Church History, Lesson 12: Christianity in North Africa, Part 2

Christ enthroned as heavenly king 2The Writing Down of What Was Handed Down


Tertullian (160-225 AD), the first Latin Church Father, provided us with much of our Church language and ways of thinking.  He also helped set up an idea of perfectionism, sometimes treating forgiveness as a possible excuse to sin, foremost in matters of marriage and fornication.

Today, we look at two Church fathers: Hippolytus and Origen.  Both believed to be born in North Africa, Hippolytus later settled in Rome.  They both compiled what they understood Jesus handed down to His Apostles, passed down in Christ’s Church.

Both shared a similar moral rigor required for the Christian.  “The Church is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners,” we sometimes say.  Both Hippolytus and Origen would disagree.  For them, they held three “unforgivable” sins: homicide, fornication, and apostasy (remaining in unbelief).


Hippolytus: 170-235 AD

A student of Irenaeus, perhaps born in Egypt, Hippolytus was a Greek-speaking presbyter, who served in Rome during the late second and early third century.  He was the first to collect the “tradition,” that which was believed to be handed down from Jesus.  Unlike a younger contemporary, Origen, Hippolytus was more interested in the liturgy than systemizing the Faith.  His renown was such that Origen traveled to Rome to hear him lecture.

Hippolytus’ most influential work was Apostolic Tradition, a discussion of how Christian worship was and is to be conducted.  This work now stands as one of the earliest surviving sources of ordination for pastors, the structure and order of various serving offices in the Church, baptism, catechumens (those undergoing confirmation) in the Church, and the Church’s practice on the Lord’s Supper (the Eucharist).

In 235 AD, Roman authorities exiled Hippolytus on the island of Sardinia, working in the salt mines.  He died in exile, and his body was transferred to Rome for burial.


Origen: 186-255 AD

Origen’s father, Leonides, was a Christian teacher of literature and rhetoric.  Origen is an Egyptian name, meaning “child of Horus.”  This suggests that his father became a Christian after Origen was born or his mother was not a Christian.

When 17, Origen’s father was martyred by decapitation.  Perhaps, Origen’s experience with martyrdom shaped his hardline thinking on needing to take Christianity seriously and his view on unforgivable sins.  He lived an austere life: fasting, abstaining from wine, and choosing to live in simple poverty.

To help his family financially, the Bishop of Alexandria, Demetrius, appointed Origen to help teach the Christian faith to catechumens at age 18.  He also became a private instructor for both men and women.  According to Church historian Eusebius:

[Origen] took the saying, “There are those who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake” in too literal an absurd a sense…  So, he quickly carried out our Savior’s words… [Eusebius Church History 6.8]

Two of Origen’s pupils at Alexandria later become bishops in Caesarea and Jerusalem.  They invited Origen to teach there as a presbyter in 235 AD, where he established a school in Caesarea.  There, he learned Hebrew and compiled the Hexapla.  This was a six-column version of the Bible with the Hebrew and the available Greek translations, though he still considered the Septuagint as the “real” Christian version to be used in the churches.  His compilation of the tradition received from Jesus was his theological book, First Principles.

Arrested late in life, Origen was stretched on a rack and tortured, not to kill him but to cause pain so he would deny his faith.  He never did, still alive when the persecution ended.  He was sent home, never recovering, dying in 255 AD.

Today, both Rome and the East consider Origen to be apostate.  For he refused to change his position that Jesus and God were of the same substance, even Jesus was subordinate to God.  Origen argued, though the Logos was close to God and of the same substance as God, was something different from God.  This will influence a later heresy called “Arianism.”


Repentance and “Unforgivable Sins”

Like Tertullian, both Hippolytus and Origen could be unforgiving.  With Hippolytus, we find the first public argument against a sitting Pope, Callistus (Pope, 218-223 AD).  Earlier, in Irenaeus’ day, we saw Christian unity.  The disagreements that existed then were between Christians and “heretics.”  Now, we find public arguments taking place among the Church’s clergy, revealing differences in what the Church now taught and practiced.  For Hippolytus, Pope Callistus was too lax, too willing to forgive and readmit someone to the Lord Supper after repentance.

