The Catholic Church has patron saints for almost anything you can think of. There are also numerous reasons that one might venerate a saint as his patron. There is of course the saint you are named after, but is also the patron saint for your vocation, your profession, your nationality or ethnic background. There are patrons for numerous special conditions or situations that might apply to you as well.
One patronage that is not as commonly thought of as the others is the patron of your birthday, that is to say the saint whose feast falls on the day you were born. Now, not every day has a saint commemorated on the official Church calendar. However, every canonized saint has an assigned feast day, even if his or her name is not on the official calendar. If the your birthday lacks a saint’s feast on the current calendar, there is always the Traditional Calendar (the one that is used for offering the Extraordinary Form a.k.a. the Latin Mass), which generally had a lot more saints on it.
My Birthday Saint
I remember growing up and being a little bummed because my “birthday saint” was not one of the “cool” or “famous” saints. (I was born three weeks early. If I’d just waited 15 days to come out, I could have been born on the memorial of St. Thomas Aquinas!) However, in my research for my Master’s thesis (which, if you are so inclined, you can read here), I discovered just how awesome and important St. Hilarius, a.k.a. Hilary, of Potiers, really was.
Quick note: I have always felt bad for St. Hilary because nowadays, Hilary is typically considered to be a girl’s name. In light of that fact as well as the recent Presidential election, I will be referring to the saint by his Latin name of Hilarius hereafter. (For the most part, I prefer the Latin versions of the names anyway).
Hilarius was bishop of the city of Pictavium, modern day Poitiers, France, in the mid-fourth century. During this time, the Church was embroiled in the Arian Crisis. Despite having been anathematized at the Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325, the teachings of Arius that the Son was not “consubstantial” with the Father but merely the highest of created beings, enjoyed favor with the Roman emperor Constantius II, son of Constantine the Great.
Hilarius wrote Historia Arianorum, which is an invaluable account of this controversy. He was such a staunch opponent of the Arian heresy that he is known as the “Athanasius of the West.” Like Athanasius, Hilarius was exiled by Constantius II for opposing Arianism and refusing to accept the appointments of Arian or Arian sympathetic bishops. A document known as Quae gesta sunt inter Liberium et Felicem episcopos, “That which occurred between the bishops Liberius and Felix,” (hereafter: Gesta) lists Hilarius, along with Eusebius, bishop of Vercelli; Lucifer, (yes…you read that right) bishop of Cagliari; and Liberius, bishop of Rome; as bishops of the West whom Constantius exiled.
Of these men, two (Hilarius and Eusebius) are saints; and two (Liberius and Lucifer) are not. In place of Liberius, Constantius appointed an antipope named Felix (II). The Roman people refused to accept him as their bishop and when Constantius visited Rome two years later, they successfully petitioned him to allow Liberius to return.
The Liberian Controversy
The accounts of the pagan historian Ammianus Marcellinus, and Christian historians Socrates Scholasticus and Theodoret all agree that the actions ofChristians of Rome brought about the return of Liberius. The author of the Gesta concurs but adds an ominous caveat to the acquiescence of Constantius. “He soon agreed, saying, ‘You may have Liberius, who will return to you better than he was when he departed.’ But this revealed that by his agreement he was extending the hand of treachery.” Frustratingly, there is no further elaboration on this point. Sozomen supplies the details that the author of the Gesta omits. Constantius once again summoned Liberius before him and “urged him…to confess that the Son is not of the same substance as the Father.” Sozomen, a Church historian, states that the Arian bishops of the East produced a document which condemned the doctrines of Sabellianism. Sabellianism is the heresy which states that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are not three distinct persons in one God but three different aspects or “modes” of the same God. Arians often erroneously equated the doctrine of Nicaea with this earlier heresy.
Liberius assented to the document, which included a confession of faith which deliberately omitted the term homoousias (Greek form of “consubstantial”) In fact, it made no mention of “substance” at all. These creeds were not technically heretical. They did not state false doctrine but neither did they affirm the doctrine of the homoousion that had been accepted at Nicaea. Upon this basis, the Arian party “circulated the report that Liberius had renounced the term ‘consubstantial,’ and had admitted that the Son is dissimilar from the Father.”
There are three possibilities. The first is that Liberius, worn down by exile, capitulated and did in fact sign the document, with full knowledge of its contents. The second is that he signed but did not realize or fully understand what he was signing. The final is that he did not sign but that the Arians simply circulated the report that he had signed in order to discredit him.
In light of recent actions on the part of the current occupant of the throne of Saint Peter, debate has broken out anew over the question of what, if anything, Liberius signed and what his culpability was in so doing. The end result in the fourth century however was simple: neither Pope Liberius nor Lucifer of Cagliari are venerated as saints.
The reason of Lucifer is related to that of Liberius. (It has nothing to do with his unfortunate name. The name Lucifer was not associated with Satan until Jerome’s Vulgate translation, which he undertook late in the pontificate, and at the behest of, Damasus, successor of Liberius) Lucifer refused to accept Liberius as the lawful bishop of Rome after hearing of his capitulation and went into schism. This schism continued into the pontificate of Pope St. Damasus I, who succeeded Liberius. Two Luciferian presbyters named Marcellinus and Faustinus went so far as to write a letter to the emperors Theodosius, Valentinus and Arcadius denouncing Damasus.
The writings of Hilarius contain the report that Liberius signed the “formula of Sirmium” which did not affirm the Son as consubstantial with the Father. Nevertheless, he did not follow Lucifer into schism, and is venerated today as both a saint and Doctor of the Church. He serves as an excellent example to follow for us during this time of crisis in the Church that so resembles the Arian Crisis of the fourth century.
For my wife and I, one big factor when choosing the name for our daughter was on which saint’s feast she would be born on or close to. Since her due date was July 27, we decided we would either name her Kateri or Anna with the middle name of Therese.
She was born July 11. That is the memorial of St. Benedict but I was not able to convince my wife to name her Benedicta. As it turned out, her first Mass, which we attended the day after she left the hospital, was July 14: the memorial of St. Kateri Tekawitha. Six weeks later she was baptized on August 28, which would have been the memorial of St. Augustine if it had not fallen on a Sunday
Men, I encourage you to, if you have not already done so, research your patron saints. Start with the usual: name, vocation, profession, nationality. But do not forget about your birthday saint or even your baptism saint. Do not be afraid to invoke their intercession. If you have children, research their patron saints and teach your children about them. Teach them to invoke their intercession and treat them like friends in Heaven.
Named after Sts. Kateri Tekawitha and Thérèse of Lisieux, born on the memorial of St. Benedict and born again on the memorial of St. Augustine, I am glad that my daughter has powerful patrons and protectors in Heaven and I will encourage her from an early age to call on their help and protection.
Saint Hilarius of Poitiers, ora pro nobis.