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.



The greatest struggle now remains behind, viz., to furnish an account and refutation of those heresies that have sprung up in our own day, by which certain ignorant and presumptuous men have attempted to scatter abroad the Church, and have introduced the greatest confusion among all the faithful throughout the entire world (Refutation of all heresies 9.1).

There has appeared one, Noetus by name, and by birth a native of Smyrna. This person introduced a heresy from the tenets of Heraclitus. Now a certain man called Epigonus becomes his minister and pupil, and this person during his sojourn at Rome disseminated his godless opinion ... But (Zephyrinus) himself, being in process of time enticed away, hurried headlong into the same opinions; and he had Callistus as his adviser, and a fellow-champion of these wicked tenets (R9.2).

Now, even though the opinion of Heraclitus has been expounded by us previously in the Philosophumena, it nevertheless seems expedient now also to set down side by side in contrast the two systems, in order that by this closer refutation they may be evidently instructed. I mean the followers of this (heretic Noetus, Zephyrinus and Callistus), who imagine themselves to be disciples of Christ, when in reality they are not so, but of "the Obscure." (R9.3).

(Heraclitus likewise affirms) that there is "a harmony, as in a bow and lyre." That obscure harmony (is better), though unknown and invisible to men, he asserts in these words: "An obscure harmony is preferable to an obvious one." He commends and admires before what is known, that which is unknown and invisible in regard of its power. And that harmony visible to men, and not incapable of being discovered, is better, he asserts in these words: "Whatever things are objects of vision, hearing, and intelligence, these I pre-eminently honour," he says; that is, he prefers things visible to those that are invisible (R9.4).

In this manner Heraclitus assigns to the visible an equality of position and honour with the invisible, as if what was visible and what was invisible were confessedly some one thing ... the silly successors of Noetus, and the champions of his heresy, even though they have not been hearers of the discourses of Heraclitus, nevertheless, at any rate when they adopt the opinions of Noetus, undisguisedly acknowledge these (Heraclitean) tenets. For they advance statements after this manner -that one and the same God is the Creator and Father of all things; and that when it pleased Him, He nevertheless appeared, (though invisible,) to just men of old. (R9.5).

Now, that Noetus affirms that the Son and Father are the same, no one is ignorant. But he makes his statement thus: "When indeed, then, the Father had not been born, He yet was justly styled Father; and when it pleased Him to undergo generation, having been begotten, He Himself became His own Son, not another's." For in this manner he thinks to establish the sovereignty of God, alleging that Father and Son, so called, are one and the same (substance) ... That this person (Father and Son) suffered by being fastened to the tree, and that He commended His spirit unto Himself, having died to appearance, and not being (in reality) dead. (R9.5).

Callistus attempted to confirm this heresy, -a man cunning in wickedness, and subtle where deceit was concerned, (and) who was impelled by restless ambition to mount the episcopal throne. Now this man moulded to his purpose Zephyrinus, an ignorant and illiterate individual, and one unskilled in ecclesiastical definitions. And inasmuch as Zephyrinus was accessible to bribes, and covetous, Callistus, by luring him through presents, and by illicit demands, was enabled to seduce him into whatever course of action he pleased (R9.6).

It would seem to us desirable to explain the life of this heretic (Callistus), inasmuch as he was born about the same time with ourselves, in order that, by the exposure of the habits of a person of this description, the heresy attempted to be established by him may be easily known, and may perchance be regarded as silly, by those endued with intelligence ... Callistus, however, made away with all (the moneys committed to him), and became involved in pecuniary difficulties ... Fuscianus, however, was swayed by these Jews, and having scourged Callistus, he gave him to be sent to a mine in Sardinia ... But Callistus himself, dropping on his knees, and weeping, entreated that he likewise might obtain a release ... Now (the governor) was persuaded, and liberated Callistus also. And when the latter arrived at Rome, Victor was very much grieved at what had taken place (R9.6-7).

Callistus alleges that the Logos Himself is Son, and that Himself is Father; and that though denominated by a different title, yet that in reality He is one indivisible spirit. And he maintains that the Father is not one person and the Son another, but that they are one and the same; and that all things are full of the Divine Spirit, both those above and those below. And he affirms that the Spirit, which became incarnate in the virgin, is not different from the Father, but one and the same ... And in this way Callistus contends that the Father suffered along with the Son; for he does not wish to assert that the Father suffered, and is one Person, being careful to avoid blasphemy against the Father (R9.7).

The impostor Callistus, having ventured on such opinions, established a school of theology in antagonism to the Church, adopting the foregoing system of instruction. And he first invented the device of conniving with men in regard of their indulgence in sensual pleasures, saying that all had their sins forgiven by himself. For he who is in the habit of attending the congregation of any one else, and is called a Christian, should he commit any transgression; the sin, they say, is not reckoned unto him, provided only he hurries off and attaches himself to the school of Callistus (R9.7).

(Callistus) permitted females, if they were unwedded, and burned with passion at an age at all events unbecoming, or if they were not disposed to overturn their own dignity through a legal marriage, that they might have whomsoever they would choose as a bedfellow, whether a slave or free, and that a woman, though not legally married, might consider such a companion as a husband. Whence women, reputed believers, began to resort to drugs for producing sterility, and to gird themselves round, so to expel what was being conceived on account of their not wishing to have a child either by a slave or by any paltry fellow (R9.7).


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.


Return to Excerpts from Hippolytus