Question: "What happened at the Council of Hippo?"
Answer: The Council of Hippo or the Synod of Hippo met in AD 393 in Hippo Regius, today known as the seaport city of Annaba, Algeria, in northern Africa. Compared to other church councils, the Council of Hippo was a minor event.
The city of Hippo often played a notable role in the early Christian church and was home to St. Augustine, the highly regarded theologian and bishop of Hippo who wrote The City of God, On Christian Doctrine, and Confessions. Augustine was in attendance at the Council of Hippo.
The Council of Hippo was the first time a council of bishops met to approve a biblical canon that closely resembles today’s Roman Catholic Bible. The Council of Hippo identified the books of the New Testament as follows: “The [books of the] New Testament: the Gospels, four books; the Acts of the Apostles, one book; the Epistles of Paul, thirteen; of the same to the Hebrews; one Epistle; of Peter, two; of John, apostle, three; of James, one; of Jude, one; the Revelation of John” (Canon 24, ratified by the Third Council of Carthage, AD 397). But the Council of Hippo’s list of Old Testament books included Tobit, Judith, 1 and 2 Maccabees, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus—books that help comprise the Apocrypha. The Catholic Bible contains these books, and they may be considered of some historical interest, but they are not “God-breathed” by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 3:16–17), according to Protestant Christianity.
It could be argued no synod or council had the authority to choose the books of the Bible; rather, the whole of the canonical writings, the sixty-six Old and New Testament books of the Bible, was “discovered and agreed upon” by godly church leaders who had devoted themselves to much study and prayer. In his commentary on Galatians, Martin Luther wrote, “We are not the masters, judges, or arbiters, but witnesses, disciples, and confessors of the Scriptures, whether we be pope, Luther, Augustine, Paul, or an angel from heaven” (1:9).
The Council of Hippo also reaffirmed the requirement of clerical continence. No member of the clergy, including married clergymen, was permitted to engage in sexual intercourse. Celibacy was seen as necessary, as the clergy acted as mediators between God and man. Today, Roman Catholic priests, monks, and nuns take vows of celibacy and are not permitted to marry; married deacons are not required to abstain from sexual intercourse within the boundaries of marriage, but unmarried deacons, like priests, monks, and nuns, must remain unmarried and celibate after ordination.
While the Council of Hippo played a significant role in the shaping of Roman Catholicism, its influence on Protestantism is relatively minor and may be regarded as little more than a footnote in early church history.