Augustine of Hippo v. Hippolytus of Rome

Welcome to the opening matchup of Lent Madness 2023! If you’re a veteran Lent Madness participant, welcome back! If you're joining us for the first time, we’re delighted you’re along for this wild, saintly ride! And if you're just penitential-curious, check out the About Lent Madness tab on the website to find out what all the fuss is about.

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Things kick off with a matchup featuring two hippos - kind of - as Augustine of Hippo takes on Hippolytus of Rome.

Friends, it's time to cast your very first vote of Lent Madness 2023! We’re glad you’re all here. Now get to it!

Augustine of Hippo

Augustine, the fourth-century bishop of Hippo in North Africa, is perhaps the single most influential theologian of the Western church after Paul. For Augustine, in the life of a Christian, all is grace. Augustine himself experienced and embraced grace and went to pour much of himself, his spiritual journey, and his experiences into his work, as is memorably seen in his Confessions.

At first, Augustine did not appear to be on a path to sainthood. At a young age, he abandoned Christianity and studied rhetoric with hopes of becoming a lawyer. Augustine was soon taken with the study of philosophy and later, with a religion that was a chief rival to Christianity in North Africa, all while living a “free and unconstrained life.” For 15 years, he lived with a mistress who would give birth to his child; in moving from one teaching post to another, he would eventually abandon her to move to Rome and to Milan. It was there that Augustine met Ambrose, Milan’s bishop, and reached his own epiphany, which he describes at length in his Confessions: “You move us to delight in praising You; for You have formed us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in You.” In 387, Augustine was baptized on Easter Eve by Ambrose and found the rest in God for which his heart had so longed.

Augustine returned to North Africa, where he lived a quasi-monastic life until he was seized by the community around him and ordained as a priest against his will. Within four years, he was ordained to the episcopate, and he served as bishop until his death.

Augustine’s breadth of life experience, his profound intellect, and his prayerful demeanor are evident in his writing. Often seen as a scold by some, Augustine and his writings nevertheless counter some of the most strident tendencies in the church. He pushed against the insistence on the existence of a force in eternal opposition to God, instead affirming the goodness of the creation and understanding evil to ultimately be an absence of good. He defended the doctrine of the Trinity and asserted that the church is holy not because of the holiness of its individual members but because of the calling its members receive from God. Above all, Augustine’s theology has at its core a deep yearning and desire for God, the experience of grace for all people.

Collect for Augustine of Hippo
Lord God, the light of the minds that know you, the life of the souls that love you, and the strength of the hearts that serve you: Help us, following the example of your servant, Augustine of Hippo, so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whose service is perfect freedom; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

David Sibley

Hippolytus of Rome

Hippolytus of Rome was one of the most learned and influential theologians of the second and third centuries. He is described as a disciple of Irenaeus, and it is reported that a young Origen heard him speak and was so inspired that he decided to pursue his own illustrious career as a theologian and biblical scholar. Hippolytus’s work was wide ranging, exploring topics of apostolic succession, heresy, and biblical interpretation.

Hippolytus wrote in an educated form of Greek just as the Western Church was shifting toward Latin for their theologizing. As such, although the broad contours of his life and work are known (often through fragments and reports), much of his original work is lost, and his biography is shrouded in legend. (It does not help that there are several Hippolytuses in the church tradition, one of which was a notable martyr. The two are often conflated.)

What can be known somewhat confidently is that Hippolytus’s intellectual rigor was matched by his moral rigor. Early in his career, both of these led to conflict with the bishop of Rome. Hippolytus accused Bishop Callixtus of the heresy of modalism (an idea that emphasized the unity of God at the expense of denying the three persons of the Trinity). Hippolytus also wrote against the leniency of the bishop in welcoming back heretics and Christians with moral failings who had repented. In the wake of this conflict, Hippolytus was elected as a competing bishop of Rome, making him the first anti-pope. (It should be noted that this designation is anachronistic as there did not exist a papacy as we know it this early in the Christian tradition.)

When Emperor Maximus Thrax began persecuting the church, Hippolytus and one of Callixtus’s successors were exiled to Sardinia where Hippolytus died as a martyr in 235. Some report that he was killed by drowning in a deep well. Later legends say that he, like his Greek mythological counterpart, was dragged to death by horses (thus making him the patron saint of horses). His body was returned to Rome and interred in a Christian cemetery. This and his later treatment as a martyr of the church suggests that he had been reconciled before his death and was no longer considered a schismatic. His feast day is celebrated on August 13.

Collect for Hippolytus of Rome
Almighty God, you gave to your servant Hippolytus special gifts of grace to understand and teach the truth as it is in Christ Jesus: Grant that by this teaching we may know you, the one true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

David Creech

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Augustine of Hippo: Sandro Botticelli, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Hippolytus: Ancient Roman sculpture, found in 1551 at Via Tiburtina, Rome, and now at the Vatican Library. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


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219 comments on “Augustine of Hippo v. Hippolytus of Rome”

  1. St. Augustine, I’m compelled to confess
    Left us Christians in a hell of a mess:
    If predestined for heaven
    We can sin I through VII;
    But if not, we’ve no hope of redress.

