St. Hilary, Bishop, Confessor and Doctor of the Church

sotd thumbnailThis feast kept in Tours on January 13 from the end of the Fifth Century was inserted in the Roman Calendar by Pius IX.  St. Austin, who often urges the authority of St. Hilary against the Pelagians, styles him the illustrious doctor of the churches. St. Jerome says that he was a most eloquent man, and the trumpet of the Latins against the Arians; and that in St. Cyprian and St. Hilary, God had transplanted two fair cedars out of the world into his church.
St. Hilary was a native of Poitiers, and his family was one of the most illustrious in Gaul.  .  He spent his youth in the study of eloquence. He himself testifies that he was brought up in idolatry, and gives us a particular account of the steps by which God conducted him to the knowledge of his saving faith.  He considered by the glimmering or faint light of reason that man, who is created a moral and free agent, is placed in this world for the exercise of patience, temperance, and other virtues, which he saw must receive from God a recompense after this life. He ardently set about learning what God is; and after some researches into the nature of the Supreme Being, quickly discovered the absurdity of polytheism, or a plurality of gods, and was convinced that there can be only one God, and that the same is eternal, unchangeable, all-powerful, the first cause and author of all things. Full of these reflections, he met with the holy scriptures and was wonderfully affected with that just and sublime description Moses gives of God in those words, so expressive of his self-existence, I AM WHO AM; he was no less struck with the idea of his immensity and supreme dominion, illustrated by the most lively images in the inspired language of the prophets. The reading of the New Testament put an end to and completed his inquiries; and he learned from the first chapter of St. John that the Divine Word, God the Son, is coeternal and consubstantial with the Father. Here he checked his natural curiosity, avoided subtleties, and submitted his understanding to divine revelation, resolving what seemed incomprehensible into the veracity and power of God and not presuming to measure divine mysteries by his shallow capacity. Being thus brought to the knowledge of faith, he received the heavenly regeneration by baptism. From that time forth he so squared his whole life by the rules of piety, and so zealous were his endeavors to confirm others in the faith of the holy Trinity and to encourage all to virtue, that he seemed, though a laymen, already to possess the grace of the priesthood.
In the year 353 he was chosen bishop of Poitiers.  He omitted no endeavors to escape this promotion, but his humility only made the people the more earnest to see him vested with that dignity; and indeed their expectations were not frustrated in him, for his eminent virtue and capacity shone forth with such a lustre as soon drew upon him the attention, not only of all Gaul but of the whole church. Soon after he was raised to the episcopal dignity, he composed, before his exile, elegant comments on the gospel of Saint Matthew, which are still extant. Those on the Psalms he compiled after his banishment.  Of these comments on the Psalms and on St. Matthew, we are chiefly to understand St. Jerome, when he recommends, in a particular manner, the reading of the works of St. Hilary to virgins and devout persons.  From that time the Arian controversy chiefly employed his pen. He was an excellent orator and poet. His style is lofty and noble, beautified with rhetorical ornaments and figures, but somewhat studied; and the length of his periods renders him sometimes obscure to the unlearned, as St. Jerome takes notice.
