January 13: Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, 367

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About this Commemoration

Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, was a prolific writer on Scripture and doctrine, an orator, and a poet to whom some of the earliest Latin hymns have been attributed. Augustine called him “the illustrious doctor of the Churches.” Jerome considered him “the trumpet of the Latins against the Arians.”

Hilary was born in Poitiers in Gaul, about 315, into a pagan familyof wealth and power. In his writings, he describes the stages of the spiritual journey that led him to the Christian faith. He was baptized when he was about thirty.

In 350, Hilary was made Bishop of Poitiers. Although he demurred, he was finally persuaded by the people’s acclamations. He proved to be a bishop of skill and courage. His Orthodoxy was shown when, in 355, the Emperor Constantius ordered all bishops to sign a condemnation of Athanasius, under pain of exile.  Hilary wrote to Constantius, pleading for peace and unity. His plea accomplished nothing, and,when he dissociated himself from three Arian bishops in the West, Constantius ordered Julian (later surnamed the Apostate) to exile him to Phrygia. There he remained for three years, without complaining, writing scriptural commentaries and his principal work, On the Trinity.

Hilary was then invited by a party of “semi-Arians,” who hoped for his support, to a Council at Seleucia in Asia, largely attended by Arians; but with remarkable courage, in the midst of a hostile gathering, Hilary defended the Council of Nicaea and the Trinity, giving no aid to the “semi-Arians.” He wrote again to Constantius, offering to debate Saturninus, the Western bishop largely responsible for his exile. The Arians feared the results of such an encounter and persuaded Constantius to return Hilary to Poitiers.

In 360, Hilary was welcomed back to his see with great demonstrations of joy and affection. He continued his battle against Arianism, but he never neglected the needs of his people. Angry in controversy with heretical bishops, he was always a loving and compassionate pastor to his diocese. Among his disciples was Martin, later Bishop of Tours, whom Hilary encouraged in his endeavors to promote the monastic life.


I O Lord our God, who didst raise up thy servant Hilary to be a champion of the catholic faith: Keep us steadfast in that true faith which we professed at our baptism, that we may rejoice in having thee for our Father, and may abide in thy Son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; thou who livest and reignest for ever and ever. Amen.

II O Lord our God, you raised up your servant Hilary to be a champion of the catholic faith: Keep us steadfast in that true faith which we professed at our baptism, that we may rejoice in having you for our Father, and may abide in your Son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; who live and reign for ever and ever. Amen.


Zechariah 6:9–15

1 John 2:18–25

Luke 12:8–12



Preface of  Trinity Sunday

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


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11 thoughts on “January 13: Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, 367

  1. The absence of spaces between many of the words in this commentary makes reading it (aloud – as I just did) a bit difficult.

  2. And we read so often that Anasthasianism/Trinitarianism was imposed on the Church by the Roman Emperors. This and other accounts gives the lie to that oft-repeated statement.

    • Not exactly. As I remember my patristics classes, both Arianism and full-blown Trinitarianism were imposed on the church by the government of the day. But there were lots of people in the church who supported those governments in doing so.