    1. Yes, predestination is just bad theology. Augustine's mistake was he could only read a bad Latin translation of the original Greek New Testament. But Hippolytus not wanting to forgive the repentant? Not even Augustine would put up with that.

    2. Clever limerick as always. Thanks for these! I feel compelled to add that Augustine might disagree with your last line even while agreeing with the earlier ones. (Even the second line!) It could be that only a very small number of people are predestined and the rest of us had better avoid sin and repent like crazy when we do sin. There seem to be many opinions on what Augustine thought.

    3. John Cabot, enjoyment of your witty limericks is just one of the reasons I look forward to Lent Madness every year.

    4. Thank you, thank you, thank you for the limerick. I so look forward to your work each Lent Madness day!

  2. Well I've already broken my own bracket! 🙂 Filled out with many guesses. Not a big fan of Augustine, but the other Hippo now seems worse! Such is the agony of Lent Madness 🙂
    Thanks for always lightening (and enlightening) my Lent!

    1. AGREED! I thought I could not vote for Augustine ever, but Hippolytus? Ack! What is a girl to do and it is only the first day!

      1. Totally agree that Hippolytus'theology does nothing to reveal the loving God Whom Jesus gave His life to reveal. I admire Augustine but not his theology so much!

    2. This may be the first time I have held my nose and voted for the lesser of two evils in Lent Madness. Still glad the Madness is here!

    3. Although it pains me to vote for Augustine the other hippo was even worse. This shuld be the round of the two Davids for our bloggers

  3. Didn't want to, because he is too obvious a choice, but then relented and voted for Augustine.

  4. Augustine had me at “found the rest in God fo which. his heart had so longed”. Just couldn’t help myself!

  5. I didn’t receive my lentmadnes this morning! went on website and Signed up a second time….it makes my lent!!

  6. I was all for Augustine until the line about him abandoning his partner and their child. It got me thinking about the tendency to whitewash the sins of the famous and celebrated. He's human, I get that, but someone who is revered for his deep intellect yet demonstrates shallow compassion and responsibility, isn't really saintly material, is he? My vote goes to Hippolytus.

      1. Originally I was thinking along the same lines, however, I realize we would be hard pressed to find anyone without some unsaintly behavior in their history. I genuinely appreciate that it was noted and called out - that is not whitewashing - it gives us the opportunity to practice forgiveness of someone who seems to have been repentant after his epiphany.

    1. To be fair, Augustine didn't exactly "abandon" his partner and child. His son, Adeodatus, lived with Augustine for the rest of his life (he died in his late teens), was baptised with him at Milan, and shared in his father's intellectual pursuits (he was Augustine's interlocutor in 'De Magistro' and was reputed to have had a finer mind than his father). With respect to Augustine's partner, what the article omits is that he was forced to break up with her by his mother, who wished to arrange a good marriage for her son. The dissolution of their relationship, far from being a matter of indifference to Augustine, caused him great pain, as he records in the Confessions. Lent Madness is excellent, but occasionally the length of the articles doesn't afford the opportunity to get into the nitty-gritty of some aspects of saintly biographies, which means nuance can be missed.

      1. Thank you for the additional insight, Kieran. I really appreciate the breadth and depth of scholarship among the Lent Madness constituents. I always learn so much from this community.

      2. Thank you for expounding on Augustine’s family dynamics. I’ve always wondered what the deets were. Knew some smart person in Lent Madness would have some background.

      3. I believe this is a very important nuance; one I hadn’t heard before. Thank you for pointing it out. It makes all the difference to my vote.

      4. I was surprised that the writeup did not mention Augustine's mother Monica, who apparently played a major role in his life, especially after his conversion

      5. I figured that as Augustine advanced in the brackets those important details would surface.

      6. To continue the correction, there are some Augustine scholars who make the argument that Augustine's "First Rule" for monastic communities, which was written for a female community, was sent to a community headed by his former common-law wife (a much more accurate description than "mistress"). So Augustine's mother may have been able to break up the cohabitation, but she may not have been able to break up the relationship, which may have lasted almost to Augustine's death.

    2. That act gave me pause, too, but I think the moral failing of abandoning child and mother is less reprehensible than advocating against forgiveness of sinners. The Gospels clearly charge followers of Christ to forgive those who have done wrong.

      And if we're faulting people for abandoning partners and families, most of the apostles probably left responsibilities behind to follow Jesus in his three years of itinerant preacherhood. I have always assumed that Jesus left Nazareth when he was 30 (a mature age in those days) because Joseph had died and Jesus's younger brothers were old enough to assume responsibility for the carpenter shop and their mother Mary. But there isn't much in the Gospels to back that up either.

