January 14, 2021: ST. HILARY OF POITIERS
January 14, 2021: ST. HILARY (OF POITIERS), BISHOP, CONFESSOR, AND DOCTOR OF THE CHURCH
O Priest and Bishop, and worker of miracles; O good shepherd of the people, pray to the Lord for us.
O God, who didst give to thy people blessed Hilary, for a minister of eternal salvation; grant, we beseech thee, that he who was the instructor of our life here on earth, may in heaven become our intercessor. Through our Lord Jesus Christ, thy Son, who liveth and reigneth with thee, in the unity of the Holy Ghost, God, world without end. Amen.
After having consecrated the joyous… 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, over 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, there 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 temporising and un-orthodox Pastors.
Let us listen to the short Life of our Saint, contained in the Lessons of his Office.
Hilary was born of a noble family in Aquitaine, and was distinguished for his learning and eloquence. He was married, but the life he led was almost that of a monk, so that, later on, on account of his great virtues, he was made Bishop of Poitiers, and so well did he discharge the episcopal office, as to be the object of the deepest veneration on the part of the faithful. At that time, the Emperor Constantius was inflicting every sort of harsh treatment, intimidation, confiscation of their property, and banishment, on the Catholics who refused to side with the Arians. Hilary set himself as a bulwark against the Arians, thereby bringing on himself all their fury. On this account, they many times sought to ensnare him, and at length, by the treachery of Saturninus, the Bishop of Aries, he was banished from the Council at Beziers into Phrygia. There he raised a dead man to life, and wrote his twelve books On the Trinity, against the Arians.
Four years after, a Council was called at Seleucia, a town in Isauria, at which Hilary was compelled to assist. Thence he set out for Constantinople, where, seeing the extreme dangers to which the true faith had been exposed, he petitioned the Emperor, by three public petitions, to grant him an audience, in order that he might obtain permission to hold a controversy with his adversaries concerning matters of faith. But Ursacius and Valens, two Arian Bishops, whom Hilary had refuted in his writings, were afraid of allowing so learned a man to continue there any longer, and persuaded Constantius to restore him to his episcopal see, under the pretence of showing him honour. Then did the Church of Gaul open her arms, as St. Jerome says, to receive Hilary on his return from battle with the heretics. St. Martin, who was afterwards Bishop of Tours, followed the holy Doctor to Poitiers; how much he profited by the instructions of such a master is evinced by the sanctity of his after-life.
From that time, he was left in perfect peace in the government of the Church of Poitiers. He led the whole of Gaul to condemn the Arian blasphemies. He composed a great many exceedingly learned books, of which St. Jerome, in a letter to Lӕta, says, that they may be all read without the slightest fear of meeting any false doctrine in them; he assures her, that she may run through the books of Hilary without stumbling on anything dangerous. He passed from this earth to heaven on the Ides of January (January 13th), during the reign of the Emperors Valentinian and Valens, in the year of our Lord 369. Hilary was called, by several Fathers and Councils, an illustrious Doctor of the Church, and was publicly honoured as such in certain dioceses. At length, at the petition of the Council of Bordeaux, the Supreme Pontiff, Pius the Ninth, after having consulted the Congregation of Sacred Rites, declared him to have been justly called, and to be in effect, a Doctor of the universal Church; and ordered, that on his Feast, all should recite the Mass and Office Of Doctors.
The Church of Poitiers has ever cherished, with the utmost devotion, the memory of her heroic Pontiff, and his Feast, as we may suppose, is kept there with the utmost solemnity. She sings, in the Mass of this day, the Preface of the Blessed Trinity, to express more forcibly her admiration of the zeal, wherewith Hilary defended the master-dogma of our holy faith—the mystery of Three Persons in one God.
