Excerpts from Hippolytus of Rome

01.  On the tenets of the philosophers.

02.  On the systems of the astrologers.

03.  On the Gnostics.

04.  On  Peratae and Sethians.

05.  Concerning Simon Magus.

06.  Concerning Valentinus.

07.  Concerning Basilides.

08.  Concerning Marcion and Carpocrates.

09.  Concerning the Docetae.

10.  Concerning the Noetians.

11.  On Elchasai and the Jews.

12.  Hippolytus, the rightful bishop in opposition to Callistus.



We must not overlook any figment devised by those denominated philosophers among the Greeks. For even their incoherent tenets must be received as worthy of credit, on account of the excessive madness of the heretics; who, from the observance of silence, and from concealing their own ineffable mysteries, have by many been supposed worshippers of God ... since I perceive that they have not been abashed by our forbearance, and have made no account of how God is long-suffering, though blasphemed by them, in order that either from shame they may repent, or should they persevere, be justly condemned, I am forced to proceed in my intention of exposing those secret mysteries of theirs (Refutation of all heresies- Proemium).

In order, then, as we have already stated, that we may prove them atheists, both in opinion and their mode (of treating a question) and in fact, and (in order to show) whence it is that their attempted theories have accrued unto them, and that they have endeavoured to establish their tenets, taking nothing from the holy Scriptures -nor is it from preserving the succession of any saint that they have hurried headlong into these opinions;- but that their doctrines have derived their origin from the wisdom of the Greeks, from the conclusions of those who have formed systems of philosophy, and from would-be mysteries, and the vagaries of astrologers (Proemium).

And he (Pythagoras) is reported to have ordered his followers not to eat beans, because that Zaratas said that, at the origin and concretion of all things, when the earth was still undergoing its process of solidification, and that of putrefaction had set in, the bean was produced. And of this he mentions the following indication, that if any one, after having chewed a bean without the husk, places it opposite the sun for a certain period, - for this immediately will aid in the result,- it yields the smell of human seed. And he mentions also another clearer instance to be this: if, when the bean is blossoming, we take the bean and its flower, and deposit them in a jar, smear this over, and bury it in the ground, and after a few days uncover it, we shall see it wearing the appearance, first of a woman's pudendum, and after this, when closely examined, of the head of a child growing in along with it (Refutation, 1.2).

(Heraclitus) asserted that he himself knew everything, whereas the rest of mankind nothing. But he also advanced statements almost in concert with Empedocles, saying that the originating principle of all things is discord and friendship, and that the Deity is a fire endued with intelligence, and that all things are borne one upon another, and never are at a standstill; and just as Empedocles, he affirmed that the entire locality about us is full of evil things, and that these evil things reach as far as the moon, being extended from the quarter situated around the earth, and that they do not advance further, inasmuch as the entire space above the moon is more pure (R1.4).

(Anaximander) declared the Infinite to be an originating principle and element of existing things, being the first to employ such a denomination of the originating principle. But, moreover, he asserted that there is an eternal motion, by the agency of which it happens that the heavens are generated; but that the earth is poised aloft, upheld by nothing, continuing (so) on account of its equal distance from all (the heavenly bodies); and that the figure of it is curved, circular, similar to a column of stone. And one of the surfaces we tread upon, but the other is opposite. And that the stars are a circle of fire, separated from the fire which is in the vicinity of the world, and encompassed by air. And that certain atmospheric exhalations arise in places where the stars shine; wherefore, also, when these exhalations are obstructed, that eclipses take place (R1.5).

But Anaximenes, who himself was also a native of Miletus, and son of Eurystratus, affirmed that the originating principle is infinite air, out of which are generated things existing, those which have existed, and those that will be, as well as gods and divine (entities), and that the rest arise from the offspring of this ... And he says that the stars do not move under the earth, as some have supposed, but around the earth, just as a cap is turned round our head; and that the sun is hid, not by being under the earth, but because covered by the higher portions of the earth, and on account of the greater distance that he is from us (R1.6).

