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The Apostolic Fathers

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

§ 14.


The episcopate of Victor was conterminous, roughly speaking, with the last decade of the first century. Dying towards the close of the century, he was succeeded by Zephyrinus. Zephyrinus held the


episcopate for eighteen years or thereabouts; Callistus for five. After Callistus succeeded Urbanus about A.D. 230. Victor had been the friend and patron of Hippolytus. With his successors Zephyrinus and Callistus, our saint had a deadly feud. What may have been his relations to Urbanus we know not; but, as his quarrel was not with the pontificate but with the pontiffs, we may presume that harmony was at length restored. If any formal reconciliation was needed, it would now take place; and hence would arise the story of his exhorting all Christian people to unity, which afterwards was connected (as we have already seen) with his supposed lapse into Novatianism. From the accession of Urbanus we may suppose that there was a cessation of those dissensions within the Church of which Hippolytus had been the champion and ringleader.

At the same time the Church of Rome enjoyed peace from external persecution. Early in the year 222 Alexander Severus succeeded to the throne. If he was not a convert himself, he was favourably disposed towards Christianity. The ladies of his family more especially held close relations with the great Christian teachers. Not only Origen in Alexandria, but Hippolytus in Rome, corresponded with one or other of the princesses. The thirteen years of the reign of Alexander marked an epoch of progress and development for the Christian Church. With Hippolytus himself it seems to have been the most fertile period of his literary life. The peace of the Church within and without left him more leisure for literary pursuits; and the growing physical infirmities of age would direct him towards his intellectual resources, which he would be eager to turn to account for the instruction of the Church. In the first year of Alexander was published his famous work, the Paschal Cycle, which was afterwards chosen to decorate the Chair of his Statue, as his greatest claim to the recognition of posterity. In the thirteenth and last year of this same emperor was finished his almost equally famous Chronicle of the World (see I. p. 259), which must have been about the latest literary product of its author. During this same period also he must have written his now famous Refutation of all the Heresies, which has laid these latest generations of Christian students under the deepest debt of gratitude and which perhaps remained incomplete when he was overtaken by banishment and death. To this same time belongs also the correspondence with Mammaea.

At length this long, laborious, and troubled life was closed by banishment and death. In the year 230 or thereabouts Urbanus had been succeeded by Pontianus as bishop of Rome. In February 235 the emperor Alexander was slain at Mayence together with his mother and


chief adviser Mammaea, the correspondent of Hippolytus and Origen. His successor Maximin adopted a wholly different policy towards the Christians. The Roman bishop was banished to Sardinia; and with him was sent the venerable Christian father Hippolytus. This was in the consulship of Severus and Quintianus, A.D. 235. Those modern critics who assign the position of antipope to Hippolytus give a plausible reason for this companionship in exile. They infer that the new emperor desired at once to rid the metropolis of the two rival leaders of the Roman Church, and so to restore peace in the city. No such explanation is needed. The pre-eminent influence of Hippolytus as a Christian teacher in the Western world would alone have singled him out for this exceptional distinction conferred by the persecuting tyrant1. We should do too great honour to Maximin, if we were to attribute to him any policy of statecraft. He was a fierce, blood-thirsty soldier, whose only idea of government was coercion2. Against the friends and adherents of Alexander and his mother Mammaea he waged an implacable war. To have been a friend of Mammaea was to be the unpardonable foe of Maximin. But Hippolytus was known to have corresponded with, and been trusted by, the deceased empress-mother. To Maximin, or to his adherents anxious to secure his favour in Rome, this would be sufficient to convict him3. It was not necessary that the emperor himself should have visited Rome. There were friends at hand ready to execute, or to anticipate, his commands in this matter.

In the Liber Ponttficalis (I. pp. 64, 145, Duchesne) the banishment of the two exiles is attributed to Alexander, the names of the same consuls being given as in the contemporary record. This is unquestionably a mistake. Maximin became emperor in March this year (A.D. 235); and the banishment was the result of the reversal of his predecessor's policy (see I. p. xciv).

