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Hippolytus, Hater of Heresy

Hippolytus? Pope Pius IV said yes.

HIPPOLYTUS was the disciple of Irenaeus, the disciple of Polycarp, the disciple of John, thus tying him by just three links to Jesus. 

He wrote extensively in defense of Christianity and eventually became a martyr.  Among his writings is one accusing the bishop of Rome, Zephyrinus, of modalism, a heresy which teaches that “Father” and “Son” are simply different names for the same person in God. 

Hippolytus openly rebuked no fewer than four bishops of Rome for theological errors as well as cruelty and other wrongdoing. His stance agreed so well with a number of Christians in Rome that they elected him bishop in opposition to Callistus, making Hippolytus the first known anti-pope in history. 

Hippolytus still appears in the Catholic list of saints because of his writings against Gnosticism and other heresies, as well as his eventual martyrdom. Unfortunately, Hippolytus wrote only in Greek. When knowledge of that language was lost to the west, most of Hippolytus’ writings were lost, too. Sixteenth-century scholars discovered a list of them, and a copy of his Refutation was recovered from a Greek monastery in the nineteenth century. 

Hippolytus continued to write in opposition to the bishops of Rome until he went into exile in 235. Emperor Maximinus Thrax persecuted Christians ruthlessly, exiling Pontianus  (who, ironically, had been one of Hippolytus’ targets) and Hippolytus together to the island of Sardinia. Typically people sent into exile labored in the silver, lead, or gold mines. Pontianus and Hippolytus died in exile. 

On this day, 13 August 236,* solemn Romans gathered to receive the remains of their two “witnesses.” Pontianus was laid in the tomb of Callistus. Hippolytus was buried with honors off the Tiburtine Road. 

In the sixteenth century, workmen digging near an ancient church on the Tiburtine uncovered a marble statue of a bishop seated in a chair, wearing a pallium (a vestment that symbolizes full episcopal authority). Carved on the back of the chair was a list of Hippolytus’ writings. Pope Pius IV declared the statue to be a representation of the saint.

Dan Graves

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*Although the day seems fairly secure, the year is open to question.

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