Saints Hippolytus (170- 236) and Pontian (Pope) (236), Martyrs - Feast 13 August

Commemorating the translation of their remains to the cemetery of Callistus, recalls their connection with Pope Callistus I, also a martyr. In certain respects they are connected historically, though some of the associations between them stressed in the past are dubious and others accidental. To deal with the relevant events and traditions adequately it is necessary to cover Callistus. When he became pope in 198 or 199, Zephyrinus made Callistus (or Calixtus) effectively his "chief minister" and eventually a deacon or archdeacon, with such major responsibilities as the Christian cemeteries and perhaps the organization of the Roman parish, or titular, churches. A rich widow, Cecilia, gave him the land on the Appian Way where he opened a cemetery eventually named after him and where the third-century popes were usually buried. Callistus' opponent, the priest (possibly a bishop) and theologian Hippolytus, tells us that Zephyrinus supported Cleomenes, a leading Roman supporter of the fashionable Monarchian heresy. Among other theories, mainline Monarchians held that the unity or "monarchy" of the Father did not imply the independence of the Son in what prevailed as, and therefore was held always to have been, the orthodox Christian sense. Sabellius, one of the main proponents of the Modalist, or Sabellian, version of Monarchism, held that the Godhead was differentiated only by successive modes or operations; that Jesus was God by derivation, that is, by an influence from the Father on his human person; and that the Father suffered as the Son. In a perhaps essentially accurate if biased philosophical and anti-heretical work, the Philosopheumena, once attributed to Origen, Hippolytus also tells us that Callistus had been a slave of an important Christian, Carpophorus, who put him in charge of a bank that failed. Accordingly, we are told, the creditors threatened to punish Callistus severely. He forced his way into a synagogue and tried to arrest some Jewish debtors to the bank. They promptly denounced him as a Christian. He was beaten and sent to the Sardinian mines. Marcia, the emperor Commodus' mistress, is said to have obtained his release, together with other Christians. Pope Victor I sent him-with a pension - to recover at Antium. According to Hippolytus, Callistus (probably while an archdeacon) also supported Sabellius and even publicly professed a version of the (Monarchlan) heresy in which Jesus, as man, is certainly the Son, though, as God, he is the Father. It has been cogently suggested, however, that Caistus was trying to mediate between two rival groups. Now, of course, when such finely-modulated controversies. and a mediator's somewhat delphic statements, composed to reconcile rival factions but milrepresented as heresy by one of them, are reduced (as here) to cryptic or ambiguous summary propositions-and they hive long since given way to other notions of theological right and wrong with less dire implcations - detection of the borderline between orthodoxy and heresy in this particular respect may seem a very nice procedure indeed. Eventually (probably when he became pope), Callistus condemned and excommunicated Sabellius, which some commentators interpret as exhausted patience but others - following, presumably, Hippolytus - as due recantation.

Hippolytus had been the president of a major school of theology for many years. He was widely respected. When Origen was in Rome (c. 212), he went to hear Hippolytus preach. He was a severe critic of intellectually inferior arguments and of middle-brow enthusiasts such as the apocalypticists, who expected an imminent end of the world and whom he reproved in his chronicle of world history to 234. Hippolytus had not accepted the teaching of Pope Zephyrinus and was not satisfied with Callistus' condemnation of Sabellius. Supported by a strong anti-Callistian party, he broke off communion with a pope he declared to be heretical. Presumably believing that he himself ought to have been elected after Zephyrinus, Hippolytus became a rival, or antipope. This parallel movement, or schism, extended for some years beyond the death of Callistus, whose successors, Urban and Pontian, Hippolytus continued to oppose. He issued a liturgical handbook for his followers, the Apostolike Paradosis, and his Canon of the Mass would seem to be the earliest surviving evidence for the Eucharistic Prayer of the Roman liturgy. One of the texts of the revised Roman Canon is based on writings ascribed to him. He was obvi- ously held in great esteem, for among various testimonies certain Sacramentaries and the Liber Pontificalis acknowledge his cult, and a (by then headless) third- century statue in his honour showing him in philosopher's dress and bearing a list of his writings was found in the sixteenth century. It is now in the Lateran Museum.

