A Common Humanity

From The Refutation of All Heresies, 10, 33 (ca. 200)

As Christians we do not put our faith in empty phrases; we are not carried off by sudden floods of emotion; we are not seduced by smooth and eloquent speeches. On the contrary, we put our faith in words spoken by the power of God, spoken by the Word himself at God’s command. It was God’s purpose to turn us away from disobedience, not by using force so that we end up reduced to the status of slaves, but rather by addressing to our free will a call to liberty.

The Word spoke first of all through the prophets. But because the message was announced obscurely in language that was often misconstrued, in these last days the Father sent the Word in person. He was to be manifested visibly, so that the world could see him and be saved.

We know that the Word assumed a body from the Virgin and through this creation refashioned our human nature. We know that he was fully human, formed from the same clay as ourselves. If that were not so, then his command to imitate him as our teacher would be a futile exercise. If he were of a different substance from me, then why does he command me, weak as I am, to do as he did? The call to goodness would be undermined by the claims of justice.

But to show that he was no different from us, he undertook hard work, he went hungry and thirsty, he rested and slept. He did not shirk suffering, he submitted to death, and revealed the resurrection. In all this, he was offering us his own self, so that when suffering is our lot we do not lose heart, but will rather recognize that because we share with him a common humanity, we can expect to receive from God an identical reward.

When we have come to know the true God, both our bodies and our souls will be immortal and incorruptible. We will gain the kingdom of heaven because while on earth we knew the king of heaven. Freed from evil inclinations, from suffering whether of body of soul, we will discover ourselves companions of God and co-heirs with Christ. Indeed we will have become divine. All that we suffer in this mortal life, God permits as part of our human condition. All that belongs to God, he has promised to give us when we have been deified and have been made immortal.

This, then, is what it means to know yourself; to recognize and acknowledge in ourselves the God who made us in his image. If we do this, we know that we will in turn be recognized and acknowledged by our Creator.

Hippolytus of Rome (ca. 170-235) was a second century priest, Biblical commentator, and theologian. Several influential commentaries, treatises, and liturgical texts are attributed to him, though the details of his life are vague and disputed. The Elenchus, or Refutation of All Heresies is an early third century polemical text, which defends Christian orthodoxy against various alternate beliefs. Hippolytus is believed to have died as a martyr.

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