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Hippolytus (writer)

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Hippolytus (writer)

For places named after the saint, see Saint-Hippolyte (disambiguation). For the character in Greek mythology, see Hippolytus (mythology).
Saint Hippolytus of Rome
The Martyrdom of Saint Hippolytus, according to the legendary version of Prudentius (Paris, 14th century)
Born 170
Died 235
Honored in Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast Roman Catholic Church: August 13
Eastern Orthodox Church: January 30
Coptic Orthodox Church: Meshir 6
Patronage Bibbiena, Italy; horses; prison guards; prison officers; prison workers[1]

Hippolytus of Rome (170–235) was the most important 3rd-century theologian in the Christian Church in Rome,[2] where he was probably born.[3] Photios I of Constantinople describes him in his Bibliotheca (cod. 121) as a disciple of Irenaeus, who was said to be a disciple of Polycarp, and from the context of this passage it is supposed that he suggested that Hippolytus himself so styled himself. While some have doubted this assertion it is indisputable that his Refutation of All Heresies parallels the earlier work of Ireneus, Against Heresies.[2] It is often asserted that he came into conflict with the popes of his time, heading a schismatic group as a rival bishop of Rome.[2] However, it may be that his bishopric resided in Portus outside of Rome and that he did not lay claim to the bishopric of Rome. He would therefore be not the first antipope but one of those bishops who opposed the third century Popes for softening the penitential system. The evidence, spirit and framework of this is best found in the letters of Cyprian of Carthage, who was all the more opposed to the policies of Rome, for not only accommodating the large number of new pagan converts but also accepting without the medicine of penance those who had lapsed under persecution.[2] He died[2] as a martyr.

Starting in the 4th century, various legends arose about him, identifying him as a priest of the Novatianist schism or as a soldier converted by Saint Laurence.[2] He has also been confused with another martyr of the same name.[2] Ironically, it is Pius IV who innocently identifies him as "Saint Hippolytus, Bishop of Pontus" who was martyred in the reign of Alexander [Severus] through his inscription on a statue found at the Church of St. Lawrence in Rome and kept at the Vatican as photographed and published in Brunsen.[4]


As a presbyter of the church at Rome under Pope Zephyrinus (199–217), Hippolytus was distinguished for his learning and eloquence. It was at this time that Origen of Alexandria, then a young man, heard him preach.[5]

He accused Pope Zephyrinus of modalism, the heresy which held that the names Father and Son are simply different names for the same subject.[6] Hippolytus championed the Logos doctrine of the Greek apologists, most notably Justin Martyr, which distinguished the Father from the Logos ("Word").[2][6] An ethical conservative, he was scandalized when Pope Callixtus I (217–222) extended absolution to Christians who had committed grave sins, such as adultery.[6] At this time, the claim comes that he allowed himself to be elected as a rival Bishop of Rome, as he continued to attack Pope Urban I (222–230) and Pope Pontian (230–235).[2]

Under the persecution by Emperor Maximinus Thrax, Hippolytus and Pontian were exiled together in 235 to Sardinia, and it is very probably that, before his death there, he was reconciled to the other party at Rome, for, under Pope Fabian (236–250), his body and that of Pontian were brought to Rome. From the so-called chronography of the year 354 (more precisely, the Catalogus Liberianus, or Liberian Catalogue) we learn that on August 13, probably in 236, the two bodies were interred in Rome, that of Hippolytus in a cemetery on the Via Tiburtina, his funeral being conducted by Justin the Confessor. This document indicates that, by about 255, Hippolytus was considered a martyr and a priest, if not a bishop, leaving no indication that he was ever separated from the Church,.[2]


The facts of his life as well as his writing were soon forgotten in the West, perhaps by reason of his criticism of the bishops of Rome and because he wrote in Greek.[2] Pope Damasus I dedicated to him one of his famous epigrams, making him, however, a priest of the Novatianist schism, a view later accepted by Prudentius in the 5th century in his "Passion of St Hippolytus". In the Passionals of the 7th and 8th centuries he is represented as a soldier converted by Saint Lawrence, a legend that long survived in the Roman Breviary but this is clearly a reference to another Hippolytus by the same name. Very likely he was the martyr buried in Portus, of which city he was believed to have been a bishop.[2] Prudentius seems to have drawn on the story of the mythological Hippolytus for his description of the death of the saint, picturing him as dragged to death by wild horses at Ostia. He described the subterranean tomb of the saint and states that he saw there a picture representing Hippolytus’ execution. He also confirms August 13 as the date on which a Hippolytus was celebrated but this again refers to the convert of Lawrence, as preserved in the Menaion of the Eastern Orthodox Church.

