I. Life Of Hippolytus. This famous person has lived three lives, a real one in the third century as an opponent of the popes of his day, a fictitious one in the middle ages as a canonized saint, and a literary one in the nineteenth century after the discovery of his long lost works against heresies. He was undoubtedly one of the most learned and eminent scholars and theologians of his time. The Roman church placed him in the number of her saints and martyrs, little suspecting that he would come forward in the nineteenth century as an accuser against her. But the statements of the ancients respecting him are very obscure and confused. Certain it is, that he received a thorough Grecian education, and, as he himself says, in a fragment preserved by Photius, heard the discourses of Irenaeus (in Lyons or in Rome). His public life falls in the end of the second century and the first three decennaries of the third (about 198 to 236), and he belongs to the western church, though he may have been, like Irenaeus, of Oriental extraction. At all events he wrote all his books in Greek. Eusebius is the first who mentions him, and he calls him indefinitely, bishop, and a contemporary of Origen and Beryl of Bostra; he evidently did not know where he was bishop, but he gives a list of his works which he saw (probably in the library of Caesarea). Jerome gives a more complete list of his writings, but no more definite information as to his see, although he was well acquainted with Rome and Pope Damasus. He calls him martyr, and couples him with the Roman senator Apollonius. An old catalogue of the popes, the Catalogus Liberianus (about a.d. 354), states that a "presbyter" Hippolytus was banished, together with the Roman bishop Pontianus, about 235, to the unhealthy island of Sardinia, and that the bodies of both were deposited on the same day (Aug. 13), Pontianus in the cemetery of Callistus, Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina (where his statue was discovered in 1551). The translation of Pontianus was effected by Pope Fabianus about 236 or 237. From this statement we would infer that Hippolytus died in the mines of Sardinia and was thus counted a martyr, like all those confessors who died in prison. He may, however, have returned and suffered martyrdom elsewhere. The next account we have is from the Spanish poet Prudentius who wrote in the beginning of the fifth century. He represents Hippolytus in poetic description as a Roman presbyter (therein agreeing with the Liberian Catalogue) who belonged to the Novatian party (which, however, arose several years after the death of Hippolytus), but in the prospect of death regretted the schism exhorted his numerous followers to return into the bosom of the catholic church, and then, in bitter allusion to his name and to the mythical Hippolytus, the son of Theseus, was bound by the feet to a team of wild horses and dragged to death over stock and stone. He puts into his mouth his last words: "These steeds drag my limbs after them; drag Thou, O Christ, my soul to Thyself." He places the scene of his martyrdom at Ostia or Portus where the Prefect of Rome happened to be at that time who condemned him for his Christian profession. Prudentius also saw the subterranean grave-chapel in Rome and a picture which represented his martyrdom (perhaps intended originally for the mythological Hippolytus). But as no such church is found in the early lists of Roman churches, it may have been the church of St. Lawrence, the famous gridiron-martyr, which adjoined the tomb of Hippolytus. Notwithstanding the chronological error about the Novatian schism and the extreme improbability of such a horrible death under Roman laws and customs, there is an important element of truth in this legend, namely the schismatic position of Hippolytus which suits the Philosophumena, perhaps also his connection with Portus. The later tradition of the catholic church (from the middle of the seventh century) makes him bishop of Portus Romanus (now Porto) which lies at the Northern mouth of the Tiber, opposite Ostia, about fifteen miles from Rome. The Greek writers, not strictly distinguishing the city from the surrounding country, call him usually bishop of Rome.
These are the vague and conflicting traditions, amounting to this that Hippolytus was an eminent presbyter or bishop in Rome or the vicinity, in the early part of the third century, that he wrote many learned works and died a martyr in Sardinia or Ostia. So the matter stood when a discovery in the sixteenth century shed new light on this mysterious person.