Our contemporary chronicler says nothing of the subsequent fate of Hippolytus. He was concerned only with the Roman episcopate, and the mention of Hippolytus is incidental. Of Pontianus he states, that in Sardinia he divested himself of the episcopate at the close of September in this same year (iv Kal. Oct.), and that Anteros was consecrated two months later (xi Kal. Dec.) in his place. Of his subsequent fate he

1 Of the persecution of Maximin see Allard Les Chrétiens dans l' Empire etc. p. 418 sq.

2 Capitolin. Maximin 8 'Erat enim ei persuasum nisi crudelitate imperium non teneri.'

3 ib. 9, 'Omnes Alexandri ministros variis modis interemit: dispositionibus eius invidit: et dum suspectos habet amicos et ministros eius crudelior factus est.'


says nothing; but by describing the place of banishment as 'insula nociva1,' he implies that it was fatal to both exiles.

Sardinia was to Rome, what Portland is to England—a station of convicts who were condemned to hard labour in the quarries. By the irony of history, only a few years before, it had been the place of exile of Callistus, the great enemy of Hippolytus; but Callistus had been pardoned, and returned to Rome, to succeed to the papacy (AR. 1. f). Sardinia had been a favourite place of deportation for the tumultuous Jews who troubled the peace of the city. On one occasion Tiberius had banished no fewer than 4000 to this island2. When the displeasure of the Romans was transferred from the Jews to the Christians, the place of exile remained the same. Hence Jewish and Christian Sibyllists alike denounce this dread island. With the freedom of unverifiable prophecy they foretell that it shall be overwhelmed in the sea, shall be extinguished in ashes, and so forth, at the great retribution3;

Σαρδω, νυν συ βαρεια μεταλλεξη εις τεφρην.

The old Greek proverb of 'sardonic' laughter—whether originating in the hideous grin produced by the bitter herbs of Sardinia or in some other way4—receives a new force and significance on the lips of these doleful prophets. Sardinia, the exultant persecutor, shall 'laugh on the wrong side of her mouth,' when the day of vengeance comes5.

The same collection (A.D. 354), which contains the notice of the banishment of the two exiles, comprises another document (see I. p. 249 sq), certainly not later than A.D. 335, and perhaps (so far as regards the particular notice) contemporary with the reference to the exile. This latter document deals with the depositions of the popes and martyrs. From it we learn that Hippolytus was buried on the Tiburtine Way and Pontianus in the Cemetery of Callistus on the same day, the Ides of August. The close of the episcopate of Pontianus, whether by deprivation or by resignation (see I. p. 286), was Sept. 28, 235. The Liber Pontificalis (I. pp. 64, 145, Duchesne) places his death on Oct. 30, A.D. 236. If this date be accepted, the translation of the bones of the

1 This might be true of the convict stations, but of the island generally very different language is held; Pausan. vii. 17. 2 Σαρδω γαρ την νησον εις τα μαλιστα ευδαιμονα αντι `Ελλαδος σφισιν απεδωκεν, said of an exchange of provinces which Nero made with the Senate; see Marquardt Röm. Staatsverw. I. p. 97.

2 Joseph. Antiq. xviii. 3. 5.

3 Orac. Sibyll. vii. 96 sq; comp. also iii. 477.

4 Virg. Ecl. vii. 41 'Sardois amarios herbis'; see Pape-Benseler Griech. Wörterb, s. v. Σαρδω.

5 Orac. Sibyll. i. 182 Σαρδονιον μειδημα γελασσετε `οποταν `ηξη τουτο κ.τ.λ. The words are put into the mouth of Noah.


two confessors must be deferred. As an imperial rescript was necessary before removing the body of an exile (see I. p. 287), the day of deposition could not be before the Ides of August 237, as De Rossi places it. But on the other hand, as I have pointed out (l. c.), the date of Pontianus' death in the Liber Pontificalis is open to the suspicion of confusion; and prudential reasons might have led the friends of the exiles from applying for the necessary permission during the tyrant's lifetime. Maximin was slain in April or May 238 (Clinton's Fast. Rom. i. p. 252). On the whole therefore Aug. 238 seems more probable than Aug. 237. The death of Hippolytus may have occurred at any time from A.D. 235 to A.D. 238.

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