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Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73). Volume VIII: August. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.

August 22

St. Hippolytus, Bishop and Martyr

        From S. Jerom in Catal. c. 1; Eus. l. 6, c. 20; Photius, Cod. 121, &c. See Ceillier, t. 2, p. 316; Fleury, l. 5, n. 51; Rivet, Hist. Littér. de la France, t. 1, p. 361; Le Moyne Var. Sacra, t. 1, pp. 29, 30; Cuper the Bollandist, t. 4, Aug. ad diem 22, p. 504; Fabricius in Bibl. Grecâ, t. 5, par. 1, seu l. 5, c. 1, p. 203; Idem, in editione operum ejus Hamburgi, in two vols. folio, anno 1716; Jos. Sim. Assemani in Bibl. Orient. t. 3, par. 1, c. 7, p. 15.

THIS primitive prelate and illustrious doctor flourished in the beginning of the third century. St. Jerom says he was not able to learn of what city he was bishop; but Gelasius, in his book on the two natures of Christ, styles him metropolitan of Arabia. He was a disciple of St. Irenæus, as Photius testifies, and also of St. Clement of Alexandria, and master of Origen. Eusebius and St. Jerom assure us that he wrote comments on several parts of the holy scriptures, and by his example Origen was afterwards excited to do the like. A collection of his homilies was extant in Theodoret’s time, who cites several of them; and also a letter which St. Hippolytus wrote to the Empress Severa, wife to Philip, in which he treats of the mysteries of the incarnation of Christ, and of the resurrection of the dead. 1 In his work against Noëtus, a considerable part of which is still extant, he clearly proves the distinction of the persons in the Trinity, the divinity of God the Son, and the distinction of the divine and human nature in Christ, for which his authority was afterwards urged with great force against the Eutychians. He wrote a chronicle down to the year 222; which work is not yet discovered in any Greek manuscripts that are known. 2 His Paschal Cycle, fixing the time of Easter for sixteen years from the first of Alexander Severus, the most ancient work of this nature known, was published by Gruter, and with notes by Joseph Scaliger, and the Jesuit Boucher or Bucherius. We have extant several fragments of the comments of St. Hippolytus on the holy scriptures, and his homily on the Theophania or Epiphany, in which he speaks chiefly of the baptism of Christ, and of the wonderful effects of the sacrament of baptism. His treatise on the fast of Saturday; another, Whether a Christian ought to receive the holy communion every day? his Hymns on the holy scriptures; his books on the origin of good and evil, and against Marcion; and his book Against heresies, with several other works, are lost. In this last he gives an account of thirty-two heresies from the sect of the Dositheans among the Jews, akin to the Sadducees, down to that of Noëtus, who confounded the persons in the Trinity, and broached his heresy at Smyrna in 245. Of this last work of St. Hippolytus, Photius writes: “Hippolytus says that these thirty-two heresies have been confuted by St. Irenæus, and that he has collected in this little book the reasonings and arguments of that father. His discourse is clear and serious, and he says nothing but what is to the purpose, though he has not all the beauties of the Attic style.”
  In the year 1551 was dug up, near the church of St. Laurence without the walls of Rome, on the road to Tivoli (where there was in all probability a chapel erected in honour of St. Hippolytus), an old statue of marble, representing St. Hippolytus sitting in a chair, on the sides of which are inscribed his two Greek cycles, for eight years each; on the right side is the cycle of the several fourteenth days of the moons, and on the left that for the Sundays. On the side of this cycle is engraved a catalogue of St. Hippolytus’s works. This statue is now in the Vatican library. This ancient father’s book on Antichrist, mentioned by Eusebius, St. Jerom, and others, was discovered and published in 1661, and is manifestly the same work of which Photius speaks. He points out from Daniel and other prophets the marks of Antichrist, who is to appear before the end of the world. 3 St. Jerom 4 calls St. Hippolytus “a most holy and eloquent man.” St. Chrysostom and others give him the honourable epithets of “a source of light, a faithful witness, a most holy doctor, and a man full of sweetness and charity.” Theodoret ranks him with St. Irenæus, and calls them “spiritual fountains in the church.” 