St. Hilary of Arles was born in 401, most likely is now Loraine, France. His family was wealthy, and Hilary received a traditional aristocratic education in philosophy and rhetoric, in preparation for a successful career.
One of Hilary’s relatives, Honoratus, had founded a monastery in Lerins, dedicating his life to the Church. Honoratus was deeply concerned for Hilary’s soul, and urged him to abandon worldly pursuits to follow Christ.
Hilary later wrote, “On one side, I saw the Lord calling me; on the other the world offering me its seducing charms and pleasures. How often did I embrace and reject, will and not will the same thing! But in the end Jesus Christ triumphed in me. And three days after Honoratus had left me, the mercy of God, solicited by his prayers subdued my rebellious soul.”
Hilary became Honoratus’ disciple and embraced a life of prayer, asceticism, and study. He sold his property and gave all the proceeds to the poor.
In 426, Honoratus became the archbishop of Arles. Hilary followed him initially, but quickly returned to the monastery at Lerins. Honoratus wanted his help, though, so he retrieved Hilary and installed him at Arles. When Honoratus died in 429, Hilary attempted to leave Arles again, but the faithful sent out a search party and had him brought back to be consecrated as the next archbishop.
Although he was not even 30 years old when he took the position, Hilary was prepared by his years in religious life and his training from Honoratus. He maintained the simplicity of a monk, owning little, putting the poor first, and continuing to do manual labor.
Archbishop Hilary was known for his kindness and charity, but also remembered for rebuking a government official who brought shame on the Church. He warned lukewarm believers that they would “not so easily get out of hell, if you are once unhappily fallen into its dungeons.”
Hilary established monasteries throughout his diocese, and held councils to strengthen the local Church’s discipline. He sold off Church properties to pay ransoms for people who had been kidnapped, and is said to have performed miracles.
Hilary died on May 5, 449. Although he had a few canonical disputes with Pope St. Leo I late in his life, the pope honored him as “Hilary of holy memory” in a letter to the next archbishop of Arles.