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Πίστις and Christ in Hippolytus's De Christo et Antichristo: A Response to Michael F. Bird and Michael R. Whitenton*

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 September 2011

Wally V. Cirafesi
McMaster Divinity College, 1280 Main Street West, Hamilton, ON L8S 4K1, Canada. email:
Gerald W. Peterman
Moody Bible Institute, 820 N. La Salle Blvd, Chicago, IL 60610, USA. email:


This article is a response to the recent work of Michael F. Bird and Michael R. Whitenton, in which they argue that Hippolytus's De Christo et Antichristo provides a clear instance of a subjective genitive πίστις Χριστοῦ construction and unambiguously identifies πίστις as Jesus' death on the cross. However, in light of (1) a significant textual variant, and (2) the role that πίστις plays in Hippolytus's theology of martyrdom, the construction in fact supports the reading of an objective genitive.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2011

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1 The Faithfulness of Jesus Christ in Hippolytus's De Christo et Antichristo: Overlooked Patristic Evidence in the Πίστις Χριστοῦ Debate’, NTS 55.4 (2009) 552–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar. We will use ‘Hippolytus’ when referring to the author(s) of De Christo et Antichristo (see comments on authorship below). Also, in referring to De Christo et Antichristo we will use the shortened title De Antichristo.

2 We will assert below that the text cited by BW is inferior.

3 ‘Overlooked Evidence’, 552 and 559 respectively.

4 BW begin with a review of the recent shape of πίστις Χριστοῦ studies in the Church Fathers, treating mostly the studies of Harrisville, Roy A. (‘ΠΙΣΤΙΣ ΧΡΙΣΤΟΥ: Witness of the Fathers’, NovT 36/3 [1994] 233–41)Google Scholar and Wallis, Ian (The Faith of Jesus Christ in Early Christian Traditions [Cambridge: Cambridge University, 1995])CrossRefGoogle Scholar.

5 See Nautin, Pierre, Hippolyte et Josipe: Contribution à l'Historie de la Littèrature Chrètienne du Troisième Siècle (Paris: Cerf, 1947) 97103Google Scholar.

6 Simonetti, Manlio, ‘Due Note su Ippolito’, Ricerche su Ippolito (ed. Simonetti, Manlio et al. ; SEA 30; Rome: Institutum Patristicum Augustinianum, 1989) 121–6Google Scholar. See Cerrato, J. A., Hippolytus between East and West: The Commentaries and the Provenance of the Corpus (Oxford: Oxford University, 2002) 3123CrossRefGoogle Scholar for a thorough discussion on the authorship of the Hippolytan corpus (see esp. pp. 116–18 for his brief survey of the two-author hypothesis). Cerrato himself seems to side with Nautin's corpus division, and stresses the work's eastern character (see, e.g., p. 122).

7 See Norelli, Enrico, Ippolito, L'Anticristo. De Antichristo (Biblioteca Patristica 10; Firenze: Nardini Editore, 1987) 2831Google Scholar.

8 See Brent, Allen, Hippolytus and the Roman Church in the Third Century: Communities in Tension before the Emergence of a Monarch-Bishop (Leiden: Brill, 1995) 297–9CrossRefGoogle Scholar, 365–7. See also Cerrato, Hippolytus between East and West, 94–106 for a survey of the evidence in favor of a Roman provenance for the Hippolytan corpus.

9 Nautin, Hippolyte et Josipe, 100.

10 Simonetti, ‘Due Note su Ippolito’, 135–6.

11 Cerrato, Hippolytus between East and West, 154–5.

12 Cerrato, Hippolytus between East and West, 154.

13 See Cerrato, Hippolytus between East and West, 152 who offers the following evidence in support of an identical author for the two works: (1) reference is made to De Antichristo in Dan 4.7.1, (2) the main topics of the Daniel commentary correspond to those in De Antichristo, (3) the two works are the same in their views on world history, eschatological history, the antichrist, and the use of biblical texts, and (4) the manuscripts of both works display the name Hippolytus. See also Allen, Hippolytus and the Roman Church, 159, 159 n. 158, 180.

