Melito of Sardis – Deliverance of Mankind through Christ
In studying Melito of Sardis, I happened upon his preaching on the Passover (which I am reposting for this Easter). This is the oldest surviving sermons outside of the New Testament, and as such provides much insight into the heart and mind of this little know Preacher. From time to time, I will offer segments of his Passover Sermon.
The entire sermon is laced with Doctrine, but the central point of it is the Gospel message, that Christ was crucified, buried, and resurrected on the third day to provide Salvation for humanity. This is the Gospel. In drawing out the connection between the Passover of the Jews and the Passover of the Church, he brings to the mind the connectivity between the Old Testament and the New, of Israel and the Church, of the union of the Body of Christ.
66. When this one came from heaven to earth for the sake of the one who suffers, and had clothed himself with that very one through the womb of a virgin, and having come forth as man, he accepted the sufferings of the sufferer through his body which was capable of suffering. And he destroyed those human sufferings by his spirit which was incapable of dying. He killed death which had put man to death.
67. For this one, who was led away as a lamb, and who was sacrificed as a sheep, by himself delivered us from servitude to the world as from the land of Egypt, and released us from bondage to the devil as from the hand of Pharaoh, and sealed our souls by his own spirit and the members of our bodies by his own blood.
68. This is the one who covered death with shame and who plunged the devil into mourning as Moses did Pharaoh. This is the one who smote lawlessness and deprived injustice of its offspring, as Moses deprived Egypt. This is the one who delivered us from slavery into freedom, from darkness into light, from death into life, from tyranny into an eternal kingdom, and who made us a new priesthood, and a special people forever.
69. This one is the passover of our salvation. This is the one who patiently endured many things in many people: This is the one who was murdered in Abel, and bound as a sacrifice in Isaac, and exiled in Jacob, and sold in Joseph, and exposed in Moses, and sacrificed in the lamb, and hunted down in David, and dishonored in the prophets.
70. This is the one who became human in a virgin, who was hanged on the tree, who was buried in the earth, who was resurrected from among the dead, and who raised mankind up out of the grave below to the heights of heaven.
71. This is the lamb that was slain. This is the lamb that was silent. This is the one who was born of Mary, that beautiful ewe-lamb. This is the one who was taken from the flock, and was dragged to sacrifice, and was killed in the evening, and was buried at night; the one who was not broken while on the tree, who did not see dissolution while in the earth, who rose up from the dead, and who raised up mankind from the grave below.
Orthodox Study Bible – Review
- Old Testament newly translated from the Greek text of the Septuagint, including the Deuterocanon
- New Testament from the New King James Version
- Commentary drawn from the early Church Christians
- Easy-to-Locate liturgical readings
- Book Introductions and Outlines
- Subject Index
- Full-color Icons
- Full-color Maps
Not being Orthodox myself (although maybe orthodox), I became interested in this translation for two reasons:
- It was a ‘new’ translation of the Septuagint, which I have become a student of.
- It was the first viable English bible to include both the Septuagint and the New Testament – both Greek Testaments into English in one bible
Late last year, I received the New English Translation the Septuagint, but alas, it was difficult to carry two bibles to Church, so when I heard of this one coming out, I was excited, and I have not been disappointed. Not only did it have the distinction of having both (Greek) testaments in one bible, but it included the Deuterocanon along with notes that introduce people to various ‘Church Fathers’ up to the Great Schism. Plus, unlike the NETS, the Orthodox Study Bible (published by Thomas Nelson) is publicly readable, with less stilted language.
For the Septuagint, the Committee used Rahlf’s critical edition of the Greek text, which is what the NETS used, however, they further used Brenton’s 1851 translation and the New King James Translation as a backdrop. They readily used the NKJV in places where the Hebrew and the Greek matched. They did, however, use the canonical order of the Old Testament According to the Seventy, first published in 1928. Of course, using the Septuagint creates problems for those who have constantly read the English translation of the Hebrew, especially in the Psalms and Jeremiah. Few Christians outside of the Orthodox tradition, or scholarly field, know that at times there is, at times, a great difference between the text of the Septuagint (LXX) and the Hebrew (MT). The OSB helps by providing a chart of the differences in chapters and verses.
