Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century/Hilarius Arelatensis, saint, bp. of Arles
Hilarius (17) Arelatensis (Hilary of Arles), St., bp. of Arles and metropolitan.
Authorities..—(1) References to himself in his biography of his predecessor, Honoratus of Arles. (2) Vita Hilarii, usually assigned to St. Honoratus, bp. of Marseilles, a disciple of Hilary (Boll. Acta SS. 5; Mai. ii. 25). (3) Gennadius, Illust. Vir. Catal. § 67. (4) St. Leo (Ep. 89, al. 10). (5) Councils of Riez, 439, Orange and Vaison, 442, Rome, 445 (Labbe, Concil. t. i. pp. 1747, 1783), Vienne, 445 (Natalis Alexander, Hist. Ecclesiastica, t. v. p. 168, art. viii. de Concilio Romano in causâ Hilarii Arelatensis). (6) Notices of St. Hilary are also to be found in the writings of St. EUCHERIUS (who dedicated to him his book de Laude Eremi), of St. Isidore, of Sidonius Apollinaris, and others; and very specially in certain writings of St. Prosper and St. Augustine, to which references will be found below.
The place of his birth, probably in 401, was apparently that part of Gallia Belgica called later Austrasia. He was of noble family. His education was, according to the standard of the age, a thoroughly liberal one, including philosophy and rhetoric. That in rhetoric he became no mean proficient is proved by the graceful style of the one assured composition of his which is extant.
The early ambition of Hilary's mind lay in the direction of secular greatness. Both station and culture gave him every prospect of success, and he appears to have ably discharged the duties of some dignified offices in the state, though we are not informed of their precise nature. He must have been very young when the example and the entreaties of his friend and kinsman Honoratus of Arles induced him to renounce all secular society for the solitude of the isle of Lérins. He sold his estates to his brother, and gave the proceeds partly to the poor, partly to some monasteries which needed aid. At Lérins he became a model monk in the very best and highest sense; but after a period probably not exceeding two years his friend Honoratus, being chosen (a.d. 426) bp. of Arles, obtained the comfort of Hilary's companionship in his new duties. Honoratus died Jan. 16, 429, and Hilary at once prepared to return to Lérins, but the citizens of Arles compelled him to occupy the vacant see. As bishop, he lived in many respects like a monk, though by no means as a recluse. Simply clad, he traversed on foot the whole of his diocese and province. At home he dwelt in a seminary with some of his clergy. For the redemption of captives he earned money by tilling the earth and planting vines,. and did not scruple to sell on emergencies sacred church vessels, substituting others of meaner material. He continued his studies, was constant in meditation and prayer, and as a preacher produced a great impression, by his excellent matter and delivery.
The canons passed by the councils of Riez and of Orange, over which Hilary presided in 439 and 442 respectively, were in the main of a disciplinary character; at Riez a special canon, the seventh, insisted strongly on the rights of the metropolitan. It seems undeniable that Hilary was inclined to press the claims of this office to a degree which amounted to usurpation; partly, perhaps, in regard to the geographical extent of the jurisdiction claimed by him for the see of Arles, and certainly with respect to the rights of the clergy, the laity, and the comprovincial bishops.
But before dealing with his important contest with pope Leo, we must interpose a few words on the semi-Pelagianism of which he has been accused. In 429, the year in which he became bishop, two letters (225 and 226 in the Benedictine ed. of St. Augustine) were addressed to the great bp. of Hippo, one by Prosper, and one by another Hilary, a layman. In the former, Prosper, after recounting various shades of dissent manifested in S. Gaul from the Augustinian teaching on predestination, expressly names Hilary, bp. of Arles, among the recalcitrants. Prosper refers in terms of high encomium to Hilary, and intimates that in all other respects the bp. of Arles was an admirer and supporter of Augustine's teaching. He believed, indeed, that Hilary had some intention of writing to Augustine for explanation on the points at issue. The epistle of Hilary the layman, though its statement is more brief and general, entirely confirms that of Prosper.
