Hippolytus of Rome

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Saint Hippolytus of Rome (about A.D. 170-235/236), sometimes called Ypolitus (Italian, Ippolito) was an orthodox catholic Christian priest during the persecutions. He was one of the most prolific ecclesiastical writers of the early Church and among the most important Christian theologians of the third century. He is considered by historians to have been antipope of the Church of Rome from about 217 to 235. He is venerated in the Eastern Orthodox tradition as a hieromartyr [1], and a saint. He is mentioned in the Roman Martyrology on August 3. His Orthodox feast day is January 30.

He is often confused with Hippolytus of Ponto, bishop and martyr on August 22, and with Hippolytus of St. Laurence on August 13.


The early life of Hippolytus is unknown. He was born in the second half of the second century about the year 170, probably in Rome, and lived in Rome when young. Greek was his native tongue. He is believed to have been a disciple of St. Irenaeus of Lyons and to have met Origen. At the beginning of the third century he was a priest noted for his learning, eloquence, zeal, and moral earnestness, and became a major theological writer, biblical commentator and theologian. He was one of the most important second-third century Christian theologians of the early Church, whose provenance, identity and literary corpus remain elusive to scholars and historians.

The best historians of literature in the ancient church, including Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome, openly confess they cannot name where Hippolytus served in leadership. They had read his works but did not possess evidence of his community.

Suggested communities include Palestine, Egypt, Anatolia, Rome and regions of the mideast. He was also noted to be a bishop of an unspecified city by Eusebius of Caesarea and Jerome and by the poet Prudentius as bishop of Portus, a port for Rome. (Prudentius may have confused him with another Hippolytus, bishop of Pontos, and martyr of the third century.)

Until the publication in 1851 of the recently discovered "Philosophumena", a part of his larger work "Refutation of All Heresies", it was impossible to obtain any definite authentic facts concerning Hippolytus of Rome and his life from the conflicting statements about him, as follows:

Eusebius says that he was bishop of a church somewhere and enumerates several of his writings.[2]

St. Jerome likewise describes him as the bishop of an unknown see, gives a longer list of his writings, and says of one of his homilies that he delivered it in the presence of Origen, to whom he made direct reference.[3]

Later Greek authors, for example Georgius Syncellus, Nicephorus Callistus [4], do not give much more information than Eusebius and Jerome; some of them call him Bishop of Rome, others Bishop of Porto. According to Photius I of Constantinople [5], he was a disciple of St. Irenæus. There is no difficulty in admitting that he could have been a disciple of St. Irenæus either in Rome or Lyons. (It is equally possible that Origen heard a homily by Hippolytus when he went to Rome about the year 212.) Oriental writers, as well as Pope Gelasius, place the See of Hippolytus at Bostra, the chief city of the Arabs.


Hippolytus was the most important theologian and the most prolific religious writer of the Roman Church in the pre-Constantinian era. Nevertheless the fate of his copious literary remains has been unfortunate. Most of his works have been lost or are known only through scattered fragments, while much has survived only in old translations into Oriental and Slavic languages; other writings are freely interpolated. The fact that the author wrote in Greek made it inevitable that later, when that language was no longer understood in Rome, the Romans lost interest in his writings, while in the East they were read long after and made the author famous.

His works deal with several branches of theology, as appears from the list on the large fragment of a marble statue of the saint discovered in 1551, a monument of importance, and from Eusebius, St. Jerome, and from Oriental authors.

His exegetical treatises were numerous. He wrote commentaries on several books of the Old and New Testaments. Most of these are extant only in fragments. The commentary on the Canticle of Canticles Song of Songs, however, has probably been preserved in its entirety; likewise the fullest extant commentary on the Book of Daniel in 4 books.[6]

Eight of his works, known by their titles, dealt with dogmatic and apologetic subjects, but only one has come down entire in the original Greek. This is the work on Christ and Antichrist, "De Antichristo" [7]; fragments of a few others have been preserved. A short treatise against heresies (Syntagma), and written by Hippolytus at an earlier date, may be restored in outline from later adaptations (Libellus adversus omnes haereses; Epiphanius, "Panarion"; Philastrius, "De haeresibus").

Of his polemics against heretics the most important is the "Philosophumena", the original title of which is kata pason aireseon elegchos (A Refutation of All Heresies). The first book had long been known; books IV to X, which had been discovered a short time previously, were published in 1851. But the first chapters of the fourth and the whole of the second and third books are still missing. The first four books treat of the Hellenic philosophers; books V to IX are taken up with the exposition and refutation of Christian heresies, and the last book contains a recapitulation. The work is one of the most important sources for the history of the heresies which disturbed the early Church. Origen is cited in some manuscripts as the author of the first book. Photius I of Constantinople attributes it to the Roman author Caius, while by others it has been ascribed also to Tertullian and Novatian. But most modern scholars for weighty reasons hold that Hippolytus is undoubtedly its author.