14 Thanks are due to Dr. Bryan Litfin for his insights on patristic text-criticism.

15 Bird and Whitenton, ‘Overlooked Evidence’, 559 n. 24.

16 See Achelis, Hans, Hippolytstudien (Texte und Untersuchungen 16/4; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1897) 65–8Google Scholar where he says E is, ‘die Handschrift der Bibliothek zu Évreux in der Normandie’, and dates it to the fifteenth century, while R is, ‘die Handschrift der Bibliothek in Rheims, ehemals im Kloster St.-Remi deselbst’, and dates it to the sixteenth century.

17 Ehrman, Bart D., The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 1 (LCL; Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 2003) 3Google Scholar, 23.

18 Achelis, Hans and Bonwetsch, Georg, eds., Hippolytus Werke, Exegetische und Homiletische Schriften (2 vols.; GSC 1; Leipzig: J. C. Hinrichs, 1897)Google Scholar.

19 Achelis, Hippolytstudien, 71.

20 Admittedly, if one is to venture into Hippolytan studies, particularly concerning De Antichristo, one would want to include Norelli's more recent edition (L'Anticristo), although Norelli himself notes that the critical apparatus he uses is not his own but belongs to Achelis. Referring to collated MSS, ancient versions—translations—and a critical apparatus Norelli says, ‘Sie assunta come base l'edizione critica pubblicata nel 1897 da Hans Achelis nel vol. I/2 della collezione Die griechischen christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte, pp. 3–47’. Norelli concurs with Achelis on the tenth-century dating of H: ‘Il terzo, H, piu antico (10 sec.), fu usato per la prima volta da Achelis’ (see Norelli, L'Anticristo, 54–5).

21 Here Achelis cites Bousset, W., Die Offenbarung Johannis (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1896) 177Google Scholar.

22 Achelis, Hippolytstudien, 71. However, in 1899, Paul Wendland argued against Achelis's assertion that H was the best text for De Antichristo. Instead, he sought to attribute more significance to the witnesses of E R and S (see, for example, Die Textconstitution der Schrift Hippolyts Über den Antichrist’, Hermes 34 [1899] 416–17Google Scholar where he says ‘Aus diesen Beispielen kann man ersehen, wie irrig Achelis Meinung ist, den Vorwurf H zu sehr bevorzugt zu haben könne man ihm nicht machen, ER und S seien minderwerthig, wie auch die Meinung, er habe sich mit Recht für die Constitution des Textes um die indirecte Überlieferung nicht bekümmert’). Yet Wendland's arguments do not bear heavily on this response for two reasons: (1) in spite of his thorough comparative analysis of the readings of E, R, S, and H, he fails to mention the variation of the construction identified by BW, and (2) Wendland's own genealogies (see pp. 413, 416), and especially his attempt to assign more weight to the readings of S, seem to further establish H as the original text. His genealogies suggest an early date for S, which thus provides an objective genitive reading with multiple witnesses from two separate MS traditions.

23 Cerrato, Hippolytus between East and West, 152.

24 Achelis, Hippolytstudien, 42. Bonwetsch rendered the reading of S ‘an Jesu Christus’. Norelli follows Achelis, giving the Italian translation, ‘…cioe la fede in Cristo Gesù…’ (L'Anticristo, 145). This way of speaking of faith in Christ (ἡ εἰς Xριστὸν πίστις) is common in the fathers (e.g. Clement of Alexandria Strom ἡ γὰρ εἰς Χριστὸν πίστις; Justin Martyr Fragmenta operum deperditorum 11.6: τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως; Irenaeus Fragmenta operum deperditorum 25.3: τὴν εἰς Χριστὸν πίστιν; Athanasius Contra gentes 1.17: τὴν εἰς Χριστὸν πίστιν; Origen Cels. Prooemium 6.6–7: τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως). Cf. also διὰ τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως which appears in Hippolytus, Fragmenta in Proverbia 54.6 and 67.3.