The latter account led to Hippolytus being considered the patron saint of horses. During the Middle Ages, sick horses were brought to St Ippolyts, Hertfordshire, England, where a church is dedicated to him.[7]


In 1551 a marble statue of a seated figure (originally female, perhaps personifying one of the sciences) was found in the cemetery of the Via Tiburtina and was heavily restored. On the sides of the seat was carved a paschal cycle, and on the back the titles of numerous writings by Hippolytus. Many other works are listed by Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome.

Hippolytus's principal work is the Refutation of all Heresies.[2] Of its ten books, Book I was the most important.[6] It was long known and was printed (with the title Philosophumena) among the works of Origen. Books II and III are lost, and Books IV–X were found, without the name of the author, in a monastery of Mount Athos in 1842. E. Miller published them in 1851 under the title Philosophumena, attributing them to Origen of Alexandria. They have since been attributed to Hippolytus.

Hippolytus's voluminous writings, which for variety of subject can be compared with those of Origen of Alexandria, embrace the spheres of exegesis, homiletics, apologetics and polemic, chronography, and ecclesiastical law. Hippolytus recorded the first liturgical reference to the Virgin Mary, as part of the ordination rite of a bishop.[8]

His works have unfortunately come down to us in such a fragmentary condition that it is difficult to obtain from them any very exact notion of his intellectual and literary importance.

Of exegetical works usually attributed to Hippolytus, the best preserved are the Commentary on the Prophet Daniel and the Commentary on the Song of Songs.[2] This is the earliest attested Christian interpretation of the Song, covering only the first three chapters to Song 3:7. Hippolytus' Commentary on the Song of Songs interprets the Song as referring to a complicated relationship between Israel, Christ and the Gentile Church. Christ as the Logos is represented in various richly symbolic ways: as the Feminine Sophia ("Wisdom"), who was God's agent in creation and later lived with Solomon and inspired the prophets, as the transgendered maker of wine (like Dionysus) that nurtures the Church with his breasts (the Law and the Gospel), as the victorious Helios who rides across the sky and gathers the nations. The commentary returns often to the topic of the anointing of the Holy Spirit and was originally written as a mystagogy, an instruction for new Christians. Scholars have usually assumed the Commentary On the Song of Songs was originally composed for use during Passover, a season favored in the West for Baptisms (see Hippolytus' Commentary on Daniel 1.17). The commentary on the Song of Songs survives in two Georgian manuscripts, a Greek epitome, a Paleo-Slavonic florilegium, and fragments in Armenian and Syriac as well as in many patristic quotations, especially in Ambrose of Milan's Exposition on Psalm 118 (119). Hippolytus differed from Origen, who interpreted the Song largely as an allegory of the soul and Christ. Hippolytus, on the other hand, interpreted the Song as a typological treatment of the relationship between the Church of the Circumcision typified by Israel and replaced by the Church composed of both believing Jews and Gentile Christians. Hippolytus interpreted the Song using the common rhetorical device of ekphrasis, a method of persuasion employed by rhetoricians of the Second Sophistic that used well known themes from popular graphic representations common on household walls as murals and on floors as mosaics. He also supplied his commentary with a fully developed introduction known as the schema isagogicum, indicating his knowledge of the rhetorical conventions for teachers discussing classical works.[9] Origen felt that the Song should be reserved for the spiritually mature and that studying it might be harmful for the novice. In this he followed 3rd-century Jewish interpretive traditions, whereas Hippolytus ignored them.[10]

We are unable to form an opinion of Hippolytus as a preacher, for the Homilies on the Feast of Epiphany which go under his name are wrongly attributed to him.

Of the dogmatic works, On Christ and the Antichrist survives in a complete state. Among other things it includes a vivid account of the events preceding the end of the world, and it was probably written at the time of the persecution under Septimius Severus, about 202.

The influence of Hippolytus was felt chiefly through his works on chronography and ecclesiastical law. His chronicle of the world, a compilation embracing the whole period from the creation of the world up to the year 234, formed a basis for many chronographical works both in the East and West.

