St. Hilary of Poitiers
"They didn't know who they were." This is how Hilary summed up the problem with the Arian heretics of the fourth century.
Hilary, on the other hand, knew very well who he was -- a child of a loving God who had inherited eternal life through belief in the Son of God. He hadn't been raised as a Christian but he had felt a wonder at the gift of life and a desire to find out the meaning of that gift. He first discarded the approach of many people who around him, who believed the purpose of life was only to satisfy desires. He knew he wasn't a beast grazing in a pasture. The philosophers agreed with him. Human beings should rise above desires and live a life of virtue, they said. But Hilary could see in his own heart that humans were meant for even more than living a good life.
If he didn't lead a virtuous life, he would suffer from guilt and be unhappy. His soul seemed to cry out that wasn't enough to justify the enormous gift of life. So Hilary went looking for the giftgiver. He was told many things about the divine -- many that we still hear today: that there were many Gods, that God didn't exist but all creation was the result of random acts of nature, that God existed but didn't really care for his creation, that God was in creatures or images. One look in his own soul told him these images of the divine were wrong. God had to be one because no creation could be as great as God. God had to be concerned with God's creation -- otherwise why create it?
At that point, Hilary tells us, he "chanced upon" the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. When he read the verse where God tells Moses "I AM WHO I AM" (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." In the Psalms and the Prophets he found descriptions of God's power, concern, and beauty. For example in Psalm 139, "Where shall I go from your spirit?", he found confirmation that God was everywhere and omnipotent.
But still he was troubled. He knew the giftgiver now, but what was he, the recipient of the gift? Was he just created for the moment to disappear at death? It only made sense to him that God's purpose in creation should be "that what did not exist began to exist, not that what had begun to exist would cease to exist." Then he found the Gospels and read John's words including "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God..." (John 1:1-2). From John he learned of the Son of God and how Jesus had been sent to bring eternal life to those who believed. Finally his soul was at rest. "No longer did it look upon the life of this body as troublesome or wearisome, but believed it to be what the alphabet is to children... namely, as the patient endurance of the present trials of life in order to gain a blissful eternity." He had found who he was in discovering God and God's Son Jesus Christ.
Not everyone at that time had the same idea of who they were. The Arians did not believe in the divinity of Christ and the Arians had a lot of power including the support of the emperor Constantius. This resulted in many persecutions. When Hilary refused to support their condemnation of Saint Athanasius he was exiled from Poitiers to the East in 356. The Arians couldn't have had a worse plan -- for themselves.
Hilary really had known very little of the whole Arian controversy before he was banished. Perhaps he supported Athanasius simply because he didn't like their methods. But being exiled from his home and his duties gave him plenty of time to study and write. He learned everything he could about what the Arians said and what the orthodox Christians answered and then he began to write. "Although in exile we shall speak through these books, and the word of God, which cannot be bound, shall move about in freedom." The writings of his that still exist include On the Trinity, a commentary on the Gospel of Matthew, and a commentary on the Psalms. He tells us about the Trinity, "For one to attempt to speak of God in terms more precise than he himself has used: -- to undertake such a thing is to embark upon the boundless, to dare the incomprehensible. He fixed the names of His nature: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Whatever is sought over and above this is beyond the meaning of words, beyond the limits of perception, beyond the embrace of understanding."
After three years the emperor kicked him back to Poitiers, because, we are told by Sulpicius Severus, the emperor was tired of having to deal with the troublemaker, "a sower of discord an a disturber of the Orient." But no one told Hilary he had to go straight back to his home and so he took a leisurely route through Greece and Italy, preaching against the Arians as he went.
In the East he had also heard the hymns used by Arians and orthodox Christians as propaganda. These hymns were not based on Scripture as Western hymns but full of beliefs about God. Back at home, Hilary started writing hymns of propaganda himself to spread the faith. His hymns are the first in the West with a known writer.
Some of use may wonder at all the trouble over what may seem only words to us now. But Hilary wasn't not fighting a war of words, but a battle for the eternal life of the souls who might hear the Arians and stop believing in the Son of God, their hope of salvation.