The emperor Constantius, having labored for several years to compel the eastern churches to embrace Arianism, came into the West, and after the overthrow of the tyrant Magnentius, made some stay at Arles, while his Arian bishops held a council there, in which they engaged Saturninus, the impious bishop of that city, in their party, in 353. A bolder Arian council at Milan in 355, held during the residence of the emperor in that city, required all to sign the condemnation of St. Athanasius. Such as refused to comply were banished — among whom were St. Eusebius of Vercelli, Lucifer of Cagliari, and St. Dionysius of Milan, into whose see Auxentius, the Arian, was intruded. St. Hilary wrote on that occasion his first book to Constantius, in which he mildly entreated him to restore peace to the church. He separated himself from the three Arian bishops in the West — Ursacius, Valens, and Saturninus — and exhibited an accusation against the last in a synod at Beziers. But the emperor, who had information of the matter from Saturninus, sent an order to Julian, then Caesar, and surnamed afterwards the Apostate, who at that time commanded in Gaul, for St. Hilary’s immediate banishment into Phrygia, together with St. Rhodanius, bishop of Toulouse. The bishops in Gaul, being almost all orthodox, remained in communion with St. Hilary and would not suffer the intrusion of anyone into his see, which in his absence he continued to govern by his priests. The saint went into banishment about the middle of the year 356, with as great alacrity as another would take a journey of pleasure, and never entertained the least disquieting thought of hardships, dangers, or enemies, having a soul above both the smiles and frowns of the world and fixed only on God. He remained in exile somewhat upwards of three years, which time he employed in composing several learned works. The principal and most esteemed of these is that On the Trinity, against the Arians, in twelve books. In them he proves the consubstantiality of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He teaches that the church is one, out of which all heresies spring, and that by this she is distinguished as standing always one, always alone against them all and confounding them all — whereas they by perpetual divisions tear each other in pieces, and so become the subject of her triumph.  He proves that Arianism cannot be the faith of Christ, not being the faith revealed to St. Peter, upon whom the church was built and secured forever; for Peter’s faith Christ prayed, that it might never fail; and it was Peter who received the keys of the kingdom of heaven and whose judiciary sentence on earth is that of heaven:  all which arguments St. Hilary frequently urges.  He proves the divinity of Christ by the miracles wrought at the sepulchres of the apostles and martyrs and by their relics; for the devils themselves confess Christ’s godhead and roar and flee at the presence of the venerable bones of his servants, which truth St. Hilary also mentions and urges in his invective against Constantius.  In 358, he wrote his book On Synods, or On the Faith of the Orientals to explain the terms and variation of the eastern Arians in their synods.
St. Hilary returned through Illyricum and Italy to confirm the weak. He was received at Poictiers with the greatest demonstrations of joy and triumph, where his old disciple, St. Martin, rejoined him, to pursue the exercises of piety under his direction. A synod in Gaul, convoked at the instance of St. Hilary, condemned that of Rimini, which, in 359, had omitted the word “consubstantial.” Saturninus, proving obstinate, was excommunicated and deposed for his heresy and other crimes. Scandals were removed, discipline, peace, and purity of faith were restored, and piety flourished.
Our saint died at Poictiers in the year 368, on the thirteenth of January or on the first of November, for his name occurs in very ancient Martyrologies on both these days. In the Roman breviary his office is celebrated on the fourteenth of January.
St. Hilary observes, that singleness of heart is the most necessary condition of faith and true virtue, “For Christ teaches that only those who become again as it were little children, and by the simplicity of that age cut off the inordinate affections of vice, can enter the kingdom of heaven. These follow and obey their father, love their mother; are strangers to covetousness, ill-will, hatred, arrogance, and lying, and are inclined easily to believe what they hear. This disposition of affections opens the way to heaven. We must therefore return to the simplicity of little children, in which we shall bear some resemblance to our Lord’s humility.”  This, in the language of the Holy Ghost, is called the foolishness of the cross of Christ, in which consists true wisdom. That prudence of the flesh and worldly wisdom which is the mother of self-sufficiency, pride, avarice, and vicious curiosity, the source of infidelity, and the declared enemy of the spirit of Christ, is banished by this holy simplicity; and in its stead are obtained true wisdom — which can only be found in a heart freed from the clouds of the passions — perfect prudence — which, as St. Thomas shows, is the fruit of the assemblage of all virtues — and a divine light which grace fails not to infuse. This simplicity, which is the mother of Christian discretion, is a stranger to all artifice, design, and dissimulation, to all views or desires of self-interest, and to all undue respect or consideration of creatures. All its desires and views are reduced to this alone: of attaining to the perfect union with God. Unfeignedly to desire this one thing — to belong to God alone, to arrive at His pure love, and to do His will in all things — is that simplicity or singleness of heart of which we speak, and which banishes all inordinate affections of the heart, from which arise the most dangerous errors of the understanding. This is the essential disposition of everyone who sincerely desires to live by the spirit of Christ. That divine Spouse of souls loves to communicate Himself to such.  His conversation (or as another version has it, His secret) is with the simple.  His delight is in those who walk with simplicity.  This is the characteristic of all the saints:  for which reason the Holy Ghost cries out, “Approach Him not with a double heart.”  That worldly wisdom is not subject to the law of God, neither can it be.  Its intoxication blinds men and shuts their eyes to the light of divine revelation. They arrogate to themselves the exclusive privilege of learning and clear understanding, but the skepticism, the pitiful inconsistencies, and monstrous extravagances, which characterize their writings and discourses, make us blush to see so strong an alliance of ignorance and presumption and makes us lament that the human mind should be capable of falling into a state of so deplorable a degeneracy. Among the fathers of the church we admire men the most learned of their age, the most penetrating and most judicious and, at the same time, the most holy and sincere, who, being endowed with true simplicity of heart, discovered in the mysteries of the cross the secrets of infinite wisdom which they made their study, and the rule of their actions.