Thus did the holy Bishop, Hilary of Poitiers, receive the honours of the Church's love for his having so courageously, and even at the peril of his life, fought in defence of the great Mystery. Another of his glories is, that he was one of the most intrepid champions of that principle, which cannot be compromised without the vitality and very existence of the Church, being endangered—the principle of that Church's Liberty. A few days ago we were celebrating the Feast of our holy Martyr, St. Thomas of Canterbury; to-day, we have the Feast of the glorious Confessor, whose example enlightened and encouraged him in the great struggle. Both Hilary and Thomas à Becket were obedient to the teaching left to the Pastors of the Church by the Apostles; who, when they were arraigned the first time before the authorities of this world, uttered this great maxim: We ought to obey God rather than men (Acts, v. 29). The Apostles and the Saints were strong in the battle against flesh and blood, only because they were detached from earthly goods, and were convinced, that the true riches of a Christian and a Bishop consist in the humility and poverty of the Crib, and that the only victorious power is in the imitation of the simplicity and the weakness of the Child that is born unto us [Isaias, ix. 6]. They relished the lessons of the School of Bethlehem; hence, no promise of honours, of riches, or even of peace, could make them swerve from the principles of the Gospel.
How dignified is this family of Soldiers of Christ, which springs up in the Church! If the policy of tyrants, who insist on being Christians without Christianity, carry on a persecution, in which they are determined that no one shall have the glory of Martyrdom—these brave Champions raise their voice, and boldly reproach the persecutors for their interference with that Liberty, which is due to Christ and his Ministers. They begin by telling them their duty, as Hilary did Constantius, when he sent him his first Memorial: “My Lord and most gracious Augustus! Your own great and admirable prudence tells you, that it is not right, nor possible, violently to compel, such as are unwilling and opposed to it, to submit to, and take part with, them that are sowing the corrupt seed of false doctrine… You should not turn a deaf ear to the voice of any subject, who thus appeals to you for support: ‘I am a Catholic; I will not be a heretic: I am a Christian, and not an Arian: I would rather lose my life, than allow the tyranny of any man to corrupt the purity of my faith.’ ”
When some people spoke to Hilary in favour of those who had been traitors to the Church, and had been disloyal to Jesus Christ, in order to keep in the good graces of the Emperor, they ventured to tell the Saint, that their conduct was justifiable, on the ground that they had but obeyed the Law! The holy Pontiff was indignant at this profanation of the word, and, in his Book against Auxentius, courageously reminds his fellow Bishops of the origin of the Church—how her very establishment depended on the breaking of unjust human Laws, and how she counts it one of her glories to infringe all such Laws as would oppose her existence, her development, and her action.
“We have a contempt for all the trouble that men of these days are giving themselves; and I am grieved to see them holding such mad opinions, as that God needs man's patronage, and that the Church of Christ requires to be upheld by an ambition, that curries favour with the world. I ask of you Bishops, what favour did the Apostles court, in order that they might preach the Gospel? Who were the princes that helped them to preach Christ, and convert almost the whole world from idolatry to God? Did they, who sang hymns to God in prisons and chains, and whilst bleeding from being scourged, did they accept offices from the state? Did Paul wait for a royal permission to draw men to the Church of Christ? Did he, think you, cringe for the patronage of a Nero, or a Vespasian, or a Decius, whose very hatred of our faith was the occasion of its being more triumphantly preached? These Apostles, who lived by the labour of their own hands, who assembled the Faithful in garrets and hiding-places, who visited villages and towns, and well nigh the whole world, travelling over sea and land, in spite of the Senate's decrees and Imperial Edicts—these men, according to your principles, had not received the keys of the kingdom of heaven! What say you to all this manifestation of God's power in the very face of man's opposition, when, the more there was a prohibition to preach Christ, the more that preaching was exercised?”
But the time came, at last, to speak to the Emperor himself, and to protest against the system whereby he aimed at making the Church a slave: then did Hilary, who was exceedingly gentle in disposition, put on that holy indignation, which our Lord himself had, when he scourged the profaners of his Father's House, and drove them out of the Temple. He braved every danger, and held up to execration the system invented by Constantius for insulting and crushing the Church of Christ. Let us listen to the language of his apostolic zeal.