If on this evidence, and also from the respect shewn by him to Faustus of Riez, we are compelled to class Hilary of Arles with the semi-Pelagians, it must be recognized that he is a supporter of their views in their very mildest form. That Hilary had some grounds for fearing that Augustine's teaching might imperil the acknowledgment of man's free agency is admitted by many of our historians, e.g. Canons Bright (Hist. of Church, p. 307) and Robertson (Hist. of Chr. Church, bk. iii. cc. ii. and vii.). St. Germain of Auxerre, who went twice over to Britain to contend against Pelagianism, was a companion of the bp. of Arles on at least one of his tours through Gaul. Out of this tour, undertaken by Hilary as metropolitan, there arose the important contest between the bps. of Arles and Rome which ended in procuring for the Roman see a great increase of authority, both in respect of territory and of power. The struggle is in many respects a remarkable one. Each side was well championed. Leo and Hilary were men of saintly piety, earnest and energetic in the discharge of their duties. Each conscientiously believed himself in the right; both were apt to be hasty and high-handed in carrying out their views of ecclesiastical government. Hilary found at Besançon (Vesontio), or according to some at Vesoul, a bp. named Chelidonius, the validity of whose position was assailed on the two grounds that he had married a widow while yet a layman, and that he had previously, as a lay magistrate, pronounced sentences of capital punishment. Hilary held a council at Vienne in 444, and we learn from his biographer and from the testimony of Leo that by its sentence Chelidonius was deposed from the episcopate and appealed to Rome in person. Although it was now midwinter, Hilary went on foot across the Alps. Presenting himself to Leo, he respectfully requested him to act in conformity with the canons and usages of the universal church. Persons juridically deposed were known to be serving the altar in Rome. If Leo found this to be the case, let him, as quietly and secretly as he pleased, put a stop to such violation of the canons. If Leo would not do this, Hilary would simply return home, as he had not come to Rome to bring any accusation. It seems probable, however, that he would have listened if Leo had been content with suggesting a rehearing of the cause in Gaul. Leo declined to take this view. Although Gaul was not a portion of the Roman patriarchate, the Roman pontiff resolved to assert over that region a claim similar to that which he had just failed to establish in Africa. [LEO.] He summoned a council or conference in which Hilary, for the sake of peace, consented to take part. Several bishops were present, including Chelidonius. Hilary, with much plainness of speech, defended his conduct. Leo had him put under guard; but Hilary contrived to escape and (apparently in Feb. 445) returned to Arles. Leo found the charge of marriage with a widow not proven against Chelidonius; and formally (as he had already done informally) pronounced him restored to his rank of bishop and to his see. Not content with the reversal of Hilary's sentence, Leo proceeded to deprive the bp. of Arles of his rights as a metropolitan, and to confer them on the bp. of Vienne. He further charged Hilary with having traversed Gaul attended by a band of armed men, and with hastily, without waiting for election by the clergy and laity, consecrating a new bishop in place of Projectus, a bishop (according to Hilary within his province) who was at that time ill. Leo availed himself of his great influence with Valentinian III., to obtain an imperial rescript against Hilary, as one who was injuring the peace of the church and rebelling against the majesty of the empire. This celebrated document, which virtually promised the support of the secular arm to the claim of the Roman pontiff to be a universal bishop, was issued in 445, and was addressed to the Roman general in Gaul, Aetius.
In this controversy Protestant historians, as a rule, take the side of Hilary. But Roman Catholics are much divided. Writers of the ultramontane school, as Rohrbacher or the Italian Gorini (cited in the recent edition of Dom Ceillier), are severe upon Hilary and profess to regard the emperor's rescript as only stating explicitly a principle always recognized. But the Gallicans, as Quesnel and Tillemont, strongly defend Hilary.
It must be said for him that his conviction, that the see off Arles gave him metropolitical power over the whole of Gaul, was based upon no small amount of cogent testimony. The case in favour of this has been ably summed up by Natalis Alexander (H. E. § v. c. v. art. 8), and by the Rev. W. Kay in a note to the Oxf. trans. of Fleury (Lond. 1844). But if it hold good for the case of Chelidonius, it is not equally clear for that of Projectus. That Hilary should escape from Rome, when he found the secular authority employed to detain him, was only natural and justifiable. That he should take soldiers with him in making his visitations may be reasonably ascribed (as Fleury suggests) to the disturbed state of the country. As regards Projectus, he may have strayed beyond the ill-defined limits of his province and most certainly violated canonical rule. But there is no reason to doubt that Hilary, in so acting, really believed that Projectus would not recover, and wished to provide against an emergency. As for Hilary's exceeding freedom of language in. the presence of Leo, which greatly shocked Leo and probably others among the audience, it must be remembered that the bp. of Arles was always wont to speak very plainly. Moreover, as a friend of Hilary, the prefect Auxiliaris subsequently observed, "Roman ears were very delicate."