He wrote a third antiheretical work which was universal in character, called the "Small Labyrinth".

Besides these Hippolytus wrote special monographs against Marcion, the Montanists, the Alogi, and Caius. Of these writings only a few fragments are extant.

Hippolytus also produced an Easter cycle, as well as a chronicle of the world which was made use of by later chroniclers.

And finally St. Jerome mentions a work by him on Church laws. Three treatises on canon law have been preserved under the name of Hippolytus: the "Constitutiones per Hippolytum" (which are parallel with the eighth book of the Apostolic Constitutions), the Egyptian Church Ordinance, in Coptic, and the "Canones Hippolyti". Of these works the first two are spurious beyond doubt, and the last, the authenticity of which was upheld even by Achelis.[8], belongs in all probability to the fifth or sixth century

In Rome

The 1851 discovery of the "Philosophumena", a significant portion of his most important work, A Refutation of All Heresies, has made it possible to clear up the most important period of the life of St. Hippolytus through his own evidence, and at the same time to test and correct the conflicting accounts contained in the old authorities. Historians proceed on the assumption that Hippolytus was really the author of the "Philosophumena", an hypothesis almost universally accepted by investigators today, and also wrote commentaries on scripture, and the The Apostolic Traditions. In the "Refutation of All Heresies" Hippolytus set out to refute the doctrines of the Gnostics and condemn heretics by showing that their views were taken from pagan philosophy and oriental theosophy.

From the details of his work, Philosophoumena, Hippolytus apparently was a presbyter (elder) in the church of Rome during the time St. Victor was the bishop of Rome (189-199), and at the beginning of the third century an influential leader of the Roman church while his friends Zephyrinus (Zephrinus) and the deacon Callistus (later ordained priest) eventually served as chief bishops.

Hippolytus was a leader of the Roman church during the pontificate of St. Zephyrinus, Zephrinus (c. 199–217). He is known today for promoting orthodox catholic Christology amid the confusion and controversies over bad doctrine among some dissidents in the church at Rome. It is possible that Origen heard a homily by Hippolytus when he went to Rome about the year 212.

The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus was composed approximately 215 in Rome. It apparently preserved older second century practices (A.D. 101-200) which were in danger of falling into disuse or innovation.

Hippolytus had combated the heresy of Theodotion and the Alogi. In like fashion he opposed the false doctrines of Noetus, of Epigonus, of Cleomenes, and of Sabellius, who emphasized the unity of God too one-sidedly (Monarchians) and who saw in the concepts of the Father and the Son merely manifestations (modi) of the Divine Nature (Modalism, Sabellianism). Hippolytus, on the contrary, was a champion of the Logos doctrine that distinguished the persons of the Trinity. He conceived of God as a unit who, while indivisible, was plural. He stood uncompromisingly for a real substantial difference between the Son (Logos) and the Father, but so as to represent the Son as a truly Divine Person almost completely separate from God (Ditheism) and at the same time altogether subordinate to the will of the Father (Subordinationism). He understood Jesus as a fully divine but distinct Person from the Father and subordinate to the Father in an absolutely free agreement with the Father in loving harmony of being, to such an extent that he apparently taught a moderate form of "Bi-Theism" or "Ditheism".[9] The major trinitarian and Christological doctrines were not yet refined and dogmatically settled by the first Seven Ecumenical Councils of the Church.

In the reign of Pope Zephyrinus (198-217) Hippolytus came into conflict with that pontiff and with the majority of the bishops of the Church of Rome, resulting in a falling out between them, primarily on account of the christological opinions and issues of the day which for some time had been causing controversies in Rome.

Both bishops Zephyrinus and Callistus supported some form of modalism, which viewed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as simply three “modes” or manifestations of the same God, understood as one Being and therefore as one Person, and saw those with a more Trinitarian understanding as believing in separate gods (Tri-Theism). Modalism is also known as Modalistic Monarchianism, Sabellianism (after Sabellius, one of its strongest proponents), and Patripassianism (“father-suffering”), since it taught that it was God the Father who was born as the Son and died on the cross and raised Himself from the dead.

As the heresy in the doctrine of the Modalists was not at first clearly apparent, Pope Zephyrinus declined to give a decision. For this Hippolytus gravely censured him, representing him as an incompetent man, unworthy to rule the Church of Rome and as a tool in the hands of the ambitious and intriguing deacon Callistus, whose early life is maliciously depicted by Hippolytus.[10] He accuses Callistus of having fallen first into the heresy of Theodotus, then into that of Sabellius; also of having through avarice degraded to a disgraceful laxity ecclesiastical, and especially the penitential, discipline. From what we know from their actual writings these reproaches were altogether unjustified.

