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Hippolytus of Rome

Saint Hippolytus of Rome
The Martyrdom of Saint Hippolytus, according to the legendary version of Prudentius (Paris, 14th century)
Born 170 AD
Died 235 AD
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Orthodox Church
Oriental Orthodox Church
Anglican Communion
Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica
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 AD) 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 so styled himself. However, this assertion is doubtful.[2] He came into conflict with the popes of his time and seems to have headed a schismatic group as a rival Bishop of Rome.[2] For that reason he is sometimes considered the first antipope. He opposed the Roman bishops who softened the penitential system to accommodate the large number of new pagan converts.[2] However, he was very probably reconciled to the Church when he died as a martyr.[2]

Starting in the 4th century AD, various legends arose about him, identifying him as a priest of the Novatianist schism or as a soldier converted by Saint Lawrence.[2] He has also been confused with another martyr of the same name.[2] Ironically, it is Pius IV who 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]


  • Life 1
  • Legends 2
  • Writings 3
  • Eschatology 4
  • Feast days 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8
  • Further reading 9
  • External links 10


As a presbyter of the church at Rome under Pope Zephyrinus (199 – 217 AD), 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 AD) extended absolution to Christians who had committed grave sins, such as adultery.[6] At this time, he seems to have allowed himself to be elected as a rival Bishop of Rome, and continued to attack Pope Urban I (222 – 230 AD) and Pope Pontian ( 230 – 235 AD).[2]

Under the persecution at the time of Emperor Maximinus Thrax, Hippolytus and Pontian were exiled together in 235 AD to Sardinia, and it is quite probable 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 AD, 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 AD, Hippolytus was considered a martyr and gives him the rank of a priest, not of a bishop, an indication that before his death the schismatic was received again into the bosom of 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. He was also confused with a martyr of the same name who was buried in Portus, of which city he was believed to have been a bishop.[2] According to Prudentius' account, Hippolytus was dragged to death by wild horses, a striking parallel to the story of the mythological Hippolytus, who was 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]


Roman sculpture, maybe of Hippolytus, found in 1551 and used for the attribution of the Apostolic Tradition

In 1551 a marble statue of a seated figure (originally female, perhaps personifying one of the sciences) was purportedly 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 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 of 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, are often neglected because the manuscripts were lost during most of the church age and then found in Greece in the 19th century. As most scholars consider them spurious, they are often ascribed to "Pseudo-Hippolytus". The two are included in an appendix to the works of Hippolytus in the voluminous collection of Early Church Fathers.[11] The work on the 70 apostles is noteworthy as a (potentially) early source including Aristobulus, sometimes accounted the apostle of Britain.


In On Christ and the Antichrist and Commentary on the Prophet Daniel Hippolytus gave his interpretation of Bible prophecies.

Parallel outline of Daniel 2, 7 and 8

Hippolytus gave an explanation of Daniel's paralleling prophecies of chapters 2, 7, and 8, which he, as with the other fathers, specifically relates to the Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Greeks, and Romans. He stated that Rome existed at the time of his writing, pending partitioning into the predicted ten kingdoms - these in turn to be followed by the rising of the dread Antichrist, who would dreadfully oppress the saints. All this would be ended by Christ's Second Advent, accompanied with the first resurrection of the righteous and the Antichrist being destroyed. Then will follow the inferno and judgment upon the wicked.[12][13]

Antichrist begins as a Little Horn

Hippolytus stated that the prophetic visions plainly and precisely reveal impending historical events, and that accuracy in their interpretation is necessary. Ten kingdoms are to depose Rome, and Antichrist is to emerge from the midst of them. This daring assertion is perhaps the most complete and salient paragraph in his prophetic explanation; for although being aware of the risk involved, he states openly, in respect to Rome and her future, what the prophets had hidden in mystic representation.[14] Hippolytus continued to describe the Antichrist, his coming, his appalling persecution of the saints, and his annihilation at the second advent, the resurrection of the righteous at the end of the world, the kingdom of the saints, and the punishment of the wicked.[15] He suggested that the Antichrist would be of Jewish origin, and would set up a Jewish kingdom, plucking up Egypt, Libya, and Ethiopia, as the "three horns," and in turn be overthrown by the kingdom of God. The concept of an individual Antichrist became the common interpretation of the Roman church for centuries, until the rise of the interpretation the Antichrist as an ecclesiastical system. [16]

The Church during Antichrist’s Rule

He identifies the woman of Revelation 12 as the church; the twelve stars are the twelve apostles; the man-child is Christ. The church flees to the wilderness while Antichrist rules during the time of tribulation. The first of the two beasts of Revelation 13 was, he believed, the Roman Empire, the same as the fourth beast of Daniel. The second beast with two lamblike horns he applied to the kingdom of Antichrist, the two horns representing Antichrist and his false prophet. This would revive the image of the old Roman Empire by healing its deadly wound through governing after the manner of Roman law, thus giving it life and making it speak. This application, it might be observed, will occur again and again through the march of the centuries, not only in early periods, but in Reformation times as well, and even in the great second Advent Awakening of the early decades of the nineteenth century. [17]