  3. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers, 367
    A fascinating commemoration, and again, I could relish this as an annual remembrance even if nothing were to be changed about it. I find it inspirational that he embraced the gospel at a mature age, that he went directly from baptism in the last sentence of paragraph two to bishop in the first sentence of paragraph three (are we skipping anything there?), and that he endured the abuse described because of his defending the “homoousia” position against the Arians. (I often wonder how many have any awareness of what is being said when we recite that line in the creed each Sunday – or how compromised Christian theology would have been without it.) It’s no wonder the lion’s share of the biography focuses almost exclusively on that part of his story. (I do wonder about his other hymns – Hymnal 1982 includes a Pentecost hymn with two settings, 223/224.)
    I wonder if “demurred” shouldn’t be replaced by a more conventional word (or words). My curiosity is piqued about the “stages of the spiritual journey” – too bad we can’t at least have a summary in a sentence or two. I also have to wonder why, if the Arians were afraid of Hilary’s debating Saturninus, they brought him home, instead of leaving him safely isolated in exile. (It seems counter-intuitive to bring him back into the thick of things, unless there is a rationale that is completely unexplained.)
    The penultimate sentence seems like an excellent ending/summary to his biography. The final sentence, however, seems anticlimactic, changing the focus from Hilary to somebody else. Granted, not just ANYBODY else, but still – somebody else — sort of like an afterthought or a PS (“PS – Did we mention, Hilary had a famous student, too?”) I’d drop the Martin sentence and end with what a great bishop Hilary was.
    THE COLLECT: “O Lord our God.” I’m surprised that, after all the attention in the bio on his anti-Arian efforts, the invocation doesn’t connect with that at all. The “you raised up Hilary” clause might have been better if it were phrased as a thanksgiving, but maybe we don’t want to offend the Arians in the congregation. The petition is good (I appreciate its reference to baptism) and the “so that” clause is good. The conclusion is most welcomed. I like the collect: thank you!
    THE READINGS: I find nothing of merit in the Zechariah selection. It has several easily mispronounced names, revolves around a crown to be stored in the temple that needs restoration, where the silver for the crown shall come from, and where the personnel involved will come from. “Exile” is the link, but the reading nevertheless hardly seems a strong enough choice.
    Psalm 37:3–6,32–33 makes sense for Hilary, making the basic point (trust YHWH) in 3, 4, 5 and a refrain of affirmation in verse 6, then to 32-33 (which is not where the psalm ends). Jumping from 6 to 32/33 complicates the reading task. The four verses prior to 32 (28-31) could replace 3-6, making the same point (loyalty to YHWH), while simplifying the reading task. In addition, the psalm has a repeated emphasis on returning from exile (“possess the land,” see vv. 3, 10, 12, 23, 28, 31, 36, and indirectly 19 “their inheritance”) which the appointed verses miss, but which is included twice with the change suggested (28, 31), and fits with the Hilary story. Thus, . . .
    28 Turn from evil, and do good,* and dwell in the land for ever.
    29 For the LORD loves justice;* he does not forsake his faithful ones.
    30 They shall be kept safe for ever,* but the offspring of the wicked shall be destroyed.
    31 The righteous shall possess the land* and dwell in it for ever.
    32 The mouth of the righteous utters wisdom,* and their tongue speaks what is right.
    33 The law of their God is in their heart,* and their footsteps shall not falter.
    The epistle is appropriate. Verses 18-20 don’t strike me as adding much to 21-25, unless eschatology were the overriding interest rather than the commemoration of Hilary; I’d either shorten the selection or make 18-20 optional.
    1 John 2:18–25
    18 Children, it is the last hour! As you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. From this we know that it is the last hour.
    19 They went out from us, but they did not belong to us; for if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But by going out they made it plain that none of them belongs to us.
    20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and all of you have knowledge.
    21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and you know that no lie comes from the truth.
    22 Who is the liar but the one who denies that Jesus is the Christ? This is the antichrist, the one who denies the Father and the Son.
    23 No one who denies the Son has the Father; everyone who confesses the Son has the Father also.
    24 Let what you heard from the beginning abide in you. If what you heard from the beginning abides in you, then you will abide in the Son and in the Father.
    25 And this is what he has promised us, eternal life.
    The Gospel passage seems well chosen and, believe it or not, I have no criticism to offer. Darn!

  4. I suggest as subtitle: Theologian and Bishop. (Hilary is not chosen merely because he was a bishop.)

    Line 3, third paragraph: use lower case “o” in “orthodoxy”.

    Line 8, third paragraph: insert “his eventual successor,” after “ordered”. We should not assume the reader knows anything about Julian, his complicated relationship with Constantius, or Roman leadership titles. If this suggestion is adopted, another comma should be added after “Julian”.

    Add a final paragraph: “Hilary died at Poitiers on January 13, 367.”

  5. Purely in terms of beauty of language, I think there is room for improvement in the collect, particularly in the doxology. ‘That we may rejoice in having you for our Father’—‘having’ God as Father sounds just a little too casual for such an awesome relationship. I’d say something like ‘that we may rejoice to call You our Father’, although I have the nagging feeling that even that is not quite it. And if we keep a verb in that clause, and given that we have another, ‘abide’, in the clause about the Son, I’d balance them with a verb in the clause about the Spirit, too; perhaps ‘live in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit’. Finally, since Hilary’s ‘thing’ was the Trinity, I’d add ‘One God’ after ‘live and reign:

    ‘That we may rejoice to call You Father, abide in Your Son, and live in the fellowship of Your Holy Spirit, Who live and reign, One God, for ever and ever.’

  6. If he was born in 315 and baptized at thirty his baptism would have been in 375 how could he be made Bishop in 350 ? Have not had my coffee yet maybe I am missing something lol.

  7. Correction 345 so he became Bishop in 5 years ?

    Editor’s note: Thank you for your comment. Next time, please leave your first and last name. –Ed.

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