Melania the Elder vs. Hilary of Poitiers

Welcome back! We hope you're ready for the first full week of Lent Madness action. Today, we head up to the Confusion Corner quadrant of the bracket as Melania the Elder faces Hilary of Poitiers. What's not confusing is that both of our contestants come to us via the 4th century. Spanish nun vs. French bishop.

On Saturday, Madeleine Sophie Barat slipped past Mesrop Mashtots 53% to 47%. We also test drove a new voting system which most, but not everyone, was able to successfully navigate. Thanks to everyone for your forbearance as we seek to balance security with ease of voting. With some tweaks, it should be smoother today.

Now back to voting!

Melania the Elder

Melania the Elder was born in Spain in the fourth century to a wealthy Roman family. When she was fourteen, she married (most likely, the Roman prefect Valerius Maximus) and moved to Rome. When she was 22 years old, her husband, probably many years older than she was, and two of her three children died within months of each other. Shortly thereafter, she sold her possessions and left for Egypt to adopt an ascetic life. She left her surviving son in the care of a guardian.

Melania (along with Rufinus Aquileia, her monastic companion) ultimately found her way to Jerusalem. While there, she established a monastery for 50 monastic women and funded the monastery founded by Rufinus. She and Rufinus worked closely together until around 400 when she returned to Rome to be with her son and his family. While in Rome, she had a deep impact on her granddaughter, Melania the Younger, who would ultimately follow in her ascetic footsteps.

Melania the Elder was one of the more scholarly and learned ascetic women of her time. She was known to esteemed theologians such as Evagrius Ponticus and Augustine of Hippo. She was a student of theology and studied Origenism extensively. Origen (also a fellow Lent Madness contestant) was a third-century theologian whose writings became a lightning rod at the end of the fourth century. As the Origenist controversy roiled the church, Melania worked both to defend Origenism as well as to promote unity. Saint Jerome’s early praise of her and later vitriol directed toward her perhaps best illustrates her intellectual prowess and the threat that she posed to his own theological sensibilities.

In addition to her scholarly work, Melania also financially supported and promoted monastics throughout her life. In addition to the monasteries that she founded and funded in Jerusalem, she offered regular support to other monastics as various theological controversies regularly shifted balances of power. Melania the Elder returned to her ascetic life in North Africa before finally journeying back to Jerusalem where she died in 410. She left a considerable endowment to support the continued work of the monastery that she established there.

Collect for Melania the Elder

Most High and Merciful God, who called your servant Melania to forsake earthly comforts in order to devote herself to studying the scriptures and to welcoming the poor: Instruct us in the ways of poverty and the grace of hospitality, that we might comfort those who have no place to rest and teach the way of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

David Creech

Hilary of Poitiers

Hilary may have been a leader of the church more than 1,700 years ago, but his keen understanding of the Trinity along with his profound teachings remain hallmarks of Christianity today.

Born in 310 CE in Poitiers, France, Hilary was a highly educated son of pagan parents. His study of both the Old and New Testaments led to his conversion to Christianity.

He was unanimously elected bishop of Poitiers in 350. He came into authority during a deep dispute and quickly became embroiled in a controversy about the Trinity: he supported Athanasius’s understanding of the Trinity and the full divinity of the Son. Unfortunately, this position put Hilary out of favor with Emperor Constantius II, who, in 355, ordered all bishops to sign a condemnation against Athanasius. Hillary refused, which prompted a four-year exile to Phrygia, located in modern-day Turkey.

He was not idle in exile. Hilary continued to function as bishop to his diocese, writing two of his most important books, an epistle, and many letters to leaders throughout the church. Among his many achievements, Hilary introduced Greek doctrine to Western Christianity. He was a prolific writer, including the critically important book, De Trinitate (On the Trinity). Three hymns are attributed to Hilary, including “Hail this day’s joyful return,” found in the 1982 Hymnal.

