Our first matchup of Lent Madness has a little bit of sophomoric humour in that both battling saints have “Hippo” in their name, hence my even more sophomoric Subject Heading for this email.

In fact, neither saint had anything to do with hippopotamuses (hippopotami?).

I like to think of Augustine of Hippo as the patron saint of middle aged churchgoing parents who despair of their young adult children ever coming to the faith.  Augustine perplexed and perturbed his mother Monica, a woman of great faith (she also features in Lent Madness).  Essentially the young Augustine was the typical, cynical, bohemian undergraduate who has read a bunch of books and thinks he knows everything – an uncomfortable self portrait of myself in my 20s!

Augustine did come to faith, and wrote a ton of learned theological books on subjects like the Trinity and good and evil.  He’s most well known for his book Confessions, which many people are disappointed to find is not terribly racy.  In fact, the Confessions is, as has been noted, Augustine talking to God, and we are simply listening in.     In one famous and lovely passage, he praises God for finally breaking into his arrogance and making God’s self lovingly and inescapably real to him:

“You called, you cried out, and you broke through my deafness; you flashed, you gleamed, and you banished my blindness; you wafted your fragrance, and I drew a breath, and I pant for you; I have tasted you, and I hunger and thirst; you touched me, and I burned for your peace.”  (Confessions).

Hippolytus of Rome is a much less well-known figure, in that little of his life is known for sure and there are several legends around his death and martyrdom.   He was steeped in classical knowledge and learning, and used his quill to fight in the many theological wars of the second-century church.   These lengthy battles seem arcane to us today, but remember that Hippolytus and his like, by their many arguments and disputes, eventually allowed the councils of the church to agree on the creeds we say today.

One work attributed to Hipploytus was called The Apostolic Tradition, which laid out various rules for liturgy, church membership, and governance.    One of the rules laid out in this book is that soldiers and gladiators could not be members of a church!   We can imagine how, amidst the casual violence and brutality of the Roman world, how the early Christians struggled to establish a way of life that was different, one dedicated to Christ the Prince of Peace.

Which of these Holy, Holy Hippos will win today?  My money is on the better known Augustine, but he gets a bad rap in some circles for “inventing” the doctrine of original sin, so Hippolytus might win as the underdog.   

Cheers and blessings this day,