Our father among the Saints, St. Hippolytus of Rome, has the dubious honor of being the first anti-pope; that is, the first man who asserted that he was the true bishop of Rome against three different ponitffs rightly considered the legitimate holders of the position, Callistus, Urban, and Pontus. Hippolytus finally was reconciled under the care of pope St. Pontianus, with whom he faced martyrdom in 236. Hippolytus wrote extensively against the heretics of his day, namely the various Gnostic sects then proliferating in Rome and across the Mediterranean. St. Hippolytus may have been a disciple of St. Irenaeus, one of the great Christian Apologists of the second century, for he certainly seems very familiar with his writings. St. Hippolytus, along with Clement of Alexandria, first used the term Theopoiein (Θεοποιειν: to be made God) when speaking about our salvation. Hippolytus contended with the Gnostics who maintained that God worked through intermediaries, and that Jesus, like the evil demiurge who had created the world, was merely some form of emanation from God, and thus stood as some intermediary between God and corrupt creation. God did not create matter, and therefore we must be redeemed from it. Hippolytus, however, maintained that creation was not the Fall (we souls, now trapped in these pitiable earthen boxes), but the choosing of death by Adam and Eve, and the corruption that with that choice passed to their posterity. Creation, wrote Hippolytus, even our creation, was good. Christ, far from some intermediary between God and creation was the very divine creator of Heaven and earth, and the One through whom creation is made whole again. As created, we were not only good, but gods.
One of the texts Hippolytus used in arguing this is Psalm 81(82), whose last verse is the title of this article. We know this psalm most familiarly as the verses of the antiphon (not a prokeimenon, as my confessor told me over lunch/breakfast this morning) sung on the morning of Great and Holy Saturday following the Epistle lesson. In one sense it implicitly ends Holy Week and announces the resurrection. After it is sung, Fr. reads the Gospel with the first announcement of the resurrection to the holy myrrh-bearers. (It should be noted, this is the only Liturgy in our entire course of services that has no Alleluia after the Epistle.) The prokeimenon verse itself is the last verse of the chapter, but as it is the repeated refrain it is the first one sung by the reader, and then the entire chapter is chanted by the reader, each verse, as with the chanting of all prokeimena, followed by the verse of the refrain, here, “Arise, O God…” The verse is clearly about the resurrection, and so St. Hippolytus took it (whether it was used in the Roman Liturgy at this time, I don’t know). In his polemic, Hippolytus especially focused on verses six and seven: “Let all the foundations of the earth be shaken! I say: ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, you shall die like men, and fall like any prince.’” Our natural state, how we were created, was to exist within the Light and Life of God, to be His Glory, gods by participation in God. For Hippolytus, the eternal names or attributes of God the Father, naturally resident in Christ, are communicated to us by Christ assuming our human nature. But before this could be done, the sting of death needed to be removed. We were, as the verses stated, created as gods, made after the Image and Likeness of God, namely the Divine Logos or Word, the Son of God. Nonetheless, for our sins we have turned to death, and thus “die like men (mortals)”. Our turning away from life, from God Who is Life Himself, means turning toward sin. The Incarnation of the Son of God thus effected two things: first it delivered us from “this body of death (Romans 7:24),” and secondly gives to us life and immortality, the very Glory of God (John 17:24 “the glory which thou gave me I have given them”), i.e., we are made gods by the grace and power of God. The first of these is accomplished for all men at the resurrection, and this is why all humans shall be raised at the last day, regardless of sanctity (see I Corinthians 15:22). Theosis, the progress of the Christian in the life of Christ, is our assuming the divinity of God so that we might become gods by grace (though not by nature, for this belongs to the Holy Trinity alone). Our father among the Saints, St. Hippolytus, taught and teaches us to see that God’s taking of our nature is for our healing (the original meaning of ‘salvation’ in both Greek and Latin). His rising on Pascha gave to us life and immortality, though only realized by baptism, and through life in Him, that is, in His Body, namely the Church. St. Hippolytus’ feast is commemorated on 13 August.
Of father and holy martyr, Hippolytus, pray unto God for us!