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Top 100 Preachers: Hippolytus

13 October 2009

(One of the few remaining homilies of Hippolytus believed to be authentic. image

(After such a length review of Origen, I thought I’d better do something shorter for a change!!)

Many of the notable preachers of the early centuries of the church are relatively famous to us: Justin Martyr, Origen, Irenaeus, Chrysostom, etc. 

But one prominent early preacher is not so well known: Hippolytus (170-236).  There is much about Hippolytus that is unknown.  It is presumed from his name that his parents were Greek.  The historian Eusebius mentions Hippolytus as a bishop, but does not say from where.  Jerome in his Illustrious Men also mentions Hippolytus as a bishop, but as to the place Jerome says obliquely that he was the bishop of “some place.”  (cujusdam ecclesiae).

Perhaps part of the vagueness about the location of his bishopric is that Hippolytus had strong disputes with Callistus, the bishop of Rome at the time.  Some later traditions put him as the bishop of Pontus, and others put him as a rival bishop in Rome.  Hippolytus ravaged Callistus in his writings. 

Eventually, the emperor, Maximin banished Hippolytus to the mines of Sardinia, where he soon died in 236. 

But what about his preaching?  This is not a listing of ancient Christian leaders or martyrs.  It is a listing of the Top 100 Preachers throughout the past 2000 years.  Why would Hippolytus be included on this list?  Mostly on the recommendation of Eusebius and Jerome.  Eusebius praises him as an eloquent speaker.  Jerome speaks of a sermon on “The Praise and of Our Lord Jesus Christ” that he preached in Rome in the presence of Origen, who happened to be visiting at the time. 

There is only one sermon extant that is believed to be genuine:  The Discourse on the Holy Theophany.  It is a baptismal sermon, probably on the occasion of the baptism of prominent person.  The sermon is addressed both to the baptismal candidate, as well as to the congregation.  As the name implies [theophany-“a manifestation of appearance God to a human”] the sermon centers on the baptism of Jesus and the appearance of God in the form of a dove and the voice from heaven, “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.”

E.C. Dargan (A History of Preaching) gives this appraisal of the sermon and of Hippolytus: 

“There is considerable quotation of Scripture.  The doctrine is not elaborate.  It is sound on the Trinity, does not discuss atonement or grace, and teaches, but not baldly, the necessity of baptism to salvation.  In the conclusion the preacher exhorts his hearers to come and be baptized, but only on the basis of a sound repentance and in the exercise of faith.  In structure and style the homily is suggestive and eloquent, and secures for its author a place among the true preachers of his age.”

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