Category: Polycarp of Smyrna
The Feast Day of the Blessed Martyr Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna
Today, 23 February, several communions celebrate the death of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna on the date that Tradition has delivered to us as the day that he was burned alive for his faith.
I do not believe in prayers to Saints, dead or alive, nor in an active communion with those that have gone on before, but today, I choose to take this day as a day to remember my namesake and hero in the Faith, Polycarp, disciple of the Apostle John, friend of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, and himself the bishop of the congregation at Smyrna. I choose this day to keep in my prayers those brothers and sisters who are this day in chains or under persecution because of the Faith that was once for all delivered to the Apostles. Further, I will pray that if the choice is ever given to me, that I would choose to hold to God rather than to my own fleeting vapor of life.
We have to be reminded of those that have gone on before, martyred for the cause of Christ. Too often today, when faced with even the slightest of choices to give up Christ or to be friends with this world, when nothing but our stature is at stake, we readily forsake Christ. These men and women of old gave the final sacrifice for their Lord and King, Jesus Christ, holding not to this world, or the things of this world, so that they may be nearer to Christ.
Polycarp’s dear friend, Ignatius of Antioch, had already traveled the martyrdom road 40 years hence, and in the mean time, there were more added to the altar of the Lord. Polycarp was not the last to give his life for the Kingdom.
I choose Polycarp for my namesake because I admire his faith, even in the last hours, and because even in the middle of his greatest hour, he was not perfect, but still had to be upbraided by God who told Polycarp to ‘be a man.’ We are not perfect in this life, and even as we face the enemy, God might still need to give us strength.
So today let us remember not just Polycarp, but all those that have given their life for the Kingdom of God, and let us hold fast to the Faith in Jesus Christ.
Let us not forget either that as Christians suffered, let us not force others to suffer as well.
The following is from the Martyrdom of Polycarp:
Chapter 9. Polycarp refuses to revile Christ
Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying,
Be strong, and show yourself a man, O Polycarp! No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, sought to persuade him to deny , saying,
Have respect to your old age, and other similar things, according to their custom, ,
Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists. But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said,
Away with the Atheists. Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying,
Swear, and I will set you at liberty, reproach Christ; Polycarp declared,
Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?
Chapter 10. Polycarp confesses himself a Christian
And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said,
Swear by the fortune of Cæsar, he answered,
Since you are vainly urgent that, as you say, I should swear by the fortune of Cæsar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them.
The proconsul replied,
Persuade the people. But Polycarp said,
To you I have thought it right to offer an account ; for we are taught to give all due honour (which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.
Chapter 11. No threats have any effect on Polycarp
The proconsul then said to him,
I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast you, unless you repent.
But he answered,
Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous.
But again the proconsul said to him,
I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent.
But Polycarp said,
You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will.
Chapter 12. Polycarp is sentenced to be burned
While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of thestadium thrice,
Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian. This proclamation having been made by the herald, the whole multitude both of the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with uncontrollable fury, and in a loud voice,
This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods. Speaking thus, they cried out, and besought Philip the Asiarch to let loose a lion upon Polycarp. But Philip answered that it was not lawful for him to do so, seeing the shows of wild beasts were already finished. Then it seemed good to them to cry out with one consent, that Polycarp should be burnt alive. For thus it behooved the vision which was revealed to him in regard to his pillow to be fulfilled, when, seeing it on fire as he was praying, he turned about and said prophetically to the faithful that were with him,
I must be burnt alive.
Chapter 13. The funeral pile is erected
This, then, was carried into effect with greater speed than it was spoken, the multitudes immediately gathering together wood andfagots out of the shops and baths; the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting them in it. And when the funeral pile was ready, Polycarp, laying aside all his garments, and loosing his girdle, sought also to take off his sandals,— a thing he was not accustomed to do, inasmuch as every one of the faithful was always eager who should first touch his skin. For, on account of his holy life, he was, even before his martyrdom, adorned with every kind of good. Immediately then they surrounded him with those substances which had been prepared for the funeral pile. But when they were about also to fix him with nails, he said,
Leave me as I am; for He that gives me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.