Hippolytus himself advocated an excessive rigorism. He denounced his former friend Pope Zephrinus for his leniency to the Christological heresies abroad in Rome, especially Modalism and Sabellianism, and attacked him as being a modalist (one who conceives that the entire Trinity dwells in Christ and who maintains that the names Father and Son are only different designations for the same subject.

The Philosophoumena, that is a part of his larger work "Refutation of All Heresies", written later, shows that he dissented from the compassionate views of Pope Zephyrinus, whom he considered to be a weak man "unskilled the church's rule", and from his successor ‎Pope Callistus I of Rome (217-222) concerning the reception of backsliders and heretics who had repented.

For these perceived failures to severely discipline doctrinal differences in Christology, as well as the bishops’ relaxing of moral standards, Hippolytus bitterly opposed both bishops. He dissented to such an extant from the merciful views of Zephyrinus and ‎Callistus, that consequently, on the death of Zephyrinus in 217 when St. Callistus was elected pope Callistus I (217-218), and strenuously opposing the reception again into the church of backsliders and heretics who had repented, Hippolytus allowed himself to immediately leave the communion of the Roman Church in schism, with the support of his enthusiastic small band of followers, and had himself elected by them for a while as a rival bishop of the Roman church, the first antipope in history. These he calls the true Catholic Church and himself successor to the Apostles, terming the great majority of Roman Christians the School of Callistus.

He continued in opposition as antipope throughout the reigns of the two immediate successors of Callistus, St. Urban I (222 / 223 to 230) and St. Pontius, Pontianus (230-35), both of whom he opposed as well, and it was during this period, probably during the pontificate of Pontianus, that he wrote the "Philosophumena" in his Refutation of All Heresies. Ultimately, both Hippolytus and Pontianus were exiled to Sardinia under Emperor Maximus Thorax, and a new Roman bishop was installed after their deaths, St. Anterus (21 November 235–3 January 236), ending the schismatic controversy.


Under the persecutions of Christians by Emperor Maximinus Thrax, Hippolytus was banished in 235 and exiled to the unhealthful island (insula nociva) of Sardinia at the same time as pope Pontianus; and shortly before this, or soon afterward, he repented and became reconciled with the legitimate bishop and the Church of Rome. He died on Sardinia the same year in 235, reportedly a martyr from the sufferings he endured. It is possible that Hippolytus died working in the mines. Both Pontianus and Hippolytus were equally revered as martyrs by the Roman Church, a certain proof that Hippolytus had made his peace with that Church with Pope Pontian, who reconciled him and brought him back into the Church before his death. For, after both exiles had died on the island of Sardinia, their mortal remains were brought back and returned to Rome on the same day, 13 August (either A.D. 236 or one of the following years), and solemnly interred, Pontianus entombed in the papal vault in the catacomb of Callistus and Hippolytus buried in a cemetery in a spot on the Via Tiburtina. With his death the schism must have come to a speedy end, which, as we have learned from the subsequent inscription by pope Damasus, accounts for its identification with the Novatian schism at the end of the fourth century.

By about 255, Hippolytus was considered a martyred priest by the Church in Rome, indicating that he had been reconciled with the Church and not considered a schismatic.

The Chronography of 354, in the list of popes, mentions Bishop Pontianus and the presbyter Hippolytus as being banished to the island of Sardinia in the year 235; the Roman Calendar in the same collection records under 13 August the feast of Hippolytus on the Via Tiburtina and Pontianus in the catacomb of Callistus.[11]

According to the inscription over the grave of Hippolytus composed by Pope Damasus, he was a follower of the Novatian schism while a presbyter, but before his death exhorted his followers to become reconciled with the Catholic Church.[12]

Prudentius wrote a hymn on the martyr Hippolytus, "Peristephanon" [13], in which he places the scene of the martyrdom at Ostia or Porto, and describes Hippolytus as being torn to pieces by wild horses, evidently a reminiscence of the ancient Hippolytus, son of Theseus.