Your pastor thinks Hippolytus exaggerated to scandalize Callistus, even accusing him of promoting abortion and women living out of wedlock.  In Hippolytus’ outlandish accusations, we can find what the Church considered to be wrong practices relating to baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

Such sin the lawless one [Callistus] promotes—adultery and murder at the same time!  After such outrageous acts, [the followers of Callistus,] without shame, call themselves the Catholic Church!…  During the oversight of this one, a second baptism was attempted for the first time!  These practices and opinions, which Callistus established, and whose school continues to propagate, promotes these customs and traditions.  Not discerning whom to commune, they indiscriminately offer communion to all.  [Hippolytus Refutation of Heresies 9.7]

  • According to Hippolytus, what baptismal practice was wrong, which some do today?


  • What improper communion practice was Hippolytus referring to?


Origen considered repentance as a three-part process.

  1. Turning away from sin (Homilies on Leviticus 17 [3], Against Celsus71.114, On Prayer 25.1).
  2. Turning to God (First Principles1.6.35).
  3. External evidence, showing the fruits of repentance (Homilies on Leviticus5, 8) by which “you will be said to have made a propitiation for transgression” (Homilies on Leviticus 5.4 [4]).
  • Be demanding the “fruits of repentance” as visible proof, what unbiblical “litmus test” did Origen require?


Biblical repentance does include the first two.  The third, however, is hit and miss, since we are unable to be without sin (1 John 1:8-9).  Origen’s understanding of repentance led him to a rigidity concerning the sins of murder and fornication/adultery, which became unforgivable, keeping someone from receiving the Eucharist after committing such sins.

  • Does this practice exist, in some way, within the Roman Catholic Church?


Origen also wrote:

If anyone in the church who is circumcised by the grace of baptism should afterward become a transgressor of Christ’s law, his baptismal circumcision will become for him the uncircumcision of unbelief.  [Commentary on Romans 2.12.4]

  • What was Origen saying about the person who became a transgressor of Christ’s law?



The water should be flowing into the tank or be poured down into it if no necessity exists.  But if a continuous and immediate need exists, use any water you can find.  And those being baptized should wear not clothing.  Baptize the little ones first. All those who can speak for themselves should speak. For those who cannot speak for themselves, their parents, or somebody who belongs to their family, should speak for them.  Then baptize the grown men and finally the women… [Hippolytus Apostolic Tradition 21.2-5]

  • What does baptizing “those who cannot speak for themselves” tell us about the ages of those who were baptized?


  • What type of what was normally under for baptism? (Remember the lesson on The Didache?)


  • That an “immediate need” for someone to be baptized implies what about baptism?


… when [the baptized] comes up out of the water, the presbyter will anoint him with the oil of thanksgiving.  He does this, saying, “I anoint you with the oil of thanksgiving in the name of Jesus Christ.”  Then each will dry themselves with a towel and put on their clothes again.  After this, join those in the church assembly. [Hippolytus Apostolic Tradition 21.19-20]

  • What happened after baptism?


Little children are baptized “for the forgiveness of sins.”  Whose sins and when did they sin?  Or how can we explain keeping the baptismal washing for small children?  We can only do so according to the understanding we spoke of a little earlier?  “‘No man is clean of stain, not even if his life upon the earth had lasted but a single day” [Job 14:4-5].  Through the mystery of baptism, the stains of birth are put aside.  This is why even small children are baptized.  For “unless born of water and the Spirit, one cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.” [Origen Homilies on Luke 14.5]

  • For Origen, what did baptism do?


  • Because of that, who was baptized?


