Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol V:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
Introductory Notice to Hippolytus
Introductory Notice to Hippolytus
[a.d. 170-236.]The first great Christian Father whose history is Roman is, nevertheless, not a Roman, but a Greek. He is the disciple of Irenaeus, and the spirit of his life-work rejects that of his master. In his personal character he so much resembles Irenaeus risen again,1 that the great Bishop of Lyons must be well studied and understood if we would do full justice to the conduct of Hippolytus. Especially did he follow his master's example in withstanding contemporary bishops of Rome, who, like Victor, "deserved to be blamed," but who, much more than any of their predecessors, merited rebuke alike for error in doctrine and viciousness of life.
In the year 1551, while some excavations were in progress near the ancient Church of St. Lawrence at Rome, on the Tiburtine Road, there was found an ancient statue, in marble, of a figure seated in a chair, and wearing over the Roman tunic the pallium of Tertullian's eulogy. It was in 1851, just three hundred years after its discovery, and in the year of the publication of the newly discovered Philosophumena at Oxford, that I saw it in the Vatican. As a specimen of early Christian art it is a most interesting work, and possesses a higher merit than almost any similar production of a period subsequent to that of the Antonines.2 It represents a grave personage, of noble features and a high, commanding forehead, slightly bearded, his right hand resting over his heart, while under it his left arm crosses the body to reach a book placed at his side. There is no reason to doubt that this is, indeed, the statue of Hippolytus, as is stated in the inscription of Pius IV., who calls him "Saint Hippolytus, Bishop of Portus," and states that he lived in the reign of the Emperor Alexander; i.e., Severus.
Of this there is evidence on the chair itself, which represents his episcopal cathedra, and has a modest symbol of lions at "the stays," as if borrowed from the throne of Solomon. It is a work of later date than the age of Severus, no doubt; but Wordsworth, who admirably illustrates the means by which such a statue may have been provided, gives us good reasons for supposing that it may have been the grateful tribute of contemporaries, and all the more trustworthy as a portrait of the man himself. The chair has carved upon it, no doubt for use in the Church, a calendar indicating the Paschal full moons for seven cycles of sixteen years each; answering, according to the science of the period, to similar tables in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer. It indicates the days on which Easter must fall, from a.d. 222 to a.d. 333. On the back of the chair is a list of the author's works.3
Not less interesting, and vastly more important, was the discovery, at Mount Athos, in 1842, of the long-lost Philosophumena of this author, concerning which the important facts will appear below. Its learned editor, Emmanuel Miller, published it at Oxford under the name of Origen, which was inscribed on the Ms. Like the Epistle of Clement, its composition in the Greek language had given it currency among the Easterns long after it was forgotten in the West; and very naturally they had ascribed to Origen an anonymous treatise containing much in coincidence with his teachings, and supplying the place of one of his works of a similar kind. It is now sufficiently established as the work of Hippolytus, and has been providentially brought to light just when it was most needed.4 In fact, the statue rose from its grave as if to rebuke the reigning pontiff (Pius IV.), who just then imposed upon the Latin churches the novel "Creed" which bears his name; and now the Philosophumena comes forth as if to breathe a last warning to that namesake of the former Pius who, in the very teeth of its testimony, so recently forged and uttered the dogma of "papal infallibility" conferring this attribute upon himself, and retrospectively upon the very bishops of Rome whom St. Hippolytus resisted as heretics, and has transmitted to posterity, in his writings, branded with the shame alike of false doctrine and of heinous crimes. Dr. Dollinger, who for a time lent his learning and genius to an apologetic effort in behalf of the Papacy, was no doubt prepared, by this very struggle of his heart versus head, for that rejection of the new dogma which overloaded alike his intellect and his conscience, and made it impossible for him any longer to bear the lashes of Rehoboam5 in communion with modern Rome.