Chapter 14. The prayer of Polycarp
They did not nail him then, but simply bound him. And he, placing his hands behind him, and being bound like a distinguished ram out of a great flock for sacrifice, and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto God, looked up to heaven, and said,
O Lord God Almighty, the Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of You, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before you, I give You thanks that You have counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Your martyrs, in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the incorruption by the Holy Ghost. Among whom may I be accepted this day before You as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as You, the ever-truthful God, hast foreordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise You for all things, I bless You, I glorify You, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Your beloved Son, with whom, to You, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.
Chapter 15. Polycarp is not injured by the fire
When he had pronounced this amen, and so finished his prayer, those who were appointed for the purpose kindled the fire. And as the flame blazed forth in great fury, we, to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle, and have been preserved that we might report to others what then took place. For the fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour , as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been smoking there.
Chapter 16. Polycarp is pierced by a dagger
At length, when those wicked men perceived that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to go near and pierce him through with a dagger. And on his doing this, there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished; and all the people wondered that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Church catholic which is in Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished.
Was Polycarp of Smyrna Baptized as an Infant?
Yesterday, Marc Cortez posted on Polycarp, and it got me to thinking…
Now, as we were entering the stadium, there came to Polycarp a voice from heaven, ‘Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man’. And no one saw the speaker, but the voice was heard by those of our people who were there. Then he was led forward, and great was the uproar of those who heard that Polycarp had been seized. Accordingly, he was led before the Proconsul, who asked him if he were the man himself. And when he confessed the Proconsul tried to persuade him, saying, ‘Have respect to your own age’, and so forth, according to their customary forms; ‘Swear to Caesar’, ‘Repent’, ‘Say, “Away with the atheists!”’ Then Polycarp said, ‘Eighty-six years I have served him, and he has done me no wrong; how then can I blaspheme my king who saved me?’
Most believe that he was born around 69 and died around 155, meaning that he was baptized either as an infant or at the very least, as a toddler.
The Paschal Feast – Are we to follow the Apostles?
The Lord’s Passover approaches. It is a time for Christians to joyously celebrated that single moment in all of history which changed humanity’s fate. It is also one to reflect on the ancient traditions of the Church. We are connected to the Apostles not merely by the name that we wear, and the doctrine that we teach, but also by the Traditions that we share.
One of the earliest disputes in the Church revolved around the date on which to celebrate the Paschal Feast. The congregations of Asia Minor celebrated on the date, Nisan 14th, while more Western Churches celebrated it on the day of the week. Both are literal, and both are valid (although the latter was set by Rome and forced upon the entire Church by the pagan Emperor Constantine), but to which did the Apostles more likely hold to?
Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna was a disciple of the Apostle John and had spoken with many who had seen Christ. He was in direct line to the Apostles, what we would call apostolic succession.
But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom,departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time,—a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles,—that, namely, which is handed down by the Church.3315 So the Greek. The Latin reads: “which he also handed down to the Church.” There are also those who heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe at Ephesus, and perceiving Cerinthus within, rushed out of the bath-house without bathing, exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan.” Such was the horror which the apostles and their disciples had against holding even verbal communication with any corrupters of the truth; as Paul also says, “A man that is an heretic, after the first and second admonition, reject; knowing that he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself.” There is also a very powerful Epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those who choose to do so, and are anxious about their salvation, can learn the character of his faith, and the preaching of the truth. Then, again, the Church in Ephesus, founded by Paul, and having John remaining among them permanently until the times of Trajan, is a true witness of the tradition of the apostles.
Polycarp was a direct disciple to the Apostle John. He learned his traditions of the aged Apostle and celebrated the Lord’s Passover on Nisan 14th. Below is the account of Polycrate’s discussion with the Bishop of Rome, Victor, concerning Victor’s attempted excommunication of those congregations celebrating the date of Nisan 14th. Polycrates and Irenaeus both condemned Victor’s assumption of power and the attempt to divide the Church.