It uses NKJV renderings where the Masoretic text of the Hebrew is the same as the LXX text, much like the NETS uses the NRSV for an air of familiarity. (It should be remembered the NKJV has faced criticism for the stilted language.) The introduction states that “he Old Testament text presented in this volume does not claim to be a new or superior translation. The goal was to produce a text to meet the Bible-reading needs of English-speaking Orthodox Christians.” The New Testament is taken from the New King James Version (NKJV), and like other NKJV’s, the variant readings are listing in the footnotes. They have succeeded on this and in providing the LXX to English speaking Christians familiar with the language of the KJV, NKJV, and the RSV; however, the Orthodox may not be so forgiving.
The use of the TR Greek is defended on the grounds that the underlying Greek text of the New Testament in the King James Version is closer to the traditional Byzantine text than that of modern critical editions. This is, for the most part, true. The editors attempt to use scientific methods in determining this, while ignoring that for the Orthodox, Scriptures come from the Church, so no explanation is needed. The section of the opening chapter, pages x and xi, which discusses the choice of text, is in fact nothing more than a slightly revised version of the preface to the Revised Authorized Version, pages vi and vii. This undercuts the Orthodox’s position of the Church as the stay of the Scriptures.
The inclusion of the Deuterocanon does not include, as the NETS does, the Psalms of Salomon which is actually referenced/contained in the Codex Alexandrinus. While I am not here to debate the canonicity of certain books, it would have been nice to have that book included in this Translation, as the representation of this book in the ancient Codex proves that someone once continued it at least near canonical, or readable. The Deuterocanon, unlike other bible versions, are printed in the canonical order of the East. Whereas the King James Version (KJV), and subsequent (Protestant) Bible versions places them in a separate section between the two Testaments.
One of the issues that I have with the Greek used in the OSB is that it does not provide for the chance to compare the recensions. It appears that the Revised Standard Version was the boilerplate for the Deuterocanon; the RSV used the shorter text. The NETS – again, meant to be the scholarly translation of the LXX – actually provides translations of both texts in parallel, as it does for the case of all such divergent texts in the Septuagint tradition: in Iesous (Joshua), Judges, Esther (giving the Old Greek and the Alpha text,) Tobit (the GII and GI texts), Sousanna, Daniel, Bel and the Dragon (all three have both Old Greek and Theodotion).
The Committee also offers a general overview of the books as well as an introduction to the Orthodox Church. I am not going to provide an answer to their assumption of continuation from the Apostles and Acts, but it is nice to have within this bible brief doctrines and explanations of the Orthodox Church. In their Introduction, the speak about Doctrine, Worship, Government, the disagreements between the West and the East, the Great Schism, Further Divisions and the modern Orthodox Church. This is not a slight against the Committee, but the history provided in these sections is often shallow and muddy; however, it is not the Committee’s mission to provide Doctoral Thesis of Orthodox History, merely to peak the interest of the reader. And in this mission, this Bible serves well.
The book overviews and is easy enough to follow, again, not giving deep insight, but pointing to the Traditions positions on the book. As with any Study Bible, the OSB have footnotes throughout, but more often than not, it refers to an ancient writer, such as John Chrysostom or Vincent of Lerins, and many others. This serves the purpose well of pointing to a long history of the Orthodox, filled with commentators on every subject and every book. Of course, like all other denominationally based Study Bibles, the doctrines of the Orthodox Church are held up throughout. From the very beginning, the Trinity is pointed out, which is their primary goal as listed on the cover flap.
Interspersed throughout the translation are introduction to specific doctrines as held by the Orthodox Church. Of those doctrines that Protestants have a difficult time understanding, myself included, is Deification. According to many fundamentalist apologist, Orthodox Deification is the process of becoming a god. Instead, the OSB says that it the process of Christians becoming more like God, or as Peter says in 1.3, partaking in the divine nature. Although I am not in complete agreement with the terminology, I can understand the idea of a progression of the Christian to become more holy. This is just one example of the many areas in which the Study Bible serves to create a communication bridge with the Orthodox Church.