(Adapted from Butler’s Lives of the Saints and Fr. Lasance, The New Roman Missal)

St. Felix, Priest and Martyr

sotd thumbnailIt is observed by the judicious Tillemont, with regard to the life of this saint, that we might doubt of its wonderful circumstances, were they not supported by the authority of St. Paulinus, but that great miracles ought to be received with the greater veneration when authorized by incontestable vouchers.
St. Felix was a native of Nola, a Roman colony in Campania, fourteen miles from Naples, where his father Hermias, who was by birth a Syrian and had served in the army, had purchased an estate and settled himself. He had two sons, Felix and Hermias, to whom at his death he left his patrimony. The younger sought preferment in the world among the lovers of vanity by following the profession of arms, which at that time was the surest road to riches and honors. Felix, to become in effect what his name in Latin means — that is, happy — resolved to follow no other standard than that of the King of Kings, Jesus Christ. For this purpose, despising all earthly things, lest the love of them might entangle his soul, he distributed the better part of his substance among the poor and was ordained Reader, Exorcist, and, lastly, Priest, by Maximus, the holy bishop of Nola, who, charmed with his sanctity and prudence, made him his principal support in those times of trouble and designed him for his successor. *
In the year 250, the emperor Decius raised a bloody persecution against the church. Maximus, seeing himself principally aimed at, retired into the deserts, not through the fear of death, which he desired, but rather not to tempt God by seeking it and to preserve himself for the service of his flock. The persecutors, not finding him, seized on Felix, who, in his absence, was very vigilant in the discharge of all his pastoral duties. The governor caused him to be scourged, then loaded with bolts and chains about his neck hands, and legs, and cast into a dungeon, in which, as St. Prudentius informs us, * the floor was spread all over with potsherds and pieces of broken glass so that there was no place free from them, on which the saint could either stand or lie. One night an angel appearing in great glory filled the prison with a bright light and bade St. Felix go and assist his bishop who was in great distress. The confessor, seeing his chains fall off and the doors open, followed his guide and was conducted by heaven to the place where Maximus lay, almost perished with hunger and cold, speechless and without sense — for, through anxiety for his flock and the hardships of his solitary retreat, he had suffered more than a martyrdom. Felix, not being able to bring him to himself, had recourse to prayer, and discovering thereupon a bunch of grapes within reach, he squeezed some of the juice into his mouth, which had the desired effect. The good bishop no sooner beheld his friend Felix, but he embraced him and begged to be conveyed back to his church. The saint, taking him on his shoulders, carried him to his episcopal house in the city before day appeared, where a pious ancient woman took care of him. *
Felix, with the blessing of his pastor, repaired secretly to his own lodgings and there kept himself concealed, praying for the church without ceasing till peace was restored to it by the death of Decius in the year 251. He no sooner appeared again in public, but his zeal so exasperated the pagans that they came armed to apprehend him; but though they met him, they knew him not; they even asked him where Felix was — a question he did not think proper to give a direct answer to. The persecutors, going a little further, perceived their mistake and returned; but the saint in the mean time had stepped a little out of the way and crept through a hole in a ruinous old wall, which was instantly closed up by spiders’ webs. His enemies never imagining anything could have lately passed where they saw so close a spider’s web, after a fruitless search elsewhere, returned in the evening without their prey. Felix, finding among the ruins, between two houses, an old well half dry, hid himself in it for six months and received during that time wherewithal to subsist by means of a devout Christian woman. Peace being restored to the church by the death of the emperor, the saint quitted his retreat and was received in the city as an angel sent from heaven.
