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Who was Hippolytus of Rome?

Hippolytus of Rome

Hippolytus (c. 160–236) was a prolific writer and one of the most significant theologians of the third century. He is known today for promoting orthodox Christology amid the confusion and bad doctrine in the church at Rome.

Hippolytus was a presbyter (elder) in the church at Rome while Zephyrinus and Callistus served as the bishops. Both bishops supported some form of modalism, which viewed the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as simply three “modes” or manifestations of the same Person, and saw those with a more Trinitarian understanding as believing in separate gods. 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. Hippolytus, in contrast, understood Jesus as a fully divine but distinct Person from the Father.

For these doctrinal differences, as well as the bishops’ relaxing of moral standards, Hippolytus bitterly opposed both bishops as well as Callistus’ successors, Urban and Pontianus. For a while, Hippolytus was elected as a rival bishop of the Roman church. Ultimately, both Hippolytus and Pontianus were exiled to Sardinia under Emperor Maximus Thorax, and a new Roman bishop was installed, ending the schismatic controversy. It is possible that Hippolytus died working in the mines, although, much later, a number of more exciting legends about his life and death became popular.

Hippolytus is known for his writings against heresy as well as for the important information he preserves about baptismal practices, Eucharistic services, and the ordination of ministers. He is also known for taking a hard line about the high behavioral and moral standards required of church members. His high standards were not always shared by the above-mentioned bishops of Rome, which also contributed to the schism.

In what has been called Hippolytus’ most important work, Refutation of All Heresies (or the Philosophumena), Hippolytus attempted to demonstrate that all Christian heresies spring from reliance upon pagan philosophy. Many of his writings, translated into English, are readily available online, including Commentary on the Prophet Daniel, Commentary on the Song of Songs, and On Christ and the Antichrist, an eschatological work.

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This page last updated: January 4, 2022