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The Apostolic Fathers

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

§ 17.


The only Acts of Hippolytus which can pretend to retain even a faint echo of genuine history are those given in the poem of Prudentius (see p. 332 sq); and even at this early date as we have seen fact is choked by fiction. The later Acts have no historical value at all; but they throw some light on the legendary Hippolytus.

These later Acts belong to two separate cycles; (1) The Laurentian; (2) The Portuensian. The connexion with the true Hippolytus is in both cases local, not historical. In the former the link is the Ager Veranus, the site of Hippolytus' burial place; in the latter it is the Port of Rome, the site of his practical activity while living.

(i) Acts of the Laurentian Cycle.

We have seen already (p. 458 sq) that owing to the decadence and ruin of the basilica and cemetery of S. Hippolytus the chief memorials of the saints and martyrs once existing there were transferred to the

1 Acta Sanct. Bolland. Aug. III. p. 9; comp. Journ. of Class. and Sacr. Philol. I. p. 191.

neighbouring sanctuary of S. Laurentius. The effect of this transference made itself felt on the legend. Henceforward Hippolytus became more than ever a companion and attendant of S. Laurentius, while at the same time he was gradually transformed from a cleric into a soldier.

The extant inscription in the Church of S. Laurentius (AR. 37) is an instructive comment on this developement. The enumeration of the sacred reliques there deposited begins with the names of the three persons to whom the church was dedicated by Pelagius (see above, p. 457) together with S. Stephen the first deacon and prototype of S. Laurence. It ends with the popes who were buried there, Hilarus, Zosimus and Sixtus III,1 together with Pelagius who built the enlarged basilica. Of these it is not necessary to say anything more. Our concern is with the intermediate names;

      Ipolitus collis religatus equorum;
Cum nutrice sua cum cuncta plebe suorum
Romanus miles, Triphonia, Virgo Cirilla,
Et quadraginta quos passio continet ilia,
Justinusque sacer defunctos qui tumulabat,
Ciriace vidua quae sanctos clam recreabat,
Cujus matronae fuit haec possessio cara,
Ipsius nomen specialiter optinet ara,
Martir Ireneus qui tecum, martir Abundi,
Decedens sprevit fallacis gaudia mundi.

The ancient itineraries show us that of the persons here named, Concordia and the supposed 'familia'—the 'cuncta plebs suorum'—were originally buried in the crypt of Hippolytus, as were also Tryphonia and Cyrilla, the reputed wife and daughter of Decius Caesar (AR. 38 b). On the other hand, Romanus and Justinus, Abundius and Irenaeus, lay in the cemetery on the opposite side of the way in which stood the basilica of S. Laurence, as did also Cyriace who, as here stated, was probably the original possessor of the ground and gave her name to this cemetery.

Of those buried in the cemetery of Hippolytus, Concordia, as we learn from the itineraries, lay 'ante fores,' i.e. of the crypt or chamber where Hippolytus himself lay. In another chamber ('altero cubiculo'), lay the two martyrs, Tryphonia the wife and Cyrilla the virgin daughter of Decius—both done to death by this tyrant's command. Thus the sepulchre of Concordia was between the vault of Hippolytus and that

1 Bull. di Archeol. Crist. 1881, p. 86 sq.


of the two royal martyrs—'between the two,' as one of the itineraries says (AR. 38 b, where read 'inter utrosque'). Concordia is commonly called the nurse ('nutrix'), but in the earliest of the itineraries the wife ('mulier') of Hippolytus. These date from the 8th century. As no record is found in history of any wife and daughter of Decius (whichever Decius is meant), who bore the names Tryphonia and Cyrilla, it has been proposed to read 'ancillae mulieris' for 'mulieris' in the Martyrologies: so as to bring the statement within the range of probability; but we are dealing with romance, not with history, and in romance such conjectures are futile as well as unnecessary. Who Concordia may have been, we have no means of ascertaining. It is not probable that she had any other connexion with Hippolytus except the double proximity of the place of sepulture and the time of celebration. This local and temporal neighbourhood would be sufficient to suggest the historical connexion, of which there seem to be no traces before the eighth century. But what shall we say of the 'familia' xviiii (or xviii) in number? The attachment of this 'familia' to Hippolytus seems to be later—though probably not much later—than his connexion with Concordia herself; for it occurs in the Old Roman Martyrology. In the earliest of the itineraries, where she is the 'mulier' of Hippolytus, the 'familia' is not mentioned at all. Even in the Hieronymian Martyrology—the great storehouse of martyrological notices, historical and legendary, early and late—it has not yet found a place. The number was originally xviiii (= xix) and not xviii, as appears not only from the oldest of the itineraries in which it is mentioned, but also from Ado and others. A figure would be easily dropped by transcribers. I believe that I see the origin of this number xviiii (xix). The next day to Id. Aug. is xix Kal. Sept. But the Ides of August is the day of Concordia, as well as of Hippolytus. What if the 'familia' of Hippolytus has originated in some calendar for August set up either in the Ager Veranus or elsewhere, which ran thus


