Hilary of Poitiers vs. Thomas of Villanova

We're back for more Saintly Sixteen action as Hilary of Poitiers faces Thomas of Villanova. As a reminder, this round is all about Quirks and Quotes. If you're seeking to refresh your memory on the basic biographical data for each saint, you can search for this in the post archives on the home page of the website. For saints who continue to advance, there is more and more information shared that builds throughout the season.

Yesterday, Madeleine Sophie Barat trounced Columbanus 84% to 16% to advance to the Elate Eight.

And later today we have a special treat for you: a Tuesday edition of Monday Madness! And, no, you didn't miss yesterday's episode. There wasn't one. Now go vote!

Hilary of Poitiers

Hilary of Poitiers - “The Hammer of the Arians,” "Athanasius of the West” – lived his life battling heresy and believing in the Trinity. A prolific writer and poet, Hilary had a lot to say! And, what he had to say illustrates his dedication to the Almighty and his groundedness in understanding the Trinity.

Hilary’s impact on knowledge and society is still evident after all these centuries. Villages in England bear his name. His January 13 feast is known as the coldest day of the year because of record freezes during the Middle Ages on that date. It also kicks off "Hilary Term," an academic time at the Universities of Oxford and Dublin.

Shrines to Hilary are found in France, Canada, and Italy, where Sant’Ilario at Casale Monferrato was dedicated to him as early as 380 C.E.

Hilary is depicted in great artwork and icons with books, a quill pen, vestments, mitre, crozier, and a long white beard.

But let his powerful words speak for himself.

“The chief service I owe you, O God, is that every thought and word of mine should speak of you.”

“The Son of God is nailed to the cross; but on the cross God conquers human death. Christ, the Son of God, dies; but all flesh is made alive in Christ.”

“He conquered death, broke the gates of hell, won for Himself a people to be His co-heirs, lifted fleshed from corruption up to the glory of eternity.”

“When we are overcome by some evil will, should we not tremble before the presence of the choirs of angels that surround us?”

“The perfection of learning is to know God in such a way that, though you realize he is knowable, yet you know him as indescribable.”

“There is no space where God is not; space does not exist apart from Him. He is in heaven, in hell, beyond the seas; dwelling in all things and enveloping all. Thus He embraces, and is embraced by, the universe, confined to no part of it but pervading all.”

“Heresy lies in the sense assigned, not in the word written; the guilt is that of the expositor, not of the text.”

“For he is the best student who does not read his thoughts into the book, but lets it reveal its own; who draws from it its sense, and does not import his own into it, nor force upon its words a meaning which he had determined was the right one before he opened its pages.”

“The utter folly of our time is lamentable, that men should think to assist God with human help and to protect the Church of Christ by worldly ambition.”

-- Neva Rae Fox

Thomas of Villanova

To Thomas, lavish generosity came naturally. His parents, who were not wealthy but very comfortable, regularly assisted those in their town who needed food. They regularly distributed portions of their wheat or corn, produce, and livestock to those who were hungry. Thomas, following the example of his parents, would frequently set aside part of his daily meals and gather the leftovers from others’ meals to share with people who were hungry. The first words his parents taught him were the holy names of Jesus and Mary, and from a very young age Thomas would spend hours kneeling in prayer, asking God for ways to serve him.

Thomas graduated at a very young age with a degree in theology, and was quickly appointed professor. Even in his academic life, he engaged in the practice of Christian perfection - something he realized he could never attain. His day was given to study, prayer, and acts of charity. His students noted he had no time left for pastimes or entertainments, as other professors did.

At 26, his father built him a house, celebrating his successful scholarly career. Thomas donated it to be used as a hospital. Becoming uncomfortable with the ever-increasing celebrity his scholarship brought Thomas, he began exploring a way to remove himself from the world.

Thomas found that opportunity when he took vows as an Augustinian friar in 1518 and ordained a priest in 1520. Thomas became a renowned preacher, often falling into rapturous ecstasy during a sermon. Once, during a sermon, he stopped preaching and embraced the crucifix he’d been holding, imploring those in the congregation to look upon the great sacrifice of Christ’s love, then falling into a euphoric stupor, unable to finish the sermon. Preaching to Charles V on Maundy Thursday, Thomas became so overwhelmed with the realization that Jesus would have washed his (Thomas’) feet, he collapsed in the pulpit in a flood of tears.

Thomas was eventually, over his many objections, appointed bishop. When Thomas was installed in 1545, during the service, as Thomas was to be seated in the cathedra laden with silk tapestries and cushions, he instead removed them from the throne, fell on the stone floor in front of a cross, and wept. He then kissed the ground at the foot of the cross and stood to continue the liturgy. His first act as bishop was to visit the jails, and, finding them in deplorable condition, ordered them cleaned up.

Throughout his life, he remained committed to using any wealth and power he attained to improve the lives of those in need, often sacrificing comforts his fellow bishops took as part of their order. He encouraged other wealthy people to do the same. That more leaders in our church and world adhered to these particular quirks of extreme generosity in every aspect of their lives.

Laurie Brock


* indicates required

Recent Posts



65 comments on “Hilary of Poitiers vs. Thomas of Villanova”

  1. Though broken Lent brackets may harry us
    Our shared dismay keeps us gregarious:
    Since so much trouble ends
    With a laugh among friends,
    For today let our mood be hilarious.

  2. Another very tough choice today! I was all set to vote for Hilary because of his wisdom (especially since a vote for Thomas of Villanova might lend a celestial nudge to Villanova against my Kansas this coming Saturday), but the sheer humility and love that Thomas exudes is so much needed in our world that I must vote for him.