The quality of the bible is fair, but may present a problem in the future. I am pretty rough with mine, because it gets a lot of use. I am almost afraid to touch the pages as they are extremely thin. Another thing is the lack of cross references. I don’t really use them, but I do know of more than a few that do. This bible does not have any, which may be a turn off.
Another issue with the Bible is the commentary – it provides a great deal, but equally lacks a great deal. John Chrysostom, who could bridge the East-West divide is sorely underused as is Augustine, who could provide a bridge to the Reformed protestants. Now, it is understandable that Patristic commentary on, several of the books may be scarce (Esther, Nehemiah, etc…) , but the lack of commentary on the theological passages (such as Baptism, Godhead, Mary, Church, Pre-destination) is nearly unforgivable. Let me note, however, that having a study Bible which is unapologetically Christological in the interpretation of the Old Testament makes for a nice change and suits me fine.
Of the issues that an Orthodox might find with this bible is that although the Editors promise to use the voices of first Millenium, there are some notable excepts. We find Gregory Palamas (1296 – 1359) and Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833) mentioned as voices, although Seraphim is not used in the notes. Further, we have to note the use of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Theordoret who were condemned as Nestorians at the Fifth Ecumenical Council.
One of the goals of this bible is to introduce the Orthodox Church to Protestants, and it does that. If you take it in that light, then the OSB accomplished more than it set out to do; however, I can hardly imagine an Orthodox being soundly happy with this bible.
Overall, the Orthodox Study Bible is a good choice; I can see it replacing several of my favorites as my bible of choice. It provides for a complete Greek to English translation of the Bible (even if flawed at places) as well as commentary from voices millennia in the past. For me, that is essential when it comes to reading the early Christian writers – Ignatius, Polycarp, Clement of Rome – who had nothing for the Old Greek.
I hope that this is not the last edition of this bible that we see, with a hope that the editors and publishers work together to fix some of the flaws.
The Martyrdom of Polycarp
Please bare in mind that this letter was composed sometime after Polycarp’s death.
The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning in Philomelium, and to all the congregations of the holy and universal Church in every place: Mercy, peace, and love from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied.
Chap. I. — Subject of Which We Write.
We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and especially to the blessed Polycarp, who put an end to the persecution, having, as it were, set a seal upon it by his martyrdom. For almost all the events that happened previously , took place that the Lord might show us from above a martyrdom becoming the Gospel. For he waited to be delivered up, even as the Lord had done, that we also might become his followers, while we look not merely at what concerns ourselves but have regard also to our neighbours. For it is the part of a true and well-founded love, not only to wish one’s self to be saved, but also all the brethren.
Chap. II. — The Wonderful Constancy of the Martyrs.
All the martyrdoms, then, were blessed and noble which took place according to the will of God. For it becomes us who profess greater piety than others, to ascribe the authority over all things to God. And truly, who can fail to admire their nobleness of mind, and their patience, with that love towards their Lord which they displayed? — who, when they were so torn with scourges, that the frame of their bodies, even to the very inward veins and arteries, was laid open, still patiently endured, while even those that stood by pitied and bewailed them. But they reached such a pitch of magnanimity, that not one of them let a sigh or a groan escape them; thus proving to us all that those holy martyrs of Christ, at the very time when they suffered such torments, were absent from the body, or rather, that the Lord then stood by them, and communed with them. And, looking to the grace of Christ, they despised all the torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by a single hour. For this reason the fire of their savage executioners appeared cool to them. For they kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and never shall be quenched, and looked forward with the eyes of their heart to those good things which are laid up for such as endure; things “which ear hath not heard, nor eye seen, neither have entered into the heart of man,” (1st Corinthians 2:9) but were revealed by the Lord to them, inasmuch as they were no longer men, but had already become angels. And, in like manner, those who were condemned to the wild beasts endured dreadful tortures, being stretched out upon beds full of spikes, and subjected to various other kinds of torments, in order that, if it were possible, the tyrant might, by their lingering tortures, lead them to a denial .
Chap. III. — The Constancy of Germanicus. The Death of Polycarp Is Demanded.
