A dubious quote about devotion to Mary, attributed to Hilary of Poitiers

Some time ago I came across a rather odd quotation here.

No matter how sinful one may have been, if he has devotion to Mary, it is impossible that he be lost. – St Hilary of Poitiers.

Now that sounds like a very modern Roman Catholic position, rather than anything ancient. But did Hilary say it?

A couple of Hilary’s surviving works are in the NPNF translation here; On the Trinity, and On the Synods.  It’s easy enough to search these for “Mary”, and see if the quote is there.  It does not seem to be.

Hilary also wrote a number of letters to Constantius, and some historical stuff – hard to work out what is what -, at least some of which was translated in the Liverpool University Press series as Hilary of Poitiers: Conflicts of Conscience and Law in the Fourth-century Church by Lionel Wickham (1997).  There is also a Commentary on Matthew (translated in 2012 in the Fathers of the Church series, preview here), a Commentary on the Psalms (no translation known to me), and a De mysteriis (a French translation exists).

A collection of hymns also exists, edited by W.N.Myers for a dissertation in 1928: The hymns of Saint Hilary of Poitiers in the Codex Aretinus; an edition, with introduction, translation and notes.  It was published by the university of Pennsylvania, and is 82 pages long, according to Google Books, who have digitised it but not made it available.

Unfortunately I don’t have access to all these, so I can’t check more than the online material.  But little of this seems likely to contain our quote.

Google Books search by date range appears to be broken tonight.  But looking through the results, and also in Bing, it looks very much as if this “quote” first appears in the 21st century.

I think we must mark this one as highly suspect.  But until we can access the rest of Hilary’s works, we can’t know for sure.

17 thoughts on “A dubious quote about devotion to Mary, attributed to Hilary of Poitiers

  1. Liguori = St Alphonsus Liguori, author of the florid 18thC “The Glories of Mary” and a boatload of other works. His writing was full of short patristic citations, usually with sources attached.

    I’ve done a text search through the Chadwyck-Healey PL – the exact quote cited isn’t there, and searches for pairs of words in the quote turn up unrelated items.

    I haven’t looked into non-Migne editions of Hilary’s hymns.

    Perhaps *The* Canticle? Bardenhewer’s “Patrology”: “St. Jerome had also heard from others of the existence of a commentary of Hilary on the Canticle of canticles.” – De viris ill., c. 100.

    Hey – check this out! An Italian edition of Liguori’s “Glories of Mary” cites “Caen. 12 in Matth.” for this. 18thC Tommaso Gaggioli provides the exact quotation and also cites Ilario’s “Caen. 12 in Matth.”: https://books.google.com/books?id=98AwO_GHmRMC&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=%22caen.+12+in+math%22&source=bl&ots=dKKDy_FTqs&sig=OGqczXGsWNflU-JfrzdJ1buLFM0&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiWgMKigpLaAhWg3oMKHVRBBdIQ6AEILDAA#v=onepage&q=%22caen.%2012%20in%20math%22&f=false

    Whatever the original, the modern source of the quote, Fr Stefano Manelli, seems to have come by it honestly.

  2. 1. The thing that first strikes me about the texts Bill White has supplied of Alphonsus Liguori’s The Glories of Mary (or of works that borrow from it) is the inconsistency in citations: Caen. 12 in Matt., Cant. 12, Cp. 12. At least three different ways of referring to the text. Not proof in itself of error, but certainly of laziness on the part of Liguori’s translators and borrowers. As for the man himself, well, read what follows:

    Liguori himself referred, in every printing I can find, to the nonsensical “Caen. 12 in Matth.” (e.g. p. 219, in the Italian version here: https://books.google.com/books?id=Ux9RAAAAcAAJ&lpg=PA219&dq=%22Quantumcumque%20quis%20fuerit%20peccator%2C%20si%20Mariae%20devotus%20extiterit%22&pg=PA219#v=onepage&q=genitrici&f=false). (Nonsensical, I should make clear, because the only obvious word that it could represent is Caena; a “Dinner on Matthew” could only be a convivial dialogue, and Hilary is not known as an author of dialogues.) Some later authors make the sensible correction to ‘cp.’ or the like, while the English translator introduced a plausible but equally false “Cant.”

