CHURCH FATHERS (25) – Saint Hippolytus of Rome

We don’t know a lot about Saint Hippolytus of Rome’s (170-235) historical circumstances. He was a disciple of St Irenaeus and a friend of Origen. Probably he was a Bishop, but we don’t know much more about this fact.

He was admired by Saint Jerome. Among his works we have Philosophumena (in which he dealt with the pagan culture, including the Greek one), De Christo et Antichristo (in which he deal with the antichrist and the time of his coming), Chronicon (a chronicle from the time of creation to the year 234 after Christ): “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 aforementioned list on the statue, from EusebiusSt. 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, however, has probably been preserved in its entirety (Werke des Hippolytus, ed. Bonwetsch, 1897, 343 sqq.); likewise the fullest extant commentary on the Book of Daniel in 4 books (ibid., 2 sqq.). 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, ed. Achelis, op. cit., I, II, 1 sqq.); fragments of a few others have been preserved. 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” (Kirsch, J.P. (1910). “St Hippolytus of Rome.” In The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Because of the passing of time, as said before, we know very little about his historical circumstances and we need to grasp some facts from secondary sources, also not very easy to interpret. In The Refutation of all Heresies, another text of St. Hippolytus, we can read this passage: “After we have, not with violence, burst through the labyrinth of heresies, but have unraveled (their intricacies) through a refutation merely, or, in other words, by the force of truth, we approach the demonstration of the truth itself. For then the artificial sophisms of error will be exposed in all their inconsistency, when we shall succeed in establishing whence it is that the definition of the truth has been derived. The truth has not taken its principles from the wisdom of the Greeks, nor borrowed its doctrines, as secret mysteries, from the tenets of the Egyptians, which, albeit silly, are regarded amongst them with religious veneration as worthy of reliance. Nor has it been formed out of the fallacies which enunciate the incoherent (conclusions arrived at through the) curiosity of the Chaldeans. Nor does the truth owe its existence to astonishment, through the operations of demons, for the irrational frenzy of the Babylonians. But its definition is constituted after the manner in which every true definition is, viz., as simple and unadorned. A definition such as this, provided it is made manifest, will of itself refute error. And although we have very frequently propounded demonstrations, and with sufficient fullness elucidated for those willing (to learn) the rule of the truth; yet even now, after having discussed all the opinions put forward by the Greeks and heretics, we have decided it not to be, at all events, unreasonable to introduce, as a sort of finishing stroke to the (nine) books preceding, this demonstration throughout the tenth book.” It is interesting to  think that still today, despite many centuries have passed from the days of St Hippolytus, the fight for truth is still the main fight. We, as Catholics, are called to be involved.

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