In the year 1551, a much mutilated marble statue, now in the Lateran Museum, was exhumed at Rome near the basilica of St. Lawrence on the Via Tiburtina (the road to Tivoli). This statue is not mentioned indeed by Prudentius, and was perhaps originally designed for an entirely different purpose, possibly for a Roman senator; but it is at all events very ancient, probably from the middle of the third century. It represents a venerable man clothed with the Greek pallium and Roman toga, seated in a bishop's chair. On the back of the cathedra are engraved in uncial letters the paschal cycle, or easter-table of Hippolytus for seven series of sixteen years, beginning with the first year of Alexander Severus , and a list of writings, presumably written by the person whom the statue represents. Among these writings is named a work On the All, which is mentioned in the tenth book of the Philosophumena as a product of the writer. This furnishes the key to the authorship of that important work.
Much more important is the recent discovery and publication (in 1851) of one of his works themselves, and that no doubt the most valuable of them all, viz. the Philosophumena, or Refutation of all Heresies. It is now almost universally acknowledged that this work comes not from Origen, who never was a bishop, nor from the antimontanistic and antichiliastic presbyter Caius, but from Hippolytus; because, among other reasons, the author, in accordance with the Hippolytus-statue, himself refers to a work On the All, as his own, and because Hippolytus is declared by the fathers to have written a work Adversus omnes Haereses. The entire matter of the work, too, agrees with the scattered statements of antiquity respecting his ecclesiastical position; and at the same time places that position in a much clearer light, and gives us a better understanding of those statements. The author of the Philosophumena appears as one of the most prominent of the clergy in or near Rome in the beginning of the third century; probably a bishop, since he reckons himself among the successors of the apostles and the guardians of the doctrine of the church. He took an active part in all the doctrinal and ritual controversies of his time, but severely opposed the Roman bishops Zephyrinus and Callistus , on account of their Patripassian leanings, and their loose penitential discipline. The latter especially, who had given public offence by his former mode of life, he attacked without mercy and not without passion. He was, therefore, if not exactly a schismatical counter-pope (as Döllinger supposes), yet the head of a disaffected and schismatic party, orthodox in doctrine, rigoristic in discipline, and thus very nearly allied to the Montanists before him, and to the later schism of Novatian. It is for this reason the more remarkable, that we have no account respecting the subsequent course of this movement, except the later unreliable tradition, that Hippolytus finally returned into the bosom of the catholic church, and expiated his schism by martyrdom, either in the mines of Sardinia or near Rome (A. D. 235, or rather 236, under the persecuting emperor Maximinus the Thracian).
II. His Writings. Hippolytus was the most learned divine and the most voluminous writer of the Roman church in the third century; in fact the first great scholar of that church, though like his teacher, Irenaeus, he used the Greek language exclusively. This fact, together with his polemic attitude to the Roman bishops of his day, accounts for the early disappearance of his works from the remembrance of that church. He is not so much an original, productive author, as a learned and skilful compiler. In the philosophical parts of his Philosophumena he borrows largely from Sextus Empiricus, word for word, without acknowledgment; and in the theological part from Irenaeus. In doctrine he agrees, for the most part, with Irenaeus, even to his chiliasm, but is not his equal in discernment, depth, and moderation. He repudiates philosophy, almost with Tertullian's vehemence, as the source of all heresies; yet he employs it to establish his own views. On the subject of the trinity he assails Monarchianism, and advocates the hypostasian theory with a zeal which brought down upon him the charge of ditheism. His disciplinary principles are rigoristic and ascetic. In this respect also he is akin to Tertullian, though he places the Montanists, like the Quartodecimanians, but with only a brief notice, among the heretics. His style is vigorous, but careless and turgid. Caspari calls Hippolytus "the Roman Origen." This is true as regards learning and independence, but Origen had more genius and moderation.