(Anaxagoras) affirmed the originating principle of the universe to be mind and matter; mind being the efficient cause, whereas matter that which was being formed. For all things coming into existence simultaneously, mind supervening introduced order ... And that the earth is in figure plane; and that it continues suspended aloft, by reason of its magnitude, and by reason of there being no vacuum, and by reason of the air, which was most powerful, bearing along the wafted earth ... And that the moon, being lower than the sun, is nearer us. And that the sun surpasses the Peloponnesus in size. And that the moon has not light of its own, but from the sun. But that the revolution of the stars takes place under the earth. And that the moon is eclipsed when the earth is interposed, and occasionally also those (stars) that are underneath the moon. And that the sun (is eclipsed) when, at the beginning of the month, the moon is interposed (R1.7).

(Archelaus held) that the earth is at rest, and that on this account it came into existence; and that it lies in the centre, being no part, so to speak, of the universe, delivered from the conflagration (R1.8).

(Parmenides) asserted that the world would be destroyed, but in what way he does not mention. The same (philosopher), however, affirmed the universe to be eternal, and not generated, and of spherical form and homogeneous, but not having a figure in itself, and immoveable and limited (R1.9).

(Democritus) makes statements similarly with Leucippus concerning elements, viz. plenitude and vacuum, denominating plenitude entity, and vacuum nonentity; and this he asserted, since existing things are continually moved in the vacuum. And he maintained worlds to be infinite, and varying in bulk (R1.11).

Xenophanes is of opinion that there had been a mixture of the earth with the sea, and that in process of time it was disengaged from the moisture, alleging that he could produce such proofs as the following: that in the midst of earth, and in mountains, shells are discovered; and also in Syracuse he affirms was found in the quarries the print of a fish and of seals, and in Paros an image of a laurel in the bottom of a stone, and in Melita parts of all sorts of marine animals (R1.12).

Plato (lays down) that there are three originating principles of the universe, (namely) God, and matter, and exemplar ... And that the exemplar, which he likewise calls ideas, is the intelligence of the Deity, to which, as to an image in the soul, the Deity attending, fabricated all things ... That matter, therefore, is an originating principle, and coeval with the Deity, and that in this respect the world is uncreated (R1.16).

In most points he (Aristotle) is in agreement with Plato, except the opinion concerning soul. For Plato affirms it to be immortal, but Aristotle that it involves permanence; and after these things, that this also vanishes in the fifth body, which he supposes, along with the other four (elements), -viz., fire, and earth, and water, and air,- to be a something more subtle (than these), of the nature of spirit (R1.17).

(The Stoics) likewise supposed God to be the one originating principle of all things, being a body of the utmost refinement, and that His providential care pervaded everything; and these speculators were positive about the existence of fate everywhere (R1.18).

Epicurus, however, advanced an opinion almost contrary to all. He supposed, as originating principles of all things, atoms and vacuity ... he says that God has providential care for nothing, and that there is no such thing at all as providence or fate, but that all things are made by chance ... and that the Deity surrendered Himself to pleasure, and took His ease in the midst of supreme happiness; and that neither has He any concerns of business, nor does He devote His attention to them (R1.19).

But there is also with the Indians a sect composed of those philosophizing among the Brachmans (R1.21).



From his own writings, Hippolytus appears as the rightful Bishop of Rome who upheld the true apostolic tradition against the unworthy pontiff Callistus, an impostor and a villain no less than a laxist and a heretic. The surprising reconciliation of the two bitterly opposing groups subsequently took place, following which the Callistians endorsed him as another glorious martyr in a united Church. However, he was only acknowledged as a presbyter or, at most, as a bishop in some uncertain see.


An alternative stance that relates these events to the struggles that rent the Roman Christians in the times of Maxentius is examined in Did Tertullian really exist? Did Cyprian? Did Hippolytus? Once more tolerant tetrarchs overthrew Diocletian’s system in the west, African and Roman rigorists forcefully attempted to depose the prelates that yielded or fled under persecution. Whereas in North Africa Donatus Magnus and Caecilian of Carthage attacked one another through the works of Tertullian and Cyprian respectively, the conflicting Roman ecclesiastical heads Heraclius and Eusebius contended under the figures of Hippolytus and Callistus.