May 5

St. Hilary of Arles

St. Hilary of Arles

When they lived: St. Hilary of Arles, also known as Saint Hilarius, lived during the late 4th century. He was born around 401 AD and died in 449 AD.

Where they lived: St. Hilary of Arles lived in the city of Arles, which was an important center in the Roman province of Gallia Narbonensis (modern-day southern France).

Notable world events during the time of their life:

  • The Fall of the Western Roman Empire (476 AD): St. Hilary lived through the declining years of the Western Roman Empire, which eventually fell in 476 AD. This event marked the end of ancient Roman rule in the western part of the empire.
  • The Council of Ephesus (431 AD): The Council of Ephesus was a significant event in early Christian history, dealing with the theological issues of the nature of Christ. St. Hilary, being a bishop, would have been aware of the debates and implications of this council.
  • The Life and Teachings of St. Augustine (354-430 AD): St. Augustine of Hippo, one of the most influential early Christian theologians, lived during a significant portion of St. Hilary’s life. Augustine’s works on theology and philosophy had a lasting impact on the Christian Church.
  • The Decline of the Western Roman Empire and Barbarian Invasions: The late 4th and early 5th centuries were marked by the decline of the Western Roman Empire, with various barbarian tribes, such as the Visigoths and Vandals, invading Roman territories.
  • The Development of Early Christian Monasticism: During St. Hilary’s lifetime, the practice of Christian monasticism was gaining traction. Monastic communities were being established, contributing to the spread of Christianity and the development of spiritual practices.

Their patronage: St. Hilary of Arles is the patron saint of the city of Arles and is venerated as a protector against snake bites. His feast day is celebrated on January 14th.

St. Hilary’s life is fascinating due to his presence during a period of significant transition in both the Roman Empire and early Christianity. His role as a bishop in Arles allowed him to witness and participate in important ecclesiastical discussions, and his association with the city and his patronage against snake bites adds unique and intriguing facets to his story.

Young Hilary

Hilary was born probably in 401 AD, in the early fifth century, into an an aristocratic family in Gaul, Lorraine, today’s present-day France. The name Hilary means cheerful.’

As per a boy born into a household of standing like his, he had an excellent education. His study covered liberal arts, polite learning, eloquence, and philosophy.

We could all agree that he had the good things of life that nobility could provide. At an early stage of his life, he wasn’t interested in religion. He had yet to encounter God or his faithfulness. It appeared he would be pursuing a path in the secular profession.

This was until his path crossed with that of his kinsman, Honoratus.

The God-Experience

Honoratus had abandoned the country in search of Christ in solitude. He had founded a great monastery on the Isle of Lerins. He had loved Hilary as his friend and strongly wanted to help his friend break the chains and charms of the deceitful world into which he was deeply plunged.

Honoratus sought out Hilary to show him the light of Jesus, but Hilary had a rebellious soul toward the gospel. Therefore, Honoratus went to God in prayer. It was stated that he had said to him, “I will obtain of God what you will not grant me.”

Internal conflict arose in Hilary after Honoratus, his friend, had departed. He felt God’s mercy calling out to him. Three days later, he went searching for his friend, a changed man.

No doubt was left in anyone who met him that the young man had decided to save his soul. Everything about him was different, inward and outward. His words, looks, character, humility, and patience reflect the virtues of purity.

Hilary went home and sold his estate and assets to his brother. He distributed all he had made from the sale to charity and made his way to the Abbey of Lerins, where he joined the monastic life of prayer and contemplation.

Bishop of Arles

Honoratus was appointed Bishop of Arles in 426, while Hilary remained at the monastery in Lerins. Honoratus himself went to fetch Hilary when she refused to join him at Arles, preferring the solitude of life as an amonk.

Honoratus passed on in 429, and Hilary set out on his way back to the Abbey of Lerins. He was apprehended by the local faithful in Arles to succeed his kinsman. Many have heard and seen his devotion to God and helping the poor.

Just at 29, Hilary became the Bishop of Arles. The youthful bishop worked with so much vigor. He introduced many reforms in the church, assisted in many councils, strengthened discipline in local churches, continued in his work for the poor, built many monasteries, and lived with few possessions.

Too Hasty?

His zeal to get things done correctly got the young bishop into trouble. He had deposed the bishop of Besancon, Chelidonus, for neglecting his priorities. Also, on the accusation that the bishop had married a widow and sentenced people to death while he was a magistrate before his ordination, These irregularities were grounds for disqualification from the holy order.

His action was said to be outside his jurisdiction. He had also replaced Projectus, a sick bishop in his province, with another, while the former was not dead.

His intentions might have been right, but his actions were hasty. Following an appeal to Pope Leo, the Pope reversed his actions. He further denied him his metropolitan rights but did not remove him from his position as a bishop.

Throughout his ordeal, Hilary exhibited great humility and was patient. He never stopped working for the common good.

Call to Glory

Exhausted by the life of austerity and constant labor, Hilary, the bishop of Arles, joined the good Lord on the 5th of May, 449. He was 48.

Hillary’s name later entered the Roman Martyrology.

5 Interesting Facts About St. Hilary of Arles

  1. Are you aware that Hilary did manual labor to earn money for the
    poor, even as a Bishop? He was compassionate, even to a fault.
  2. His methods of ecclesiastical decision-making were questioned but never
    his faith or holiness.
  3. Hilary traveled everywhere on foot and was always dressed simply. He
    was very detached from material concerns.
  4. He was obedient while facing sanctions from the Pope and never
    neglected his duties.
  5. Mercy or keeping the rule—which do you think should come first?
    Hilary sold sacred vessels and church properties for ransom.
    captives. He chose mercy.

Prayer to St. Hilary of Arles

There is no official prayer for Saint Hilary of Arles.