25 See Wendland, ‘Textconstitution’, 413, 416.

26 For the former see ἡ πίστις τῶν ἁγίων (De Antichristo 49.20), ἡ πίστις σου (De Consummatione Mundi 49.9 and Dan, τὴν ἑαυτῶν πίστιν (Dan, τὴν τούτων πίστιν (Dan and, πίστιν ἡμῶν (Dan, πίστιν τοῦ λαοῦ (De Benedictionibus Isaaci et Jacobi 86.5), πίστιν παίδων (Dan 1.10.5bis.1). For the latter, see τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν πίστεως (Fragmenta in Proverbia 54.6 and 67.3), διὰ τῆς πίστεως εἰς Χριστὸν καὶ διὰ τῆς ἀγάπης τῆς πρὸς τὸν θεόν (Dan, ἡ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν πίστις (Dan, ἡ τούτου πίστις πρὸς τὸν θεόν (Dan, διὰ τῆς πίστεως τῆς εἰς Χριστόν (Dan, πίστεως τῆς πρὸς τὸν θεόν (Dan, τῆς εἰς θεὸν πίστεως (Dan, τῇ πίστει τῇ πρὸς τὸν θεόν (Dan, διὰ τῆς εἰς αὐτὸν ἀντελάβετο πίστεως (Fragmenta in Psalmos 29.5), τῆς πίστεως τῆς εἰς τὸν θεὸν γεγενημένης (Fragmenta in Psalmos 7.15).

27 For example, restricting ourselves to NT letters, we find expansions that clarify syntax (Rom 5.2 [א1 A add ἐν τῇ πίστει], 6.12 [C3 Ψ Maj add ἐν], 1 Cor 12.13 [D2 L add εἰς], Gal 3.1b [D F G Maj add ἐν ὑμῖν], Eph 1.6a [א2 D F G Maj add ἐν ᾗ], Col 2.7a [א D2 Maj add ἐν], Jas 1.26 [049 Maj add ἐν ὑμῖν], 1 Pet 3.18a [C2vid L add ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν, P72 A add ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν], 4.1a [א2 A P Maj add ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν 69 1505 ὑπὲρ ὑμῶν], 2 Pet 1.3 [P72 B Maj replaces ἰδίᾳ δόξῃ with διὰ δόξης]) and those that support dogma (Rom 8.26 [א2 C Ψ Maj add ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν], 8.34 [א* A C add ἐκ νεκρῶν], Gal 3.17 [D F G Maj add εἰς Χριστὸν], 1 Pet 1.22a [P Maj add διὰ πνεύματος], Heb 9.28 [A P 0285 add διὰ πίστεως]).

28 Additionally, the linguistic data support reading this particular genitive construction as objective. A survey of the construction ἔχειν πίστιν + a genitive modifier in Hellenistic Greek, a form of which represents the πίστις Χριστοῦ construction found in E R (i.e. ἔχουσαν… Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ πίστιν), will show that the combination of ἔχειν πίστιν consistently operates to disambiguate the function of the genitive, that being, to designate the object of the clausal unit. Examples are: Josephus, Ant. 19.16.1: ἄλλως τε ἐπειδὴ καὶ πολλὴν ἔχει πίστιν τοῦ θεοῦ τῆς δυνάμεως καὶ παραμυθίαν τοῖς ἐντύχαις κειμένοις (‘…because it has great belief in the God of power and great encouragement to those who happen to be laid with affliction…’); Hermas Pastor 43.9.2: ὅταν οὖν ἔλθῃ ὁ ἄνθρωπος ὁ ἔχων τὸ πνεῦμα τὸ θεῖον εἰς συναγωγὴν ἀνδρῶν δικαίων τῶν ἐχόντων πίστιν θείου πνεύματος (‘Therefore, whenever a person should come to the synagogue who has the divine spirit of righteous men, who have faith in the divine spirit…’); and Plutarch Fabius Maximus 5.5.1: τῷ δ' ἡ μὲν κρίσις πίστιν ἔχοντι τοῦ συμϕέροντος ἐν αὑτῇ βέβαιος εἱστήκει καὶ ἀμετάπτωτος (‘But the decision, for the one who had confidence in a beneficial outcome [i.e. Fabius], stood consistent and unchangeable’).

29 Shelton, W. Brian, Martyrdom from Exegesis in Hippolytus: An Early Church Presbyter's Commentary on Daniel (Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2008)Google Scholar.

30 See Shelton, Martyrdom from Exegesis, 79–112. Shelton does not specifically devote attention to the function and meaning of πίστις in the commentary; however, the frequent occurrence of ‘faith’ in Shelton's discussions as well as the texts he cites make it clear that πίστις and martyrdom were closely knit in Hippolytus's thinking (e.g. see Martyrdom from Exegesis, 80, 83, 88, 91, 92 n. 62).

