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Hila'rius or Hila'rius Pictaviensis

surnamed PICTAVIENSIS, the most strenuous champion of the pure faith among the Latin fathers of the fourth century, the “Malleus Arianorum,” as he has been designated by his admirers, was born at Poitiers, of a good family, although the name of his parents is unknown, and carefully instructed in all the branches of a liberal education. Having been induced, after he had attained to manhood, to study the Scriptures, he became convinced of the truth of Christianity, made an open profession of his belief, was baptized along with his wife and his daughter Abra, and resolved to devote himself to the service of religion. Of the early portion of his career in this new vocation we know nothing, but his character as a man of learning and piety must have been held in high esteem, for about the year A. D. 350, although still married, he was elected bishop of his native city. From that time forward the great object of his existence was to check the progress of Arianism, which had spread all over the East, and was making rapid strides in Gaul. At his instigation the Catholic prelates excommunicated Saturninus, bishop of Arles, a zealous partizan of the heretics, together with his two chief supporters, Ursacius and Valens. But at the council of Beziers, convoked in 356 by Constantius, ostensibly for the purpose of calming these dissensions, a triumph was achieved by the adversaries of Hilarius, who by a rescript from the emperor was banished, along with Rhodanus, bishop of Toulouse, to Phrygia, which, as well as the rest of Asia Minor, was strongly opposed to Trinitarian doctrines. From this remote region he continued to govern his diocese, to which no successor had been appointed, and drew up his work De Synodis, that he might make known throughout Gaul, Germany, and Britain, the precise nature of the opinions prevalent in the East. In 359 a general meeting of bishops was summoned to be held at Seleuceia, in Isauria; and Hilarius, having repaired thither uninvited, boldly undertook, although almost unsupported, to maintain the consubstantiality of the Word, against the Anomeans and other kindred sectaries, who formed a large majority of the assembly. From thence he betook himself to Constantinople, at that time the very focus of Arianism, where his indefatigable importunity proved so troublesome to the court, and his influence with the more moderate among the Oriental ecclesiastics so alarming to the dominant faction, that he was ordered forthwith to return to his bishopric, where he was received in triumph, about the period of Julian's accession (361), and at this time probably published his famous invective against the late prince. For some years he found full occupation in reclaiming such of the clergy as had subscribed the confession of faith sanctioned by the council of Ariminum, and in ejecting from the church his old enemy Saturninus, along with these who refused to acknowledge their errors. In the reign of Valentinian (364), however, not satisfied with regulating the spiritual concerns of his own country, he determined to purify Italy also, and formally impeached Auxentius, bishop of Milan, who stood high in imperial favour, although suspected of being in his heart hostile to the cause of orthodoxy. The emperor forthwith cited the accuser and the accused to appear before him, and to hold a conference upon the disputed points of faith in the presence of the high officers of state. Auxentius unexpectedly, and perhaps unwillingly, gave unexceptionable answers to all the questions proposed; upon which Hilarius, having indignantly denounced him as a hypocrite, was expelled from Milan as a disturber of the tranquillity of the church, and, retiring to his episcopal see, died in peace four years afterwards, on the 13th of January, A. D. 368.


The extant works of this prelate, arranged in chronological order, are the following:--


written it is believed in A. D. 355. It is a petition in which he implores the emperor to put an end to the persecutions by which the Arians sought to crush their opponents, produces several examples of their cruelty, and urges with great force, in respectful language, theright of the Catholics to enjoy toleration.


(s. Tractatus) in Evangelium Matthaei, written before his exile, in A. D. 356, and divided into twenty-three canones or sections. The preface, which is quoted by Cassianus (De Incarn. 7.24), is wanting. This is the ancient of the extant expositions of the first evangelist by any of the Latin fathers, and is repeatedly quoted by Jerome and Augustin. From the resemblance which it bears in tone and spirit to the exegetical writings of Origen, it may very probably have been derived from some of his works.


s. De Fide Orientalium s. De Synodis Graeciae, or more fully, De Synodis Fidei Catholicae contra Arianos et pracvaricatores Arianis acquiescentes, or simply, Epistola, being in reality a letter, written in A. D. 358, while in exile, addressed to his episcopal brethren in Gaul, Germany, Holland, and Britain, explaining the real views of the Oriental prelates on the Trinitarian controversy, and pointing out that many of them, although differing in words, agreed in substance with the orthodox churches of the West. In the Benedictine edition, we find added for the first time a defence of this piece, in reply to objections which had been urged against it by a certain Lucifer, probably him of Cagliari.


s. Contra Arianos s. De Fide, besides a number of other titles, differing slightly from each other. This, the most important and elaborate of the productions of Hilarius, was composed, or at least finished, in A. D. 360. It contains a complete exposition of the doctrine of Trinity, a comprehensive examination of the evidences upon which it rests, and a full refutation of all the grand arguments of the heretics, being the first great controversial work produced upon this subject in the Latin church. Jerome informs us that it was divided into twelve books, in order that the number might correspond with the twelve books of Quintilian, whose style the author proposed as his model. When Cassiodorus (Institt. Div. 16) speaks of thirteen books, he includes the tract De Synodis, mentioned above.


presented in person to the emperor about A. D. 360, in which the petitioner sets forth that he had been driven into banishment by the calumnies of freely his enemies, implores the sovereign to lend a favourable ear to his cause, and takes occasion to vindicate the truth of the principles which he maintained.