Pastoral Ordination

He who is ordained as a bishop, being chosen by all the people, must be irreproachable.  When his name is announced and approved, the people will gather on the Lord’s day with the elders [presbyters] and the bishops who are present.  With the assent of all, the bishops will lay their hands on him, with the elders standing in silence.  Everyone will keep silent, praying in their hearts for the descent of the Holy Spirit.  After this, one of the bishops present, at the request of all, will lay his hand upon him who is being ordained a bishop, and will pray. [Hippolytus Apostolic Tradition 2.1-5]

  • How were both the laity and clergy included in the ordination of a bishop?


The Eucharist

After the prayer, the newly ordained now stands and presides over the Lord’s Supper.

Let him say, giving thanks:

“The Lord be with you.”

And all will say: “And with your spirit.”

“Hearts on high.”

“We have them to the Lord.”

“Let us give thanks.”

“It is fitting and right.”

And then he will continue thus:

We give thanks to you God, through your beloved Child, Jesus Christ … [a long Proper Preface continues with our Lord’s words of institution] took bread and giving thanks to you, he said, “Take, eat, this is my body which will be broken for you.”  Likewise, with the cup, he said, “This is my blood poured out for you.” [Hippolytus Apostolic Tradition 4]

  • Is this familiar in our celebration of the Lord’s Supper?


Origen made several historically important remarks on celebrating the Eucharist.  He argued the practices passed down must be carefully observed (Dialogue with Heracleides 4.28).  He noted the reverence and awe with which the Eucharist was celebrated and received in the Church of his day (Homilies on Leviticus 13.5.52-65, Fragments in 1 Corinthians 34, Commentary on Matthew 10.25, and others) and the respectful way the body of the Lord was consumed (Homilies on Exodus 13.3.68-72).

We give thanks to the Creator of the universe and eat the loaves that are presented with thanksgiving and pray over the gifts so, by the prayer, they become the holy body, which sanctifies those who partake of it with a pure intention. [Origen Against Celsus 8.33.21-17]

Origen argued, despite not everybody understanding the meaning of the ceremonies of the Eucharist, they should nevertheless be observed faithfully and reverently.

Moreover, in the religious observances, which… not everyone understands…  Moreover, who would readily explain the reasons for the way we observe the Eucharist, or for the rite of explanation by which it is celebrated…   And yet, we carry all these things on our shoulders… [Origen Homily on Numbers 1.4]


Military Service

Our earliest evidence for Christians serving in the military dates to 174 AD.  Many Christians in the eastern Cappadocia [today Turkey] joined the Roman “Lightning Legion.”  They fought against a German tribe called the “Quadi,” which was conducting raids into Roman territory (Cecil John Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude on War, 229)

Though not a large part of Tertullian’s writing, he did comment on Christians serving in the military.

First, can any believer enlist in the military?  Second, can any soldier … be admitted into the Church?  No on both counts.  For no agreement can exist between the divine sacrament and the human sacrament, the standard of Christ and the standard of the devil, the camp of light and the camp of darkness.  One soul cannot serve two masters—God and Caesar.  [On Idolatry 19]

Hippolytus adopted Tertullian’s thinking.  “Any catechumen or believer who wishes to become a soldier must be dismissed from the Church because they have despised God” (Hippolytus Apostolic Tradition 16:10).  Origen gives us part of the reason why.

The kings of the earth, the Roman senate, the Roman people, and the imperial nobility have banded together in order to vanquish at once the name of Jesus and of Israel, for they have established in their laws that there will be no Christians.  [Origen, Homilia in Jesu Nave 9.11]

  • For Origen, why does he, in part, teach why Christians must not serve in the Roman Army?


Guardian Angels

Clement of Rome (we studied him in Lesson 7) laid the groundwork for guardian angels, quoting Deuteronomy 32:8-9 from the Septuagint.  “For is it not written, ‘When the Most High divided up the peoples and scattered the sons of Adam, he fixed the boundaries of the nations by the number of God’s angels …’” (Clement Corinthians 29).  (The Masoretic Text reads, “…by the number of the sons of Israel.”)

