Augustine of Hippo v. Hippolytus of Rome

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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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7325 votes


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. African
    Sorry for his sins
    In the name of the Lord
    Not perfect
    Excellent writer

  2. I tried to vote for Augustine and it wouldn't go through. Now I'm afraid to try again for fear of being put in lock down!

  3. I need Augustine these days. The other Hippo, encouraging another not to forgive those who repent, scares me.

  4. Knowing full well that it’s hopeless, I vote for Hippolytus. David’s statement that Augie “affirmed the goodness of creation” must be based in his strong defense against gnostic notions of the badness of material stuff—so far, so good. But not only did he leave his mistress (taking their son Deodatus with him) and drive his mom Monnica nuts for years for being a pagan he spent years persecuting Pelagius (who, as a Celt, saw all creation/people as good because of God’s having made it/us) and hounding other powerful bishops to have him excommunicated and banned from teaching.

    Hippolytus was pretty unpleasant, too—you don’t try to oust your bishop on a whim—but both bishops paid for their scrappiness in the Roman salt mines. And there’s that Eucharistic scrap in the Apostolic Traditions…amazing.

    I hope later matchups involve folks who seem a little more saintly!

  5. "our hearts are restless until they find rest in You." That quote decided me for Augustine. Hippolytus lost me when he fought Callixtus on forgiving repentant sinners.

  6. I wasn't going to vote for Augustine of Hippo because he abandoned his mistress and child; but I couldn't vote for Hippolytus who wrote against welcoming back those who repented of their sins.

  7. What a joy to be back, and straight in with a reminder that God works with and through our flaws and our failings. A tough choice, but I voted for Hippolytus because sometimes we need people brave enough to stand up and call out the powerful.

  8. Ordained as a priest against his will. Even in his own time, Augustine was slayed hard. Poor Hipplytus, he never had a chance.

  9. Auggie never respected women and that misogyny has corroded the Church from the get go.

    Hipolytus of Rome can be defeated later on.

    1. liz, i was wondering if someone was going to get to this. thanks for raising that point. nadia bolz-weber, as always, puts it far more bluntly -- as to his attitude toward women and sexuality, she writes "[ . . . ] while many of Augustine's teachings have been revered for generations, when it came to his ideas around sex and gender, he basically took a dump and the church encased it in amber. But instead of realizing this was one guy's personal s***, we assumed it was straight from God." (from her book "shameless: a sexual reformation.")

      that said, i was like "who does this hippolytus guy think he IS?!"

  10. Checked in two different browsers but not seeing the option to just "View the Vote". I voted earlier today, but would love to be able to check back and see how the two Hippos are doing. I thought we used to be able to view that without voting. (I DID see the current status after I voted.) Hoping this is just a 1st day glitch. (I tried both Chrome and Opera on a Mac . . . if others ARE seeing another option to view the vote, please list your browser.)

  11. St. Hippolytus is the patron saint of Mexico City. The Native city of Tenochtitlan fell to the Spanish in 1521 on his feast day.

  12. They are right! This is by far the best comment section in the interwebs! I agree with all be.oaning this difficult choice of flawed saints.
    I chose Augustine in the end only because his beautiful collect was part of the daily prayers of my school when I was quite young. Thank you forlayingthe foundations of my faith, St Margaret's School for Girls! (St Margaret of Scotland is tragically absent from this year's brackets, alas!)

    1. I also think it is traffic that St. Margaret of Scotland isn't here.. She's my church's patron saint!!
      Even my little Scottie agrees with you...

  13. Hmmm, Hippolytus chastised church leaders for a policy of acceptance for sinners who repent. Seems the anti-Christian to me.

  14. This is my first time for Lent Madness. Where do I find the winner of each matchup? Is it posted everyday? Thank you.

    1. You can look back at the previous day's matchup to see the results, check our Facebook page, read about it in the next day's matchup write-up, or click the Bracket tab for an updated bracket. So many ways!

      1. Tim, re viewing the results. I was asking about viewing the current tally before the results are final. I can't find any way to do that. Sometimes I'm torn and want to see who is in the lead before deciding how to vote. I know it used to be an option in previous years. Wondering why it is no longer available. (I also can't find any way to send a question to the webmasters without posting it as a comment.) Sorry, not on FB . . . only use the website.

  15. I have questions. How can one be ordained against his will? Did Augustine support his mistress and child after abandoning them and coming back to his faith? I don’t suppose that he did. It doesn’t seem Christian to leave them to abandon your responsibility to your family.

    As for Hippolytus, I am bothered that he disapproved of the bishop welcoming back “Christians with moral failings who had repented”. Jesus gave the opposite example.

    I voted for Augustine in spite of his abandonment of his child and the child’s mother. He is still quoted today, so his influence has endured and that’s a gift. I like the prayer quoted: “Our hearts are restless until they find rest in you.”

  16. This, as usual, presents us with an impossible choice. I realize Augustine is considered one of the fathers of the faith. However, he not only abandoned his wife and child, he believed that the only genetic material is passed on from the father and the mother is nothing more than an incubator. Hippolytus seems to have a less than charitable nature when it comes to forgiveness and redemption; however, it would be nice to be able to read that comment in full context. Whoever wins, I would vote against him in the next matchup.

  17. For the record, the reasons for Augustine leaving his wife/mistress/what-should-we-call-her are complicated, cultural, and involve his mother trying to set him up with an 11 year old heiress (Yea Monnica). And he did not abandon his son; they were baptized at the same time.
    But after slogging through his pear story in Confessions, I couldn't eat them for a decade without thinking of him!

  18. I didnt vote Augustine of Hippo because of onr sentence in his biography. He was forced to be ordained a priest.

    1. Ken, some of the best priests I know made every attempt to avoid their vocation and finally submitted to the Divine will.

  19. Interesting contrast between the bishop who didn't approve of forgiving repentant sinners, and the bishop who had once abandoned his family and (presumably) later repented that moral failing.

  20. I'm not a big fan of theologians - especially those of the second, third, or fourth centuries. Too often they muddy rather than clarify the holy waters.

    However, I have to vote for one of these two, so I'll go for the man who prayed, "Lord, make me chaste, but not yet." At least Augustine comes across as human, while Hippolytus sounds like one of those people who is so holier-than-thou one avoids them at every opportunity.

    NB to organizers: Can we get an easier match-up tomorrow, please?.

  21. Oh dear! My favorite part of this line up is the idea of "Hippo" vs "Hippo." I so strongly feel that Christianity's early focus -- in these Hippo's eras of late antiquity and everything leading up to the Nicene Creed -- on unknowable arcane points of theology rather than the witness of Jesus's life and teachings sent us off the Way that I am pretty stumped as to who to choose. Neither speaks to me. Augustine, as I recall, not only gave us "Original Sin" but abandoned his long-time common law wife. Did he support their child in any way thereafter? If you know, please elucidate. And Hippolytus seems very concerned with rooting out heresies -- again on unknowable aspects of the Divine. Help!

  22. Very interesting, so each "hippo" had a failing: an anti-Christian against an anti-pope. I can see, now, going with a vote for more grace for sinners, but abandoning the mistress and child really irked me, and I like horses 🙂 and the idea of a possible reconciliation, thus my vote for Hippolytus.