For the devil did indeed invent many things against them; but thanks be to God, he could not prevail over all. For the most noble Germanicus strengthened the timidity of others by his own patience, and fought heroically with the wild beasts. For, when the proconsul sought to persuade him, and urged him to take pity upon his age, he attracted the wild beast towards himself, and provoked it, being desirous to escape all the more quickly from an unrighteous and impious world. But upon this the whole multitude, marvelling at the nobility of mind displayed by the devout and godly race of Christians, cried out, “Away with the Atheists; let Polycarp be sought out!”
Chap. IV. — Quintus the Apostate.
Now one named Quintus, a Phrygian, who was but lately come from Phrygia, when he saw the wild beasts, became afraid. This was the man who forced himself and some others to come forward voluntarily . Him the proconsul, after many entreaties, persuaded to swear and to offer sacrifice. Wherefore, brethren, we do not commend those who give themselves up , seeing the Gospel does not teach so to do. (Comp. Matthew 10:23)
Chap. V. — The Departure and Vision of Polycarp.
But the most admirable Polycarp, when he first heard , was in no measure disturbed, but resolved to continue in the city. However, in deference to the wish of many, he was persuaded to leave it. He departed, therefore, to a country house not far distant from the city. There he stayed with a few , engaged in nothing else night and day than praying for all men, and for the Churches throughout the world, according to his usual custom. And while he was praying, a vision presented itself to him three days before he was taken; and, behold, the pillow under his head seemed to him on fire. Upon this, turning to those that were with him, he said to them prophetically, “I must be burnt alive.”
Chap. VI. — Polycarp Is Betrayed by a Servant.
And when those who sought for him were at hand, he departed to another dwelling, whither his pursuers immediately came after him. And when they found him not, they seized upon two youths , one of whom, being subjected to torture, confessed. It was thus impossible that he should continue hid, since those that betrayed him were of his own household. The Irenarch then (whose office is the same as that of the Cleronomus), by name Herod, hastened to bring him into the stadium. that he might fulfil his special lot, being made a partaker of Christ, and that they who betrayed him might undergo the punishment of Judas himself.
Chap. VII. — Polycarp Is Found by His Pursuers.
His pursuers then, along with horsemen, and taking the youth with them, went forth at supper-time on the day of the preparation with their usual weapons, as if going out against a robber. (Comp. Matthew 26:55) And being come about evening , they found him lying down in the upper room of a certain little house, from which he might have escaped into another place; but he refused, saying, “The will of God be done.” (Comp. Matthew 6:10; Acts 21:14) So when he heard that they were come, he went down and spake with them. And as those that were present marvelled at his age and constancy, some of them said. “Was so much effort made to capture such a venerable man? Immediately then, in that very hour, he ordered that something to eat and drink should be set before them, as much indeed as they cared for, while he besought them to allow him an hour to pray without disturbance. And on their giving him leave, he stood and prayed, being full of the grace of God, so that he could not cease for two full hours, to the astonishment of them that heard him, insomuch that many began to repent that they had come forth against so godly and venerable an old man.
Chap. VIII. — Polycarp Is Brought into the City.
Now, as soon as he had ceased praying, having made mention of all that had at any time come in contact with him, both small and great, illustrious and obscure, as well as the whole Catholic Church throughout the world, the time of his departure having arrived, they set him upon an ass, and conducted him into the city, the day being that of the great Sabbath. And the Irenarch Herod, accompanied by his father Nicetes (both riding in a chariot), met him, and taking him up into the chariot, they seated themselves beside him, and endeavoured to persuade him, saying, “What harm is there in saying, Lord Caesar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?” But he at first gave them no answer; and when they continued to urge him, he said, “I shall not do as you advise me.” So they, having no hope of persuading him, began to speak bitter words unto him, and cast him with violence out of the chariot, insomuch that, in getting down from the carriage, he dislocated his leg . But without being disturbed, and as if suffering nothing, he went eagerly forward with all haste, and was conducted to the stadium, where the tumult was so great, that there was no possibility of being heard.
Chap. IX. — 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 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, sought to persuade him to deny , saying, “Have respect to thy old age,” and other similar things, according to their custom, , “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?”