In the biographical data which will be found below, enough is supplied for the needs of the reader of the present series, who, if he wishes further to investigate the subject, will find the fullest information in the works to which reference has been made, or which will be hereafter indicated.6 But this is the place to recur to the much-abused passage of Irenaeus which I have discussed in a former volume.7 Strange to say, I was forced to correct, from a Roman-Catholic writer, the very unsatisfactory rendering of our Edinburgh editors, and to elucidate at some length the palpable absurdity of attributing to Irenaeus any other than a geographical and imperial reference to the importance of Rome, and its usefulness to the West, more especially, as its only see of apostolic origin. Quoting the Ninth Antiochian Canon, I gave good reasons for my conjecture that the Latin convenire represents suntrexein in the original; and now it remains to be noted how strongly the real meaning of Irenaeus is illustrated in the life and services of his pupil Hippolytus.
1. That neither Hippolytus nor his master had any conception that the See of Rome possesses any pre-eminent authority, to which others are obliged to defer, is conspicuously evident from the history of both. Alike they convicted Roman bishops of error, and alike they rebuked them for their misconduct.
2. Hippolytus is the author of a work called the Little Labyrinth, which, like the recently discovered Philosophumena, attributes to the Roman See anything but the "infallibility" which the quotation from Irenaeus is so ingeniously wrested to sustain.8 How he did not understand the passage is, therefore, sufficiently apparent. Let us next inquire what appears, from his conduct, to be the true understanding of Irenaeus.
3. I have shown, in the elucidation already referred to, how Irenaeus affirms that Rome is the city which everybody visits from all parts, and that Christians, resorting thither, because it is the Imperial City, carry into it the testimony of all other churches. Thus it becomes a competent witness to the quod ab omnibus, because it cannot be ignorant of what all the churches teach with one accord. This argument, therefore, reverses the modern Roman dogma; primitive Rome received orthodoxy instead of prescribing it. She embosomed the Catholic testimony brought into it from all the churches, and gave it forth as reflected light; not primarily her own, but what she faithfully preserved in coincidence with older and more learned churches than herself. Doubtless she had been planted and watered by St. Paul and St. Peter; but doubtless, also, she had been expressly warned by the former of her liability to error and to final severance9 from apostolic communion. Hippolytus lived at a critical moment, when this awful admonition seemed about to be realized.
4. Now, then, from Portus and from Lyons, Hippolytus brought into Rome the Catholic doctrine, and convicted two of its bishops of pernicious heresies and evil living. And thus, as Irenaeus teaches, the faith was preserved in Rome by the testimony of those from every side resorting thither, not by any prerogative of the See itself. All this will appear clearly enough as the student proceeds in the examination of this volume. But it is now time to avail ourselves of the information given us by the translator in his Introductory Notice, as follows:-
The entire of The Refutation of all Heresies, with the exception of book i., was found in a ms. brought from a convent on Mount Athos so recently as the year 1842. The discoverer of this treasure-for treasure it certainly is-was Minoides Mynas, an erudite Greek, who had visited his native country in search of ancient mss., by direction of M. Abel Villemain, Minister of Public Instruction under Louis Philippe. The French Government have thus the credit of being instrumental in bringing to light this valuable work, while the University of Oxford shares the distinction by being its earliest publishers. The Refutation was printed at the Clarendon Press in 1851, under the editorship of M. Emmanuel Miller,10 whose labours have proved serviceable to all subsequent commentators. One generally acknowledged mistake was committed by Miller in ascribing the work to Origen. He was right in affirming that the discovered ms. was the continuation of the fragment, The Philosophumena, inserted in the Benedictine copy of Origen's works. In the volume, however, containing the Philosophumena, we have dissertations by Huet, in which he questions Origen's authorship in favour of Epiphanius. Heuman attributed the Philosophumena to Didymus of Alexandria, Gale to Aetius;11 and it, with the rest of The Refutation, Fessler and Baur ascribed to Caius, but the Abbe Jellabert to Tertullian. The last hypothesis is untenable, if for no other reason, because the work is in Greek. In many respects, Caius, who was a presbyter of Rome in the time of Victor and Zephyrinus, would seem the probable author; but a fatal argument-one applicable to those named above, except Epiphanius-against Caius is his not being, as the author of The Refutation in the Proemium declares himself to be, a bishop. Epiphanius no doubt filled the episcopal office; but when we have a large work of his on the heresies, with a summary,12 it would seem scarcely probable that he composed likewise, on the same topic, an extended treatise like the present, with