January 30 – Hippolytus of Rome; Mutien-Marie Wiaux

Manuscript illumination showing the Martyrdom of Hippolytus, by Richard de Montbaston and collaborators, 14th centuryHippolytus of Rome (ca. 170–ca. 236) was a prolific writer against heresies, as suggested by the title of his magnum opus, Refutation of All Heresies (he was not one to do things halfway). Nine of its ten volumes were lost until 1842, when copies of volumes IV–X were found in a monastery on Mount Athos* of all places (they were behind the sofa). Another of his works was on the Song of Songs, in which he represents Christ as nurturing the Church with his breasts (the Law and the Gospel), which is either shocking or comforting, depending on where you stand on nursing in public. (Actually most persons so engaged sit.) In 1551, his Easter calendar was found chiseled into the base of an ancient statue. (“Give me your equinox, your full moon, your huddled Sabbaths yearning to breathe free. . . .”) His other writings primarily survive in fragments in Greek and Slavonic, indicating his greater popularity east of the Adriatic than west. This may have to do with his being an antipope.

During a time of rampant heresies (unlike the vast majority of the history of the early Church), Hippolytus accused Pope Zephyrinus of weakness for not speaking out against modalism[1], and then Pope Callistus of moral laxity for granting forgiveness to repentant adulterers. (We know nothing about Hippolytus’ parents.) Subsequently our saint allowed himself to be elected “pope” by his followers, whom he called “Successors to the Apostles,” referring to those other guys as “The School of Callistus.” He was exiled to Sardinia by the government, and was martyred by being dragged by wild horses[2]. In a bizarre twist of logic, he became the patron saint of horses, particularly sick ones. He must at some point have been reconciled to the real popes, as he is celebrated on August 13 in the west.

Painting of Mutien-Marie Wiaux, artist and date unknownMutien-Marie Wiaux (1841–1917) was a Belgian who, upon finding himself unfit to follow his father into blacksmithing, and being diverted (just in time) from joining the Jesuits, checked out a Christian Brothers (of brandy fame) school opening nearby. (Perhaps they hung a flier on his parents’ front door?) He was soon a novice, and gained a reputation of “living according to the rules of the order,” which makes one wonder how exactly the other Brothers had been living (and what the rules were). He was also praised for his “reliable” sense of humor, which I can only admire (and you my faithful readers only pine for).

After brief stints elsewhere, he was sent to the school in Mallone (now part of Namur[3]), where he taught young students for 58 years (hopefully not the same ones the whole time). At first he didn’t seem to have much more skill in teachery than in blacksmithery, and the Brothers were on the verge of giving him the heave-ho “for the good name of the school” when one Brother took him under his wing. Mutien-Marie then went from having unruly and ill-behaved students to being the prefect of discipline for the school, guiding the youth with patience and piety. Not terribly proficient with the three R’s, he taught the fourth (aRt), as well as music. On weekends he could be found teaching the catechism at the parish church (how well, we do not know). All who knew him praised his gentle way of bringing out the best in others, and his willingness to drop everything to help a student in need, as long as the need wasn’t for math tutoring.

After his death, pilgrims came from far and wide to his grave, where many miracles occurred. Eventually the Brothers moved his relics closer to the road (a paltry journey as saints’ relics go) so the pilgrims would stop trampling on the peonies. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989.

[1] The idea that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are all modes or aspects of the same person, and not three different persons united in one Godhead. As such it is anti-Trinitarian. Also called Sabellianism, after an ancient heretic, maybe, who left no writings and is only known through “refutations” of his supposed beliefs by his enemies. But the doctrine, for sure, is heretical.
[2] Wild horses could, in fact, drag him away; unlike say Mick Jagger.
[3] About 60 km southeast of Brussels on the E411.