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The Apostolic Fathers

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

§ 15.


In the year 1551 a mutilated statue of a sitting figure was discovered in the Ager Veranus. The head and upper part of the body were wanting, and there was no name to identify it. Nevertheless its identification as a figure of Hippolytus was undeniable, and has never been seriously questioned. It was found in the very place where Hippolytus had his chief sanctuary; it was evidently the representation of an ecclesiastic and a divine, and (as the chair suggested) probably of a bishop; it presented on the back and sides of the chair a list of theological writings, most of them known to be the works of Hippolytus; more especially there was a Paschal Canon constructed in the first year of Alexander. This completed the identification.

This statue is now in the Lateran Museum, the upper part being restored. It is figured in several works relating to Hippolytus (e.g. Fabricius Op. I. p. 36 sq; Bunsen I. frontispiece, see pp. 333, 423 sq, 460; Wordsworth, frontispiece, see p. 29 sq); and in other books (e.g. Kraus Die Christliche Kunst p. 111, 187; Real-Encycl. der Christl. Alterth. I. p. 660). The inscription—so far as it bears on our investigations—has been given above (AR. 2).

But what is the date of this erection? It has been variously assigned to different epochs from the third to the sixth century. I cannot doubt however that Döllinger (p. 291) and Funk (Theolog. Quartalschr. 1884, p. 104 sq) and Salmon (Dict. of Christ. Biogr. s.v. Hippolytus Romanus III. p. 96) are right in giving the earliest date. The phenomena indeed are quite inexplicable in any later century. For

(1) The statue is strictly historical. So far as it gives information,


this is borne out by what we know from other sources. But the notices of Damasus and Jerome and Prudentius show that the historical Hippolytus had disappeared in the fourth century. Those twin giants—Ignorance and Myth—had piled their Pelion on Ossa, and stormed the citadel of the Truth with only too deadly effect on this occasion. The inscription on the statue would be possible in Hippolytus' time or in the next generation; but we can hardly conceive it at a later date.

(2) The details of the inscription point to a contemporary record. The Paschal Chronicle is given the chief place, being evidently regarded as the chef d'oeuvre of the author—his great claim to posthumous fame. The cycle is calculated for the years A.D. 222—333. But long before this latter date the Romans had been obliged to abandon this cycle, if they ever adopted it, for a more correct system of calculation. Even as early as the year 243 there is evidence that its erroneousness had become too patent to be overlooked, and that a different cycle was calculated in order to take its place. In the year 236, the probable year of its author's death, the full moon, as calculated by Hippolytus, ought to have fallen on April 5th, whereas it really took place very early in the morning of the 9th. In the course of eighty years Hippolytus' full moon would coincide with the actual new moon. See the calculations of Salmon Chronology of Hippolytus in Hermathena I. p. 82 sq.

(3) These arguments seem conclusive. If any archaeological considerations should appear to point in the opposite direction, they must be very strong to produce conviction. But in fact none such have been alleged. Some again have supposed that an older statue—intended for some one else—had been utilised and transformed into Hippolytus. For this there is no ground. But even, if it had been so, the fact would not affect the questions with which we are concerned. The arguments remain as strong as ever for the conclusion, that it could not have been transformed into Hippolytus and set up in the Ager Veranus to represent him after the third century, and probably not after the middle of the century.

As I shall have occasion to show presently (p. 443), this parcel of ground on the Tiburtine Way, which became the Cemetery of Hippolytus was probably his own property. Thus his friends would be able to set up the statue without interference; so that there was nothing to prevent its erection during his own life-time, though probably it belongs to some date immediately after his death.

By a curious coincidence we have a contemporary representation not only of Hippolytus, but also of his great enemy Callistus. De Rossi (Bull. di Archeol. Crist. 1866, pp. 17, 33) gives a contemporary picture


on glass which figures this pope's head. If any reliance can be placed on the likeness, he was a person of grave and venerable appearance. At all events it is a singular phenomenon that the two earliest ecclesiastics of whom contemporary representations are preserved are these two deadly enemies. We only regret the more that the head of the Hippolytean statue is lost; but perhaps future excavations may disinter it.

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