say this to the people of Israel, 'I AM has sent me to you" (Exodus 3:14).

Hilary said, "I was frankly amazed at such a clear definition of God, which expressed the incomprehensible knowledge of the divine nature in words most suited to human intelligence."​​ Jesus Himself revealed Himself to Hilary using the New Testament, "Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am." To Hilary, this would be life changing. He was extremely interested in the Gospel of St. John, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God; all things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made." John 1:1-3 Like these passages that Hilary read about in the New Testament, he and his family, his wife, Abra and their daughter were baptized and received into the Catholic Faith. It wasn't long before Hilary began to involve himself against the major heresy of the day, the Arian Heresy which denied the Divinity of Christ. So successful was his defense of the Trinity and Catholic teaching that the people and the Church (even while his wife was still living when he was chosen against his will), to be the bishop of Poitiers in France (350 A.D.). Hilary became a leading defender of the Catholic Faith against this dreaded heresy which St. Jerome would write, “The world groaned and marveled to find that it was Arian.” The Emperor Constantius II ordered all the bishops of the Western Church to condemn St. Athanasius, the defender of Orthodox teaching in the Eastern Church and Hilary refused. So loud was Hilary's voice that he became known as the "Athanasius of the West." Hilary was banished by the Arians to Phrygia where it was hoped the Arians would reconcile but Hilary kept St. Jude's encouragement to "contend for the Faith". Hilary called for a debate with the Arian "bishop" who originally had him banished, but the Arian's pleaded to the Emperor because they feared the outcome of such a debate. After about four years in exile, Hilary returned home to his people victorious.

St. Hilary fought to keep the true Catholic Faith alive and he did it well. The death of Constantius in 361 ended the persecution of the orthodox Christians. The life of St. Hilary is remembered by the Universal Catholic Church on January 13 and what a great example he is. He is among those recognized in our Catholic Hall of Fame, the Great Cloud of Witnesses. "Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession." Hebrews 4:15​​ St. Hilary died in 367 or 368 and was proclaimed a doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1851. "Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is right? But even if you do suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts reverence Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you, yet do it with gentleness and reverence; and keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are abused, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame." 1 Peter 3:13-16

St. Hilary of Arles died on May 5, 449. Although his life was marked by some canonical disputes with Pope St. Leo I, the Pope himself praised Hilary died at 49. He was a man of talent and piety who in due time, had learned how to be a bishop.

Saint Hilary teaches us to respect authority even if found in a young person. Age is not the issue: prudence and wisdom are. Father, keep us from vain strife of words. Grant to us constant profession of the Truth! Preserve us in a true and undefiled faith so that we may hold fast to that which we professed when we were baptized in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, that we may have Thee for our Father, that we may abide in Thy Son and in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. Through Jesus Christ, Our Lord. Amen


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