The topographies of the graves of the Roman martyrs place the grave of Hippolytus in the cemetery on the Via Tiburtina named after him, mention the basilica erected there, and give some legendary details concerning him.[14]

Several later legends of martyrs speak of Hippolytus in various connections. The legend of St. Laurence refers to him as the officer appointed to guard the blessed deacon, who was converted, together with his entire household, and killed by wild horses.[15] A legend of Porto identifies him with the martyr Nonnus and gives an account of his martyrdom with others of the same city.[16]

A monument of importance is the large fragment of a marble statue of the saint discovered in 1551 which underwent restoration (the upper part of the body and the head being new), and is now preserved in the Lateran museum; the paschal cycle computed by Hippolytus and a list of his writings are engraved on the sides of the chair on which the figure of Hippolytus is seated; the monument dates from the third century.[17]

The fact that Hippolytus was a schismatic Bishop of Rome and yet was held in high honor afterward both as martyr and theologian, explains why as early as the fourth century nothing was known as to his see, for he was not on the list of the Roman bishops. The theory championed by Dr. Lightfoot, that he was actually Bishop of Porto but with his official residence in Rome, is untenable. This assertion, made by a few authorities, results from a confusion with a martyr of Porto, due perhaps to a legendary account of his martyrdom. Moreover De Rossi's hypothesis, based on the inscription by Damasus, that Hippolytus returned from exile, and subsequently became an adherent of Novatian, his reconciliation with the Roman Church not being effected until just before his martyrdom under the Emperor Valerian (253-60), is incompatible with the supposition that he is the author of the "Philosophumena."

The feast of St. Hippolytus, baptized by St. Lawrence is kept on 13 August, a date assigned in accordance with the legend of St. Laurence; that of Hippolytus of Porto is celebrated on 22 August.


  1. In Eastern Orthodox tradition the word "hieromartyr" means "priest-martyr", a priest or bishop killed for being Christian. – Hieromartyr (encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com)
  2. Church History VI.20.22
  3. Illustrious Men 61
  4. Georgius Syncellus., ed. Bonn, 1829, 674 sqq.; Nicephorus Callistus, "Hist. eccl.", IV, xxxi
  5. Bibliotheca, codex 121
  6. "Werke des Hippolytus", ed. Bonwetsch, 1897, 343 sqq. (Canticle of Canticles / Song of Solomon); 2 sqq. (Book of Daniel).
  7. "De Antichristo", ed. Achelis, op. cit., I, II, 1 sqq.
  8. Die Canones Hippolyti, Leipzig, 1891
  9. "Di-theism" is a major doctrine of Jehovah's Witnesses, who believe that the Father is a greater God than His Son, the one supreme God who created a lesser god as his image, whom they identify as St. Michael the Archangel, two separate beings, two Gods. Compare the similar Mormon doctrine of multiple Gods according to the reported First Vision of the prophet Joseph Smith.
  10. Philosophumena, IX, xi-xii
  11. ed. Mommsen in "Mon. Germ. Hist.: auctores antiquissimi", IX, 72, 74
  12. Ihm, "Damasi epigrammata", Leipzig, 1895, 42, n.37
  13. "Peristephanon", hymn XI, in P.L., LX, 530 sqq.
  14. De Rossi, "Roma sotterranea", I, 178-79); the burial vault of the sainted confessor was unearthed by De Rossi (Bullettino di archeologia cristiana, 1882, 9-76
  15. Acta SS., August, III, 13-14; Surius, "De probatis Sanctorum historiis", IV, Cologne, 1573, 581 sqq.
  16. Acta SS., August, IV, 506; P.G., X, 545-48
  17. Kraus, "Realencyklopädie der christlichen Altertumer", 661 sqq.

External links

Who was Hippolytus of Rome? - GotQuestions.org

Saint Hippolytus of Rome | antipope | Britannica (britannica.com)

Hippolytus of Rome - New World Encyclopedia

Hippolytus of Rome - Wikipedia

Hippolytus of Rome - OrthodoxWiki

St. Hippolytus of Rome - Catholic Encyclopedia (newadvent.org)

Apostolic Tradition by Hippolytus (stjohnsarlingtonva.org) pdf


Dictionary of Saints by John J. Delaney, Doubleday & Company, Inc., Garden City, New York, copyright 1980 by John J. Delaney, All Rights Reserved. ISBN: 0-385-13594-7. Library of Congress Catalog Card Number 79-7783

The works of Hippolytus have been edited by Fabricius, "S. Hippolyti episcopi et mart. opera" (2 vols., Hamburg, 1716-18); by Gallandi in "Bibliotheca veterum patrum", II, 1766; in Migne, P.G., X; by Lagarde (Leipzig and London, 1858); and by Bonwetsch and Achelis, "Hippolytus" I, pts. I and II (Leipzig, 1897), in "Die gr. chr. Schriftsteller", a series published by the Berlin Academy. The "Philosophumena" was edited by Miller, as the work of Origen (Oxford, 1851); by Duncker and Schneidewin as the work of Hippolytus (Göttingen, 1859), and in P.G., XVI. The "Canones Hippolyti" were edited by Haneberg (Munich, 1870); by Achelis, "Die ältesten Quellen des orientalischen Kirchenrechts", I, in "Texte und Untersuchungen", VI (Leipzig, 1891), 4.