    2. Liguori was–and this is, it seems, the most charitable face one can put upon it–a gullible person, who would reproduce any concoction, old or new, as a Patristic quotation. The “Hilary” passage is strikingly similar to a quotation from an unnamed text attributed to Ignatius of Antioch (Nunquam peribit qui genitrici Virgini devotus sedulusque extiterit) and also resembles a passage of the 16th century writer Louis de Blois (Blosius, In Can. vit. Spir. cap. 18, Fieri non potest ut pereat qui Mariae sedulus et humilis cultor extiterit), both cited on p. 222 of the Italian. The Blosius quotation is real, but slightly modified (see p. 44 of this printing of his Canon vitae spiritualis: https://archive.org/stream/bub_gb_MHFeBRr0lHUC#page/n43/mode/2up), with ‘extiterit’ replacing ‘fuerit’; this change is of little consequence to the meaning, but makes the quotation sound more like ‘Ignatius’ and ‘Hilary’.

    3. But are they Patristic? Certainly not the Ignatian passage, which is even more overtly Marian than the spurious epistles attributed to him. Pages 435ff. and 453ff. of this periodical are helpful: https://books.google.com/books?id=1rMRAAAAYAAJ&dq=%22genitrici%20Virgini%20devotus%22&pg=PA453#v=onepage&q=%22genitrici%20Virgini%20devotus%22&f=false

    As for Liguori’s Patristic citations, see the Appendix to this book, at p. 189 and following: https://books.google.com/books?id=-5pdAAAAcAAJ&dq=%22genitrici%20Virgini%20devotus%22&pg=PA206#v=onepage&q=%22genitrici%20Virgini%20devotus%22&f=false

    I don’t see the ‘Hilarian’ passage discussed, but it appears that Liguori was (by a generous construal) a deeply gullible writer who would reproduce just about any concoction, old or new, as the work of a famous church father. P. 453 of the first book quotes writers in The Rambler as having said that Liguori simply added his own inventions or glosses to Patristic texts at will: https://books.google.com/books?id=1rMRAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA453&lpg=PA453&dq=%22genitrici+Virgini+devotus%22&source=bl&ots=JFQlYh_qfQ&sig=RvTt8zubcaQWyFwChuChZ3snGxo&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjNl__rgJLaAhVvx1kKHaq8CAwQ6AEIMjAC#v=onepage&q=%22genitrici%20Virgini%20devotus%22&f=false (p. 435 and following are valuable, as well).

    4. What about Hilary? Skimming ch. 12 of Hilary’s Matthew commentary, I don’t see anything that sounds like the passage, nor do I see how it would have fit into any exegesis of the chapter. The themes are, broadly, the deity of Christ and the errors of the Arians and Jews–natural themes for Hilary, which could be connected, I suppose, to Mary qua theotokos, but only with difficulty to Marian devotion of the kind found in Liguori or de Blois.

    I could have missed something, but I sincerely and strongly doubt it. why anyone would have expected a commentary on Matt. 12 to contain this kind of Marian devotion, I don’t know.

    I could have missed something, or Liguori could have cited it improperly, but the similarity to the made-up bit of Ignatius casts doubt on either supposition. This ‘quotation’ is, viewed philologically and historically, almost certainly nonsense. It is probably an invention of a much later advocate of Marian piety, quite possibly Liguori himself, though the possibility of some kind of intermediate source or confusion of Hilary with another name cannot be ruled out. It is most unlikely to have anything to do with the real Hilary.

    As an example of an attempt, perhaps through naivety, to retroject a practice of piety into the past, it is of some interest to the historian of Patristic reception and spuria (now, wouldn’t that be a fascinating book? ‘The History of Patristic Misattribution, Pseudepigraphy, and Forgery’. So far as I know, it hasn’t been written, though I know of people who have done work on individual authors or collections, such as the vast thicket of fake Cyprianic material, and of course it is something editors of corpora have to deal with frequently.)

  3. Bill, you are a hero! Thank you so much.

    The 1794 quote suggests that it must be accessible in some early edition. I am also grateful for your PL search – clearly the commentary on Matthew is out.

  4. I found a similar quote and attribution in an earlier source than Liguori (whose book came out in 1750).

    Serta Moralia a Concionatoribus in Festis B. Mariae Virginis, by Bernardus Buringer, Luxemburg, 1713. Vol. 1, pp. 206-207.

    His version of the quote is contained in the following paragraph: ‘Hoc tam firmiter sibi persuasum habuit S. Hilarius, ut Can. 12. in Matt. dicere non dubitet: “Quantumcumque quis fuerit peccator, si Mariae, ut debet, devotus extiterit, poenitentiam agendo,” quam gratiam, ipsa auspice, a Deo consequetur, “nunquam in aeternum peribit,” sed velut venae, quando obstructae sunt, et noxiis succis obsitae, tunc recta corporis constitutio turbatur, ructus causatur, nutritio impeditur, auet etiam pthises exoritur, mors acceleratur; haud aliter quando quis obicem ponit, quo minus Mariani favores ad ipsum defluant, si devotionem erga Virginem beatam negligat, non obscurum praebet perditionis indicium.’