the next important celebration being the festival of Eusebius on xix Kal. Sept. at least in some calendars, e.g. the Old Roman (Patrol. Lat. CXXIII. p. 166, Migne), and the xix has got detached from the following words and appended to the preceding? I should add that I cannot lay the same stress as De Rossi on the notice in the Hieronymian Martyrology, which gives under viii Kal. Mart.

Romae via Tiburtina ad sanctum Laurentium natalis sanctae Concordiae,


as though this gave the original day of S. Concordia1. It seems to me that the confusion of the cemetery of S. Laurence with that of S. Hippolytus shows the comparatively late date of this notice and therefore deprives it of any special value. Whoever she may have been, her original connexion seems to have been with the Hippolytean cemetery on the Tiburtine Way; and there she was celebrated on the Ides of August. I suppose therefore that we have in the Hieronymian Martyrology a confused notice of some translation of Concordia similar to those which we have already considered in the case of Romanus (p. 449) and of Hippolytus himself (p. 439 sq). Even if De Rossi were right about her proper 'natal day,' my explanation would hold equally well: since it depends solely on the date of her celebration on the Tiburtine Way, about which there can be no doubt.

Whoever Tryphonia and Cyrilla were, they need give us no trouble. Their days are respectively xv Kal. Nov. (Oct. 18) and v Kal. Nov. (Oct. 28) in the Calendars and Martyrologies, e.g. Ado. They may perhaps have suffered in the Decian persecution about the same time with S. Laurence; though there is some confusion between Decius and Claudius (Gothicus) in the notices of the persecuting tyrant (as for instance in Ado); but their connexion with the Hippolytean legend is due to the fact of their graves being situated near the chambers of Hippolytus and Concordia.

Nor need I spend any time on investigating whether the saints buried on the right side of the Tiburtine Way in the cemetery of Cyriace were historically connected with S. Laurence. Of Romanus I have spoken already (p. 446 sq).

The full-blown legend of S. Laurence and S. Hippolytus is found in Ado, and runs as follows:

On the 10th of August (iv Id. Aug.) S. Laurence suffered. Sixtus on his way to martyrdom had entrusted all the treasures of the Church to him. A certain widow Cyriace, living on the Coelian, had hidden several clerics and others in her house from the persecution and with her he deposited the treasures, at the same time healing her miraculously of many pains in the head. In the Vicus Canarius he found many Christians congregated in the house of Narcissus; he distributed money among them; and he restored his sight to one Crescentio who was blind. Decius, hearing of these hidden treasures in the keeping of Laurence the archdeacon of Sixtus, hands him over to Valerian the prefect, who puts him in charge of one Hippolytus as warder. Hippolytus, seeing him work a miracle on another blind man, one

1 Bull. di Archeol. Crist. 1882, p. 24 sq, p. 32.


Lucillius, is converted and baptized. Meanwhile Valerian presses Laurence to give up the treasures. Asking for time, he gathers together the almsmen and almswomen of the Church, and tells Valerian that these are the treasures. He is beaten and otherwise tortured by Decius for his effrontery. Then he is restored to the keeping of Hippolytus. One of the soldiers, Romanus by name, seeing the conduct of S. Laurence, believes and is baptized. He is beaten and beheaded by order of Decius on v Id. Aug., the day before S. Laurence. S. Laurence himself is then brought before Decius; and after suffering the most excruciating tortures is roasted to death on a gridiron. In early morning Hippolytus carries off the body, wraps it with linen cloths and spices, and delivers it to Justinus the presbyter. The two go by night to the Tiburtine Way to the farm of Cyriace in the Ager Veranus—the same widow with whom Laurence had been at night—and lay him there on iv Id. Aug.