“The time for speaking is come, for the time for silence is past. Let Christ now appear, for Antichrist has begun his reign. Let the Shepherds give the alarm, for the hirelings have fled. Let us lay down our lives for our sheep, for thieves have got into the fold, and a furious lion is prowling around it. Let us prepare for martyrdom * * , for the angel of satan hath transformed himself into an angel of light. * *
“Why, O my God, didst thou not permit me to confess thy holy Name, and be the minister of thine Only Begotten Son, in the times of Nero or Decian? Full of the fire of the Holy Spirit, I would not have feared the rack, for I would have thought on Isaias, how he was sawn in two. I would not have feared fire, for I would have said to myself, that the Hebrew Children sang in their fiery furnace. The cross and the breaking every bone of my body should not have made me a coward, for the good thief would have encouraged me, who was translated into thy kingdom. If they had threatened to drown me in the angry billows of the deep ocean, I would have laughed at their threats, for thou hast taught us, by the example of Jonas and Paul, that thou canst give life to thy servants even in the sea.
“Happy me, could I thus have fought with men, who professed themselves to be the enemies of thy name; every one would have said, that they who had recourse to tortures, and sword, and fire, to compel a Christian to deny thee, were persecutors; and my death would have been sufficient testimony to thy truth, O God! The battle would have been an open one, and no one would have hesitated to call, by the honest name, these men that denied thee, and racked and murdered us; and thy people, seeing that it was an evident persecution, would have followed their Pastors in the confession of their faith.
“But, now-a-days, we have to do with a disguised persecutor, a smooth-tongued enemy, a Constantius who has put on Antichrist; who scourges us, not with lashes, but with caresses; who instead of robbing us, which would give us spiritual life, bribes us with riches, that he may lead us to eternal death; who thrusts us, not into the liberty of a prison, but into the honours of his palace, that he may enslave us; who tears, not our flesh, but our hearts; who beheads not with a sword, but kills the soul with his gold; who sentences not by a herald that we are to be burnt, but covertly enkindles the fire of hell against us. He does not dispute with us, that he may conquer; but he flatters us, that so he may lord it over our souls. He confesses Christ, the better to deny Him; he tries to procure a unity which shall destroy peace; he puts down some few heretics, so that he may also crush the Christians; he honours Bishops, that they may cease to be Bishops; he builds up Churches, that he may pull down the Faith. * *
“Let men talk as they will, and accuse me of strong language, and calumny: it is the duty of a minister of the truth, to speak the truth. If what I say be untrue, let me be branded with the name of an infamous calumniator: but if I prove what I assert, then am I not exceeding the bounds of apostolic liberty, nor transgressing the humility of a successor of the Apostles, by speaking thus, after so long observing silence. * * No, this is not rashness, it is faith; it is not inconsiderateness, it is duty; it is not passion, it is conscience.
“I say to thee, Constantius, what I would have said to Nero, or Decius, or Maximian: You are fighting against God, you are raging against the Church, you are persecuting the saints, you are hating the preachers of Christ, you are destroying religion, you are a tyrant, not in human things, but in things that appertain to God. Yes, this is what I should say to thee as well as to them; but listen, now, to what can only be said to thyself: Thou falsely callest thyself a Christian, for thou art a new enemy of Christ; thou art a precursor of Antichrist, and a doer of his mystery of iniquity; thou, that art a rebel to the faith, art making formulas of faith; thou art intruding thine own creatures into the sees of the Bishops; thou art putting out the good, and putting in the bad. * * By a strange ingenious plan, which no one had ever yet discovered, thou hast found a way to persecute, without making Martyrs.
“We owe much to you, Nero, Decius, and Maximian! your cruelty did us service. We conquered the devil, by your persecutions. The blood of the holy Martyrs you made, has been treasured up throughout the world, and their venerable relics are ever strengthening us in faith by their mute ceaseless testimony. * * But thou, Constantius, cruel with thy refinement of cruelty, art an enemy that ragest against us, doing us more injury, and leaving us less hope of pardon. * * Thou deprivest the fallen of the excuse they might have had with their Eternal Judge, when they showed Him the scars and wounds they had endured for him, for perhaps their tortures might induce him to forgive their weakness. Whereas, thou, most wicked of men! thou hast invented a persecution, which, if we fall, robs us of pardon, and, if we triumph, does not make us Martyrs!