    Will keep looking!

  5. Intratext has extensive annotations on sources, where they trace Liguori’s quote to Paciucelli’s Excitationes in 1720. So my found quote is still the earlier one!

    Philomela Mariana, by Die Marianische Nachtigall (aka Mauriz von Mentzingen), also published in 1713, attributes the quote to “Canone 12 in Math.” and he just says it’s “S. Hilarius.”

    (The same dude has the “sedulus” quote attributed to Haimo’s book on the Apocalypse, btw. Might be investigated.)

    Anyway, other German books refer to “Canone 33 in Matthaeum” of St. Hilary’s commentary on Matthew, and the quote I found there does come clearly from Chapter 33. So hat term seems to be a variation that does exist. “Can.” is “canone.”

  6. Do you mean, suburbanbanshee, that you found this quotation or another at ch. 33 of the Matthew commentary? I am not finding anything relevant there.

    The reference to “Coen.” (spelled with an oe-ligature) is at least as old as the late 18th century: https://books.google.com/books?id=QG4_AAAAcAAJ&pg=PA126&dq=%22si+Mariae+devotus%22&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwj1rO-gnpTaAhWH0FMKHV6yDQYQ6AEIyAEwFQ#v=onepage&q=%22si%20Mariae%20devotus%22&f=false

    A different text with same import on p. 2 here:
    https://books.google.com/books?id=O84HAAAAQAAJ&dq=%22si%20Mariae%20devotus%22&pg=PA2-IA8#v=onepage&q=hilarius&f=false (to be found in various German books as early as 1718, generally without attribution to a specific passage in the Matthew commentary).

    All this seems to suggest that the quotation fits under the rubric of “pre-existing but spurious,” as (apparently) do many of Liguori’s other quotations. Still, if one could prove it actually Hilarian, that would be very interesting.

    The 19th-c. English version of the Catena aurea says that it contains much of Hilary’s Canons, but I can’t find anything else that suggests that Hilary even wrote canons (unless that is just another name for the Matthew commentary), nor anything relevant in ch. 12 of the Catena. Pope Hilarius does not seem to be in view, either, nor Hilary of Arles.

  7. Canones must be chapters. For I find this 1695 edition of the Vulgate, edited by Jean Martianay, says: “Idem probant sancti Hilarii in Matthaeum Commentariorum volumina, quae per canones seu capitula dividuntur,…” “Likewise the volumes of commentaries on Matthew by St Hilary, which are divided into canons or chapters, show…”


  8. The PL search means that the phrase can’t be ancient or medieval.

    The 17th century quotations mean that it can’t originate any later than that.

    The reference to “Ignatius” as a possible seems interesting. I wonder if perhaps it is really something in Ignatius Loyola?

  9. Before reading through all the comments, I wondered if “Caen.” might somehow abbreviate ‘ca[t]en[a]’, and search this online text and translation for Mary:


    without any of the occurrences being in a translation of any such Latin text.

    However, in one of the comments on 1:1 ascribed to “Augustinus” in Latin there is in the translation “ed. note: This passage is from a work commonly ascribed to Hilary the Deacon.”

    Have the PL searches included his works, there?

    Back in 1907, Francis Schaefer in the Catholic Encyclopedia “Ambrosiaster” article (as transcribed at New Advent) writes (in this different context) “St. Augustine, in quoting a passage from the commentary, attributes it to St. Hilary; hence some writers believed the either St. Hilary of Poitiers, or St. Hilary of Pavia, or the schismatic deacon Hilary of Rome was meant. Others sought the writer in St. Remigius, in the Pelagian Bishop Julian of Aeclanum, in the African writer Tyconius, in the schismatic priest Faustinus of Rome, or in the converted Jew Isaac of Rome. Most of these views are mere conjectures, or directly opposed to the facts known about the writer. The more recent opinion is that the author of the commentaries is also the author of the pseudo-Augustinian ‘Quaestiones Veteris et Novi Testamenti’. According to a suggestion made by Dom Germain Morin, O.S.B., and adopted by A. Souter, the author of these commentaries was a distinguished layman of consular rank, by the name of Decimus Hilarianus Hilarius.” That’s a lot of Hilarii!

    Given the probable date of the earliest extant version of the prayer commonly known as ‘Sub tuum praesidium’, the content of the saying strikes me as consistent with a Patristic source.

  10. Dare I say it’s…. Hilarious?

    My PL searches were over the entire Chadwyck-Healey text. With all the Hilarii in play plus possible misattribution at any stage, perhaps the PG should be considered, too.

    I’ll poke around a bit more.

Leave a Reply