The principal work of Hippolytus is the Philosophumena or Refutation of all Heresies. It is, next to the treatise of Irenaeus, the most instructive and important polemical production of the ante-Nicene church, and sheds much new light, not only upon the ancient heresies, and the development of the church doctrine, but also upon the history of philosophy and the condition of the Roman church in the beginning of the third century. It furthermore affords valuable testimony to the genuineness of the Gospel of John, both from the mouth of the author himself, and through his quotations from the much earlier Gnostic Basilides, who was a later contemporary of John (about a.d. 125). The composition falls some years after the death of Callistus, between the years 223 and 235. The first of the ten books gives an outline of the heathen philosophies which he regards as the sources of all heresies; hence the title Philosophumena which answers the first four books, but not the last six. It is not in the Athos-MS., but was formerly known and incorporated in the works of Origen. The second and third books, which are wanting, treated probably of the heathen mysteries, and mathematical and astrological theories. The fourth is occupied likewise with the heathen astrology and magic, which must have exercised great influence, particularly in Rome. In the fifth book the author comes to his proper theme, the refutation of all the heresies from the times of the apostles to his own. He takes up thirty-two in all, most of which, however, are merely different branches of Gnosticism and Ebionism. He simply states the heretical opinions from lost writings, without introducing his own reflection, and refers them to the Greek philosophy, mysticism, and magic, thinking them sufficiently refuted by being traced to those heathen sources. The ninth book, in refuting the doctrine of the Noëtians and Callistians, makes remarkable disclosures of events in the Roman church. He represents Pope Zephyrinus as a weak and ignorant man who gave aid and comfort to the Patripassian heresy, and his successor Callistus, as a shrewd and cunning manager who was once a slave, then a dishonest banker, and became a bankrupt and convict, but worked himself into the good graces of Zephyrinus and after his death obtained the object of his ambition, the papal chair, taught heresy and ruined the discipline by extreme leniency to offenders. Here the author shows himself a violent partizan, and must be used with caution.
The tenth book, made use of by Theodoret, contains a brief recapitulation and the author's own confession of faith, as a positive refutation of the heresies. The following is the most important part relating to Christ:
"This Word (Logos) the Father sent forth in these last days no longer to speak by a prophet, nor willing that He should be only guessed at from obscure preaching, but bidding Him be manifested face to face, in order that the world should reverence Him when it beheld Him, not giving His commands in the person of a prophet, nor alarming the soul by an angel, but Himself present who had spoken.
"Him we know to have received a body from the Virgin and to have refashioned the old man by a new creation, and to have passed in His life through every age, in order that He might be a law to every age, and by His presence exhibit His own humanity as a pattern to all men, and thus convince man that God made nothing evil, and that man possesses free will, having in himself the power of volition or non-volition, and being able to do both. Him we know to have been a man of the same nature with ourselves.
"For, if He were not of the same nature, He would in vain exhort us to imitate our Master. For if that man was of another nature, why does He enjoin the same duties on me who am weak? And how can He be good and just? But that He might be shown to be the same as we, He underwent toil and consented to suffer hunger and thirst, and rested in sleep, and did not refuse His passion, and became obedient unto death, and manifested His resurrection, having consecrated in all these things His own humanity, as first fruits, in order that thou when suffering mayest not despair, acknowledging thyself a man of like nature and waiting for the appearance of what thou gavest to Him.
"Such is the true doctrine concerning the Deity, O ye Greeks and Barbarians, Chaldaeans and Assyrians, Egyptians and Africans, Indians and Ethiopians, Celts, and ye warlike Latins, and all ye inhabitants of Europe, Asia, and Africa, whom I exhort, being a disciple of the man-loving Word and myself a lover of men ( ). Come ye and learn from us, who is the true God, and what is His well-ordered workmanship, not heeding the sophistry of artificial speeches, nor the vain professions of plagiarist heretics, but the grave simplicity of unadorned truth. By this knowledge ye will escape the coming curse of the judgment of fire, and the dark rayless aspect of Tartarus, never illuminated by the voice of the Word ....
Therefore, O men, persist not in your enmity, nor hesitate to retrace your steps. For Christ is the God who is over all ( ,comp. Rom. 9:5), who commanded men to wash away sin [in baptism], regenerating the old man, having called him His image from the beginning, showing by a figure His love to thee. If thou obeyest His holy commandment and becomest an imitator in goodness of Him who is good, thou wilt become like Him, being honored by Him. For God has a need and craving for thee, having made thee divine for His glory."
