"Who is Saint Hippolyte?"
That question is asked often. Can't find him in your Dictionary of the Saints? Try looking under Hippolytus. Early documents show that the Roman Catholic Church in Frenchtown was dedicated to Saint Hippolytus. How, why or when the name evolved into "Hippolyte" is a mystery, but it's been that way a very long time and nobody is about to change it now.
The life of Saint Hippolytus is somewhat of a mystery itself. He was born around 170 AD. A priest in the Church of Rome during the late second and early third century, Hippolytus had a strict idea about how people should live. Until the 1851 publishing of his works titled “Philosophumena", also known as “A Refutation of all Heresies”, not much was known about him. Most authorities do agree that he was born in the eastern Empire. He later moved to Rome, becoming a leading writer on Christian theology and worship. Hippolytus was a harsh critic of anyone that did not live up to his demanding standards.
During the reign of Pope Zephyrinun (198-217) he got into a conflict with him and the Church of Rome on account of Christological opinions that were causing controversies in Rome. Hippolytus combated the heresies and false doctrines of Theodotion, the Alogi, Noetus, Epigonus, Cleomenes, and Sabellius who saw the Father and the Son as only manifestations of God. Hipplytus believed in a real difference between the Son and the Father, with the Son being Divine but also completely separate from and subordinate to the Father.
When Pope Zehyrinus declined to give a decision on the matter, Hippolytus censured him and called him unworthy to rule the Church of Rome. He also called the Pope a tool in the hands of the deacon Callistus. After Zephyrinus died, Callistus was elected Pope (217-218). Declaring Pope Calistus too lenient in disciplinary and doctrinal matters, Hippolytus instantly left the communion of the Roman Church. He was then elected as the first antipope.
Fifteen years and three pontificates later, anti-Christian emperor Maximinus sentenced both Hippolytus and Pope Pontian to death. They were sent to the penal colony of Sardinia in 235. It was there that they reconciled their differences before their deaths. The following year on August 13, Pope Fabian brought their remains back to Rome for a solemn burial. Pontianus was solemnly interred in the papal vault in the catacomb of Callistus. Saint Hippolytus was interred in a vault in a cemetery on the Via Tiburtina. His feast day is August 13th, and his Saint Emblem is a horse.
During his lifetime, Hippolytus wrote many works including books and commentaries. Most of his writings have been lost or destroyed over the many years since his time. With his works being in Greek, they were lost to the areas no longer familiar to the language. Most of the ones that did survive were found translated in Oriental or Slavic languages. His works deal with seven branches of theology. He also wrote commentaries of several books from the Old and New Testaments, as well as one found complete on the Canticle of Canticles. His commentary on the Book of Daniel alone is four books. His work on Christ and Antichrist (“De Antichristo”) has come down entirely from the original Greek. Even with “Philosophumena”, books two and three out of ten, as well as the beginning of the fourth are missing. Not until the 20th century was the works by St. Hippolytus named “The Apostolic Tradition” discovered.
He is said to be the most profound Roman Theologian of the Third Century.
Found in 1551 and restored, there is a preserved marble statue, dating from the third century, of the saint seated with the paschal cycle computed by Hippolytus and a list of writings listed on the side of the chair in the Lateran museum. In 1959, his statue was placed in the Vatican Library by Pope John XXIII.
“If we have omitted anything, beloved ones, God will reveal it to those who are worthy, steering Holy Church to her mooring in the quiet haven”
(Excerpt from “The Apostolic Constitution”)
If you do look up Hippolytus in your Dictionary of the Saints, you will find that he is the patron saint of horses. How did a theologian and scholar, and the first antipope, become the patron saint of horses?
Only a few decades after his death, Hippolytus' legend was confused with a mythical figure of the same name. In "A History of the French Settlement in Crawford County", Dr. Paul T. Poux notes this figure was a Roman soldier martyred for his Christian faith, allegedly dragged to his death by horses. As a result, during the Middle Ages the cult of Saint Hippolytus was associated with the curing and protection of horses.
This story seems to be the one that the founders of the church in Frenchtown were familiar with. A painting of Saint Hippolyte, i.e. Hippolytus, dressed in military attire in front of a horse was proudly displayed in the Sanctuary during the latter 19th century. This painting can now be viewed in the hallway of the Religious Education Department.