Origen further developed Clement’s thinking, bringing a widespread belief in guardian angels.  Further developing Clement’s thought from Deuteronomy 32:8, Origen taught that each nation also has a particular guardian angel (Homilies on Genesis 9.3, Homilies on Joshua 23.3, Against Celsus 5.30-32).

For individual guardian angels, Origen built his theology in a couple of ways.  First, he used the Apocrypha book of Tobit, with the angel Raphael, who watched over Tobias.  He also used the Psalms.  “For he [God]will command his angels to protect you in all your ways.  With their hands, they will lift you up so that you will not strike your foot against a stone” (Psalm 91:11-12).  So, he taught and preached:

…in the epistle of Jude, “To them that are beloved in God the Father and are kept for Jesus Christ, being called “kept,” meaning kept completely by the angels who keep them.  [Commentary on Matthew 13.27]

We have said on repeated occasions that the care and oversight of souls that are in the Church of God are carried out by angels… [Homily on Numbers 3.3]

Origen also used Matthew 10:10.  [Jesus speaking to His disciples,] “See that you do not despise one of these little ones.  For I tell you, their angels in heaven always have access to my Father in heaven.”

  • How did Origen move from angels having access to God the Father in heaven to becoming “guardian angels”?


  • Is his “move” true to the spirit of the biblical text?


Typology (Old Testament Foreshadowings)

To refute another presbyter from Smyrna, named Noetus, Hippolytus wrote of Adam being an opposite foreshadowing of Christ:

So in the same way in which he was proclaimed, Jesus became present, as well.  He manifested himself by becoming a new man from the virgin and the Holy Spirit.  While, as the Word, he has the heavenly element from his father and the earthly element, which he gets from taking flesh from the old Adam through the virgin.  Jesus came forth into the world and manifested Himself as God embodied, going forth as perfect man.  For he truly became man, and not just in appearance or figuratively speaking. [Against Noetum 17.4-5]

In his commentary on Romans, Origen wrote:

Just as something is diffused to all men from the one Adam, so also something is diffused to all men from the one Christ….  Adam “made the many sinners” but Christ in his obedience “made the many righteous.”  [Romans 5.1.7]

As with Justin and Irenaeus before, both Hippolytus and Origen also understood Eve to be an opposite foreshadow of Mary.  Irenaeus wrote:

Mary the virgin was found obedient … [where] Eve had been disobedient …  By disobeying, Eve became the cause of death, both for herself and for the entire human race.  Not so with  Mary.  Engaged to a man but still a virgin, she obeyed, and so became the cause of salvation, both for herself and for the whole human race….   [Ireneaus Against Heresies 3, 22:4]

Mary became Eve’s advocate.  The human race, bound to death by a virgin’s disobedience, found salvation by a virgin’s obedience. [Ireneaus Against Heresies 4, 19:1]

  • If Jesus, to whom Mary gave birth, was also Mary’s salvation, what does that mean about whether she was sinful or not?


Notice the shift in thinking that begins to take place.

Now the Lord was without sin, receiving his human nature from incorruptible wood, that is from the Virgin, and being sheathed, as it were, with the pure gold of the Word within and of the Spirit without. [Hippolytus Sermonum Fragmentum, quoted by Theodoret Dialogue 1 in EM 118]

  • What is Hippolytus implying when he says that Jesus came from Mary “in his human nature from incorruptible wood”?


This Virgin Mother of the Only-begotten of God is called Mary, worthy of God, immaculate of the immaculate, one of the one, most complete sanctity, perfect justice, neither deceived by the persuasion of the serpent, not infected with his poisonous breathings” (Origen, Homily 1).

  • Origen referred to Mary as “immaculate of the immaculate” who was “not infected with [the serpent’s] poisonous breathings.” What did he mean?


  • What will this later develop into with Roman Catholicism (in 1854 by Pope Pius IX)?


Link to the next Lesson.


Speak Your Mind