Chap. X. — Polycarp Confesses Himself a Christian.
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 ; 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. (Comp. Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1) But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.”
Chap. XI. — No Threats Have Any Effect on Polycarp.
The proconsul then said to him, “I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast thee, except thou 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 thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if thou wilt not repent.” But Polycarp said, “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt.”
Chap. XII. — 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 the stadium 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.”
Chap. XIII. — The Funeral Pile Is Erected.
This, then, was carried into effect with greater speed than it was spoken, the multitudes immediately gathering together wood and fagots 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 giveth me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in the pile.”
Chap. XIV. — 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 thy beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me, worthy of this day and this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup (Comp. Matthew 20:22, Matthew 26:39; Mark 10:38) of thy 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 Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast fore-ordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.”
Chap. XV. — 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.
Chap. XVI. — 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 universal Church which is in Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished.
Chap. XVII. — The Christians Are Refused Polycarp’s Body.
But when the adversary of the race of the righteous, the envious, malicious, and wicked one, perceived the impressive38 nature of his martyrdom, and the blameless life he had led from the beginning, and how he was now crowned with the wreath of immortality, having beyond dispute received his reward, he did his utmost that not the least memorial of him should be taken away by us, although many desired to do this, and to become possessors of his holy flesh. For this end he suggested it to Nicetes, the father of Herod and brother of Alce, to go and entreat the governor not to give up his body to be buried, “lest,” said he, “forsaking Him that was crucified, they begin to worship this one.” This he said at the suggestion and urgent persuasion of the Jews, who also watched us, as we sought to take him out of the fire, being ignorant of this, that it is neither possible for us ever to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the whole world (the blameless one for sinners), nor to worship any other. For Him indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore; but the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the Lord, we worthily love on account of their extraordinary affection towards their own King and Master, of whom may we also be made companions and fellow-disciples!
Chap. XVIII. — The Body of Polycarp Is Burned.
The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed the body in the midst of the fire, and consumed it. Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.
Chap. XIX. — Praise of the Martyr Polycarp.
This, then, is the account of the blessed Polycarp, who, being the twelfth that was martyred in Smyrna (reckoning those also of Philadelphia), yet occupies a place of his own47 in the memory of all men, insomuch that he is everywhere spoken of by the heathen themselves. He was not merely an illustrious teacher, but also a pre-eminent martyr, whose martyrdom all desire to imitate, as having been altogether consistent with the Gospel of Christ. For, having through patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous , rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Saviour of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the universal Church throughout the world.
Chap. XX. — This Epistle Is to Be Transmitted to the Brethren.
Since, then, ye requested that we would at large make you acquainted with what really took place, we have for the present sent you this summary account through our brother Marcus. When, therefore, ye have yourselves read this Epistle, be pleased to send it to the brethren at a greater distance, that they also may glorify the Lord, who makes such choice of His own servants. To Him who is able to bring us all by His grace and goodness into his everlasting kingdom, through His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, to Him be glory, and honour, and power, and majesty, for ever. Amen. Salute all the saints. They that are with us salute you, and Evarestus, who wrote this Epistle, with all his house.
Chap. XXI. — The Date of the Martyrdom.
Now, the blessed Polycarp suffered martyrdom on the second day of the month Xanthicus just begun, the seventh day before the Kalends of May, on the great Sabbath, at the eighth hour. He was taken by Herod, Philip the Trallian being high priest, Statius Quadratus being proconsul, but Jesus Christ being King for ever, to whom be glory, honour, majesty, and an everlasting throne, from generation to generation. Amen.
Chap. XXII. — Salutation.
We wish you, brethren, all happiness, while you walk according to the doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; with whom be glory to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of His holy elect, after whose example the blessed Polycarp suffered, following in whose steins may we too be found in the kingdom of Jesus Christ!
These things Caius transcribed from the copy of Irenaeus (who was a disciple of Polycarp), having himself been intimate with Irenaeus. And I Socrates transcribed them at Corinth from the copy of Caius. Grace be with you all.