Note, that Polycrates lists two Apostles, Philip and John, who had celebrated the Paschal Feast on Nisan 14th. From here:
But the bishops of Asia, led by Polycrates, decided to hold to the old custom handed down to them. He himself, in a letter which he addressed to Victor and the church of Rome, set forth in the following words the tradition which had come down to him:
We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate.
He fell asleep at Ephesus.
And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna.
Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead?
All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven.
I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man.’
Polycrates is adamant that the tradition of the churches in Asia, Paul’s churches, observed by the ordinance of God, Nisan 14th. It was not merely him, but at least two Apostles, their disciples and the family of Bishops that Polycrates belonged to.
He then writes of all the bishops who were present with him and thought as he did. His words are as follows:
I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus.
Thereupon Victor, who presided over the church at Rome, immediately attempted to cut off from the common unity the parishes of all Asia, with the churches that agreed with them, as heterodox; and he wrote letters and declared all the brethren there wholly excommunicate.
But this did not please all the bishops. And they besought him to consider the things of peace, and of neighborly unity and love. Words of theirs are extant, sharply rebuking Victor.
So enters Irenaeus who seemed to agree with Victor on the day of the celebration, but saw no need to separate and divide the Church over it.
Among them was Irenæus, who, sending letters in the name of the brethren in Gaul over whom he presided, maintained that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be observed only on the Lord’s day. He fittingly admonishes Victor that he should not cut off whole churches of God which observed the tradition of an ancient custom and after many other words he proceeds as follows:
For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night.
And this variety in its observance has not originated in our time; but long before in that of our ancestors. It is likely that they did not hold to strict accuracy, and thus formed a custom for their posterity according to their own simplicity and peculiar mode. Yet all of these lived none the less in peace, and we also live in peace with one another; and the disagreement in regard to thefast confirms the agreement in the faith.
Irenaeus allows for plurality because the tradition was not strict.
He adds to this the following account, which I may properly insert:
Among these were the presbyters before Soter, who presided over the church which you now rule. We mean Anicetus, and Pius, and Hyginus, and Telesphorus, and Xystus. They neither observed it themselves, nor did they permit those after them to do so. And yet though not observing it, they were none the less at peace with those who came to them from the parishes in which it was observed; although this observance was more opposed to those who did not observe it.
But none were ever cast out on account of this form; but the presbyters before you who did not observe it, sent the eucharist to those of other parishes who observed it.
And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he had associated; neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it as he said that he ought to follow the customs of the presbyters that had preceded him.
But though matters were in this shape, they communed together, and Anicetus conceded the administration of the eucharist in the church to Polycarp, manifestly as a mark of respect. And they parted from each other in peace, both those who observed, and those who did not, maintaining the peace of the whole church.
Thus Irenæus, who truly was well named, became a peacemaker in this matter, exhorting and negotiating in this way in behalf of the peace of the churches. And he conferred by letter about this mooted question, not only with Victor, but also with most of the other rulers of the churches
Romans 13.1-7 – Government and Authority
In the mouth of the opposition to the current president-elect are the words ‘don’t trust the government’, but the bible is clear – the Government is God’s minister. People who would label themselves Christian have taken up with the spirit of fear, and have insisted that we must not trust nor should we place our hope in the Government. Does the bible, which many claim to base their Christianity on, permit a general mistrust, fear, or even rebellion against the Government?
