Sermon: Hilary of Poitiers

In Spain there is a statue honoring Christopher Columbus who died in 1506. One of the features of the memorial is a statue of a lion destroying one of the Latin words that had been part of Spain’s motto for centuries. Before Columbus made his voyages, the Spanish thought they had reached the outer limits of the earth. Thus their motto had been “Ne Plus Ultra,” which means “No More Beyond.” The word being torn away by the lion is “Ne” or “no,” making it read “Plus Ultra.” Columbus had proven that there was indeed “more beyond.”

It seems that there was also such a spirit of discovery in our saint for today, Hilary of Poitiers, yet instead of searching for new worlds, Hilary was searching for God and every time someone tried to tell him that there was no more, he kept searching.

He grew up worshiping the pagan gods, but one day, as he tells us, he “chanced upon” the Hebrew Scriptures. It was here that he discovered God’s Name that God had spoken to Moses: “I AM WHO I AM.” Hilary says, “I was frankly amazed at such a clear definition of God, which expressed the incomprehensible knowledge of the divine nature in words most suited to human intelligence.” He had begun his search, but also believed that the God of creation would not leave that creation to simply return to the dust, so he continued the search and in doing so, discovered the readings of the New Testament, and it was in reading the prologue to John’s Gospel that he found the truth he had been searching for: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God….” His soul found peace in Jesus. “No longer did [my soul] look upon the life of this body as troublesome or wearisome, but believed it to be what the alphabet is to children… namely, as the patient endurance of the present trials of life in order to gain a blissful eternity.”

With that knowledge, he would go on to become a bishop of the Church and a defender of the Nicene Creed against the Arians. This led to a three year exile, but he seems to have been relatively unconcerned, but definitely not silent. He wrote letters to the Emperor, argued with the Arian Bishops and produced a great deal of poetry and some of the earliest hymns of the church, one of which is contained in our hymnal.

Hail this joyful day’s return,
Hail the Pentecostal morn,
Morn when our ascended Head
On His Church His Spirit shed.
Like to cloven tongues of flame
On the twelve the Spirit came;
Tongues, that earth may hear the call;
Fire, that love may burn in all.

Hilary died on this day in the year 368, but it is clear that the Spirit and love of God burned brightly in him. Augustine called him “the illustrious doctor of the Churches.” Jerome considered him “the trumpet of the Latins against the Arians.” Today, we remember him as such, but also as one who was willing to put in the work to discover the truth. I encourage you to join with Hilary in seeking the truth and deeper knowledge of God through the reading and study of Holy Scripture.

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