In the great compilations of ecclesiastical law that arose in the East since the 4th century, the Church Orders many canons were attributed to Hippolytus, for example in the Canons of Hippolytus or the The Constitutions through Hippolytus. How much of this material is genuinely his, how much of it worked over, and how much of it wrongly attributed to him, can no longer be determined beyond dispute even by the most learned investigation, however a great deal was incorporated into the Fetha Negest, which once served as the constitutional basis of law in Ethiopia — where he is still remembered as Abulides. During the early 20th century the work known as The Egyptian Church Order was identified as the Apostolic Tradition and attributed to Hippolytus; nowaday this attribution is hotly contested.

Differences in style and theology lead some scholars to conclude that some the works attributed to Hippolytus actually derive from a second author.[2]

Two small but potentially important works of Hippolytus, On the Twelve Apostles of Christ, and On the Seventy Apostles of Christ, were often neglected, because the manuscripts were lost during most of the church age and found late, thus people were not sure if they are original or spurious. The two are included in an appendix to the works of Hippolytus in the voluminous collection of Early Church Fathers [11]

Feast days

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the feast day of St Hippolytus, disciple of Lawrence falls on August 13, which is also the Apodosis of the Feast of the Transfiguration. Because on the Apodosis the hymns of the Transfiguration are to be repeated, the feast of St. Hippolytus may be transferred to the day before or to some other convenient day, but these again are all a reference to the disciple of Laswrence, not the disciple of Ireneus. The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates the feast of Hippolytus, the subject of this article, as "St Hippolytus Pope of Rome" along with other martyrs on January 30. The reference as "pope" is obviously in the context of the Orthodox understanding of the term and condescends to the modern Roman historical view which portrays him as having vied for the papacy.

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates St Hippolytus jointly with St Pontian on August 13 and attempts to portray him as a repentant heretic in defense of its view of the papacy. The feast of Saint Hippolytus formerly celebrated on 22 August (see General Roman Calendar as in 1954) was a duplicate of the 13 August feast and for that reason was deleted when the Roman Catholic calendar of saints was revised in 1960.[12] Earlier editions of the Roman Martyrology referred to the 22 August Hippolytus as Bishop of Porto. The Catholic Encyclopedia sees this as "connected with the confusion regarding the Roman presbyter resulting from the Acts of the Martyrs of Porto. It has not been ascertained whether the memory of the latter was localized at Porto merely in connection with the legend in Prudentius, without further foundation, or whether a person named Hippolytus was really martyred at Porto, and afterwards confounded in legend with Hippolytus of Rome."[13] This opinion is shared by a Benedictine source.[14] Portus was a large harbor artificial harbor on the outskirts of ancient Rome.

Earlier editions of the Roman Martyrology also mentioned on 30 January a Hippolytus venerated at Antioch, but the details it gave were borrowed from the story of Hippolytus of Rome.[15] Modern editions of the Roman Martyrology omit all mention of this supposed distinct Saint Hippolytus of Antioch.

See also



  • Hans Achelis, Hippolytstudien (Leipzig, 1897)
  • Adhémar d'Ales, La Théologie de Saint Hippolyte (Paris, 1906). (G.K.)
  • Bunsen, Hippolytus and his Age (1852, 2nd ed., 1854; Ger. ed., 1853)
  • Döllinger, Hippolytus und Kallistus (Regensb. 1853; Eng. transl., Edinb., 1876)
  • Gerhard Ficker, Studien zur Hippolytfrage (Leipzig, 1893)
  • Hippolytus, The Treatise on the Apostolic Tradition of St. Hippolytus of Rome, Bishop and Martyr. Trans Gregory Dix. (London: Alban Press, 1992)
  • J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers vol. i, part ii (London, 1889–1890).
  • Karl Johannes Neumann, Hippolytus von Rom in seiner Stellung zu Staat und Welt, part i (Leipzig, 1902)

Further reading

  • Hippolytus (2001). On the Apostolic Tradition: an English Version with Introd. and Commentary by Alistair Stewart-Sykes, in Popular Patristics Series. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. ISBN 0-88141-233-3

External links

  • Ante Nicene Fathers Vol. 5: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, Appendix.
  • Against Noetus
  • Refutation of All Heresies
  • Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Hippolytus of Rome
  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, Hippolytus of Rome
  • The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome
  • synaxarion
  • Martyr Hippolytus of Rome (August 13)
  • Nikolai Velimirovic
  • Philosophumena; or, The refutation of all heresies, formerly attributed to Origen of Alexandria, but now to Hippolytus, bishop and martyr, who flourished about 220 A.D. Translated from the text of Cruice at the Internet Archive.
  • Patron Saints Index: Hippolytus

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