St. Hilary of Poitiers

Bishop of Poitiers


AD 315
AD 367
Related topics
Commentaries, Early works, Arianism, Hilary,--Saint, Bishop of Poitiers,--d. 367, History,


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Hilary was bishop of Poitiers in west central France and was the leading orthodox Latin church father during the peak of the Arian power. Hilary was born into a prominent pagan family of Poitiers and was educated in philosophy and rhetoric. Three years after his conversion to Christianity (ca .350), he was elected bishop of his hometown by the people there, even though he was married.

After the Council of Milan (355) agreed to the banishment of the orthodox Athanasius, Hilary organized the bishops of Gaul to resist the Arian emperor and those bishops who supported Arianism. As a result, Emperor Constantius exiled Hilary to Phrygia (Asia Minor) where he wrote his principal work On the Trinity (356-359).

This work by Hilary was the best defense of the divinity of Christ against the Arians, who did not consider the Son to be eternal but created by the Father. Hilary held that the Father and the Son have identity of substance yet are two. With his On the Trinity and other writings, especially his work On the Synods, Hilary did much to bring unity between the followers of Athanasius and other anti-Arians. Unity had not been achieved because many felt that the phrases of the council of Nicea did not make a clear distinction between the Father and the Son. As a mediator, Hilary indicated the areas on each side that needed correction.

Emperor Constantius returned Hilary to Gaul without restoring him to his office. During the rule of Constantius and Valentinian, Hilary continued his opposition to the Arians until his death in 367. Where Hilary failed in his effort to achieve an orthodox church and state, another Latin father, Ambrose, would later succeed.

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