Hippolytus of Rome

By Mary Jane Chaignot

Categories: Apostolic Fathers

Hippolytus of Rome was an early Christian theologian who was also the first "antipope."

  • Hippolytus of Rome lived from c170–c236 CE.
  • He was a very important theologian in the early Christian Church in Rome.
  • Some scholars think he was a disciple of Irenaeus.
  • He was known for his vast knowledge and eloquent speaking skills.
  • He was a "presbyter," which probably meant bishop during the time of Pope Zephyrinus (199-217).
  • Hippolytus criticized Pope Zephyrinus, saying he was an uneducated simpleton who had little knowledge of the workings of the Church.
  • Hippolytus thought Pope Zephyrinus was easily manipulated by those close to him, most notably Callixtus, who would eventually succeed him as Pope.

Heresy – Modalism

  • Hippolytus disagreed vehemently with Pope Zephyrinus over a heresy known as Modalism (or Sabellianism).
    • Modalism is a term for believing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are one and the same, not three distinct persons of the Godhead.
    • Modalism implies that God Himself suffered on the cross, which was unacceptable to the early Church.
    • Modalism stands against the idea of Trinitarianism, of which Hippolytus was a proponent.
  • Hippolytus felt the Pope didn't do enough to suppress Modalism.
  • Modalism is also known as Sabellianism.
    • Ironically, scholars believe Sabellius was an early proponent of the term "homoousian," which is the technical term adopted a hundred years later in the Council of Nicaea proclaiming Jesus to be of the "same substance" with the Father.
  • Since all we know about this heresy is what its detractors wrote about it, scholars are quite uncertain what Modalism proposed.

The First Antipope

  • When Zephyrinus died in 217, Callixtus (217-222) succeeded him as Pope, which brought additional problems for Hippolytus.
  • Callixtus proposed leniency for Christians who had apostatized, or followed a heretical belief.
  • Hippolytus likened apostasy to the sin of adultery, which was an analogy oftentimes used in relation to idolatry.
  • Because of his disagreement with Callixtus, Hippolytus allowed himself to be elected as a rival pope of Rome.
    • This action garnered him the title of the first "Antipope."
  • He continued to attack two successive popes for various reasons.

Exile and Death

  • During this time the whole Church was under persecution.
  • In 235 CE, Hippolytus and the current pope, Pontian, were exiled to Sardinia.
    • Legend has it that they were both forced to work in the mines (which was obviously unhealthy).
    • Both he and Pontian died within a year.
  • Notwithstanding the rift between Hippolytus and Rome, his body was brought to Rome for internment
    • Some scholars speculate that there had been reconciliation with Rome.
    • However, other scholars aren't sure whether there had been an actual reconciliation with Rome or if years later all was forgiven in the name of unity of the Church.
  • In 255 CE, Hippolytus was deemed a Catholic martyr.
    • At that time, however, he was identified as a "priest," not as bishop or pope.

Patron Saint of Horses – Throughout History

  • For a while, there was some confusion between Hippolytus and another martyr with the same name. However, scholars now think there was no other Hippolytus and that references to the other saint really refer to Hippolytus of Rome.
  • By the 7th and 8th centuries, he was known as a soldier who had converted to Christianity.
  • A hymn written about his death contends horses dragged him to death. An obvious echo of Greek mythology.
  • Thereafter, Hippolytus was known as the patron saint of horses.
  • During the Middle Ages, people brought their sick horses to a church in England that had been dedicated to him.
  • The Eastern Orthodox Church celebrates his feast day on August 13 (or possibly January 30).
    • However, on January 30 the Church also celebrates the feast of "St Hippolytus Pope of Rome", who may or may not be the same individual.
  • A monument was discovered in 1551 with a list of his writings engraved upon it. The figure has been restored and is believed to be of Hippolytus. It dates back to the third century.


  • Hippolytus's major writings include a text known as the Refutation of all Heresies.
    • It was a 10-volume work of which several volumes have yet to be recovered.
    • Origen of Alexandria was originally thought to be the author, but Hippolytus has since been given the credit.
    • Since several volumes are missing and others are only partially accounted for, scholars aren't really sure what his arguments were.
  • His influence is primarily in the area of ecclesiastical law, though he also wrote a chronological account of the creation of the world.

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