The same day at Rome one hundred and sixty-five soldiers suffered. Then were martyred Claudius, Severus, Crescentio, and Romanus, on the same day as S. Laurence, the third day after the passion of S. Sixtus.

On the Ides of August suffered Hippolytus under Decius the emperor and Valerian the prefect. This Hippolytus the 'vicarius' had been baptized as already stated by S. Laurence. Returning home after the burial he was seized and carried before Decius. Here he was compelled to strip off his Christian garment and put on 'the military dress which he wore as a Gentile.' Then Valerian rifled his house of its treasures and dragged out 'all his Christian family.' He and his household were led outside the walls on the Tiburtine Way. The latter were beheaded—male and female—nineteen in number. Hippolytus himself was yoked to untamed horses and thus dismembered. They were all buried by Justinus the presbyter in the same plain 'juxta nympham1' by the side of the Ager Veranus.

At the same time perished Concordia, the nurse of Hippolytus. She was put to death by the same Valerian, and her body thrown into the sewer. Thirteen days after her death a soldier, Porphyrius by name, came to Irenaeus the sewer-keeper ('cloacarius'), who was secretly a Christian, and told him where the body might be found having jewels or gold concealed about it, as he supposed. No such treasure however was discovered; but Irenaeus, assisted by a Christian Abundius, took the body to Justinus, who buried it by Hippolytus and the others.

1 'Juxta nympham' refers to the springs of waters in the neighborhood, which were found infiltrating the soil in the recent excavations; see Bull. di Archeol. Crist. p. 19, p. 52; comp. Rom. Sott. I. p. 190. They were near the Nomentan Way and were called S. Petri, because S. Peter was reported to have baptized there.


On vii Kal. Sept. (Aug. 26) Irenaeus and Abundius were ordered by Valerian to be themselves enclosed in a sewer ('incloacari') and so perished. They were buried by Justinus 'in the crypt near S. Laurence.'

On xv Kal. Nov. (Oct. 18) died Tryphonia the wife of Decius Caesar. Overawed by the divine vengeance which had overtaken her husband after his murder of S. Sixtus and S. Hippolytus, she with her daughter Cyrilla had sought baptism at the hands of Justinus. She was buried 'near Hippolytus in the crypt.'

On viii Kal. Nov. (Oct. 25) 48 soldiers were baptized together by pope Dionysius [the successor of Sixtus, A.D. 259—268]. They were beheaded by command of the emperor Claudius [A.D. 268—270] and buried by Justinus the presbyter and John on the Salarian Way 'in clivum Cucumeris'; also other 121 martyrs. Among these were Theodosius, Lucius, Marcus, and Petrus, who asked the honour of being beheaded first. The record is found, adds Ado, in the 'Passio sanctorum martyrum, Sixti, Laurentii, et Hippolyti.'

On v Kal. Nov. (Oct. 28) perished Cyrilla the daughter of Decius by order of the emperor Claudius. She was buried by Justin the presbyter with her mother near S. Hippolytus.

On xv Kal. Oct. (Sept. 17) died Justinus, who had buried so many martyrs. His place of sepulture was on the Tiburtine Way near S. Laurence. Laurence had come to him to the 'crypta Nepotiana' in the Vicus Patricius, and asked him to distribute the treasures committed to him by S. Sixtus to the poor. He won renown by the glory of his confession in the persecutions of Decius, Gallus, and Volusianus.

It is clear that Ado takes this account of these martyrs from a written document, the Passion of S. Sixtus, S. Laurentius, and S. Hippolytus, to which he refers. It contained not only the Acts of the three principal martyrs, and of others belonging to the Tiburtine Way; but also of others who perished and were buried on the Salarian Way. These latter seem to have been added, simply because they were reputed to have been buried by the same Justinus.

