Born: c. 170 AD
Birthplace: Rome, Italy
Died: 235 AD
Location of death: Sardinia
Cause of death: Execution
Remains: Buried, Via Tiburtina, Rome, Italy
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Nationality: Ancient Rome
Executive summary: Writer of the early church
Hippolytus, a writer of the early Church. The mystery which enveloped the person and writings of Hippolytus, one of the most prolific ecclesiastical writers of early times, had some light thrown upon it for the first time about the middle of the 19th century by the discovery of the so-called Philosophumena. Assuming this writing to be the work of Hippolytus, the information given in it as to the author and his times can be combined with other traditional dates to form a tolerably clear picture. Hippolytus must have been born in the second half of the 2nd century, probably in Rome. Photius describes him in his Bibliotheca (codex 121) as a disciple of Irenaeus, and from the context of this passage it is supposed that we may conclude that Hippolytus himself so styled himself. But this is not certain, and even if it were, it does not necessarily imply that Hippolytus enjoyed the personal teaching of the celebrated Gallic bishop; it may perhaps merely refer to that relation of his theological system to that of Irenaeus which can easily be traced in his writings. As a presbyter of the church at Rome under Bishop Zephyrinus (199-217), Hippolytus was distinguished for his learning and eloquence. It was at this time that Origen, then a young man, heard him preach. It was probably not long before questions of theology and church discipline brought him into direct conflict with Zephyrinus, or at any rate with his successor Calixtus I. He accused the bishop of favoring the Christological heresies of the Monarchians, and, further, of subverting the discipline of the Church by his lax action in receiving back into the Church those guilty of gross offenses. The result was a schism, and for perhaps over ten years Hippolytus stood as bishop at the head of a separate church. Then came the persecution under Maximinus the Thracian. Hippolytus and Pontius, who was then bishop, were transported in 235 to Sardinia, where it would seem that both of them died. From the so-called chronograph of the year 354 (Catalogus Liberianus) we learn that on the 13th of August, probably in 236, the bodies of the exiles were interred in Rome and that of Hippolytus in the cemetery on the Via Tiburtina. So we must suppose that before his death the schismatic was received again into the bosom of the Church, and this is confirmed by the fact that his memory was henceforth celebrated in the Church as that of a holy martyr. Pope Damasus I dedicated to him one of his famous epigrams, and Prudentius (Peristephanon, 11) drew a highly colored picture of his gruesome death, the details of which are certainly purely legendary: the myth of Hippolytus the son of Theseus was transferred to the Christian martyr. Of the historical Hippolytus little remained in the memory of after ages. Neither Eusebius nor Jerome knew that the author so much read in the East and the Roman saint were one and the same person. The notice in the Chronicon Paschale preserves one slight reminiscence of the historical facts, namely, that Hippolytus's episcopal see was situated at Portus near Rome. In 1551 a marble statue of a seated man
was found in the cemetery of the Via Tiburtina: on the sides of the seat were carved a paschal cycle, and on the back the titles of numerous writings. It was
the statue of Hippolytus, a work at any rate of the 3rd century; at the time of Pope Pius IX it was placed in the Lateran Museum, a record in stone of a lost tradition.
Hippolytus's voluminous writings, which for variety of subject can be compared with those of Origen, embrace the spheres of exegesis, homiletics, apologetics and polemic, chronography and ecclesiastical law. 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 his exegetical works the best preserved are the Commentary on the Prophet Daniel and the Commentary on the Song of Songs. In spite of many instances of a want of taste in his typology, they are distinguished by a certain sobriety and sense of proportion in his exegesis. 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. He wrote polemical words directed against the pagans, the Jews and heretics. The most important of these polemical treatises is the Refutation of all Heresies, which has come to be known by the inappropriate title of the Philosophumena. Of its ten books, the second and third are lost; Book I was for a long time printed (with the title Philosophumena) among the works of Origen; Books IV-X were found in 1842 by the Greek Minoides Mynas, without the name of the author, in a manuscript at Mount Athos. It is nowadays universally admitted that Hippolytus was the author, and that Books I and IV-X belong to the same work. The importance of the work has, however, been much overrated; a close examination of the sources for the exposition of the Gnostic system which is contained in it has proved that the information it gives is not always trustworthy. Of the dogmatic works, that on Christ and 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, i.e. about 202. The influence of Hippolytus was felt chiefly through his works on chronographic 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 which arose in the East since the 4th century much of the material was taken from the writings of Hippolytus; how much of this 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.
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