  3. Another tough choice - both great saints (I suppose that's why we're in the Saintly Sixteen). Thomas got my vote today for all his magnificent action - he got stuff done.

  4. I read this one quote from Hillary and I was convicted to vote for him, “There is no space where God is not; space does not exist apart from Him. He is in heaven, in hell, beyond the seas; dwelling in all things and enveloping all. Thus He embraces, and is embraced by, the universe, confined to no part of it but pervading all.”

    How easy it would be to mistake our God for a "god" without such wisdom. God is in all things and all spaces and all times.

    1. I, too, am deeply moved by Hilary. His overall belief (in my view) of 'get out of the way of God, he's got this' is something I have been trying to put into action in my own life.
      I will adopt Hillary as my own personal guide.

  5. Trying to vote for Hilary but, as usual, unable to record my vote. I am a Jayhawk and this is not the week for Villanova, admirable though Thomas is. ;-}

  6. I voted for the guy who gave to the poor over the "Hammer of Arius." That Christ should be subordinated under the father sounds pretty Pauline to me, and I'm ready to give Arius a rest. But feeding the poor will be the task of an eternity. Tomas seems to have had the same "gift of tears" that Margery Kempe had, so his sermons must have been noteworthy for a high cringe factor, but maybe congregants knew in advance that he was never going to finish a sermon and brought their knitting. Mainly I take from Tomas' story that what the parents teach by example, the children will learn.

  7. I had to vote for Thomas in honor of my father, a Thomas who knew the sting of poverty but gave freely of his gifts.

  8. Thomas’ family shared corn? I doubt that! But I voted for him anyway. That mistake wasn’t his

    1. Oh come on, Thomas of "Villanova" has nothing to do with the school. I think they were joking just a bit when they put Saint Aloysius Gonzaga against St Thomas of Villanova! So Gonzaga lost to Villanova, you guys should be happy about that. But not voting for a great saint just because KU is playing Villanova in the final four is just a little bit ridiculous! I'm voting for Thomas!

  9. The generous acting of setting aside "watecha" was all it took for me to decide.

  10. As a Brit with a passion for the Celtic saints, formerly vicar of both a St Stephen's and St Gabriel's churches and a daughter named Lydia you can see where this is going - I am on a huge losing streak!

  11. As a longtime choir member, I hear hymns in Hilary's words. He gets my vote today!

  12. Saint-Hilaire, also known as Hilary, because of the sparkling wine! France's Oldest Sparkling Wine!

  13. I remembered loving Thomas of Villanova when I discovered him in Round 1 but had to check back to his first bio (and also to Hilary's). In that bio, Laurie Brock included a magnificent quote, so I see why she didn't repeat it, but I'll do that 🙂
    It's Thomas' response when he was criticized for giving poor people bread, wine, money, and prayer:
    “If there are people who refuse to work, that is for the governor and the police to deal with. My duty is to assist and relieve those who come to my door.”

  14. “The chief service I owe you, O God, is that every thought and word of mine should speak of you.”

  15. After reading today's write-ups, I felt strongly that I would like to vote for Thomas. I wish everyone blessed by worldly goods would share them as he did (or maybe just pay their fair taxes). But I was sorry not to see a quote from him. Here's one I found in my own searches: Prayer of St. Thomas of Villanova I will love you, Lord, in every way and without setting limits to my love. You set no limits to what you have done for me; you have not measured out your gifts. I will not measure out my love. I will love you, Lord, with all my strength, with all my powers, as much as I am able.

  16. Someone once likened my preaching style to being poked with a sharp stick - I think they meant it as a compliment, so I have to vote for someone described as a hammer. His wisdom shines through in his words. “The perfection of learning is to know God in such a way that, though you realize he is knowable, yet you know him as indescribable.” I also have a sneaking feeling that Thomas may have been a little self-indulgent...

  17. I thought both saints worthy of my vote, but being a great fan of that other March madness was swayed by Vilanova as the sole representative of the Big East in the final 4

  18. I am impressed by the generosity of Thomas but not by all his liturgical drama. I voted for Hilary for his words - especially the one about God filling all space and there bring nowhere that God is not.

  19. I was all ready to vote for Hilary-his words strengthened my faith this morning! And besides, who wants a preacher who is crying and swooning and fainting all the time?

    But then Laurie closed with that poignant question...how different would our world be, if the privileged renounced even some of their wealth? There is very little future ahead for all of us, if they don't.

  20. I knew I had chosen the underdog with my vote, as Thomas would appeal to our compassionate selves. The mystery of the Trinity is very powerful for me, though, so Hilary got my vote.

  21. Beautiful writing from Hilary: “There is no space where God is not...Thus He embraces, and is embraced by, the universe, confined to no part of it but pervading all.”

    The Thomas write-up was fun. I carry a fondness for Thomases in general, but not for long preaching, so I can't help wondering if his congregations found his sermons as rapturously ecstatic as he himself did. Did the miraculous silencing mid-sermon represent an answer to collective prayer? Kudos to him, however, for recognizing that at a certain point human words fail and it is time to simply experience awe and contemplate the love of God. And then go do something about it.

  22. Though very difficult to choose, Hilary resonates today with his calling out heresy:” nor force upon its words a meaning which he had determined was the right one before he opened its pages.”. If only politicians could just stop promoting themselves - and aspire to Hilary speaking every thought and word of God.

  23. Although Thomas is so worthy, Hilary has me with his painted words. Such beautiful sentiment.

    "There is no space where God is not; space does not exist apart from Him."