St. Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor

Today, January 13, is the Memorial of St. Hilary of Poitiers, Bishop and Doctor of the Church.

St. Hilary was born c. 310 in Poitiers in Gaul (modern France). His parents were pagan and he received an excellent pagan education. After reading the Jewish and Christian Scriptures, he converted to Christianity and was baptized along with his wife and daughter (his daughter, Abra, is also canonized). Hilary was greatly respected by the Christians of Poitiers, so much so that they elected him to be their bishop in the early 350s. The great challenge he faced during his bishopric was Arianism. In 356, Hilary was exiled to Phrygia in Anatolia by the emperor because he refused to condemn St. Athanasius and the Nicene Creed. He still managed to administer his diocese from exile and returned to Poitiers in 360 or 361. He remained a steadfast defender of orthodoxy until his death in 367.

St. Hilary’s great works include his commentary on the Gospel According to Matthew (the first commentary in Latin on any of the four Gospels to remain entirely extant today) and his treatise on The Trinity.

The following is an excerpt from one of St. Hilary’s sermons on the Trinity, which is really a prayer to the Father for the grace to serve Him well by preaching well and never forsaking the truth of God’s revelation. When I read this, I am reminded of what I have said so many times before — that to read the Fathers is to recognize the Church. The Christians of St. Hilary’s day hold to the same faith we proclaim today. We pray to the same God, and often with the same prayers and liturgies. We can see the continuity of the faith and the continuity of the Church’s prayer life and liturgy over the centuries. St. Hilary was praying in the middle of the fourth century, but there is nothing in this prayer that we could not pray today (and ought to be praying today!). St. Hilary, defender of orthodoxy, pray for us!

I am well aware, almighty God and Father, that in my life I owe you a most particular duty. It is to make my every thought and word speak of you.

In fact, you have conferred on me this gift of speech, and it can yield no greater return than to be at your service. It is for making you known as Father, the Father of the only-begotten God, and preaching this to the world that knows you not and to the heretics who refuse to believe in you.

In this matter the declaration of my intention is only of limited value. For the rest, I need to pray for the gift of your help and your mercy. As we spread our sails of trusting faith and public avowal before you, fill them with the breath of your Spirit, to drive us on as we begin this course of proclaiming your truth. We have been promised, and he who made the promise is trustworthy: Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened to you.

Yes, in our poverty we will pray for our needs. We will study the sayings of your prophets and apostles with unflagging attention, and knock for admittance wherever the gift of understanding is safely kept. But yours it is, Lord, to grant our petitions, to be present when we seek you and to open when we knock.

There is an inertia in our nature that makes us dull; and in our attempt to penetrate your truth we are held within the bounds of ignorance by the weakness of our minds. Yet we do comprehend divine ideas by earnest attention to your teaching and by obedience to the faith which carries us beyond mere human apprehension.

So we trust in you to inspire the beginnings of this ambitious venture, to strengthen its progress, and to call us into a partnership in the spirit with the prophets and the apostles. To that end, may we grasp precisely what they meant to say, taking each word in its real and authentic sense. For we are about to say what they already have declared as part of the mystery of revelation: that you are the eternal God, the Father of the eternal, only-begotten God; that you are one and not born from another; and that the Lord Jesus is also one, born of you from all eternity. We must not proclaim a change in truth regarding the number of gods. We must not deny that he is begotten of you who are the one God; nor must we assert that he is other than the true God, born of you who are truly God the Father.

Impart to us, then, the meaning of the words of Scripture and the light to understand it, with reverence for the doctrine and confidence in its truth. Grant that we may express what we believe. Through the prophets and apostles we know about you, the one God the Father, and the one Lord Jesus Christ. May we have the grace, in the face of heretics who deny you, to honor you as God, who is not alone, and to proclaim this as truth.

(from The Liturgy of the Hours, Office of Readings, January 13.)

Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.

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