Soon after, St. Maximus dying, all were unanimous for electing Felix bishop; but he persuaded the people to make choice of Quintus, he being the older priest of the two and having been ordained seven days before him. Quintus, when bishop, always respected St. Felix as his father and followed his advice in every particular. The remainder of the saint’s estate having been confiscated in the persecution, he was advised to lay claim to it, as others had done and thereby recovered what had been taken from them. His answer was that in poverty he should be the more secure of possessing Christ. * He could not even be prevailed upon to accept what the rich offered him. He rented a little spot of barren land, not exceeding three acres, which he tilled with his own hands in such manner as to receive his subsistence from it and to have something left for alms. Whatever was bestowed on him, he gave it immediately to the poor. If he had two coats he was sure to give them the better, and he often exchanged his only one for the rags of some beggar. He died in a good old age on the fourteenth of January, on which day the Martyrology, under the name of St. Jerome, and all others of later date mention him. Five churches have been built at or near the place where he was first interred, which was outside the precinct of the city of Nola. His precious remains are at present kept in the cathedral, but certain portions are in Rome, Benevento, and some other places. Pope Damasus, in a pilgrimage which he made from Rome to Nola, to the shrine of this saint, professes, in a short poem which he composed in acknowledgment, that he was miraculously cured of a distemper through his intercession.
St. Paulinus, a Roman senator in the fifth age, forty-six years after the death of St. Damasus, came from Spain to Nola, desirous of being porter in the church of St. Felix. He testifies that crowds of pilgrims came from Rome, from all other parts of Italy, and from more distant countries to visit his sepulcher on his festival; he adds that all brought some present or other to his church — wax-candles to burn at his tomb, precious ointments, costly ornaments, and such like — but that for his part, he offered to him the homage of his tongue and himself, though an unworthy victim. * He everywhere expresses his devotion to this saint in the warmest and strongest terms and believes that all the graces he received from heaven were conferred on him through the intercession of St. Felix. To him he addressed himself in all his necessities; by his prayers he begged grace in this life and glory after death. * He describes at large the holy pictures of the whole history of the Old Testament, which were hung up in the church of St. Felix, and which inflamed all who beheld them and were like so many books that instructed the ignorant. We may read with pleasure the pious sentiments the sight of each gave St. Paulinus. * He relates a great number of miracles that were wrought at his tomb: persons cured of various distempers and delivered from dangers by his intercession, to several of which he was an eye-witness. He testifies that he himself had frequently experienced the most sensible effects of his patronage and, by having recourse to him, had been speedily succored. * St. Austin also has given an account of many miracles performed at his shrine. * It was not formerly allowed to bury any corpse within the walls of cities. The church of St. Felix, outside the walls of Nola, not being comprised under this prohibition, many devout Christians sought to be buried in it, that their faith and devotion might recommend them after death to the patronage of this holy confessor, upon which head St. Paulinus consulted St. Austin. The holy doctor answered him by his book on the care for the dead: in which he shows that the faith and devotion of such persons would be available to them after death, just as the suffrages and good works of the living on behalf of the faithful departed are profitable to the latter.
(Adapted from Butler’s Lives of the Saints)