These Acts quoted and probably abridged by Ado are doubtless the document which is called PASSIO ILLA in the inscription of the 13th century found in the basilica of S. Laurence (AR. 37). It seems to have served as a sort of guide book to the pilgrims in the Ager Veranus.

The Acts, printed by Lagarde (p. xiii sq) from the MS Brit. Mus. 11880 of the ninth century and bearing the same name, are much briefer. An abstract of them is given above (AR. 45). The two seem


not to have anything in common except the main outlines of the story of the connexion of Laurence with Sixtus and of Hippolytus with Laurence. Perhaps however they may both have been founded on some very simple earlier Acts; but the characteristic of the Adonian account—the working up of the history of the saints and martyrs buried in the Ager Veranus into a single narrative—is entirely wanting.

(2) Acts of the Portuensian Cycle.

These Acts are quite independent of the Laurentian, and centre about the person of one Chryse or Aurea, a virgin martyr and princess of royal blood. Hippolytus only plays a very subordinate part, and (as we shall see presently) his name seems to have been introduced as an afterthought. So far as there is any historical background at all, it consists of a group of Portuensian martyrs. No longer the Ager Veranus, but the Port of Rome, is the centre of interest. Moreover the personal surroundings of Hippolytus are all different, being largely clerics.

The persecutors are Claudius, 'the impious tyrant,' and the 'vicarius' Ulpius Romulus. Our first impulse is to identify the persecuting emperor with Claudius Gothicus (A.D. 268—270), because this identification reduces the anachronism to a minimum. But this sovereign is not known to have been guilty of any persecution. Moreover Censurinus, one of his victims, is represented as saying that Jesus Christ 'condescended to come from the Father in his own times (εν τοις `ημετεροις καιροις) and to be born of a virgin's womb.' It would appear therefore that Döllinger (p. 42) is right in supposing that the hagiologist intended the first emperor of this name; or that, if he did not, he confused the earlier Claudius with the later. The name Alexander in place of Claudius in some recensions of the Latin copies seems to be a substitution to conform to the tradition of the more popular Laurentian Acts.

Censurinus, a leading man of the magistracy (της του μαγιστοριου εξουσιας), is first apprehended and imprisoned at Ostia. There he is fed and cared for by Chryse; and receives the ministrations of the presbyter Maximus. Several of his guards, whose names are given—among these Taurinus and Herculianus—seek baptism. Then the bishop Cyriacus comes by night, 'seals,' and anoints them. We have then the story of a certain shoe-maker (σκυτευς), whose son is raised from the dead, baptized under the name Faustinus, and carefully tended by Chryse. For this offence she is accused of magic, and subjected to the wheel and other tortures. Then Archelaus the deacon, Maximus the


priest, and Cyriacus the bishop suffer. At this point of the narrative we hear again of the soldiers, who had been converted by the ministrations of Maximus. They are condemned to death and suffer. Of all the rest, who are not here again mentioned by name, we are told that their bodies were laid near the sea on the Ostian Way on vi Id. Aug.; but of Taurinus and Herculianus we are informed that they were buried in 'the Port of Rome.' Chryse's turn comes at length. After being beaten to no effect, as she only received fresh accessions of strength, she was drowned in the sea with a heavy stone about her neck. At this point, when the narrative is more than three-fourths over, the name of Hippolytus first occurs. Her body floated to the shore, was gathered up by 'the blessed Nonus, also surnamed Hippolytus' (Νονος `ο και μετονομασθεις `Ιππολυτος), and buried 'on her own estate, where also she lived, outside the walls of the city of Ostia, on the ix Kal. Sept.' Then the torture of Sabinianus the procurator is related for not revealing her concealed treasure; whereupon Hippolytus provokes the wrath of the persecutor by his denunciations, and is condemned to death for this inopportune interference. He is sunk in the pit of the haven called Portus (;υνον πορτον τον αναγορευομενον Πορτον) on xi Kal. Sept. At his death the voices of infants are heard for the space of a whole hour giving thanks to God.

The remaining paragraphs of the story recount the martyrdom of Sabinianus and his burial by Cordius (Concordius).