Let every man be subject to the high power — for there is no authority but from God; the authorities that exist have been appointed by God. Accordingly, he that opposes the authority opposes the command of God, and they that oppose it shall receive unto themselves the judgment. For those that rule are not terrors to good works, but to those who do evil. Do you then want to stop being afraid of the authority? Work that which is good and you will have the praise from him. For he is the servant of God to you for the good; however, if you continue to do that which is evil, be afraid — for he wears not the sword in vain, for he is a servant of God, an executor of justice, to visit wrath to the evil doer. For this reason, there is a necessity to be subject, not for the wrath, but also because of your conscience. Then, for this reason, pay your taxes also. For they are ministers of God’s service, and on this very thing, they continue steadfastly. Therefore, render to all that is their due — taxes to whom taxes is due, revenues to whom revenues, fear to whom fear, and honor to who honor is due. (Romans 13:1-7 CTV-NT)
This is not just a mere passing thought of the Apostle Paul in hopes of securing from Rome some measure of peace, but indeed, this commandment runs throughout the New Testament and may be found in 1st Timothy 2.1-2; Titus 3.1; and 1st Peter 2.13-17. By the mouths of those that had held the name, we hear,
Justin Martyr (Apology 1:17) writes, “Everywhere, we, more readily than all men, endeavour to pay to those appointed by you the taxes, both ordinary and extraordinary, as we have been taught by Jesus. We worship only God, but in other things we will gladly serve you, acknowledging you as kings and rulers of men, and praying that, with your kingly power, you may be found to possess also sound judgment.”
Athenagoras, pleading for peace for the Christians, writes (chapter 37): “We deserve favour because we pray for your government, that you may, as is most equitable, receive the kingdom, son from father, and that your empire may receive increase and addition, until all men become subject to your sway.”
Tertullian (Apology 30) writes at length: “We offer prayer for the safety of our princes to the eternal, the true, the living God, whose favour, beyond all other things, they must themselves desire…. Without ceasing, for all our emperors we offer prayer. We pray for life prolonged; for security to the empire; for protection for the imperial house; for brave armies, a faithful senate, a virtuous people, the world at rest–whatever, as man or Caesar, an emperor would wish.” He goes on to say that the Christian cannot but look up to the emperor because he “is called by our Lord to his office.” And he ends by saying that “Caesar is more ours than yours because our God appointed him.” (Barclay’s DSB)
We must be reminded that the governments of this world are not their own, but ours – as Tertullian – because just as we are of God, they are appointed by God to carry out His plan and His will. It is not that we have a confident expectation in the Government or even faith that they will do what is morally and scripturally right, but we must hope, trust, and know that the same God that we serve has appointed these governments for a specific purpose, and if He has done so, then we can trust that they will serve us in the manner that we need them to do so.
Does this mean that we accept what governments do, or will there come a time in which civil disobedience becomes the order of the day? I believe that when the government interferes with the Church, then it must be resisted. We can find such an example in Daniel, who served the King, but resisted his command to cease the worship of the God of the Jews. Again, the Three Young men, who had served the King up until the time it came to worship a false god.
Then we have the much heralded example of Polycarp (chapter 9 and 10), who led no political rebellion against Rome, but insisted on his service to the Christian King and Savior,
Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, “Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp!” No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, the proconsul sought to persuade him to deny Christ, saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, such as, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the Atheists.” But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, “Away with the Atheists.” Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, “Swear, and I will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;” Polycarp declared, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?”
And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” he answered, “Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and thou shalt hear them.” The proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.” But Polycarp said, “To thee I have thought it right to offer an account of my faith; for we are taught to give all due honour (which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.”
Therefore we see that the proper examples of Christian men who would rebel rebel only against the infringements of the Government upon the Church. What does this mean for the founding of the American Republic who, in mob rule fashion, decided that representation in Parliament was a suiting reason for open and armed rebellion against the King of England, claiming God for their banner? Can an open rebellion, not only against the King of England, but against the very word of God, be considered a Christian act especially if that rebellion was held on the issue of taxes?
What then of God’s sovereignty? Might, and victory, does not make right. I am reminded that Nero fiddled while Rome burned and the Christian’s were blamed or that Christ suffered and died while the nations rejoiced. The Death of Christ was indeed the righteous thing, for all of us, but how many of us would have participated in the murder of the Righteous Man?