The seventy-weeks prophecy

Hippolytus follows the long-established usage in interpreting Daniel's seventy prophetic weeks to be weeks of literal years. He makes the "forty-nine" years its first section, from the first year of Darius the Mede to Ezra, with the ‘434 years’ reaching between Ezra and the birth of Christ. [18]

Antichrist to rule at endtimes

Hippolytus predicted the Antichrist to rule for three and one-half "times", i.e. 1260 days, during the last half of the 70th week. He arbitrarly separated the 70th week from the first 69 by a chronological gap, placing it just before the end of the world. The first half of the "week" was ruled by the two sack-cloth robed witnesses (Enoch and Elijah) followed in the last half by the Antichrist.[19] He is apparently the first to have projected such a gap theory. Most early expositors have the 70th week fulfilled in Christ's death or the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman armies.[20]

Date of Second Coming calculated

Hippolytus was apparently the first to set a specific date for the second Advent through calculation—A.D. 500—which was 260 year after his time. He assumed, like Irenaeus his teacher, that inasmuch as God made all things in six days, and these days symbolize a thousand years each, in six thousand years from the creation the end will come. He apparently based his calculation on the Septuagint which had the world beginning about 5500 B.C.[20][21]

Feast days

In the Eastern Orthodox Church, the feast day of St Hippolytus 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. The Eastern Orthodox Church also celebrates the feast of "St Hippolytus Pope of Rome" on January 30, who may or may not be the same individual.

The Roman Catholic Church celebrates St Hippolytus jointly with St Pontian on August 13. The feast of Saint Hippolytus formerly celebrated on 22 August as one of the companions of Saint Timotheus was a duplicate of his 13 August feast and for that reason was deleted when the General Roman Calendar was revised in 1969.[22] 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."[23] This opinion is shared by a Benedictine source.[24]

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.[25] Modern editions of the Roman Martyrology omit all mention of this supposed distinct Saint Hippolytus of Antioch.

See also


  1. ^ Patron Saints Index: Saint Hippolytus of Rome
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Cross 2005
  3. ^ Trigilio, John; Brighenti, Kenneth. Saints For Dummies. For Dummies, 2010. p. 82. Web. 20 Apr. 2011.
  4. ^ Hippolytus and His Age, Volume I, frontispiece, 1852, p. 424.
  5. ^ Jerome's De Viris Illustribus # 61; cp. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica vi. 14, 10.
  6. ^ a b c d "Saint Hippolytus of Rome." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2010. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 15 Aug. 2010 [1].
  7. ^ Ippollitts (A Guide to Old Hertfordshire)
  8. ^ McNally, Terrence, What Every Catholic Should Know about Mary 2009 ISBN 1-4415-1051-6 pages 68–69
  9. ^ Mansfeld 1997 notes Origen's use of the schema, but not Hippolytus'.
  10. ^ Yancy 2008
  11. ^ Ante-Nicean Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson and A. Cleaveland Coxe, vol. 5 (Peabody MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1999), 254–6
  12. ^ Hippolytus, On Daniel, chapters 3 & 4
  13. ^ Froom 1950, p. 271.
  14. ^ Froom 1950, p. 273.
  15. ^ Froom 1950, p. 274.
  16. ^ Froom 1950, p. 275.
  17. ^ Froom 1950, pp. 276-277.
  18. ^ Froom 1950, p. 277.
  19. ^ Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist Chapter 43
  20. ^ a b Froom 1950, p. 278.
  21. ^ Hippolytus, On Daniel, ch. 2, 4–6
  22. ^ Calendarium Romanum (Libreria Editrice Vaticana, 1969), p. 135
  23. ^ Sts. HippolytusCatholic Encyclopedia:
  24. ^ Saint of the Day, 22 August
  25. ^ Saint of the Day, 30 January


  • 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)
  • Public Domain This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain

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

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, Hippolytus of Rome
  • Ante Nicene Fathers Vol. 5: Fathers of the Third Century: Hippolytus, Cyprian, Caius, Novatian, Appendix.
  • The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus of Rome
  • Works by or about Hippolytus of Rome at Internet Archive
  • Works by Hippolytus of Rome at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
  • Against Noetus
  • Refutation of All Heresies
  • Catholic Encyclopedia: St. Hippolytus of Rome
  • Hieromartyr Hippolytus the Pope of Rome (January 30) Orthodox icon and synaxarion
  • Martyr Hippolytus of Rome (August 13)
  • The Holy Martyr Hippolytus the Prologue from Ochrid by Nikolai Velimirovic
  • Patron Saints Index: Hippolytus
  • Saint Hippolytus, Martyr at the Christian Iconography web site
  • Here Followeth the Life of St. Hyppolitus, Martyr from Caxton's translation of the Golden Legend
  • Colonnade Statue in St Peter's Square
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