6. Contra Constantium Augustum Liber. Probably composed, and perhaps privately circulated, while the prince was still alive, but certainly not published until after his death,--a supposition by which we shall be able to reconcile the words of the piece itself (100.2) with the positive assertion of Jerome (de Viris Ill. 100). Indeed, it is scarcely credible that any zealot, however bold, would have ventured openly to assail any absolute monarch, however mild, with such a mass of coarse abuse, differing, moreover, so remarkably from the subdued tone of his former addresses to the same personage, who is here pronounced to be Antichrist, a rebel against God, a tyrant whose sole object was to make a gift to the Devil of that world for which Christ had suffered. We are particularly struck with two points in this attack. Unmeasured abuse is poured forth against Constantius because he refrained from inflicting tortures and martyrdom upon his adversaries, seeking rather to win them over by the temptations of wealth and honours, and because he wished to confine the creed strictly to the words of Scripture, excluding apostolical tradition and the authority of the hierarchy. The most extravagant violence of the first requires no comment ; the second is remarkable, since it proves that some of the fundamental doctrines of the Romish Church, as opposed to the Protestant, had already been called in question. (See Milman's History of Christianity, book 3.100.5.)


otherwise, Epistola ad Catholicos et Auxentium, written in A. D. 365, to which is subjoined a letter addressed by Auxentius to the emperors Valentinianus and Valens. The subject of these will be sufficiently understood from the circumstances recorded in the life of Hilarius.


(s. Tractatus, s. Expositiones) in Psalmos, composed towards the very close of his life. Not so much verbal annotations as general reflections upon the force and spirit of the different psalms, and upon the lessons which we ought to draw from them, mingled with many mystical and allegorical speculations, after the fashion of Origen. It is not improbable that these were originally short discourses or homilies, delivered from the pulpit, and afterwards digested and arranged. They may have extended to the whole book of Psalms, but the collection, as it now exists, embraces seventy-nine only.


first published in 1598 by Nicolaus Faber from the library of P. Pithou, containing passages from a lost work upon the synods of Seleuceia and Ariminum, and from other pieces connected with the history of the divisions by which the church was at that time distracted.

Doubtful Works

The following are of doubtful authenticity:--


dissuading her from becoming the bride of any one save Christ.


Addressed also to his daughter Abra.

Works now lost

Works now lost, but mentioned by Jerome, Augustin, or other ancient authorities:--

1. Libellus ad Sallustium Galliarum Praefectum contra Dioscurum medicum. Probably an apology for Christianity.

2. Commentarius (s. Tractatus) in Jobum, translated from the Greek of Origen.

3. Liber adversus Valentem et Ursatium, portions of which are to be found in the Fiagmela noticed above.

4. Hymnorum Liber.

5. Mysteriorum Liber.

6. Many Epistolae.

7. He was said to have been the author of a Commentarius in Cantica Canticorum, but Jerome was unable to discover it, and equally dubious is the Expositio Epistolae ad Timothecum, quoted in the Acts of the Council of Seville.

Works erroneously ascribed to Hilarius

The Carmen in Genesim; Libri de Patris et Filii Unitate; Liber de Essentia Patris et Filii; Confessio de Trinitate; Epistola, s. Libellus et Sermo de Dedicatione Ecclesiae, are all erroneously ascribed to this father.


Hilarius was gifted with a powerful intellect, and displayed undaunted courage and perseverance in upholding the faith; but his zeal bordered so closely upon fanaticism, that he must frequently have injured the cause which he advocated with unseemly violence. He can scarcely be esteemed a man of learning, for he was ignorant of Hebrew, and but imperfectly acquainted with Greek : his expositions of Scripture, when original, are by no means profeund, when borrowed are not selected with judgment; while his doctrines in dogmatic theology must be received with much caution, for Erasmus has clearly proved from several passages, which the Benedictine editors have in vain sought to explain away, that his expressions with regard to the nature of Christ are such as no orthodox divine could adopt. Among his contemporaries, however, and immediate successors his influence was powerful and his reputation high. Rufinus, Augustin, and Jerome speak of him with respect, and even admiration.


A few of the opuscula of Hilarius, together with his work De Trinitate, and the treatise of Augustin upon the same subject, were printed at Milan, fol. 1489, by Leon. Pachel under the editorial inspection of G. Cribellus, a presbyter of that city; and this collection was reprinted at Venice in the course of the same century. More complete was the edition printed at Paris, fol. 1510, by Badius Ascensius, which, however, was greatly inferior to that of Erasmus, printed at Basle by Frobenius, fol., 1523, and reprinted in 1526 and 1528. By far the best in every respect is that published by Coustant, Paris, fol., 1693, forming one of the Benedictine series, and reprinted, with some additions, by Scipio Maffei, Veron., 2 vols. fol., 1730.

Further Information

Our chief authorities for the life of Hilarius are an ancient biography by a certain Venantius Fortunatus, who must be distinguished from the Christian poet of the same name, consisting of two books, which, from the difference of style, many suppose to be from two different pens; the short but valuable notice in Hieronymus, De Viris Ill. 100.100; and the Vita Hilarii ex ipsius potissimum Scriptis collecta, prefixed to the Benedictine edition, in the Prolegomena to which all the early testimonies will be found.


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