In Exodus, the Prophets, and the Gospel of John, Hilary found his favorite descriptions of God and God's relationship to us. What verses of Scripture describe God best for you? If you aren't familiar with Scripture, look up the verses that Hilary found. What do they mean to you?Prayer:
Saint Hilary of Poitiers, instead of being discouraged by your exile, you used your time to study and write. Help us to bring good out of suffering and isolation in our own lives and see adversity as an opportunity to learn about or share our faith. Amen
St. Maria Goretti
Find SaintsPopular Saints
Saints by Alphabet
Saint Feast Days by Month
Patron Saints by Alphabet
Saint Feast Days by Month
All that is known of Dismas is that he is the Good Thief crucified with Christ on Calvary. The other thief is known as Gestas. A completely unsubstantiated myth from the Arabic Gospel of the Infancy ... continue readingMore Saint of the Day
Few details are known of St. Christina but she lived during the third century and was the daughter of a rich and powerful magistrate believed to have been named Urbain. He was deep in the practices of heathenism and had a number of golden idols, which he distributed ... continue readingMore Female Saints
Saint Michael the Archangel isn't a saint, but rather he is an angel, and the leader of all angels and of the army of God. This is what the title "Archangel" means, that he is above all the others in rank. St. Michael has four main responsibilities or offices, as we ... continue reading
St. Gabriel is an angel who serves as a messenger for God to certain people. He is one of the three archangels. Gabriel is mentioned in both the Old and the New Testaments of the Bible. First, in the Old Testament, Gabriel appears to the prophet Daniel to explain his ... continue reading
Pope from 461-468 and guardian of Church unity. He was born in Sardinia, Italy, and was a papal legate to the Robber Council of Ephesus in 449, barely escaping with his life from this affair. Hilary was used by Pope St. Leo I the Great on many assignments. When Leo ... continue reading
Father Hubert Schiffer, (1915 - March 27, 1982) was one of eight German Jesuits who survived the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. He was only eight blocks away from ground zero when the explosion occurred. Some Catholics believe the survival of the priests to have been a ... continue reading
By Deacon Keith Fournier
Vincent was a man like us who encountered the same Risen Lord Jesus whom we have encountered. He struggled with the choices which always accompany living the Christian life in the midst of a culture which has squeezed God and His truth out of the center of its ... continue readingMore Christian Saints & Heroes
by Catholic Online
- Daily Reading for Wednesday, March 27th, 2019 HD Video
- 'Living Lent': Monday of the Third Week of Lent - Day 20
- St. Dismas: Saint of the Day for Monday, March 25, 2019
- 'Living Lent': Sunday of the Third Week of Lent - Day 19
- Daily Reading for Tuesday, March 26th, 2019 HD Video
- Daily Readings for Monday, March 25, 2019
- 'Living Lent': Saturday of the Second Week of Lent - Day 18
- Daily Reading for Monday, March 25th, 2019 HD
- Prayer Requests Live for Friday, March 22nd, 2019 HD
- Daily Reading for Sunday, March 24th, 2019 HD
- Prayer Requests Live for Thursday, March 21st, 2019 HD
Learn about Catholic world
Inform - Inspire - Ignite
Catholic Online Saints
Your saints explained
Catholic Online Prayers
Prayers for every need
Catholic Online Bible
Complete bible online
Catholic Online News
Your news Catholic eye
Today's bible reading
Products and services we offer
Catholic Online Shopping
Catholic medals, gifts & books
Advertise on Catholic Online
Your ads on catholic.org
Catholic Online Email
Email with Catholic feel
Learn the Catholic way
Catholic Online School
Free Catholic education for all
K-12 & Adult Education Classes
Support Free Education
Tax deductible support Free education
Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. All materials contained on this site, whether written, audible or visual are the exclusive property of Catholic Online and are protected under U.S. and International copyright laws, © Copyright 2019 Catholic Online. Any unauthorized use, without prior written consent of Catholic Online is strictly forbidden and prohibited.
Catholic Online is a Project of Your Catholic Voice Foundation, a Not-for-Profit Corporation. Your Catholic Voice Foundation has been granted a recognition of tax exemption under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Federal Tax Identification Number: 81-0596847. Your gift is tax-deductible as allowed by law.