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Hippolytus of Rome

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For places named after the saint, see Saint-Hippolyte

Saint Hippolytus of Rome
Hippolytus martyrdom.jpg
The Martyrdom of Saint Hippolytus, according to the legendary version of Prudentius (Paris, 14th century)
Born c. 170, Rome
Died c. 236, Sardinia
Venerated in Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox Church
Canonized Pre-Congregation
Feast Roman Catholic Church: August 13
Eastern Orthodox Church: January 30
Patronage Bibbiena, Italy; horses; prison guards; prison officers; prison workers[1]

Saint Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170-c. 236) was one of the most prolific writers of the early Church. Hippolytus was born during the second half of the 2nd century, probably in Rome. Photius 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. However, this assertion is doubtful.[2] He came into conflict with the Popes of his time and for some time headed a separate group. For that reason he is sometimes considered the first Antipope. However he died in 235 or 236 reconciled to the Church and as a martyr.


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.[3]

He refused to accept the teaching of Pope Zephyrinus, whose successor, Pope Callixtus I (217-222), he accused of favouring 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 offences. 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) 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. This document indicates that by about 255 Hippolytus was considered a Catholic 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], or that significant action was taken at least posthumously to ensure no lasting schism between both popes' followers.

The facts of his life as well as his writing were soon forgotten in the West, perhaps by reason of his schismatic activities and because he wrote in Greek. 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 fifth century in his "Passion of St Hippolytus". In the Passionals of the seventh and eighth 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] 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 Hippolytus was celebrated.

This account led to Hippolytus being considered the patron saint of horses. During the Middle Ages, sick horses were brought to Ippollitts, Hertfordshire, England, where a church is dedicated to him.[4]


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.

The most important of works attributed to Hippolytus is the Refutation of all Heresies. Of its ten books, Book I 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, and published in 1851 under the title Philosophumena, by E. Miller, who attributed it to Origen of Alexandria. It has 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.

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.

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, i.e. 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, many canons were attributed to 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.

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. For the other dates that in the past were dedicated to him or perhaps to other saints of the same name, see Saint Hippolytus.

Prophetic exegesis

In the fragments from his Commentary on the Prophet Daniel, and also in his monumental Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, Hippolytus gives an exposition of Daniel's paralleling prophecies of chapters 2 and 7, which he, in common with other Church fathers, asserts pertain to the Babylonians, Medo-Persians, Greeks, and Romans.[5]

3. As these things, then, are destined to come to pass, and as the toes of the image turn out to be democracies, and the ten horns of the beast are distributed among ten kings, let us look at what is before us more carefully, and scan it, as it were, with open eye. The “golden head of the image” is identical with the “lioness,” by which the Babylonians were represented. “The golden shoulders and the arms of silver” are the same with the “bear,” by which the Persians and Medes are meant. “The belly and thighs of brass” are the “leopard,” by which the Greeks who ruled from Alexander onwards are intended. The “legs of iron” are the “dreadful and terrible beast,” by which the Romans who hold the empire now are meant. The “toes of clay and iron” are the “ten horns” which are to be. The “one other little horn springing up in their midst” is the “antichrist.” The stone that “smites the image and breaks it in pieces,” and that filled the whole earth, is Christ, who comes from heaven and brings judgment on the world.[6]



Templo de San Hipoito (Hippolytus of Rome) located on Avenida Reforma near Metro Hidalgo in Mexico City.

File:Hippotlytus Church Znojmo Hradiste 1.jpg

Hippolytus considered it important to discover who Antichrist is to be.

5. But as time now presses for the consideration of the question immediately in hand, and as what has been already said in the introduction with regard to the glory of God, may suffice, it is proper that we take the Holy Scriptures themselves in hand, and find out from them what, and of what manner, the coming of Antichrist is; on what occasion and at what time that impious one shall be revealed; and whence and from what tribe (he shall come); and what his name is, which is indicated by the number in the Scripture; and how he shall work error among the people, gathering them from the ends of the earth; and (how) he shall stir up tribulation and persecution against the saints; and how he shall glorify himself as God; and what his end shall be; and how the sudden appearing of the Lord shall be revealed from heaven; and what the conflagration of the whole world shall be; and what the glorious and heavenly kingdom of the saints is to be, when they reign together with Christ; and what the punishment of the wicked by fire.[7]


  1. Patron Saints Index: Saint Hippolytus of Rome
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 Cross, F. L., ed., "The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church" (Oxford University Press 2005)
  3. Jerome's De Viris Illustribus # 61; cp. Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica vi. 14, 10.
  4. Towns & Villages in Herts
  5. Froom, LeRoy Edwin, 1948, The Prophetic Faith of Our Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 268-279
  6. Hippolytus (170-236 AD), Commentary on Daniel, "The Ante-Nicene Fathers", Volume 5, p. 178-179, section 3.
  7. Hippolytus, Treatise on Christ and Antichrist, in ANF, vol. 5, p. 205, section 5; see also p. 218, section 65.

See also

External links


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ca:Hipòlit de Roma cs:Hippolyt Římský da:Hippolytuset:Hippolytus (vastupaavst)eo:Hipolitogl:Hipólito, antipapa hr:Hipolit Rimski id:Hippolitus dari Romala:Hippolytus (antipapa) hu:Hippolütosz (ellenpápa)pt:Hipólito de Roma ru:Ипполит Римский sk:Hippolytos Rímsky sr:Иполит Римски fi:Hippolytos Roomalainen sv:Hippolytus uk:Іполіт Римський vec:Sant'Ipołito de Roma

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