Hippolytus – Notes on the Refutation of All Heresies – Book II and III

Book two and three have been lost.

The contents of The Refutation, as they originally stood, seem to have been arranged thus: The first book (which we have) contained an account of the different schools of ancient philosophers; the second (which is missing), the doctrines and mysteries of the Egyptians; the third (likewise missing), the Chaldean science and astrology; and the fourth (the beginning of which is missing), the system of the Chaldean horoscope, and the magical rites and incantations of the Babylonian Theurgists. Next came the portion of the work relating more immediately to the heresies of the Church, which is contained in books v.-ix. The tenth book is the résumé of the entire, together with the exposition of the author’s own religious opinions. The heresies enumerated by Hippolytus comprehend a period starting from an age prior to the composition of St. John’s Gospel, and terminating with the death of Callistus. The heresies are explained according to chronological development, and may be ranged under five leading schools: (1) The Ophites; (1) Simonists; (3) Basilidians; (4) Docetae; (5) Noetians. Hippolytus ascends to the origin of heresy, not only in assigning heterodoxy a derivative nature from heathenism, but in pointing out in the Gnossis elements of abnormal opinions antecedent to the promulgation of Christianity. We have thus a most interesting account of the early heresies, which in some respects supplies many desiderata in the ecclesiastical history of this epoch.

We can scarcely over-estimate the value of The Refutation, on account of the propinquity of its author to the apostolic age. Hippolytus was a disciple of St. Irenaeus, St. Irenaeus of St. Polycarp, St. Polycarp of St. John. Indeed, one fact of grave importance connected with the writings of St. John, is elicited from Hippolytus’ Refutation. The passage given out of Basilides’ work, containing a quotation by the heretic from St. John i. g, settles the period of the composition of the fourth Gospel, as of greater antiquity by at least thirty years than is allowed to it by the Tubingen school. It is therefore obvious that Basilides formed his system out of the prologue of St. John’s Gospel; thus for ever setting at rest the allegation of these critics, that St. John’s Gospel was written at a later date, and assigned an apostolic author, in order to silence the Basilidian Gnostics.14 In the case of Irenaeus, too, The Refutation has restored the Greek text of much of his book Against Heresies, hitherto only known to us in a Latin version. Nor is the value of Hippolytus’ work seriously impaired, even on the supposition of the authorship not being proved,-a concession, however, in no wise justified by the evidence. Whoever the writer of The Refutation be, he belonged to the early portion of the third century, formed his compilations from primitive sources, made conscientious preparation for his undertaking, delivered statements confirmed by early writers of note,15 and lastly, in the execution of his task, furnished indubitable marks of information and research, and of having thoroughly mastered the relations and affinities, each to other, of the various heresies of the first two and a quarter centuries. These heresies, whether deducible from attempts to Christianize the philosophy of Paganism, or to interpret the Doctrines and Life of our Lord by the tenets of Gnosticism and Oriental speculation generally, or to create a compromise with the pretensions of Judaism,-these heresies, amid all their complexity and diversity, St. Hippolytus16 reduces to one common ground of censure-antagonism to Holy Scripture. Heresy, thus branded, he leaves to wither under the condemnatory sentence of the Church.

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