Friday, August 12, 2011

Feast of Hippolytus, Priest and Martyr

Today is the Feast of Hippolytus of Rome, who lived in the late second - early third century. He was a priest in Rome, the anti-pope, and the first Prayer Book crank.* He may have been a student of St. Ireneaus. He was the most important theologian of the Church in the West in the third century, the details of his life and many of his works were forgotten in the West, possibly (according to the Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church) because he was a schismatic personality and because he wrote in Greek. He must have been an important priest in Rome because even Origen came to hear him preach.

Hippolytus considered himself orthodox and didn't like those with whom he disagreed. He attacked the doctrines of Sabllius and his modalist monarchianism. He was the FOCA of his day; he disagreed with the teachings of Pope Zephyrinus, and he rejected his successor, Callistus, and called him a heretic (monarchianism again). Some of his fellow disgruntled priests elected him Bishop of Rome, or Anti-Pope, and as Anti-Pope he attacked the teachings and orthodoxy of Callistus' successors, Urban and Pontianus. He and Pontianus were both exiled to the mines in Sardinia during the persecution by Emperor Maximin, where they both died (it was an unhealthy place); it is probable that Hippolytus and Pontianus were reconciled before their martyrdoms.

I think of Hippolytus as the first Prayer Book crank (the book of 1892 was good enough for my grandparents and it's good enough for me; keep yer stinkin', new-fangled 1928 Prayer Book!) because of his Upon The Apostolic Tradition. We no longer have the entire work, but the underlying theme of what we have is: This is how we do things; this is how we ALWAYS did things, and you and your modern-thinking friends (I'm talking to YOU Callistus!) better do it this way too! He is very strict about who may "have hands laid on" (or ordained):
10. When a widow is appointed, she is not ordained, but is chosen by name. . .
11. The Reader is appointed when the bishop gives the book to him. He does not have hands laid upon him.
(12 is my favorite) 12. Hands are not laid on a virgin, for a decision alone makes her a virgin.
13. Hands are not laid on the sub-deacon. He is chosen by name to assist the deacon.
14. If someone among the laity is seen to have received a gift of healing by revelation, hands are not laid upon such a one, for the matter is obvious.

My favorite rule in the book is #37: All shall be careful so that no unbeliever tastes of the eucharist, nor a mouse or other animal, nor that any of if falls and is lost. For it is the Body of Christ, to be eaten by those who believe, and not to be scorned. I can't argue with that!

Hippolytus probably died working the mines in Sardinia, but that wonderful source of mis-information on the saints, The Golden Legend has one heck of a tale about the martyrdom of St. Hippolytus, which I will re-tell in my own way. But we need to get some things straight first: Hippolytus probably died in the year 236, and St. Laurence the Deacon (whose feast we celebrated Wednesday), probably died in the year 258. Maximin was emperor, not Decius. Hippolytus died in Sardinia and Laurence in Rome, so the first part of this version is impossible. Well, actually, the Golden Legend version is always impossible. According to this story, Hippolytus was a knight who had been converted and became a priest. That said, here is my re-telling of the Martrydom of St. Hippolytus of Rome according to the Golden Legend:

After Hippolytus buried the body of St. Laurence, he came into the house and gave communion to his servants. But before he had a chance to sit down to dinner the knights came in and arrested him and hauled him away to Decius the Emperor. Decius looked at Hippolytus and said, "So, are you some kind of magician? What have you done with the body of Laurence?" Hippolytus responded, "I'm not a magician but a Christian man; that is why I took his body away for burial." This angered Decius, who demanded that Hippolytus be stripped naked. Decius said, "So, are you ashamed of your nakedness? Now, offer sacrifice and you will live; otherwise you will perish like Laurence." Hippolytus responded, "I hope I can be as great as Laurence, whose name you pollute with your filthy mouth." So Decius had Hippolytus beaten with staves and his skin scratched with iron combs. After he was tortured he was dressed in the clothes of his former occupation, a knight. Hippolytus said "I am a Knight of Jesus Christ!" This really angered Decius, who had him sent to Valerian the provost to be tortured and executed. When it was learned that all the servants of Hippolytus' house were also Christians, they were arrested and brought before Valerian. They were all ordered to do sacrifice, and Concordia, the nurse, answered on behalf of all and said "We would rather die with our Lord chastely than live sinfully." Decius was also there and he ordered that Concordia be beaten to death. Hippolytus thanked God for the witness of Concordia, and then comforted the rest of his servants. All, including Hippolytus, were lead by Valerian's men to the Tyburtine Gate, where the servants were all beheaded in front of Hippolytus. Then Hippolytus' feet were tied to the necks of two wild horses, which dragged him through the thorns and briars and rocks until he died. And the priest Justin took the bodies of Hippolytus and his servants (except for Concordia's body, which had been tossed into an outhouse) and buried them with St. Laurence. A knight named Porphyry heard that the clothes of Concordia contained gold and precious stones, and he talked a man named Irenaeus to help him take Concordia's body out of the outhouse. There were no precious stones or gold, so Porphyry ran off, but Irenaeus, being a secret Christian, talked his friend Abundinus into helping him take Concordia's body to the priest Justin for burial. When Valerian heard what they had done, he had them arrested and executed. Justin buried their bodies with the others.

So, Decius and Valerian got into their golden chariot and went on a tear, persecuting all the Christians they could find. But while riding around they were ravished by a devil, and Decius cried out "Oh Hippolytus, you have bound me with sharp chains and lead me away!" And Valerian cried out "Oh Laurence, you are dragging me with fiery chains!" Valerian died immediately, but Decius returned home but dropped dead three days later. When his wife, Tryphonia saw what had happened, she took her daughter Cyrilla and they both wen to the priest Justin and asked to be baptized. Immediately after her baptism, Tryphonia died, and Justin buried her with Hippolytus and the others. Forty-seven knights heard what had happened, and they and their wives came to Justin for baptism.

I guess Laurence and Hippolytus got their revenge! There is a story in the Golden Legend in which St. Hippolytus and the Blessed Virgin restore a leg which had fallen off a man named Peter, but I'll save that story for next year.

*I wish this term had originated with me, but I heard my liturgy professor, the Rev. Dr. Louis Weil use the term in a lecture oh, so many years ago.

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