St. Hippolytus on Hades

St. Hippolytus of Rome ca. 170-235

And this is the passage regarding demons. But now we must speak of Hades, in which the souls both of the righteous and the unrighteous are detained. Hadesis a place in the created system, rude, a locality beneath the earth, in which the light of the world does not shine; and as the sun does not shine in this locality, there must necessarily be perpetual darkness there. This locality has been destined to be as it were a guard-house for souls, at which the angels are stationed as guards, distributing according to each one’s deeds the temporary punishments for (different) characters. And in this locality there is a certain place set apart by itself, a lake of unquenchable fire, into which we suppose no one has ever yet been cast; for it is prepared against the day determined by God, in which one sentence of righteous judgment shall be justly applied to all. And the unrighteous, and those who believed not God, who have honoured as God the vain works of the hands of men, idols fashioned (by themselves), shall be sentenced to this endless punishment. But the righteous shall obtain the incorruptible and un-fading kingdom, who indeed are at present detained in Hades, but not in the same place with the unrighteous. For to this locality there is one descent, at the gate whereof we believe an archangel is stationed with a host. And when those who are conducted by the angels appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not proceed on one and the same way; but the righteous, being conducted in the light toward the right, and being hymned by the angels stationed at the place, are brought to a locality full of light. And there the righteous from the beginning dwell, not ruled by necessity, but enjoying always the contemplation of the blessings which are in their view, and delighting themselves with the expectation of others ever new, and deeming those ever better than these. And that place brings no toils to them. There, there is neither fierce heat, nor cold, nor thorn; but the face of the fathers and the righteous is seen to be always smiling, as they wait for the rest and eternal revival in heaven which succeed this location. And we call it by the name Abraham’s bosom. But the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels who are ministers of punishment, and they go of their own accord no longer, but are dragged by force as prisoners. And the angels appointed over them send them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when they are brought there, those appointed to that service drag them on to the confines or hell. And those who are so near hear incessantly the agitation, and feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, (as if they were) already feeling the power of their punishment. And again, where they see the place of the fathers and the righteous, they are also punished there. For a deep and vast abyss is set there in the midst, so that neither can any of the righteous in sympathy think to pass it, nor any of the unrighteous dare to cross it. (Against Plato on the Cause of the Universe 1)


  1. Is Hades the same as death? Is this the place that Christ destroyed? I’m a little confused after reading this passage. How does this writing fit in with the dogma and tradition of the Orthodox Church?

  2. Hello Toby,

    Thanks for your response! I found St. Hippolytus’ view (or wording) “curious” as well. Usually the Fathers make this the state of events pre-Christ. Also, he says hades is dark because it’s literally underground and no sun shines there, but then he says that the righteous-hades is full of light and a Paradise. Is this still underground in his reckoning? Check out these comments by Fr. Laurent Cleenewerke:

    “According to the teachings of the early Fathers, hades was effectively conquered by the resurrection of Christ, so that the state of souls was transformed by participation in the light of the God-Man. This is alluded to in Hebrews 11:40 and 12:22:

    Yet all these, though approved because of their faith, did not receive what had been promised. God had foreseen something better for us, so that without us they should not be made perfect…[Now], you have approached Mount Zion and the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and countless angels in festal gathering, and the assembly of the firstborn enrolled in heaven, and God the judge of all, and the spirits of the just made perfect…

    The Paschal exclamation “Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death and upon those in the tombs bestowing life” did not mean that a universal resurrection of the bodies had taken place: the message was that the sting and power of death had been abolished by the shattering descent of the Author life. The light of Christ was now shining even in hades/paradise and the saints could enjoy the expectation of the glory to come. But even after Christ, hades was still understood as the common destiny of all…(he quotes St. Hippolytus above)…

    In other words, the souls of the reposed do not go to heaven or hell (in the sense of a final destination), they go to lower-hades or paradise-hades, a temporary intermediate state where the fullness of blessedness is yet to come.”

    So, according to him St. Hippolytus affirms that we all enter death/hades. The righteous bask in glory, the unrighteous in darkness. What we call “heaven and paradise”, St. Hippolytus still calls “hades”. The Orthodox Tradition definitely holds that the intermediate state is not the fullness of blessedness or damnation (in contradistinction to Roman Catholicism). The Resurrection brings that to completion.

    Hear are some more sayings that corroborate this view and may help clear away a lot of the confusion:

    St. Symeon the New Theologian: As we leave this present life we shall find God as the “great bosom of Abraham” receiving us and cherishing us in the kingdom of heaven. (Discourses IX)

    St. Macarius the Great: If God should also wish to make Himself similar to one of His creatures for the exultation and happiness of His intelligent creatures, as, for example, Jerusalem, the city of light, or he heaven Mount Sion, He can do all things as He wishes, as it is said: “You come to the Mount Sion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb. 12:22) All things are possible for Him who can transform Himself into any form He wishes for the benefit of those souls who are worthy of and faithful to Him. (Homily 4.12)

    In other words, no matter if you call it, “Hades”(which is rare nowadays), “Abraham’s Bosom”, “Paradise”, “Heaven” or “Mount Sion, the heavenly Jerusalem”, these are but names given to a blessed repose in God Himself. I’ll be posting more on this subject, God willing, stay tuned.

    These podcasts are good:

  3. Debbie Ducommun says:

    Since this document was first written in Greek, and before the development of the modern idea of hell, how can it include the word “hell”? Could it be that the word translated hell was Tartarus?

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