January 17, 2016 by eneubauer
I have long bemoaned the wave of polarization that has swept over the country. We are no longer talking to or debating the issues but were talking at each other — and the pitch couldn’t be any louder.
In this age of polarization people have strategically sought to diminish the other side. Opposing sides have circled the wagons around their own ideological camp, silencing opposition and insulating their hearers. Simply put, we have banished the other side or opposing idea to Siberia!
The results of polarization couldn’t be more harmful. In particular, the fact that religious principles are being disintegrated from society and no longer seem welcome in the context of public debate. Those engaging in polarization act as pseudo-experts, refuse to consider other points of view and surround themselves with yes men.
Enter Hilary: In an age of ideas he relished a good debate
St. Hilary of Poitiers lived in the fourth century, was well educated and raised in a pagan family. He was enrolled in a rigorous study program over a wide variety of subjects including Holy Scripture. Eventually his study of Holy Scripture led him to renounce paganism and be baptized a Christian. Eventually he was appointed to be the bishop of Poitiers, France.
It was during this time that a heresy denying the divinity of Christ became popular and powerful even within the Church. This heresy was known as Arianism and a debate developed around the veracity of its claims. Hilary was a staunch defender of the Church’s position against Arianism.
Here is what happened next: Excerpts from the Catholic Encyclopedia at www.newadvent.org
Arianism had made frightful ravages in various regions and threatened to invade Gaul, where it already had numerous partisans more or less secretly affiliated with it. Saturninus, Bishop of Arles, the most active of the latter, being exposed by Hilary, convened and presided over a council at Béziers in 356 with the intention of justifying himself, or rather of establishing his false doctrine. Here the Bishop of Poitiers courageously presented himself to defend orthodoxy, but the council, composed for the most part of Arians, refused to hear him, and being shortly afterwards denounced to the Emperor Constantius, the protector of Arianism, he was at his command transported to the distant coasts of Phrygia
Initially, Hilary was not given a hearing. He was exiled to modern-day Turkey by the Arian bishops for standing up and defending the faith. This event did not deter Hilary and while in Turkey he continued to study and draw clear lines of distinction between the Church’s teaching on the Divinity of Christ and these heretical ideas. While making these distinctions crystal clear he also sought a kind-of middle road between the heretics and the Western bishops.
In this work he analysed the professions of faith uttered by the Oriental bishops in the Councils of Ancyra, Antioch, and Sirmium, and while condemning them, since they were in substance Arian, he sought to show that sometimes the difference between the doctrines of certain heretics and orthodox beliefs was rather in the words than in the ideas, which led to his counselling the bishops of the West to be reserved in their condemnation
Hilary became known by friend and foe alike to be a man of strong intellect and virtue. This fact was even recognized by his adversaries. The Arian bishops asked Hilary to take part Synod in Seleucia in 359. Although he did not win over all the Synod fathers he did make inroads with those who were on the fence. After the synod his exile ended and he was allowed return to Poitiers where he served as bishop.
Why Hilary Matters:
Hilary is important because he exemplifies certain character traits and an attitude that I think is missing today and could be helpful if adopted. Here’s what stands out to me:
- Hilary was a student, a learner. Even though he was a pagan he did not dismiss the careful study of Holy Scripture / Christian religion.
- As a convert he stood up for the truth as clearly defined by the Church and did not waiver even when popular opinion was against him.
- Hilary was sensitive to the plight of his adversaries, the Arians, and looked for common ground among those willing to listen and encouraged fellow bishops towards reconciliation rather than retaliation.
- Finally, Hilary was so well regarded, even by his adversaries, that when it was time to debate the issues he was invited to present the opposing opinion at the “Arian” synod.
In our world today when folks can hardly talk to one another on a variety of issues we could use more Hilary and more informed debate around the important issues of our day.
Let me know your thoughts and experiences!