And I again, Pionius, wrote them from the previously written copy, having carefully searched into them, and the blessed Polycarp having manifested them to me through a revelation, even as I shall show in what follows. I have collected these things, when they had almost faded away through the lapse of time, that the Lord Jesus Christ may also gather me along with His elect into His heavenly kingdom, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
Irenaeus’ words on Polycarp
From New Advent:
Various passages in St. Irenaeus concerning Polycarp
In Irenæus, Polycarp comes before us preeminently as a link with the past. Irenaeus mentions him four times: (a) in connection with Papias; (b) in his letter to Florinus; (c) in his letter to Pope Victor; (d) at the end of the celebrated appeal to the potior principalitas of the Roman Church.
In connection with Papias
From “Adv. Haer.”, V, xxxiii, we learn that Papias was “a hearer of John, and a companion of Polycarp”.(the Apostle John seems to have greatly influence the Apologists in much the same way that Paul did the early Church)
In his letter to Florinus
Florinus was a Roman presbyter who lapsed into heresy. Irenæus wrote him a letter of remonstrance (a long extract from which is preserved by Eusebius, II, E., V,xx), in which he recalled their common recollections of Polycarp.
“These doctrines, O Florinus, to speak mildly, are not of sound judgment. These doctrines disagree with the Church, and drive into the greatest impiety those who accept them. These doctrines, not even the heretics outside of the Church, have ever dared to publish. These doctrines, the presbyters who were before us, and who were companions of the apostles, did not deliver to thee.
6. I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it; so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words, and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the ‘Word of life,’ Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures.
Lightfoot (op.cit., 448) will not fix the date of the time when St. Irenæus and Florinus were fellow-pupils of Polycarp more definitely than somewhere between 135 and 150. There are in fact no data to go upon.
In his letter to Victor, Bishop of Rome
The visit of Polycarp to Rome is described by Irenæus in a letter to Victor written under the following circumstances. The Asiatic Christians differed from the rest of the Church in their manner of observing Easter. While the other Churches kept the feast on a Sunday, the Asiatics celebrated it on the 14th of Nisan, whatever day of the week this might fall on. Pope Victor tried to establish uniformity, and when the Asiatic Churches refused to comply, excommunicated them. Irenæus remonstrated with him in a letter, part of which is preserved by Eusebius (H. E., V, xxiv), in which he particularly contrasted the moderation displayed in regard to Polycarp by Biship Anicetus with the conduct of Victor. “Among these (Victor’s predecessors) were the presbyters before Soter. They neither observed it (14th Nisan) 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. … And when the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp … nor Polycarp Anicetus … . 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“, etc.
There is a difficulty connected with this visit of Polycarp to Rome. According to the Chronicle of Eusebius in Jerome’s version (the Armenian version is quite untrustworthy) the date of Anicetus’ accession was A.D. 156-57. Now the probable date of Polycarp’s martyrdom is February, 155. The fact of the visit to Rome is too well attested to be called into question. We must, therefore, either give up the date of martyrdom, or suppose that Eusebius post-dated by a year or two the accession of Anicetus. There is nothing unreasonable in this latter hypothesis, in view of the uncertainty which so generally prevails in chronological matters (for the date of the accession of Anicetus see Lightfoot, “St. Clement I”, 343).
In his famous passage on the Roman Church
We now come to the passage in Irenæus (Adv. Haer., III,3) which brings out in fullest relief Polycarp’s position as a link with the past. Just as John’s long life lengthened out the Apostolic Age, so did the four score and six years of Polycarp extend the sub-Apostolic Age, during which it was possible to learn by word of mouth what the Apostles taught from those who had been their hearers. In Rome the Apostolic Age ended about A.D. 67 with the martyrdom of Peter and Paul, and the sub-Apostolic Age about a quarter of a century later when St. Clement, “who had seen the blessed Apostles”, died. In Asia the Apostolic Age lingered on till John died about A.D. 100; and the sub-Apostolic Age till 155, when St. Polycarp was martyred. In the third book of his treatise “Against Heresies”, Irenæus makes his celebrated appeal to the “successions” of the bishops in all the Churches. He is arguing against heretics who professed to have a kind of esoteric tradition derived from the Apostles. To whom, demands Irenæus, would the Apostles be more likely to commit hidden mysteries than to the bishops to whom they entrusted their churches? In order then to know what the Apostles taught, we must have recourse to the “successions” of bishops throughout the world. But as time and space would fail if we tried to enumerate them all one by one, let the Roman Church speak for the rest. Their agreement with her is a manifest fact by reason of the position which she holds among them (“for with this Church on account of its potior principalitas the whole Church, that is, the faithful from every quarter, must needs agree”, etc.).