two abridgments. Whatever diversity of opinion, however, existed as to these claimants, most critics, though not all, now agree in denying the authorship of Origen. Neither the style nor tone of The Refutation is Origenian. Its compilatory process is foreign to Origen's plan of composition; while the subject matter itself, for many reasons, would not be likely to have occupied the pen of the Alexandrine Father. It is almost impossible but that Origen would have made some allusions in The Refutation to his other writings, or in them to it. Not only, however, is there no such allusion, but the derivation of the word "Ebionites," in The Refutation, and an expressed belief in the (orthodox) doctrine of eternal punishment, are at variance with Origen's authorship. Again, no work answering the description is awarded to Origen in catalogues of his extant or lost writings. These arguments are strengthened by the facts, that Origen was never a bishop, and that he did not reside for any length of time at Rome. He once paid a hurried visit to the capital of the West, whereas the author of The Refutation asserts his presence at Rome during the occurrence of events which occupied a period of some twenty years. And not only was he a spectator, but took part in these transactions in such an official and authoritative manner as Origen could never have assumed, either at Rome or elsewhere.
In this state of the controversy, commentators turned their attention towards Hippolytus, in favour of whose authorship the majority of modern scholars have decided. The arguments that have led to this conclusion, and those alleged by others against it, could not be adequately discussed in a notice like the present. Suffice it to say, that such names as Jacobi, Gieseler, Duncker, Schneidewin, Bernays, Bunsen, Wordsworth, and Dollinger, support the claims of Hippolytus. The testimony of Dr. Dollinger, considering the extent of his theological learning, and in particular his intimate acquaintance with the apostolic period in church history, virtually, we submit, decides the question.13
For a biography of Hippolytus we have not much authentic materials. There can be no reasonable doubt but that he was a bishop, and passed the greater portion of his life in Rome and its vicinity. This assertion corresponds with the conclusion adopted by Dr. Dollinger, who, however, refuses to allow that Hippolytus was, as is generally maintained, Bishop of Portus, a harbour of Rome at the northern mouth of the Tiber, opposite Ostia. However, it is satisfactory to establish, and especially upon such eminent authority as that of Dr. Dollinger, the fact of Hippolytus' connection with the Western Church, not only because it bears on the investigation of the authorship of The Refutation, the writer of which affirms his personal observation of what he records as occurring in his own time at Rome, but also because it overthrows the hypothesis of those who contend that there were more Hippolytuses than one-Dr. Dollinger shows that there is only one historical Hippolytus-or that the East, and not Italy, was the sphere of his episcopal labours. Thus Le Moyne, in the seventeenth century, a French writer resident in Leyden, ingeniously argues that Hippolytus was bishop of Portus Romanorum (Aden), in Arabia. Le Moyne's theory was adopted by some celebrities, viz., Dupin, Tillemont, Spanheim, Basnage, and our own Dr. Cave. To this position are opposed, among others, the names of Nicephorus, Syncellus, Baronius, Bellarmine, Dodwell, Beveridge, Bull, and Archbishop Ussher. The judgment and critical accuracy of Ussher is, on a point of this kind, of the highest value. Wherefore the question of Hippolytus being bishop of Portus near Rome would also appear established, for the reasons laid down in Bunsen's Letters to Archdeacon Hare, and Canon Wordsworth's St. Hippolytus. The mind of inquirers appears to have been primarily unsettled in consequence of Eusebius' mentioning Hippolytus (Ecclesiast. Hist., vi. 10) in company with Beryllus (of Bostra), an Arabian, expressing at the same time his uncertainty as to where Hippolytus was bishop. This indecision is easily explained, and cannot invalidate the tradition and historical testimony which assign the bishopric of Portus near Rome to Hippolytus, a saint and martyr of the Church. Of his martyrdom, though the fact itself is certain, the details, furnished in Prudentius' hymn, are not historic. Thus the mode of Hippolytus' death is stated by Prudentius to have been identical with that of Hippolytus the son of Theseus, who was torn limb from limb by being tied to wild horses. St. Hippolytus, however, is known on historical testimony to have been thrown into a canal and drowned; but whether the scene of his martyrdom its Sardinia, to which he undoubtedly banished along with the Roman bishop Pontianus, or Rome, or Portus, has not as yet been definitively proved. The time of his martyrdom, however, is probably a year or two, perhaps less or more, after the commencement of the reign of Maximin the Thracian, that is, somewhere about a.d. 235-39. This enables us to determine the age of Hippolytus; and as some statements in The Refutation evince the work to be the composition of an old man, and as the work itself was written after the death of Callistus in a.d. 222, this would transfer the period of his birth to not very long after the last half of the second century.
