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An Antipope And A Saint

August 2, 2018 Featured Today No Comments

By RAY CAVANAUGH

Though the title of “antipope” sounds heretical and ominous, not all of them were bad people: Some were merely the puppets of leaders at odds with the Church.
And then there is the curious case of Hippolytus, who in the year 217 became the first antipope, and later became a saint — the only antipope to do so. August 13 is his feast day.
Hippolytus was born in Rome in AD 170 Information about his early life has proven difficult to access and is probably no longer extant. An added source of confusion is that this particular Hippolytus has been mixed up with others of the same name.
As a sign of the vagueness of much of his biography, an early mention of Hippolytus describes him as having served as a bishop “somewhere” — an area that goes unmentioned.
It is known that Hippolytus was an influential conservative theologian and ethicist, who often attacked reigning Popes. He either accused them of heretical theology or of showing excessive leniency toward the heresy and misbehavior of others.
With the year 217 consecration of Pope Calixtus, Hippolytus was so aghast that he established a schismatic group that consecrated him as their Pope. This unsanctioned consecration made him the first of 39 recognized antipopes in Church history.
Though being an antipope was an exceedingly dangerous career path, Hippolytus remained one during three legitimate pontificates for a grand total of 18 years, which far surpasses the tenures of most ensuing antipopes. That said, his controversial ways caught up to him in the year 235, when he was taken prisoner and held captive in Rome before receiving banishment to the mines of Sardinia.
At that time, Sardinia was known as the “island of death,” according to Richard P. McBrien’s Pocket Guide to the Saints. Forced to labor in Sardinian mines, Hippolytus, like many others in his predicament, did not survive the conditions there. He entered martyrdom in the year 236. Shortly before his death he had retracted his claim to the papacy.
One legend portrays Hippolytus as being torn and quartered by wild horses. But this legend likely confused the antipapal Hippolytus with an ancient Greek mythological character of the same name. And yet this legend had enough endurance to see Hippolytus made a patron of horses. In fact, a local British historical website relates that, during the Middle Ages, ailing horses were brought to the St. Ippolyts Church (Anglican) in the village of St. Ippolyts, Hertfordshire, UK.
Despite this colorful tradition, it is unlikely that Hippolytus was sundered by horses. Rather, he likely suffered a less dramatic (and hopefully less torturous) death, succumbing to the exhaustion of penal labor in the mines.
Subsequent to his death, Hippolytus’s remains were returned to Rome and buried in the Via Tiburtina, according to newadvent.org. This website also points out how Hippolytus must have succeeded in making peace with the Church before his death. After all, how else could the early Church hold its original antipope in high esteem as a martyr, theologian, and saint?
Though his writing tone was often more irascible than erudite, Hippolytus was viewed as the most learned man regarding the Church before the era of the Emperor Constantine, who came to power in the early fourth century.
Hippolytus’ magnum opus is a Refutation of All Heresies, which details a series of pagan and purportedly Christian belief systems that the author views as rooted in pagan teaching and condemns as heretical. This work consists of ten volumes, eight of which have survived to the current day. The Refutation is regarded as a crucial source of information on various early (and often heretical) breakaway Christian sects.
Other works include his Commentary on Daniel, a book of apocalyptic prophecy. Unlike most of the earliest Christian apocalyptic writers, who thought the end was coming basically any day, Hippolytus believed that humanity would have to wait a few more centuries — until 500 years after Christ’s birth, according to Brian Daley’s The Hope of the Early Church: A Handbook of Patristic Eschatology.
Hippolytus set this particular apocalyptic time because he was a follower of the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) calculation that the world was created in 5500 B.C. In his view, the six days of biblical creation each represented 1,000 years until termination. So he figured the world would end around AD 500, which would make for a total 6,000-year existence.
As Hippolytus wrote in Greek instead of Latin, his writing received comparatively less readership in Rome. But he received immense readership in the Christian East, where his works saw translations into multiple Slavic languages, along with Armenian, Amharic (Ethiopian), Syriac Aramaic, and Arabic, according to the 1911 Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature.
This reference book adds of Hippolytus’ cryptic personal history: “many questions can still receive only doubtful answers.” One safe bet at this point, however, is that his will remain the only case of an antipapal saint.

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