31 ‘Therefore it is necessary to observe, beloved, how great a grace that faith in God affords. For just as they [Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego] glorified God himself by handing themselves over to death, so again indeed they themselves, not only by God, but also by the king, were glorified, and taught foreign and Barbarian nations to fear God’. Also, see Shelton, Martyrdom from Exegesis, 96–101 for a discussion on the concept of ‘theodicy’ in Hippolytus. Similarly in Dan 2.37.5–6, again with reference to the story of Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, martyrdom and faith are clearly linked, with trust in God leading to perseverance in the face of persecution: Ἑδραῖος οὖν γενοῦ, ὦ ἄνθρωπε, μήποτε τῇ πίστει βαμβαίνων, καὶ, ὅτ’ ἂν κληθῇς εἰς μαρτύριον προθύμως ἐπάκουσον, ἵνα ἡ πίστις σου ϕανῇ· τυχὸν δὲ ὁ θεὸς ἐπείραζέν σε ὡς τὸν Ἀβραάμ, ἡνίκα ᾔτησε τὸν Ἰσαάκ. Ἐάν σε προσενεχθέντα θελήσῃ ῥύσασθαι, καὶ ἐν τούτῳ τὸν θεὸν δόξαζε. Μίμησαι καὶ σὺ τοὺς τρεῖς παῖδας καὶ τὴν τούτων πίστιν κατανόησον· εἶπαν γὰρ τῷ βασιλεῖ· Δυνατὸς ὁ θεὸς ἐξελέσθαι ἡμᾶς, ἐὰν δὲ μὴ βούληται, ἐν ἐξουσίᾳ θεοῦ ἐσμέν, ἡδέως ἀποθνήσκομεν ἢ ποιοῦμεν τὸ ὑπό σου προστεταγμένον. Shelton supports this when he says about this passage, ‘Hippolytus stresses how the king ordered the fire to be heated sevenfold before throwing them in [sic] an effort to triumph in an earthly fashion, but it was by faith in God that the three young men triumphed’ (Martyrdom from Exegesis, 94).

32 Cf. the very similar εἰ δὲ ἕνεκεν τῆς εἰς θεὸν πίστεως ἕτερόν τι ποιεῖν αὐτοὺς ἀναγκάζουσιν, ἡδέως ἀποθνήσκειν μᾶλλον ἢ ποιεῖν τὰ ὑπ’ αὐτῶν κελευόμενα (Dan

33 Shelton, Martyrdom from Exegesis, 98–9. In close association with this, Hippolytus can be found exhorting his readers to hope in what is to come in the afterlife by turning their eyes to God and the things of heaven (pp. 82, 92–6).

34 The word's occurrence in the reading of H as τὴν εἰς Χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν πίστιν is similar to other fairly common syntactic structures that Hippolytus uses to discuss the πίστις word-group in its abstract sense, both in De Antichristo and the Daniel commentary. For example: Dan 1.16.4, 5 (οἱ τῷ θεῷ πιστεύοντες; τῆς πίστεως τῆς εἰς Χριστὸν); 2.38.2 (ἡ πρὸς τὸν θεὸν πίστις); 3.22.3 (πίστεως τῆς πρὸς τὸν θεόν); 3.23.1 (τῆς εἰς θεὸν πίστεως); 3.24.6 (ἡ τούτου πίστις πρὸς τὸν θεὸν); De Antichristo 6.14 (τοῖς εἰς αὐτὸν πιστεύουσιν); 61.28 (τοὺς εἰς αὐτὸν πιστεύοντας).

35 De Antichristo 61.2, 4, 5–6 cf. Rev 12.1; De Antichristo 61.7–8 cf. Rev 12.2; De Antichristo 61.10–11, 13–14 cf. Rev 12.5; De Antichristo 61.16–17 cf. Ps 110.1; De Antichristo 61.21–22 cf. Rev 12.6, 14; De Antichristo 61.29 cf. Matt 23.37//Luke 13.34; De Antichristo 61.29–31 cf. Mal 4.2.

36 Contra BW, who assert that this ‘faith of Jesus Christ’ is distinguished from a subsequent act of faith by those called to believe in him (πάντας τοὺς εἰς αὐτὸν πιστεύοντας; Bird and Whitenton, ‘Overlooked Evidence’, 558–9). BW's assertion is question begging: the veracity of their claim lies only in the assumption that Hippolytus is indeed employing a subjective genitive in the first phrase, which they have not proven.

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