Then follows the list of the Roman bishops down to Eleutherius, the twelfth from the Apostles, the ninth from Clement, “who had both seen and conversed with the blessed Apostles”. From the Roman Church, representing all the churches, the writer then passes on to two Churches, that of Smyrna, in which, in the person of Polycarp, the sub-Apostolic Age had been carried down to a time still within living> memory, and the Church of Ephesus, where, in the person of St. John, the Apostolic Age had been prolonged till “the time of Trajan”. Of Polycarp he says, “he was not only taught by the Apostles, and lived in familiar intercourse with many that had seen Christ, but also received his appointment in Asia from the Apostles as Bishop in the Church of Smyrna”. He then goes on to speak of his own personal acquaintance with Polycarp, his martyrdom, and his visit to Rome, where he converted many heretics. He then continues, “there are those who heard him tell how John, the disciple of the Lord, when he went to take a bath in Ephesus, and saw Cerinthus within, rushed away from the room without bathing, with the words ‘Let us flee lest the room should fall in, for Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within’. Yea, and Polycarp himself, also, when on one occasion Marcion confronted him and said ‘Recognise us’, replied, ‘Ay, ay, I recognise the first-born of Satan’ “.
Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaens
Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, Bishop of the Church of the Smyrnaeans, or rather, who has, as his own bishop, God the Father and Lord Jesus Christ (ἐπισκοπημένῳ ὑπὸ θεοῦ πατρὸς καὶ κυρίου Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ): abundance of happiness.
Having obtained good proof that thy mind is fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock, I loudly glorify that I have been thought worthy thy blameless face, which may I ever enjoy in God! I entreat thee, by the grace with which thou art clothed, to press forward in thy course, and to exhort all that they may be saved. Maintain thy position with all care, both in the flesh and spirit. Have a regard to preserve unity, than which nothing is better. Bear with all, even as the Lord does with thee. Support all in love, as also thou doest. Give thyself to prayer without ceasing. (Comp. 1st Thessalonians 5:17) Implore additional understanding to what thou already hast. Be watchful, possessing a sleepless spirit. Speak to every man separately, as God enables thee. Bear the infirmities of all, as being a perfect athlete : where the labour is great, the gain is all the more.
If thou lovest the good disciples, no thanks are due to thee on that account; but rather seek by meekness to subdue the more troublesome. Every kind of wound is not healed with the same plaster. Mitigate violent attacks by gentle applications. Be in all things “wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove.” (Mattthew 10:16) For this purpose thou art composed of both flesh and spirit, that thou mayest deal tenderly with those that present themselves visibly before thee. And as respects those that are not seen, pray that would reveal them unto thee, in order that thou mayest be wanting in nothing, but mayest abound in every gift. The times call for thee, as pilots do for the winds, and as on tossed with tempest seeks for the haven, so that both thou may attain to God. Be sober as an athlete of God: the prize set before thee is immortality and eternal life, of which thou art also persuaded. In all things may my soul be for thing, and my bonds also, which thou hast loved.
Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines, (Comp. 1st Timothy 1:3, 1st Timothy 6:3) fill thee with apprehension. Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten. It is the part of a noble athlete to be wounded, and yet to conquer. And especially, we ought to bear all things for the sake of God, that He also may bear with us. Be ever becoming more zealous than what thou art. Weigh carefully the times. Look for Him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became passible on our account; and who in every kind of way suffered for our sakes.