      Augustine, though neither saint is flawless and I don't think either will get beyond the 16.

    3. Tough first day! I don't care for either of these two.
      But, I can't vote for someone who abandons a partner and child.
      Hippo it has to be!

    4. I also had a big problem with his abandonment. Even after his “epiphany” apparently he did nothing to right that wrong.

      1. He kept his son in his life until his unfortunate early death. Augustine mourned his son the rest of his life and ministry.

        He also loved his common law wife. His mother pressured him to find a more suitable match, social standing wise.

        It’s much more complicated that this brief bio allows.

    5. I guess if we want our saints perfect all the way, Augustine's not our guy... on the other hand that someone that selfish could turn and become saintly says pretty much what I think the gospels are about.

    6. I love Augustine, so I feel compelled to make sure people know the real details of how he “abandoned” his concubine and son. He didn’t. Monica did force a parting so he could become engaged to an unknown girl, at her insistence. The mother of his child went back to Carthage, a few days from Hippo where he was with his son, and it’s likely that she didn’t lose complete contact with their son, Adeodatus (a rarity under Roman family law where even a citizen woman, which she was not, had no rights to keep or see children). This is obviously not good and Augustine went along with it, but this was also over a thousand years ago and he describes it with pain in his confessions, and the terms he uses for her, like “friend” were almost universally applied by men to other men because women were considered inferior and beneath that kind of honorific, which indicates some kind of love or respect. He did not just abandon his concubine or son into the unknown. It’s more like a divorce than an abandonment, something we can surely judge with nuance and compassion.

  7. Augustine of Hippo resembles my own path of leaving my faith to make way in the world only to return later in life to his faith.
    His life reflects the route many of us take as we finally hear the message of love & acceptance from Jesus.

  8. It was hard to vote for Augustine knowing he had abandoned his family. Hippolytus' history was too much myth to overcome, however.

  9. I vote for Augustine, who was welcomed back to communion with God, rather than Hippolytus, who would not welcome back sinners who repented.

  10. The collect gave me the most comfort. Our researchers put Hippo on a higher pedestal than I believe he deserves. Loving the saintly days ahead.

  11. Is there a problem with votes going through? My vote seems to be stuck in a purgatory of circling circles.

  12. St Augustine of Hippo's very early life - a life marked by "not being on the path to sainthood (!)" - is a living witness to God's power, working within us, to transform our hearts and lives. His early life also teaches me that, to reflect the words/wisdom of Bryan Stevenson, an attorney and social justice activist, and author of the book, Just Mercy, “Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.” TBTG

  13. I had thought I'd vote for Hippolytus -- the Eucharistic Prayer in his Apostolic Tradition was formative for my faith 50 years ago, and there are parts of Augustine's teaching/influence that I've never been a fan of. But I was put off by what I learned of the rigor and maybe self-righteousness of Hippolytus (though glad of his apparent eventual reconciliation with his opponents).

  14. "...our hearts are restless till they find rest in You."
    Augustine of Hippo it is. Also, one of the three Episcopal churches on Galveston Island is named Augustine of Hippo.

    Happy Lent, everyone! It's great to welcome Lent Madness back.

  15. Not fond of either choices. Augustine left his mistress to raise his child and Hippolytus spoke against a bishop who welcomed sinners.

  16. "affirming the goodness of the creation and understanding evil to ultimately be an absence of good" resonates with me. A of Hippo gets my vote.

    1. The idea of no actual entity pushing against God but rather, an absence of God, convinced me to vote for A of H, too

  17. The last paragraph written by David Sibley about Augustine of Hippo sealed my vote for this saint. “… affirming the goodness of the creation and understanding evil to ultimately be an absence of good. … the church is holy not because of the holiness of its individual members but because of the calling its members receive from God.” God is goodness, not to be feared.

  18. I voted for Augustine because I'd like to see a match-up between him and his mom, Monica (I plan to vote for Monica)!

    1. Augustine didn't 'abandon' them. In fact, he and his son were baptized together, and when his son died as a young man, Augustine was devastated.

      1. And his reasons for leaving the mother of his child were complex. I would encourage the reading of Augustine himself eg Confessions to get a fuller picture of this fascinating and very human fellow and his context.
        I believe we get to meet his mom later in the bracket.

  19. It’s too bad there isn’t a third voting option: neither of the above. Augustine helped formulate the doctrine of original sin and the theory of the just war, both of which have done great harm and are found nowhere in the teaching of Jesus. Hippolytus rejected the very idea of forgiveness for those who have strayed from what he considered the correct path. I only voted for Augustine so that I could say these things. And because he’s the patron of brewers.

  20. I will take the martyr over the mistress-abandoning me-centered-I’ll-do-what-I-want-for-me theologian.

    1. Well, I had the same feeling about leaving his woman and child, but then forgiveness spoke to me, so....he was redeemed and renewed and got my vote.