Hilary’s legacy is far-reaching, with Saint Augustine of Hippo calling him “the illustrious doctor of the churches,” and Saint Jerome considering him “the trumpet of the Latins against the Arians.” Pope Pius IX named Hilary a doctor of the church in 1851, one of only 36 doctors of the church, so named in recognition of his significant contributions to theology. He is considered the patron saint of lawyers. Hilary died in 367 in the same city where he was born, and his feast day is celebrated on January 13.

Hilary’s depth of understanding about the existence of God is exemplified in one of his more famous quotations: “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.”

Collect for Hilary of Poitiers

Keep us steadfast, Lord God, in that true faith that we professed at our baptism; that, like your servant Hilary of Poitiers, we may rejoice in having you for our Father, and may abide in your Son, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit; for you live and reign for ever and ever as one God in Trinity of Persons. Amen.

Neva Rae Fox


Melania the Elder: Português: Ícone de Melânia, a Velha
Hilary of Poitiers: Richard de Montbaston et collaborateurs


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287 comments on “Melania the Elder vs. Hilary of Poitiers”

  1. I had not encountered a voting issue until today. My vote has been 'in process' with the chasing circles for several minutes. To make sure it isn't simply a phone issue of mine, I have tried to vote here on my laptop. Same outcome. My vote would have been for Hilary.

  2. I hope someone in charge is mo untiring the comments because apparently a lot of people (including me).are not able to record their votes. Nothing but the spinning dots off death. I am using an iPad and have been able to vote every day until today. PLEASE FIX THIS!

  3. Ditto to Johns remark on voting. I was able t5o vote on Sat5urday but not today.

  4. As a member of the Church of the Holy Trinity in West Chester, PA, I have voted for the person who could explain the Trinity.

  5. My first thought when reading about Melania the Elder was, "What? she picked up and left her remaining child behind to go galavanting around the world? Who could do that?" Then I considered the grief she may be suffering, her need to put her remaining child in the care of someone who could provide better for her child at this time, and that she ultimately reunited with her son. Finally, who am I to judge? She was an impressive woman. Ultimately, though, I give my vote to Hilary, who was so principled and had such a great impact on Christian theology. I love his famous quote.

    1. Fostering of children was widely practiced among wealthy families in the early centuries c.e. into the middle ages. It was a way of building networks of connections.

    2. I had the same thought. I know she probably had no choice about marrying young and bearing children, and she wanted to study and lead, but still, when you have played a part in bringing children into the world they should be your priority until they are independent. And considering that even if this was her oldest child and born soon after her marriage he would have been 7 at most, I do feel he needed his mother. Especially since he had just lost his father and his two siblings. That said, her accomplishments are impressive.

  6. I'm sorry -- you may think the voting has been sorted out, but I'm only getting the spinning circle of doom when I have tried to vote. I wanted to vote for Melania....

  7. Saturday I got twice the circle of dots so vote never registered. Today I voted but when checked results screen said there were no votes and no results. I tried again and got the circling dots. So another day of not being able to vote. Sad

  8. Have to say, the old voting system was much better. Like everyone else, today’s vote is not recording.

  9. Not sure if my vote counted. The little white dots just kept going and going and going.

    1. Oh boy! I have so many clever responses to this THAT I MUST SIT ON because 1) it could turn ugly really quick, and 2) sarcasm is frequently not "got".

  10. I’m not sure your new voting procedure is working. I have not been able to complete my vote today (and I hesitate to press the button 600 times).

  11. Apparently the voting problems have not been resolved. I was able to vote in previous matchups, but not today.

    I had not intended to vote for Melania the elder, simply because I don't hold with the principle of voting in a particular way just because the saint in question bears ones name. Nevertheless, the story of Melania's scholarship impressed me.

  12. cannot vote. Pressing the vote button darkens the screen around the voting results and votes buttons. Next, white dots appear that continuously loop in a circle

  13. I have never had a problem voting before, but I sure am having
    one now. I have tried to vote on my IPhone , but my vote was not accepted. Then I tried my computer and that didn't work either - the white dots go round and round forever. I see others have had the same problem. Hope it get fixed shortly.

  14. I have not been able to vote today. The link doesn’t work. My vote is for Melania.