5 St. Jerom and other ancients style him bishop and martyr. Some Martyrologies place his death in the reign of Alexander, who died in 235; but though he flourished in his days, according to Eusebius and St. Jerom, yet St. Gregory of Tours and others quoted by Du Cange and Schelstrate, say he received his crown in the persecution of Decius in 251. Ruinart and Berti prefer this opinion; for the heresy of Noëtus first made its appearance about the year 245, and St. Hippolytus brought down his chronicle to the year 234, the thirteenth of Alexander. The Martyrologies of the eighth age say that he was bishop of Porto, which was the harbour of the city of Rome on the mouth of the Tiber, sixteen miles from Rome, and two from Ostia, on the opposite side of the river; though both these cities have been long since destroyed, yet the titular bishoprics subsist among the six suffragans of Rome. Le Moyne conjectures this to have been a mistake of Porto for Aden, formerly called Portus Romanus, in Arabia, because it was frequented by the Romans who came into those parts, as the port of the Persian merchants was on the opposite gulf, as Philostorgius informs us; but it no where appears that Aden, or the Roman port in Africa, ever was a bishop’s see. Nor does it occur in any ancient list. See Commanville’s accurate Tables, p. 282. Those of Miræus and Charles a S. Paulo, in Geogr. Sacra, p. 295; and the conjecture of Le Moyne seems more ingenious than solid. It is therefore uncertain of what see he was bishop, which neither Eusebius nor St. Jerom could learn, though Gelasius seems to place it under the metropolitan of Bosra, in Arabia, as F. Cuper proves. That he flourished in the East is clear, otherwise Origen could not have been his scholar; but he passed some time in the West; for his cycles are calculated after the manner of the Latins, not after that of the Alexandrians and other Orientals. He must have been a disciple of St. Irenæus at Lyons, and probably after his martyrdom returned into the East, taught, and was made bishop there; but the testimonies of ancient Martyrologies of the eighth century, the tradition of the church of Porto, and the statue of this saint found at Rome, seem to prove that he came from Arabia into Italy, or received a glorious crown of martyrdom probably in that country. Several Oriental calendars say the manner of his martyrdom was drowning. Baronius tells us that at his time a well was shown at Porto in which he was said to have been drowned, and near it a church which bore his name, which had formerly been most famous, but was then decaying; it is now in ruins. It appears from Anastasius the Librarian, in the life of Leo III., that this pope gave rich garments to cover the martyr’s body in this church. This, however, may have been some other martyr of the same name; for there are several; and the statue proves only that there might have been a chapel or altar erected there in honour of this illustrious bishop and martyr. So that we dare not positively conclude either that he is the martyr Hippolytus of Porto, or that Italy was the theatre of his martyrdom, though this seems probable.  2
  The writings of St. Hippolytus show how careful the primitive Christians were to have the divine judgment constantly before their eyes, which St. John Climacus describes to be the character of the true servant of God. 6 By this means they maintained themselves always in fear and compunction; solicitous, watchful, and timorous in all their actions. By this they were animated to despise a false and transitory world, and to suffer with joy all torments, and every barbarous kind of death rather than to consent to sin; especially in time of temptation this consideration was their shield and fence, according to the rule which St. Basil, the great master of a spiritual life, lays down: 7 “If ever you are tempted to sin, call to mind the terrible tribunal of God, at which all men must appear.” The Greeks and Æthiopians honour St. Hippolytus, the bishop, on the 29th of our January; the Latins on the 22nd or 23rd of August  3
Note 1. Theodoret, Dial. 3, p. 155. [back]
Note 2. The inaccurate chronology published by Canisius, (t. 2, Antiq. Lect.) by Du Cange (ad redeem Chron. Alex.) and by Schelstrate, (vol. 1, Antip. Eccles. p. 521,) cannot be the work of St. Hippolytus, as Du Pin and some others have imagined. See Ceillier. [back]
Note 3. The book entitled, On the end of the world and on Antichrist, has been for some time ascribed by ignorant publishers to St. Hippolytus; but is a modern performance of no weight or merit, very different from his book on Antichrist. The best edition of this father’s works is that published, with many dissertations, by Fabricius, in two volumes in folio, at Hamburgh, in 1716. [back]
Note 4. Ep. 28. [back]
Note 5. Dial. 3. [back]
Note 6. Grad. 7. [back]
Note 7. In Ps. 33. [back]