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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If you’re wondering when your favorite saint will be competing – in order to rally your friends and neighbors (creative campaigning is encouraged, voter fraud is not) – you can check out the 2023 Matchup Calendar. And if you'd like to see all 32 saints in this year's bracket represented in peg doll form, check out this AMAZING video from our friends at St. James Cathedral in South Bend, Indiana.
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.
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.
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