Hippolytus wrote a large number of other works, exegetical, chronological, polemical, and homiletical, all in Greek, which are mostly lost, although considerable fragments remain. He prepared the first continuous and detailed commentaries on several books of the Scriptures, as the Hexaëmeron (used by Ambrose), on Exodus, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the larger prophets (especially Daniel), Zechariah, also on Matthew, Luke, and the Apocalypse. He pursued in exegesis the allegorical method, like Origen, which suited the taste of his age.
Among, his polemical works was one Against Thirty-two Heresies, different from the Philosophumena, and described by Photius as a "little book," and as a synopsis of lectures which Hippolytus heard from Irenaeus. It must have been written in his early youth. It began with the heresy of Dositheus and ended with that of Noëtus. His treatise Against Noëtus which is still preserved, presupposes previous sections, and formed probably the concluding part of that synopsis. If not, it must have been the conclusion of a special work against the Monarchian heretics, but no such work is mentioned.
The book On the Universe was directed against Platonism. It made all things consist of the four elements, earth, air, fire, and water. Man is formed of all four elements, his soul, of air. But the most important part of this book is a description of Hades, as an abode under ground where the souls of the departed are detained until the day of judgment: the righteous in a place of light and happiness called Abraham's Bosom; the wicked in a place of darkness and misery; the two regions being separated by a great gulf. The entrance is guarded by an archangel. On the judgment day the bodies of the righteous will rise renewed and glorified, the bodies of the wicked with all the diseases of their earthly life for everlasting punishment. This description agrees substantially with the eschatology of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, and Tertullian.
The anonymous work called The Little Labyrinth, mentioned by Eusebius and Theodoret as directed against the rationalistic heresy of Artemon, is ascribed by some to Hippolytus, by others to Caius. But The Labyrinth mentioned by Photius as a work of Caius is different and identical with the tenth book of the Philosophumena, which begins with the words, "The labyrinth of heresies."
The lost tract on the Charismata dealt probably with the Montanistic claims to continued prophecy. Others make it a collection of apostolical canons.
The book on Antichrist which has been almost entirely recovered by Gudius, represents Antichrist as the complete counterfeit of Christ, explains Daniel's four kingdoms as the Babylonian, Median, Grecian, and Roman, and the apocalyptic number of the beast as meaning , i.e., heathen Rome. This is one of the three interpretations given by Irenaeus who, however, preferred Teitan.
In a commentary on the Apocalypse he gives another interpretation of the number, namely Dantialos (probably because Antichrist was to descend from the tribe of Dan). The woman in the twelfth chapter is the church; the sun with which she is clothed, is our Lord; the moon, John the Baptist; the twelve stars, the twelve apostles; the two wings on which she was to fly, hope and love. Armageddon is the valley of Jehoshaphat. The five kings (17:13) are Nebuchadnezzar, Cyrus, Darius, Alexander, and his four successors; the sixth is the Roman empire, the seventh will be Antichrist. In his commentary on Daniel he fixes the consummation at a.d. 500, or A. M. 6000, on the assumption that Christ appeared in the year of the world 5500, and that a sixth millennium must yet be completed before the beginning of the millennial Sabbath, which is prefigured by the divine rest after creation. This view, in connection with his relation to Irenaeus, and the omission of chiliasm from his list of heresies, makes it tolerably certain that be was himself a chiliast, although he put off the millennium to the sixth century after Christ.
We conclude this section with an account of a visit of Pope Alexander III. to the shrine of St. Hippolytus in the church of St. Denis in 1159, to which his bones were transferred from Rome under Charlemagne. "On the threshold of one of the chapels the Pope paused to ask, whose relics it contained. 'Those of St. Hippolytus,' was the answer. 'Non credo, non credo,' replied the infallible authority, 'the bones of St. Hippolytus were never removed from the holy city.' But St. Hippolytus, whose dry bones apparently had as little reverence for the spiritual progeny of Zephyrinus and Callistus as the ancient bishop's tongue and pen had manifested towards these saints themselves, was so very angry that be rumbled his bones inside the reliquary with a noise like thunder. To what lengths he might have gone if rattling had not sufficed we dare not conjecture. But the Pope, falling on his knees, exclaimed in terror, I believe, O my Lord Hippolytus, I believe, pray be quiet.' And he built an altar of marble there to appease the disquieted saint."