Let not widows be neglected. Be thou, after the Lord, their protector and friend. Let nothing be done without thy consent; neither do thou anything without the approval of God, which indeed thou dost not, inasmuch as thou art stedfast. Let your assembling together be of frequent occurrence: seek after all by name. Do not despise either male or female slaves, yet neither let them be puffed up with conceit, but rather let them submit themselves the more, for the glory of God, that they my obtain from God a better liberty. Let them not long to be set free at the public expense, that they be not found slaves to their own desires.
Flee evil arts; but all the more discourse in public regarding them. Speak to my sisters, that they love the Lord, and be satisfied with their husbands both in the flesh and spirit. In like manner also, exhort my brethren, in the name of Jesus Christ, that they love their wives, even as the Lord the Church. (Ephesians 5:25) If any one can continue in a state of purity, to the honour of Him who is Lord of the flesh, let him so remain without boasting. If he begins to boast, he is undone; and if he reckon himself greater than the bishop, he is ruined. But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honour of God. (Comp. 1st Corinthians 10:31)
Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; rest together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God. Please ye Him under whom ye fight, and from whom ye receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism endure as your arms; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply. Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that ye may receive a worthy recompense. Be long-suffering, therefore, with one another, in meekness, as God is towards you. May I have joy of you for ever!22
Seeing that the Church which is at Antioch in Syria is, as report has informed me, at peace, through your prayers, I also am the more encouraged, resting without anxiety in God, if indeed by means of suffering I may attain to God, so that, through your prayers, I may be found a disciple . It is fitting, O Polycarp, most blessed in God, to assemble a very solemn council, and to elect one whom you greatly love, and know to be a man of activity, who may be designated the messenger of God; and to bestow on him this honour that he may go into Syria, and glorify your ever active love to the praise of Christ. A Christian has not power over himself, but must always be ready for the service of God. Now, this work is both God’s and yours, when ye shall have completed it to His glory. For I trust that, through grace, ye are prepared for every good work pertaining to God. Knowing, therefore, your energetic love of the truth, I have exhorted you by this brief Epistle.
Inasmuch as I have not been able to write to all the Churches, because I must suddenly sail from Troas to Neapolis, as the will enjoins, thou, as being acquainted with the purpose of God, wilt write to the adjacent Churches, that they also may act in like manner, such as are able to do so sending messengers, and the others transmitting letters through those persons who are sent by thee, that thou mayest be glorified by a work which shall be remembered for ever, as indeed thou art worthy to be. I salute all by name, and in particular the wife of Epitropus, with all her house and children. I salute Attalus, my beloved. I salute him who shall be deemed worthy to go into Syria. Grace shall be with him for ever, and with Polycarp that sends him. I pray for your happiness for ever in our God, Jesus Christ, (ἐν θεῷ ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστῷ) by whom continue ye in the unity and under the protection of God, I salute Alce, my dearly beloved. Fare ye well in the Lord.
Polycarp – Epistle to the Philippians
Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi: Mercy to you, and peace from God Almighty and Jesus Christ (θεοῦ παντοκράτορος καὶ Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ), our Saviour, be multiplied.
Chap. I. — Praise of the Philippians.
I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love , and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days (Philippians 1:5) long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, “whom God raised froth the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave.” “In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory;” (1Peter 1:8) into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that “by grace ye are saved, not of works,” (Ephesians 2:8-9) but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.
Chap. II. — An Exhortation to Virtue.
“Wherefore, girding up your loins,” (Comp. 1Peter 1:13-14) “serve the Lord in fear” (Psalms 2:11) and truth, as those who have forsaken the vain, empty talk and error of the multitude, and “believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory,” (1Peter 1:21) and a throne at His right hand. To Him all things(Comp. 1Peter 3:22; Philippians2:10) in heaven and on earth are subject. Him every spirit serves. He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead. (Comp. Acts 17:31) His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him. (There is a slight movement that declares that the early Church was universalistic, but Polycarp levels the charge that without Christ, there is only death.) But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise (Comp 1st Corinthians 6:14; 2nd Corinthians 4:14; Romans 8:11) up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, falsewitness; “not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing,” (1Peter 3:9) or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: “Judge not, that ye be not judged; (Matthew 7:1) forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; (Matthew 6:12, Matthew 6:14; