Buck the Bishops

A 4th Century Saint is honored by the church on January 13th: St. Hilary, Bishop of Poitiers and Hymnwriter.

Hilary (think “happy” or “hilarious,” because his name is derived from the Latin for fun/cheerful) was born in Gaul to powerful pagan parents. He was not baptized until relatively later in life, at age 30, and in the year 350 he was made bishop of Poitiers by popular demand, though he was already married and had never been ordained!

Throughout history, good order has often been circumvented by the desires of the masses, for good and for ill.

St. Hilary bucked Emperor Constantinus in not going along with the Emperor’s demand that Western Bishops adhere to a compromised Nicene faith, and for this he was banished to Phrygia in Asia Minor.

There he continued his work as a theologian, writing On the Trinity while in exile, a foundational document for the early church.

In 360 he was allowed to return to his post at Poitiers to great acclaim, and he became the most respected Latin theologian of the time, and is lauded as one who brought Eastern wisdom into the Western church largely due to his time in exile and learning from those in Asia Minor.

He is also remembered as having written the first Latin hymns. Having been influenced by Greek hymns during his exile, he brought many back and created Latin versions of them while also writing new hymns altogether for the Western church. He was disappointed with the ability of the people in Gaul to carry a tune, however, and complained that they were “unteachable in sacred song.” I guess you can’t always have a win.

Hilary is remembered as being one intensely focused on Orthodoxy, but also as one who, due to his life experience, broadened and expanded the practices of the church.

Oh, and fun fact: I passed by the parish of St. Hilary weekly when I lived on the north side of Chicago.

St. Hilary is a reminder for me, and should be for the whole church, that sometimes spending some time in exile, on the outs, at the margins, can be a blessed time of learning where the gems of the wilderness can be mined and brought back into the center of life.

-historical pieces gleaned from Pfatteicher’s New Book of Festivals & Commemorations

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