“ * * * We see thee, ravenous wolf, under thy sheep's clothing. Thou adornest the sanctuaries of God's temples with the gold of the State, and thou offerest to Him what is taken from the temples, or taxed by edict, or extorted by penalty. Thou receivest his Priests with a kiss like that which betrayed Christ. Thou bowest down thy head for a blessing, and then thou usest it to trample on our Faith. Thou dispensest the clergy from paying tributes and taxes to Cӕsar, that thou mayest bribe them to be renegades to Christ, foregoing thy own rights, that God may be deprived of His!”
Glorious Hilary! thou didst well deserve that thy Church of Poitiers should, of old, address to thee the magnificent praise given by the Roman Church to thy illustrious disciple, St. Martin: “O blessed Pontiff! who with his whole heart loved Christ our King, and feared not the majesty of emperors! O most holy Soul! which, though not taken away by the sword of the persecutor, yet lost not the palm of martyrdom!” If the Palm of a Martyr is not in thy hand, yet hadst thou a Martyr's spirit, and well might we add to thy other titles, of Confessor, Bishop, and Doctor, the glorious one of Martyr, just as our holy Mother the Church has conferred it upon thy fellow-combatant, Eusebius, who was but Martyr in heart like thyself. Yes, thy glory is great; but it is all due to thee for thy courage in confessing the Divinity of that Incarnate Word, whose Birth and Infancy we are now celebrating. Thou hadst to stand before a Herod, as had the Magi, and, like them, thou fearedst not: and when the Cӕsar of those times banished thee to a foreign land, thy soul found comfort in the thought, that the Infant Jesus, too, was exiled into Egypt. Oh! that we could imitate thee in the application of these Mysteries to ourselves!
Now that thou art in heaven, pray for our Churches, that they may be firm in the Faith, and may study to know and love Jesus, our Emmanuel... Pray that God may bless his Church with Bishops powerful in word and work, profound in sacred science, faithful in the guardianship of that which is intrusted to them, and unswerving defenders of Ecclesiastical Liberty.
Another account of St. Hilary.
St. Austin, who often urges the authority of St. Hilary against the Pelagians, styles him the illustrious doctor of the churches. St. Jerom says that he was a most eloquent man, and the trumpet of the Latins against the Arians; and in another place, that in St. Cyprian and St. Hilary, God had transplanted two fair cedars out of the world into his church.
St. Hilary was born at Poictiers, and his family one of the most illustrious in Gaul. He spent his youth in the study of eloquence. He himself testifies that he was brought up in idolatry, and gives us a particular account of the steps by which God conducted him to the knowledge of his saving faith. He considered by the glimmering or faint light of reason, that man, who is created a moral and free agent, is placed in this world for the exercise of patience, temperance, and other virtues, which he saw must receive from God a recompense after this life. He ardently set about learning what God is; and after some researches into the nature of the Supreme Being, quickly discovered the absurdity of polytheism, or a plurality of gods; and was convinced that there can be only one God, and that he same is eternal, unchangeable, all-powerful, the first cause and author of all things. Full of these reflections, he met with the holy scriptures, and was wonderfully affected with that just and sublime description Moses gives of God in those words, so expressive of his self-existence, I AM WHO AM: (Exodus, iii. 14) and was no less struck with the idea of his immensity and supreme dominion, illustrated by the most lively images in the inspired language of the prophets. The reading of the New Testament put an end to, and completed his inquiries: and he learned from the first chapter of St. John, that the Divine Word, God the Son, is coeternal and consubstantial with the Father. Here he checked his natural curiosity, avoided subtilties, and submitted his understanding to divine revelation, resolving what seemed incomprehensible into the veracity and power of God; and not presuming to measure divine mysteries by his shallow capacity. Being thus brought to the knowledge of faith, he received the heavenly regeneration by baptism. From that time forth he so squared his whole life by the rules of piety, and so zealous were his endeavors to confirm others in the faith of the holy Trinity, and to encourage all to virtue, that he seemed, though a layman, already to possess the grace of the priesthood.