Hippolytus also said that Callistus was morally suspect and claimed that he accepted sexual sinners as penitents and recognized marriages invalid in Ro- man law, such as those between freed-men and -women and slaves. It has been and remains a question of scholarly debate whether it was Callistus who issued a "lax" edict on penance adversely criticized by Tertullian. Hippolytus certainly refused to relax, as the Roman bishops did, the rules of penance to accommodate the large numbers of converts from paganism, including rich Christian women who might be forced into marriages with pagans or even Christians of an inappropriate class. For their part, both Zephyrinus and Callistus accused Hlppolytul of diethism, and if the wrltings said to be hiis, are his, then he would seem to have held that the Spirit is not a Person and that the Word has two apects or states: the inward, eternal Logos and the outward, temporal Logos, who, so to speak, develops to the point of incarnation as the Son, so that the Son "was" not "for ever" in the same relation to the Father; and this would not accord with orthodox Christian doctrine. Here again, with out very detailed explanation it il difficult to show just how that il so and even more difficult to demonstrate that what Hippolytus is said to have proposed differs essentially from what Callistus and Zephyrinus are said to have held. Another problem is that, as in the third century, when brilliant theologians such as Hippolytus tried (in his Refutationof all Heresies) to show that heresies were wrong by exposing the impropriety of -- but thereby expounding -- the Greek philosophical arguments on which they rested, these very expositions may, as then, be interpreted as a theologian's own theses.

Callistus built two churches with houses and offices on land donated by St Cecilia in the Trastevere area of Rome, where her family owned several blocks of flats. One became the "title" of St Cecilia; the other was named after Callistus but is now Santa Maria in Trastevere. The former non-Christian inhabitants of the district must have been evicted and would have seen the action not as slum clearance for God's own people, and thus for the greater good, but as partisan property development. They could not claim the emperor's support, for Alexander Severus was religiously inclined, liked to mix bits of different faiths, was sympathetic to Christians, and preferred the celebration of their rites to the taverns said to have been on the spot. It has been suggested that dispossessed artisans and shopkeepers were responsible for the martyrdom of Callistus, whom, his quite unreliable Passion tells us, a band of pagans threw into a well in the Trastevere, possibly on 14 October 222. Pontian (or Pontianus) succeeded Urban I as bishop of Rome in about 230. He was said to have been a Roman by birth. The only known event of his pontificate is a synod held in Rome to confirm the condemnation of certain doctrines attributed to Origen. Origen had quarrelled with his bishop, Demetrius, apparently because Palestinian bishops had ordained him to the priesthood despite the fact that he was not thought suitable. This was because, when head of the catechetical school in Alexandria and a young and over- zealous ascetic, he had interpreted Matthew 19: 12 literally and castrated him- self. He was deposed in Alexandria and took refuge in Caesarea, where he established a school and wrote and preached. Controversy about his actual and supposed works (though supported by many famous persons, including saints) continued for centuries; Origenism was last formally condemned at the Second Council of Constantinople in 533. .. The former guards officer Maximin (or Maximinus) became emperor in 235 and promptly intensified the persecution of church leaders. Ponti an and Hippolytus (still a priest) were deported to Sardinia, which was reputed to be unhealthy.

Pontian resigned his papacy and both he and Hippolytus died on the island in 235 or 236, from ill treatment rather than the insalubrious locality alone and are therefore venerated as martyrs. Traditionally, Pontian is said to have been beaten to death with sticks. Some years later, when that particular persecution had stopped, Pope St Fabian, Pontian's next-but-one successor {236-50; 20 Jan.), had Pontian's and Hippolytus' remains moved to Rome, which would indicate that before his death Hippolytus was somehow reconciled to the rival party. Pontian was buried in the cemetery of Callistus. In 1909 his original epitaph was found there. It reads PONTIANUS EPISK MPT, but the last word is a later addi- tion. He is commemorated on this day together with Hippolytus largely be- cause their names were coupled in the fourth-century Depositio Martyrum: "Idus Aug. Ypoliti in Tiburtina et Pontiani in Callisti," for Hippolytus was interred on the Tiburtine Way on the same day as Pontian, 13 August. Never- theless, for a long time the more illustrious Hippolytus was commemorated on his own, but gradually his fame was obscured. For many years he was confused with a fictitious Roman martyr, a soldier said to have been converted by St Laurence (10 Aug.) and condemned to be ripped in two by horses. Prudentius had already mistaken him for another martyr said to have been torn apart by wild horses; this also fitted his name, for Hippolytus means "loosed horse," and his mythical predecessor, the honourable but wrongly-accused Hippolytus, son of Theseus, had suffered the same fate when his grandfather, Poseidon, had sent a sea monster to frighten his horses. As a result of this confusion at least two churches in England were dedicated to Hippolytus, and ailing horses were brought through one of them to his shrine to be healed. Florus restored Pontian to the Martyrology with 20 November as his date. The new draft Roman Martyrology may be said to have reunited all three saints, associated indeed not only by misadventure but by controversy, rivalry, and calumny. Thus through their martyrdom they may be said to have transcended the bitter divisions of those harsh times in the communion of saints.