Canons Of Hippolytus

CANONS OF HIPPOLYTUS

A series of thirty-eight canons peculiar to the Copts and certainly only a reworking of the famous Apostolic Tradition attributed, rightly or wrongly, to the antipope Hippolytus (Geerard, 1974-1987, Vol. 1, no. 1737; see also no. 1742). It would be helpful to know who the author is, an Alexandrian or a Roman, so that one could judge whether those elements of the Canons of Hippolytus that are additions to the text of the Apostolic Tradition are of Egyptian origin or not.

It does seem, however, that this is not a witness to the usages proper to Egypt but simply a work of personal interpretation. But since this text has passed partially into the canonical collections, it could have influenced Egyptian practice. However, since the NOMOCANON, of al- IBN AL-‘ASSAL (which had and has an even greater vogue) cites the Canons of Hippolytus very little, their influence on Coptic practice is negligible.

It is certain that the Canons of Hippolytus were composed in Greek and thence translated into Coptic and finally into Arabic, the only language in which they have come down to us; only the title survives in Coptic. (It is possible that the copyist of this fragment placed it there, at the head of the Gnomai of the Council of NICAEA, believing that this was the canons attributed to Hippolytus.)

A table of these canons, one that appears very ancient, has been preserved for us by IBN in Chapter 5 of his famous encyclopedia, Misbah al-Zulmah (“Lamp of Darkness”), where he transcribed, along with others, the table of the canons.

After canon 1, a kind of introduction in the form of a profession of faith, this text expounds on the different orders that constitute the ecclesiastical community, from the bishop (canon 2) down to the catechumen (canons 19 and 30); then the customs of the Christian community are explained, including fasting (canon 20), observance of Holy Week (canon 22), instruction (canon 23), visiting the sick and providing for them through the agency of a steward (canons 24 and 25), what must be done at the church (canons 26-29 and 33-37). The plan is not very rigorous, and there are some repetitions. These canons are rounded off by an Easter sermon.

The Canons of Hippolytus are cited by the canonical collections, both the chronological ones, such as the collection of MACARIUS (a monk of Wadi al-Natrun in the fourteenth century) and the anonymous Jacobite collection, and the systematic ones, such as the Nomocanon of the GABRIEL II ibn Turayk, the Nomocanon of Michael of Damietta, and the one best known, that of al- ibn al-‘Assal. Thus, these Canons of Hippolytus, adapted to Egyptian usage, have to some extent survived in Coptic customs through the medium of the canonical collections.

  • Abu al-Barakat ibn Kabar. Misbah al-Zulmah. Cairo, 1971.
  • Achelis, H. Die ältesten Quellen des orientalischen Kirchenrechtes, Vol. 1, Die Canonen Hippolyti. Texte und Untersuchungen 6, pt. 1. Leipzig, Botte, B. La Tradition apostolique: Essai de reconstitution. Liturgiewissenschaftliche Quellen und Forschungen 39. Münster, 1963.
  • Coquin, R.-G. Les Canons d’Hippolyte, pp. 273-444. PO 31. Paris, 1966.
  • Geerard, M., ed. Patrum Graecorum, 5 vols. Turnhout, 1974- 1987.
  • Haneberg, D. B. von. Canones S. Hippolyti arabice e codicibus romanisceum versione latina, annotationibus et prolegomenis. Munich, 1870.
  • Hanssens, J.-M. “L’Edition critique des canons d’Hippolyte.” Orientalia Christiana Periodica 32 (1966):536-44.
  • Riedel, W. Die Kirchenrechtsquellen des Patriarchats Alexandrien. Leipzig, 1900; repr. Aalen, 1968.

RENÉ- COQUIN