He was married before his conversion to the faith; and his wife, by whom he had a daughter named Apra, or Abram, was yet living, when he was chosen bishop of Poictiers, about the year 353; but from the time of his ordination he lived in perpetual continency. He omitted no endeavors to escape this promotion: but his humility only made the people the more earnest to see him vested with that dignity; and indeed their expectations were not frustrated in him, for his eminent virtue and capacity shone forth with such a lustre, as soon drew upon him the attention, not only of all Gaul, but of the whole church. Soon after he was raised to the episcopal dignity he composed, before his exile, elegant comments on the gospel of Saint Matthew, which are still extant. Those on the Psalms he compiled after his banishment. Of these comments on the Psalms, and on St. Matthew, we are chiefly to understand St. Jerom, when he recommends, in a particular manner, the reading of the works of St. Hilary to virgins and devout persons. From that time the Arian controversy chiefly employed his pen. He was an excellent orator and poet. His style is lofty and noble, beautified with rhetorical ornaments and figures, but somewhat studied; and the length of his periods renders him sometimes obscure to the unlearned, as St. Jerom takes notice. It is observed by Dr. Cave, that all his writings breathe an extraordinary vein of piety. Saint Hilary solemnly appeals to God, that he held it as the great work of his life, to employ all his faculties to announce God to the world, and to excite all men to the love of him. He earnestly recommends the practice of beginning every action and discourse by prayer, and some act of divine praise; as also to meditate on the law of God day and night, to pray without ceasing, by performing all our actions with a view to God their ultimate end, and to his glory. He breathes a sincere and ardent desire of martyrdom, and discovers a soul fearless of death and torments. He had the greatest veneration for truth, sparing no pains in its pursuit, and dreading no dangers in its defence.
The emperor Constantius, having labored for several years to compel the eastern churches to embrace Arianism, came into the West; and after the overthrow of the tyrant Magnentius, made some stay at Axles, while his Arian bishops held a council there, in which they engaged Saturninus, the impious bishop of that city, in their party, in 353. A bolder Arian council at Milan, in 355, held during the residence of the emperor in that city, required all to sign the condemnation of St. Athanasius. Such as refused to comply were banished; among whom were St. Eusebius of Vercelli, Lucifer of Cagliari, and St. Dionysius of Milan, into whose see Auxentius, the Arian, was intruded. St. Hilary wrote on that occasion his first book to Constantius, in which he mildly entreated him to restore peace to the church. He separated himself from the three Arian bishops in the West, Ursacius, Valens, and Saturninus, and exhibited an accusation against the last in a synod at Beziers. But the emperor, who had information of the matter from Saturninus, sent an order to Julian, then Cӕsar, and surnamed afterwards the Apostate, who at that time commanded in Gaul, for St. Hilary's immediate banishment into Phrygia, together with St. Rhodanius, bishop of Toulouse. The bishops in Gaul being almost all orthodox, remained in communion with St. Hilary, and would not suffer the intrusion of any one into his see, which in his absence he continued to govern by his priests. The saint went into banishment about the middle of the year 356, with as great alacrity as another would take a journey of pleasure, and never entertained the least disquieting thought of hardships, dangers, or enemies, having a soul above both the smiles and frowns of the world, and fixed only on God. He remained in exile somewhat upwards of three years, which time he employed in composing several learned works. The principal and most esteemed of these is that On the Trinity, against the Arians, in twelve books. In them he proves the consubstantiality of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He teaches that the church is one, out[side] of which all heresies spring; but that by this she is distinguished, as standing always one, always alone against them all, and confounding them all: whereas they by perpetual divisions tear each other in pieces, and so become the subject of her triumph. He proves that Arianism cannot be the faith of Christ, because not revealed to St. Peter, upon whom the church was built and secured forever; for whose faith Christ prayed, that it might never fail; who received the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whose judiciary sentence on earth is that of heaven: all which arguments he frequently urges. He proves the divinity of Christ by the miracles wrought at the sepulchres of the apostles and martyrs, and by their relics: for the devils themselves confess Christ's godhead, and roar and flee at the presence of the venerable bones of his servants, which he also mentions and urges in his invective against Constantius. In 358, he wrote his book On Synods, or On the Faith of the Orientals, to explain the terms and variation of the eastern Arians in their synods.
