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Hippolytus : Writings

Hippolytus's voluminous writings, which for variety of subject can be compared with those of Origen, embrace the spheres of exegesis, homiletics, apologetics and polemic, chronography and ecclesiastical law. His works have unfortunately come down to us in such a fragmentary condition that it is difficult to obtain from them any very exact notion of his intellectual and literary importance. Of his exegetical works the best preserved are the Commentary on the Prophet Daniel and the Commentary on the Song of Songs. In spite of many instances of a want of taste in his typology, they are distinguished by a certain sobriety and sense of proportion in his exegesis. We are unable to form an opinion of Hippolytus as a preacher, for the Homilies on the Feast of Epiphany which go under his name are wrongly attributed to him. He wrote polemical words directed against the pagans, the Jews and heretics. The most important of these polemical treatises is the Refutation of all Heresies, which has come to be known by the inappropriate title of the Philosophumena. Of its ten books, the second and third are lost; Book i. was for a long time printed (with the title Philosopizumena) among the works of Origen; Books iv.-x. were found in 1842 by the Greek Minoides Mynas, without the name of the author, in a Armenian convent at Mount Athos. It is nowadays universally admitted that Hippolytus was the author, and that Books i. and iv.-x belong to the same work. The importance of the work has, however, been much overrated; a close examination of the sources for the exposition of the Gnostic system which is contained in it has proved that the information it gives is not always trustworthy. Of the dogmatic works, that on Christ and Antichrist survives in a complete state. Among other things it includes a vivid account of the events preceding the end of the world, and it was probably written at the time of the persecution under Septimius Severus, i.e. about 202. The influence of Hippolytus was felt chiefly through his works on chronographic and ecclesiastical law. His chronicle of the world, a compilation embracing the whole period from the creation of the world up to the year 234, formed a basis for many chronographical works both in the East and West. In the great compilations of ecclesiastical law which arose in the East since the 4th century much of the material was taken from the writings of Hippolytus; how much of this is genuinely his, how much of it worked over, and how much of it wrongly attributed to him, can no longer be determined beyond dispute even by the most learned investigation.


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