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Bishop of Poitiers, Teacher of the Faith

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Bishop of Poitiers,
Teacher of the Faith

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Hilary of Poitiers wrote extensively on Scripture and doctrinal issues. Born of pagan parents in the early 4th century he was given an excellent education in Greek and Latin. He tells of his acceptance of Christianity and eventual baptism at the age of about 30.

Around 350, by popular choice Hilary was elected bishop of his home town. He became caught up in the controversies of the day over Jesus’ relationship to God; Hilary defended the full divinity of Christ. But those who didn’t (the Arians) had the backing of the emperor, and their local supporters in Gaul forced Hilary into exile under imperial condemnation from 356 to 360. Hilary made good use of his exile in Phrygia to become familiar with the theology of the eastern part of the church. As a result, he was able to help easterners and westerners understand each other.

Hilary had already been writing extensively on Scripture, on the connections between the Old and New Testaments. He now turned his attention to the defence of the full divinity of Christ, in the tradition of Athanasius, basing his arguments on Scripture. His major work is his De Trinitate (On the Trinity).

Hilary wrote from exile to the emperor, pleading for a fair trial and an opportunity of defending his theological position. The emperor ignored him, but, on the emperor’s death, Hilary returned to Poitiers to a hero’s welcome. He succeeded in rallying like-minded bishops in Gaul to the defence of the theology of Christ’s full divinity at Nicea in 325. He died before seeing the triumph at Constantinople in 381 of the “orthodoxy” he had defended.

Hilary made a significant contribution to the understanding and explanation of scripture in the west, was important as an intermediary between eastern and western theology, and was greatly respected as a pastor of his people.

BORN: 310 AD, Poitiers, France

DIED: 368 AD, Poitiers, France