In his exile he was informed that his daughter Apra, whom he had left in Gaul, had thoughts of embracing the married state; upon which he implored Christ, with many tears, to bestow on her the precious jewel of virginity. He sent her a letter that is still extant, in which he acquaints her, that if she contemned all earthly things, spouse, sumptuous garments, and riches, Christ had prepared for her, and had shown unto him, at his prayers and tears, an inestimable never-fading diamond, infinitely more precious than she was able to frame to herself an idea of. He conjures her by the God of heaven, and entreats her not to make void his anxiety for her, nor to deprive herself of so incomparable a good. Fortunatus assures us that the original letter was kept with veneration in the church of Poictiers, in the sixth century, when he wrote, and that Apra followed his advice, and died happily at his feet after his return. St. Hilary sent to her with this letter two hymns, composed by himself; one for the evening, which does not seem to have reached our times; the other for the morning, which is the hymn Lucis largitor splendide.
The emperor, by an unjust usurpation in the affairs of the Church, assembled a council of Arians at Seleucia, in Isauria, to undermine the great council of Nice. St. Hilary, who had then passed four years in banishment, in Phrygia, was invited thither by the Semi-Arians, who hoped from his lenity that he would be useful to their party in crushing the stanch Arians, that is, those who adhered strictly to the doctrine of Arius. But no human considerations could daunt his courage. He boldly defended the decrees of Nice, till at last, tired out with hearing the blasphemies of the heretics, he withdrew to Constantinople. The weak emperor was the dupe sometimes of the Arians, and at other times of the Semi-Arians. These last prevailed at Seleucia, in September, 359, as the former did in a council held at Constantinople in the following year, 360, where having the advantage, they procured the banishment of the Semi-Arians, less wicked than themselves. St. Hilary, who had withdrawn from Seleucia to Constantinople, presented to the emperor a request, called his second book to Constantius, begging the liberty of holding a public disputation about religion with Saturninus, the author of his banishment. He presses him to receive the unchangeable apostolic faith, injured by the late innovations, and smartly rallies the fickle humor of the heretics, who were perpetually making new creeds, and condemning their old ones, having made four within the compass of the foregoing year; so that faith was become that of the times, not that of the gospels, and that there were as many faiths as men, as great a variety of doctrine as of manners, as many blasphemies as vices. He complains that they had their yearly and monthly faiths; that they made creeds to condemn and repent of them; and that they formed new ones to anathematize, those that adhered to their old ones. He adds, that every one had scripture texts, and the words Apostolic Faith, in their mouths, for no other end than to impose on weak minds: for by attempting to change faith, which is unchangeable, faith is lost; they correct and amend, till weary of all, they condemn all. He therefore exhorts them to return to the haven from which the gusts of their party spirit and prejudice had driven them, as the only means to be delivered out of their tempestuous and perilous confusion. The issue of this challenge was, that the Arians dreading such a trial, persuaded the emperor to rid the East of a man that never ceased to disturb its peace, by sending him back into Gaul; winch he did, but without reversing the sentence of his banishment, in 360.
St. Hilary returned through Illyricum and Italy to confirm the weak. He was received at Poictiers with the greatest demonstrations of joy and triumph, where his old disciple, St. Martin, rejoined him, to pursue the exercises of piety under his direction. A synod in Gaul, convoked at the instance of St. Hilary, condemned that of Rimini, which, in 359, had omitted the word Consubstantial. Saturninus, proving obstinate, was excommunicated and deposed for his heresy and other crimes. Scandals were removed, discipline, peace, and purity of faith were restored, and piety flourished. The death of Constantius put an end to the Arian persecution. St. Hilary was the mildest of men, full of condescension and affability to all: yet seeing this behavior ineffectual, he composed an invective against Constantius, in which he employed severity, and the harshest terms: and for which undoubtedly he had reasons that are unknown to us. This piece did not appear abroad till after the death of that emperor. Our saint undertook a journey to Milan, in 364, against Auxentius, the Arian usurper of that see, and in a public disputation obliged him to confess Christ to be true God, of the same substance and divinity with the Father. St. Hilary indeed saw through his hypocrisy; but this dissembling heretic imposed so far on the emperor Valentinian, as to pass for orthodox. Our saint died at Poictiers, in the year 368, on the thirteenth of January, or on the first of November, for his name occurs in very ancient Martyrologies on both these days. In the Roman breviary his office is celebrated on the fourteenth of January. The one is probably that of some translation of his relics. The first was made at Poictiers in the reign of Clovis I, on which see Cointe. From St. Gregory of Tours, it appears that before his time some part of St. Hilary's relics was honored in a church in Limousin. Alcuin mentions the veneration of the same at Poictiers, and it is related that his relics were burned by the Huguenots at Poictiers. But this we must understand of some small portion, or of the dust remaining in his tomb. For his remains were translated from Poictiers to the abbey of St. Denys, near Paris, as is proved by the tradition of that abbey, a writer of the abbey of Richenow, in the ninth century, and other monuments. Many miracles performed by St. Hilary are related by Venantius Fortunatus, bishop of Poictiers, and are the subject of a whole book added to his life, which seems to have been written by another Fortunatus. St. Gregory of Tours, Flodoard and others, have mentioned several wrought at his tomb. Dom Coutant, the most judicious and learned Maurist monk, has given an accurate edition of his works, in one volume in folio, at Paris, in 1693, which was reprinted at Verona by the Marquis Scipio Maffei, in 1730, together with additional comments on several Psalms.
