Hilary of Poitiers

Hilary of Poitiers
Short Name: Hilary of Poitiers
Full Name: Hilary, Saint, Bishop of Poitiers, d. 367?
Birth Year: 267
Death Year: 367

Hilary, Hilarius Pictaviensis, Saint, Bishop, and, according to St. Augustine, "the Illustrious Doctor of all the Churches," was born of heathen parents of an illustrious family and great wealth, at Poictiers early in the fourth century. He received, as a heathen, an excellent classical education, so that St. Jerome says of him that he "was brought up in the pompous school of Gaul, yet had culled the flowers of Grecian science, and became the Rhone of Latin eloquence." Early in life he married, and had a daughter named Abra, Afra, or Apra. About 350 he renounced, in company with his wife and daughter, the Pagan religion of his family, and became a devout and devoted Christian. After his baptism he so gained the respect and love of his fellow Christians, that in 353, upon a vacancy occurring in the see of his native town, he was, although married and a layman, elected to fill it, and received ordination as Deacon and Priest, and consecration as Bishop, "by accumulation," no uncommon occurrence in those days. From that time he was virtually, though not formally, separated from his wife, and lived a very ascetic life. Soon after his consecration he received a visit from St. Martin of Tours (who became thenceforward his devoted disciple), and distinguished himself by his unsparing opposition to the Arian heresy, which had gained many powerful adherents in Gaul at that time, obtaining for himself thereby the title in after years of "Malleus Arianorum," the hammer of the Arians. In 356 he was sent by the Emperor Constantius to Phrygia in exile, in consequence of a report made against his moral character by the Arian Council held at Beziers in Languedoc, over which the Arian leader, Saturninus, Bishop of Aries, presided, whose excommunication for heresy Hilary had some time before secured. His exile lasted until 362, when he returned to Poictiers by the Emperor's direction, though without his sentence of banishment being formally annulled. In spite of his consequent want of permission to do so, he left Poictiers towards the end of the same year, and spent two years in Italy, whence he was again sent back to Gaul in 364 by the new Emperor Valentinian, in consequence of his denouncing Auxentius, the Bishop of Milan, where Hilary was at that time resident, as having been insincere in his acceptance of the creed of Nicaea. Hilary lived for some three years after his final return to Poictiers, and died Jan. 13, 368, though his Saint's Day (which gives his name to the Hilary term in our Law Courts) is celebrated on the following day, in order, probably, not to trench upon the octave of the Epiphany.

St. Hilary's writings, of which a large number are still extant though many have been lost, travel over a vast field of exegetical, dogmatic, and controversial theology. His principal work in importance and elaboration is his “Libri xii. de Trinitate," directed against the Arian heresy, while in his “Commentarium in Matthaeum " we have the earliest commentary on that gospel. The best edition of his works is that of Constant, originally published by the Benedictines, at Paris, in 1693, and reprinted, with some additions, at Verona, in 2 vols., by Scipio Maffei, in 1730.

St. Hilary was a sacred poet as well as a theologian, though most of his writings of this character perished, probably, in his Liber Hymnorum, which is one of his books that has not come down to us. It seems to have consisted of hymns upon Apostles and Martyrs, and is highly spoken of by Isidore of Seville in his De Officio Ecclesiastico. All that we have remaining are some lines of considerable beauty on our Lord's childhood (Dom Pitra's Spicilegium Solesmense, Paris, 1862), which are attributed, probably with justice, to him, and about 8 hymns, the attribution of.which to him is more or less certainly correct; Daniel gives 7, 4 of which:— “Lucis Largitor splendide"; "Deus Pater ingenite"; "In matutinis surgimus"; and "Jam meta noctis transiit"; are morning hymns; one, "Jesus refulsit omnium," for the Epiphany; one, “Jesu quadragenariae," for Lent; and one,"Beata nobis gaudia," for Whitsuntide. Thomasius gives another as Hilary's, "Hymnum dicat turba fratrum”. Written as these hymns were in the first infancy of Latin hymnody, and before the metres of the old heathen Latin poets had been wholly banished from the Christian service of song, or the rhyming metres, which afterwards became so general and so effective, had been introduced into such compositions, they can scarcely be expected to take very high rank. At the same time they are not without a certain rugged grandeur, well befitting the liturgical purposes they were intended to serve. Containing as they also do the first germs of Latin rhymes, they have great interest for all students of hymnody, as thus inaugurating that treatment of sacred subjects in a form which was to culminate presently in the beautiful Church poetry of the 12th century.

[Rev. Digby S. Wrangham, M.A.]

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology (1907)


Hilary, St., pp. 522, i., and 1570, ii. Isidore of Seville and Jerome both speak of Hilary as a hymn writer, but it is by no means certain that any of his genuine hymns have survived. Mr. E. W. Watson, in his St. Hilary of Poitiers, Select Works, 1899 (Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. ix.), discusses the subject in his Introduction, pp. xlvi.-xlviii., and concludes that none are genuine. He thinks that the recently discovered Liber Hymnorum (see p. 1570, ii.) may have been compiled in Hilary's time, but that he cannot be accepted as the author of any of the surviving hymns in that collection. Canon A. J. Mason in the Journal of Theological Studies, vol. v., April, 1904, pp. 413-432, thinks that the recently discovered hymns are genuine, collects many parallel passages from the undoubted works of Hilary, and is indeed inclined to attribute also the "Lucis largitor splendide " and the "Hymnum dicat" (see pp. 522, ii.; 642, i., ii.) to St. Hilary. A later article by the Rev. A. S. Walpole (vol. vi., p. 599, July, 1905), while accepting the newly discovered hymns, and the "Hymnum dicat," adds various reasons against accepting the other hymns attributed to Hilary by Daniel (see p. 522, ii.). [Rev. James Mearns, M.A.]

--John Julian, Dictionary of Hymnology, New Supplement (1907)

Wikipedia Biography

Hilary (Hilarius) of Poitiers (c. 310 – c. 367) 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 Latin word for happy or cheerful. His optional memorial in the General Roman Calendar 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.

Texts by Hilary of Poitiers (8)sort descendingAsAuthority LanguagesInstances
Again the slowly circling yearHilary of Poitiers (Author)1
Allena Gud i himmelrikHilarius, d. 368 (Author (Latin))Swedish1
Beata nobis gaudiaHilary of Poitiers (Author)2
Hail this joyful day's returnHilary of Poitiers, 4th cent. (Author (attributed to))English4
Lucis Largitor splendideHilary of Poitiers (Author)1
Rejoice! The year upon its wayHilary of Poitiers (Author)English5
Round roll the weeks our hearts to greetHilary of Poitiers (Author)2
Thou splendid Giver of the lightBishop Hilary of Poitiers (Author)1

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