The idea that we cannot trust the government is foreign both to the Scriptures and Tradition, and should be foreign from our pulpits. In a government that we feel stands in opposition to our morality, we must consider what Paul tell us, that is to work good things, to earn praise instead of delve into fear. Do not read into this as that we hold the government as we would God, but instead, understand that a basic fear of government is not necessary.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men – The Epistle to Diognetus
It has been speculated that the writer of this Epistle was Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. I am not sure it is or not, however, it does add a special touch to it if he is indeed the writer. What we must remember in this time of politics, is that Christians are commanded not to be apart of this world and not to entangle ourselves in the affairs of this world. The Christians during the time of the writing of this epistle (125) took those commandments to heart. I believe that it is a healthy reminder that Christians are not supposed to entangle the sanctity of the Cross with the sin of man.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking cast away fetuses. They have a common table, but not a common bed.They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven.They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, and are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, and restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.method of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all ; they beget children; but they do not
Hunting Heresies in the Fathers
I am a biblical fundamentalist; I am an Economist, believing that Jesus Christ is God, according to the Economy of God. I do not believe in doctrinal development past the point of the Apostles. I do not believe in new revelations, historical Tradition, or the that tradition defines and develops Doctrine. I stand with Marcellus of Ancyra in appreciating the early Church Fathers, but finding the sole source of Doctrine as the Scriptures from the Apostles and Prophets. I do not give any doctrinal significance to the Councils, nor will I call anyone a Saint, except for the broader body of the Church. I see no greatness in Rome or the so-called Apostolic Church which she leads.
To be honest, I relish the thought of being a heretic hunter, of stamping out false doctrines where they arise, with a steady word and a heavy hand. The Church has no room to allow these cancers to grow. I have no problem, as many would read this blog, of stating that this one or that one is a false prophet and a heretic.
However, in my study of the Church Fathers, I have come to a deep appreciation of their writings and their tribute to biblical studies and would rarely use the word ‘heretic’ (except for maybe Origen). I have been criticized for my use of them, however, I will continue to use them and their quotes in my own development and maturity as a Christian.
John Chrysostom has become a favorite of mine, as has Irenaeus, Tertullian, and even Cyprian. Most of these men I would have disagree with in nearly every way, yet, they have measures of Truth. I fully recognize
“So, we see Justin Martyr accused of ditheism and/or subordinationism. Or, we see Gregory Nazianzus accused of proto-Nestorianism.”
However, in doing so, I also recognize that there was not a sudden shift from what I would consider orthodox doctrine (except maybe Origen), and these men still have a measure of contribution to every self-proclaimed theologian – or otherwise – not in refuting any doctrine, or building any doctrine, but in tracing what theological development took place and when and in understanding the Christian community in a historical viewpoint.
Let me say quickly that if you believe that Christianity suddenly ceased after Peter and Paul and that Rome immediately appeared, then you have no faith in Christ or His Church. If Christianity ceased after the Apostles, then Gamaliel was right, and we have all been wrong for nearly 2000 years.
I find that Irenaeus, who is roundly despised by biblical fundamentalists, must be understood as the defender of the faith against well-learned Gnostics, versed and steeped in the Bible. He defended the Faith as one would in these circumstances, and more often than not, stayed within the pattern established by Ignatius and Polycarp. We have Justin, who I find in error as a ditheist, who has great strength in defending the Church against the Jews and further in defending the Septuagint. Tertullian provides us with a rigorous approach to Christian living while Cyprian fought for Church unity against the rising power in Rome. This is not to say that I judge them Christian, as that is in God’s hands, but even the most radical anti-Catholic (which rarely makes any sense) can see that some measure of Truth existed in this learned men.
Personally, I agree that
“Tertullian’s extreme temperament led him to rigid views about asceticism and prophecy which drove him from the orthodox church.”
Except for the part about the prophecy and his Montanist days, I find little wrong in Tertullian’s rigidness. I do however, find a great deal wrong with Origen and the entire school from Alexandria. I find it a break from Orthodoxy, no matter the century and cannot rightly see him in any positive light.