Now in the earliest extant Western Martyrology, which is embedded in the work of the Liberian Chronographer (A. D. 354) and which itself cannot be later than A.D. 335 (see above, I. pp. 248, 250), we have this notice, which throws a flood of light on the Acts of Chryse:

Non. Sept. (Sept. 5th)
    Aconti, in Porto, et Nonni et Herculani et Taurini.

These were doubtless genuine martyrs of Portus, though whether they suffered in the Decian persecution or later we cannot tell. But the notice had lost the first name by mutilation before it reached our hagiologist; and the three other names only are utilized. Whence the story of Chryse herself was derived, I need not stop to enquire; nor is it worth my while to spend time on the other adornments of these Acts.

The real interest gathers round Nonnus. Whether this was the Latin word Nonus (like Septimus, Decimus, etc.) or the Greek word Nonnus or Nunnus, we may question. Probably it was the latter, but anyhow the meaning of the Greek word would attach itself to it, and it


would suggest a cleric. Originally, as is quite evident, the notice had nothing to do with Hippolytus, and the connexion required some explanation `ο και μετονομασθεις or (as it is in the corresponding Latin) 'qui et iam Ypolitus nuncupatur.' But the great cleric connected with Fortus, the patron saint of the place, was Hippolytus the theologian. Hence Nonnus must be Hippolytus. Moreover he is `ο πρεσβυτερος; for Portus knew nothing of Hippolytus the soldier, but only of Hippolytus 'the elder.'

The remains of an ancient sarcophagus, ascribed to the fourth or fifth century and commemorating Taurinus and Herculanus without any mention of Nonnus1 have been found, which seems to show that these two were buried in a separate locality; as indeed the Acts might lead us to expect.

Of the other martyrs mentioned in these Acts some are recognized in the Martyrium Hieronymianum, where we have the notices

xi Kal. Sept. Et in portu Romano peregrinorum martyrum.
x Kal. Sept. In portu urbis Romae natalis sancti Hippolyti qui
dicitur Nunnus cum sociis suis. In Ostia natalis
sancti Quiriaci, Archelai,

Hippolytus himself having likewise been mentioned on a previous day (xiii Kal. Sept.), but without the description 'qui dicitur Nunnus' (see AR. 40 f).

The Greek Acts were first published by S. de Magistris, from whom Lagarde has taken them. The Latin Acts will be found in Act. Sanct. Bolland. Augustus IV. p. 757 sq. The Greek seems certainly to be the original; the story would probably be compiled in this language for the sake of the foreigners frequenting Ostia and Portus. In the Latin the exordium more especially is expanded, so as to give Chryse the principal place on the canvas.

The Menaea borrowed some features from the Laurentian Acts; others from the Portuensian. They are brief, but they show a late development of the legend.

We may follow the growth of the legend a step further. In the middle of the fifth century there lived a more famous Nonnus, bishop of Edessa or of Heliopolis or of both, to whom is due the credit of having converted the courtesan Pelagia. S. Peter Damianus (c. A. D. 1060) fuses this Nonnus with Hippolytus (AR. 45). He makes this conversion of Pelagia the crowning feat of Nonnus-Hippolytus

1 Bull. di Archeol. Crist. 1866, p. 49.


after bringing 30,000 Saracens over to the faith of Christ. Then he resigns his bishopric, leaves Antioch his native country, and retires to the mouth of the Tiber. His glorious martyrdom there consummated, and the miraculous voices of the infants giving thanks to God, are a proof that the resignation of the episcopate may on occasions be possible without offending God.

The caprices of tradition would not be complete, unless supplemented by the conceits of criticism. Baronius (p. 411) surmised that Callistus would not suffer so valuable a man as Hippolytus to return to Arabia, but created him bishop of Portus, that he 'might have him ever close by his side as an adviser in perplexities', thus bestowing upon him 'a see of no great labour (modicae curae) but of amplest dignity.' Strange irony of fate!

I have thus attempted to trace the marvellous vicissitudes of this strange eventful career—marvellous in life, and still more marvellous after death. The appearances of this one personality in history and in legend are as manifold and varied as the transformations of his name; Hippolytus with the Greeks and Romans, Iflites with the Syrians and Chaldaeans, Abulides with the Copts and Ethiopians, Polto with the Italians, Bilt with the French.

πολλων ονοματων μορφη μια.

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