The contents of The Refutation, as they originally stood, seem to have been arranged thus: The first book (which we have) contained an account of the different schools of ancient philosophers; the second (which is missing), the doctrines and mysteries of the Egyptians; the third (likewise missing), the Chaldean science and astrology; and the fourth (the beginning of which is missing), the system of the Chaldean horoscope, and the magical rites and incantations of the Babylonian Theurgists. Next came the portion of the work relating more immediately to the heresies of the Church, which is contained in books v.-ix. The tenth book is the résumé of the entire, together with the exposition of the author's own religious opinions. The heresies enumerated by Hippolytus comprehend a period starting from an age prior to the composition of St. John's Gospel, and terminating with the death of Callistus. The heresies are explained according to chronological development, and may be ranged under five leading schools: (1) The Ophites; (1) Simonists; (3) Basilidians; (4) Docetae; (5) Noetians. Hippolytus ascends to the origin of heresy, not only in assigning heterodoxy a derivative nature from heathenism, but in pointing out in the Gnossis elements of abnormal opinions antecedent to the promulgation of Christianity. We have thus a most interesting account of the early heresies, which in some respects supplies many desiderata in the ecclesiastical history of this epoch.
We can scarcely over-estimate the value of The Refutation, on account of the propinquity of its author to the apostolic age. Hippolytus was a disciple of St. Irenaeus, St. Irenaeus of St. Polycarp, St. Polycarp of St. John. Indeed, one fact of grave importance connected with the writings of St. John, is elicited from Hippolytus' Refutation. The passage given out of Basilides' work, containing a quotation by the heretic from St. John i. g, settles the period of the composition of the fourth Gospel, as of greater antiquity by at least thirty years than is allowed to it by the Tubingen school. It is therefore obvious that Basilides formed his system out of the prologue of St. John's Gospel; thus for ever setting at rest the allegation of these critics, that St. John's Gospel was written at a later date, and assigned an apostolic author, in order to silence the Basilidian Gnostics.14 In the case of Irenaeus, too, The Refutation has restored the Greek text of much of his book Against Heresies, hitherto only known to us in a Latin version. Nor is the value of Hippolytus' work seriously impaired, even on the supposition of the authorship not being proved,-a concession, however, in no wise justified by the evidence. Whoever the writer of The Refutation be, he belonged to the early portion of the third century, formed his compilations from primitive sources, made conscientious preparation for his undertaking, delivered statements confirmed by early writers of note,15 and lastly, in the execution of his task, furnished indubitable marks of information and research, and of having thoroughly mastered the relations and affinities, each to other, of the various heresies of the first two and a quarter centuries. These heresies, whether deducible from attempts to Christianize the philosophy of Paganism, or to interpret the Doctrines and Life of our Lord by the tenets of Gnosticism and Oriental speculation generally, or to create a compromise with the pretensions of Judaism,-these heresies, amid all their complexity and diversity, St. Hippolytus16 reduces to one common ground of censure-antagonism to Holy Scripture. Heresy, thus branded, he leaves to wither under the condemnatory sentence of the Church.
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