Returning to the others, however, I realize that many of them do not share the doctrines that I might hold, in total; however, it does not erase their value. We have to remember that History is rarely kind to even Inspired Writings, much less the writings and thoughts of men, albeit inspired men. (Look at the war that history as waged on the epistles from Ignatius) Interpretation of these writings is the same way. Do not take them in the light of theologians 1800 years removed from them, but attempt to understand them in the world in which they wrote. Unlike the Bible, their words are not timeless, and must be understood against the world that they fought.
I agree with the writer of the above post when he says,
A second less innocent motive is heresy hunting in the context of inter-denominational apologetics and polemics. In this kind of heresy hunt, we see writers (often, but not always Protestant) search the Fathers in order to find something wrong in what they are saying. What they are doing in reading the Fathers isn’t reading them to understand them or to take insight from them, but rather they are reading them the way that a lawyer reads a hostile brief–they are looking for dirt and evidence to beat the other side with.
There a few things that I no longer like to see, and that is anyone on my ‘side’ calling the theologians of the 2nd and 3rd century, Roman Catholic. Most them would have rebelled against the idea of the Roman Church as we know it now. Instead, we must look at these as cousins, rather distant, and stop the labeling, often times done in error. We must not succumb to the ‘violence’ of apologetics, but instead place these people in their respective places, learning and valuing their input.
Finally, even Paul used non-Christians to highlight Christianity, and if we dismiss the entire corpus of post-Apostle’s writing simply because they might not agree with us in every way, then we do a great deservice to the Church.
Polycarp and Irenaeus on Sound Doctrine
To deny Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is to be Antichrist. To contradict the evidence of the Cross is to be of the devil. And to pervert the Lord’s words to suit our own wishes, by asserting that there are no such things as resurrection or judgment, is to be a first-begotten of Satan. So let us have no more of this nonsense from the gutter, and these lying doctrines, and turn back to the Word originally delivered to us. — St. Polycarp, Epistle, par. 7
When, however, they are confuted from the Scriptures, they turn round and accuse these same Scriptures, as if they were not correct, nor of authority, and that they are ambiguous, and that the truth cannot be extracted from them by those who are ignorant of tradition. For that the truth was not delivered by means of written documents, but vivâ voce: wherefore also Paul declared, “But we speak wisdom among those that are perfect, but not the wisdom of this world.” 1 Corinthians 2:6 And this wisdom each one of them alleges to be the fiction of his own inventing, forsooth; so that, according to their idea, the truth properly resides at one time in Valentinus, at another in Marcion, at another in Cerinthus, then afterwards in Basilides, or has even been indifferently in any other opponent, who could speak nothing pertaining to salvation. For every one of these men, being altogether of a perverse disposition, depraving the system of truth, is not ashamed to preach himself. — St. Irenaeus, Against Heresies, Book 3, Chapter 2, Par. 1
On the Incarnation of Christ our Lord
The key tenant to the Christian faith is indeed the Incarnation, as in the Incarnation is bound the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As Paul wrote to the church at Philipi, he wrote something, or rehearsed something into print, that has stuck with the Church, and in the hearts and minds of the Saints, for the last two thousand years.
For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. (Luke 2:11 NKJV)
It is too simply said that for the child to have been born already Christ the Lord, then more than a measure of preexistence must be. We know that in the beginning the Word existed, and further that the Word was God having spoken or God in Actions, and thus no separate deity, and no lesser God. It is the nature of the Incarnation – Deity or Created – that still separates some. It is also the very divine nature of the Incarnation that provides for us a common ground, a foundation for discussion on the Godhead itself.
Your attitude should be the same that Christ Jesus had:
Though he was God, he did not demand and cling to his rights as God. He made himself nothing; he took the humble position of a slave and appeared in human form. And in human form he obediently humbled himself even further by dying a criminal’s death on a cross. (Philippians 2:5-8 NLT)
That mystery the Jews traduce, the Greeks deride, but we adore; and your own love and devotion to the Word also will be the greater, because in His Manhood He seems so little worth.
Although Trinitarian, Athanasius is correct here, and the more so because of his long battles against the Arians.
