Hilary of Poitiers

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Hilary of Poitiers (c. 300 – c. 368[1]) was Bishop of Poitiers and is a Doctor of the Church. He was sometimes referred to as the "Hammer of the Arians" (Latin: Malleus Arianorum) and the "Athanasius of the West." His name comes from the Greek word for happy or cheerful. His optional memorial in the Roman Catholic calendar of saints is 13 January. In the past, when this date was occupied by the Octave Day of the Epiphany, his feast day was moved to 14 January.[2]


Early life

Hilary was born at Poitiers about the end of the 3rd century A.D. His parents were pagans of distinction. He received a good education, including what had even then become somewhat rare in the West, some knowledge of Greek. He studied, later on, the Old and New Testament writings, with the result that he abandoned his Neo-Platonism for Christianity, and with his wife and his daughter (traditionally named as Saint Abra) received the sacrament of baptism.

So great was the respect in which he was held by the citizens of Poitiers that about 353, although still a married man, he was unanimously elected bishop (the concept of clerical celibacy was just beginning to emerge in diverse regions of the West). At that time Arianism was threatening to overrun the Western Church; to repel the disruption was the great task which Hilary undertook. One of his first steps was to secure the excommunication, by those of the Gallican hierarchy who still remained orthodox, of Saturninus, the Arian Bishop of Arles and of Ursacius and Valens, two of his prominent supporters.

About the same time, he wrote to Emperor Constantius II a remonstrance against the persecutions by which the Arians had sought to crush their opponents (Ad Constantium Augustum liber primus, of which the most probable date is 355). His efforts were not at first successful, for at the synod of Biterrae (Béziers), summoned in 356 by the Emperor Constantius with the professed purpose of settling the longstanding disputes, Hilary was, by an imperial rescript, banished with Rhodanus of Toulouse to Phrygia, where he spent nearly four years in exile.

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