Those who are willing to accept pleas on behalf of Hilary do not thereby commit themselves to unreserved censure on pope Leo. The encouragement to interference in the affairs of S. Gaul was undeniably very great. Strong as was the case for the jurisdiction of Arles over most of the Gallican sees, the authority over Narbonensian Gaul had long been claimed for the bp. of Vienne. A contest between Patroclus of Arles and Proculus of Marseilles had already been carried to a former bp. of Rome, Zosimus, in 422 (some 22 years before the case of Hilary), though the result had not been encouraging to the partisans of Rome, since Zosimus misjudged it and his successor Boniface referred it back to the prelates of Gaul. But Leo, though at times dwelling more upon St. Peter's confession of faith than on his personal position, in all his letters bearing on the contest with Hilary repeats continually the text (Matt. xvi. 18) on which other bishops of Rome had dwelt so much, and appeals to it as if no other interpretation had ever been heard of, and as in itself his sole and sufficient justification.
Leo's recourse to the emperor's aid has been severely censured; and Tillemont declared concerning the famous law of June 6, 445, that "in the eyes of those who have any love for the church's liberty or any knowledge of her discipline, it will bring as little honour to him whom it praises as of injury to him whom it condemns" (Tillem. Mém. eccl. t. xv. art. xx. p. 83). Baronius (as Tillemont naturally adds) is fully justified in appealing to this act of Valentinian as a proof of the powerful aid lent by the emperors towards establishing the greatness and authority of the pope.
Of the remaining four years of Hilary's life, after his return to Gaul, we know little more than that they were incessantly occupied with the discharge of his duties. Practically the acts of Leo do not appear to have affected his position (see Hallam, Middle Ages, vol. ii. c. vii. pt. i. and Fleury), and Hilary never acknowledged their validity; though an appeal to Leo was made after Hilary's death for the restoration of its ancient metropolitical rights to Arles. The attempts of Hilary through friends to conciliate Leo availed little. But when, after the death of Hilary (May 5, 449), the prelates of the provinces announced to Leo that Ravennius had been elected and duly consecrated, Leo wrote an acknowledgment which sounds like a virtual retractation of his imputations on the motives and character of Hilary and most justly entitled him a man "of holy memory."
Writings.—Waterland (Critical History of the Athanasian Creed) argues that Hilary of Arles was the author of the (so-called) Creed of St. Athanasius, but this remains only an ingenious conjecture. Among other doubtful works assigned to Hilary must be classed certain poems on sacred subjects: (1) Poema de septem fratribus Maccabaeis ab Antiocho Epiphane interfectis. (2) A poem, more frequently attributed to Prosper Aquitanus and generally included in his works, entitled Carmen de Dei Providentiâ. (3) Carmen in Genesim. This poem (which, like the two preceding, is in hexameters) has been more often ascribed to the earlier Hilary, bp. of Poictiers. The Benedictine editors reject it with some indignation from the genuine works of Hilary of Poictiers; remarking, however, that this does not involve its attribution to Hilary of Arles. But despite faults—theological, grammatical, and metrical—the poem is curious as a real attempt at that blending of the Christian and classic elements of literature displayed in after-ages so brilliantly, though after all with questionable success, by such able scholars as the Jesuit Casimir and the Presbyterian Buchanan.
We have the authority of Hilary's biographer for asserting that he did compose some poetry (versus), wrote many letters, an explanation of the Creed (Symboli Expositio—this is a main element in Waterland's argument) and sermons for all the church's festivals (Homiliae in totius Anni Festivitates). These were apparently extant when Honoratus wrote. Two only survive: (1) Epistola ad Eucherim Episcopum Lugdunensem. (2) Vita Sancti Honorati Arelatensis Episcopi. This may be read in the Bollandist Acta Sanctorum, for Jan. 16.