Ignatius of Antioch, the great bishop of that city, wrote long before Athanasius,
There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first possible and then impossible, — even Jesus Christ our Lord.
Where is the boasting of those who are styled prudent? For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the economy of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water. – Epistle to the Ephesians
In each of Ignatius’ seven letters that have been preserved, he calls Jesus Christ God,
Ephesians:“Ignatius … to the Church which is at Ephesus, … united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God” (Proem.)
“Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you”. (ch.1)
“Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God…” (ch.20)
Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one. (Ch. 7)
“Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him…” (Ch. 8)
“…I pray for your happiness for ever in our God, Jesus Christ, …” (Ch. 8)
“Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that willeth all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God, which … is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God.” (Proem)
“I Glorify God, even Jesus Christ, … He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful , whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church.” (Ch. 1)
“Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be .” (Ch. 2)
“For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, “Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit.” And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father.” (Ch. 3)
“Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.” (Ch. 9)
“But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds? Why do I long to be exposed to the wild beasts? Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against the Lord?” (Ch. 10)
From the first generation after the Apostles, on who are great men such as Polycarp (to all under heaven who shall believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead.” (Ch. 12) and our Ignatius, there is the very doctrine that it was God in the flesh (in carne – Latin, in the flesh). It was to them the central doctrinal point, and one that would cause doctrinal discussions until even our modern times. What is the nature of the Incarnation?
It is well said that without the Incarnation there is no Christianity, and with no true Christianity, no Christian. This shared faith of ours, this very path to eternal life, is based on the premise that a sacrifice was needed in order to restore the human ability to have not only fellowship, but a relationship with God, just as in Eden before Time. The Scriptures presents the history and future of humanity as having begun in a Garden in which we would walk and talk with the Lord God and because of our sin in Adam, we were separated from God, but there will come a time in the future that Humanity will be given that chance one more, but it all hinges on that sacrifice. Christ must be Deity in order for the Sacrifice of the Cross to be efficacious, for human sins to be “removed” and/or “conquered”.
Arianism, ancient and modern, would have us demote Christ to some secondary being or to some adopted Son, removing from Him that immanent deity and replacing it with a lesser divinity either gained or created. By doing this, there is the notion that Christ was suddenly created, thrown into existence and thus the Incarnation was not Christ coming in the flesh, but instead being created.
The Incarnation expresses first love and then obedience, or perhaps obedience because of love. Without it, and with Arianism, you have only a created sacrifice of only forced obedience without love. Paul writes, perhaps borrowing from an earlier hymn, that the living God thought more of humanity and His creation than He did of His deity and willingly gave it up. He robed Himself with the flesh of humanity (Galatians 4.4) being born of a woman, being made subject to the law, that is sin, thus we return here to the idea that God was a slave, that is to those same mortal coil that we share, you and I.
The setting of a garden provides for us a setting to test obedience. In Eden, God told Adam have it all, except for one fruit of a certain tree. He was disobedient. In Gethsemane, Christ is pictured in the throws of anguish, with his sweat becoming as great drops of blood, which as been pointed to as a sign for physical duress. Here is our Lord in the flesh who became a slave to sin, walking in humility for over three decades, teaching, preaching, and serving – in His our of need, when His soul was abundantly sorrowful – He prayed that His cup would pass from Him. Could Christ have walked away from us, leaving His creation to suffer the pains of death without God?
Did He have that right?
Indeed, for His creation had been disobedient, His people has repeatedly turn from Him to worship other gods, and now, one of His closest friends, along with the Roman Empire, were on the way to betray Him. Yet, the love that first caused His obedience is what He succumbed to and what He would give His life for, but without the Incarnation – and the preexistence that it requires – there is no obedience and thus no love, only a duty and a requirement. There is no true sacrifice, but an offering.
All of those that attribute deity to Christ find that the Incarnation is the essence of Christianity – He was more than a good man, a prophet, a created being – He was and is God. The doctrine of the purpose of the Atonement, or perhaps the ability of the Atonement, is secondary to the Doctrine of the Incarnation itself, which must first be correct so that the others may align.