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The Apostolic Fathers

The Apostolic Fathers by J.B. Lightfoot: Part I, Volume 2: Hippolytus of Portus

§ 10.


At different points in his life Hippolytus was brought into personal contact with two great fathers of the Church, in youth or early manhood with Irenaeus, and in middle age with Origen. If we are able approximately to fix these dates, we shall obtain chronological landmarks of some value, where all is uncertain.

1. The connexion of Hippolytus with Irenaeus is obvious on all hands. To Irenaeus he was largely indebted in both of his general heresiological works—in his early Compendium, which was avowedly founded upon the lectures of Irenseus, and in his later Philosophumena, in which he borrows large passages, sometimes with and sometimes without the name, from the written work of his master. Moreover it is hardly possible to read any considerable fragment of his other extant works without stumbling upon some thought or mode of expression which reminds us of Irenaeus or the Asiatic elders.

When and where then was this personal communication held? Hippolytus might himself have migrated, like Irenaeus, from Asia Minor in early life; and thus the instructions which he received from his master may have been given in his original Asiatic home. But his extant writings contain no indication that he was ever in the East, and we therefore look to Rome itself, or at all events not farther than the South of Gaul, for the place of his Christian schooling. We are thus led to enquire when Irenaeus is known to have settled in the West, and more especially when he is known to have visited Rome.

If the story in the Appendix to the Moscow MS of the Letter of the Smyrnaans be correct, Irenaeus was teaching in Rome at the time of Polycarp's death A.D. 1551. At all events he paid a visit of longer or shorter duration to the metropolis about A.D. 177, at the time of the persecutions in Vienne and Lyons, after which he himself became bishop of Lyons in succession to the martyred Pothinus2. But there is no reason for supposing that these two occasions exhausted his residence at Rome.

On which occasion can Hippolytus have attended his lectures? Irenaeus' extant work on Heresies was written as far as the 3rd book (iii. 3. 3) during the episcopate of Eleutherus (c. A.D. 177—190) and as

1 Ignat. and Polyc. I. p. 432 ed. I (I. 448 ed. 2); II. p. 986 ed. I (III. p. 402 ed. 2).

2 Euseb. H.E. v. 4, 5.


he leaves the reference to this episcopate untouched (νυν...τον της επισκοπης...κατεχει κληρον Ελευθερος), it is a reasonable, though not an absolute, conclusion that Eleutherus was still living when the work was finally published. The earlier work however of Hippolytus, the Compendium, was founded on the lectures, and (as we may infer from the notice) betrayed no knowledge of any published work of his master. On the other hand the later treatise, the Philosophumena, quotes large passages, sometimes by name, from the extant work of Irenaeus. These facts seem to show that the Compendium of Hippolytus was written before the publication of the latter, i.e. at all events before A.D. 190. And we should probably be right in assuming that the lectures were held not later than A.D. 177, and before Irenaeus became bishop of Lyons.

2. We are told by Jerome (AR. 8. b) that Hippolytus held in presence of Origen who was then at Rome 'a homily on the Praise of the Lord (προσομιλια de Laude Domini Salvatoris1).' Of Origen we are told in his own language that he had 'desired to see the ancient Church of the Romans' (ευξαμενος την αρχαιοτατην `Ρωμαιων εκκλησιαν ιδειν), and that accordingly he went there in the time of Zephyrinus (c. A.D. 199—217), and after staying a short time (ου πολυ διατριψας) he returned to Alexandria (Euseb. H. E. vi. 14). It would seem from this language that it was his only visit to the capital of the world. Considering the chronology of Origen's life, who was born about A.D. 185 or 186, this visit would probably be paid towards the close of Zephyrinus' episcopate.

At this time Hippolytus must have been at the height of his activity. Before the close of the previous century, as we shall see, he was probably consecrated by his patron Victor to the episcopate with the charge of the miscellaneous population at the Harbour of Rome; and, when Origen visited the metropolis, his feud with the heads of the Roman hierarchy must have been raging.

It will be observed that, in repeating this incident, Photius (Bibl. 121) by a strange blunder has ascribed to Hippolytus (AR. 31. b) what Jerome (AR. 8. b) tells us of Ambrosius, and thus makes Hippolytus the 'task-master' (εργοδιωκτης) of Origen. He must have misunderstood Jerome's words 'in hujus aemulationem.'

1 On the possible identity of this homily with a work (περι οικονομιας) mentioned by Ebed-Jesu, and included in the list of Hippolytus' writings on the Chair, see above, p. 398.

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