St. Hilary observes, that singleness of heart is the most necessary condition of faith and true virtue, “For Christ teaches that only those who become again as it were little children, and by the simplicity of that age cut off the inordinate affections of vice, can enter the kingdom of heaven. These follow and obey their father, love their mother; are strangers to covetousness, ill-will, hatred, arrogance, and lying, and are inclined easily to believe what they hear. This disposition of affections opens the way to heaven. We must therefore return to the simplicity of little children, in which we shall bear some resemblance to our Lord's humility.” This, in the language of the Holy Ghost, is called the foolishness of the cross of Christ (I Cor, i. 17; iii. 18), in which consists true wisdom. That prudence of the flesh and worldly wisdom, which is the mother of self-sufficiency, pride, avarice, and vicious curiosity, the source of infidelity, and the declared enemy of the spirit of Christ, is banished by this holy simplicity; and in its stead are obtained true wisdom, which can only be found in a heart freed from the clouds of the passions, perfect prudence, which, as St. Thomas shows, is the fruit of the assemblage of all virtues, and a divine light which grace fails not to infuse. This simplicity, which is the mother of Christian discretion, is a stranger to all artifice, design, and dissimulation, to all views or desires of self-interest, and to all undue respect or consideration of creatures. All its desires and views are reduced to this alone, of attaining to the perfect union with God. Unfeignedly to desire this one thing, to belong to God alone, to arrive at his pure love, and to do his will in all things, is that simplicity or singleness of heart of which we speak, and which banishes all inordinate affections of the heart, from which arise the most dangerous errors of the understanding. This is the essential disposition of every one who sincerely desires to live by the spirit of Christ. That divine spouse of souls, loves to communicate himself to such (I Par, xxix. 17). His conversation (or as another version has it, his secret) is with the simple (Prov, iii. 32). His delight is in those who walk with simplicity (Prov, xi. 30). This is the characteristic of all the saints (II Cor, i. 12): whence the Holy Ghost cries out, Approach him not with a double heart (Ecclus, i. 36). That worldly wisdom is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be (Rom, viii. 7). Its intoxication blinds men, and shuts their eyes to the light of divine revelation. They arrogate to themselves the exclusive privilege of learning and clear understanding, but the skepticism, the pitiful inconsistencies, and monstrous extravagances, which characterize their writings and discourses, make us blush to see so strong an alliance of ignorance and presumption; and lament that the human mind should be capable of falling into a state of so deplorable degeneracy. Among the fathers of the church we admire men the most learned of their age, the most penetrating and most judicious, and at the same time the most holy and sincere; who, being endowed with true simplicity of heart, discovered in the mysteries of the cross the secrets of infinite wisdom, which they made their study, and the rule of their actions.
Taken from: The
Liturgical Year – Christmas, Vol. II, Edition 1868;
The Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Other Principal Saints, Vol. I, 1903; and
The Divine Office for the use of the Laity, Volume I, 1806.
St. Hilary, pray for us.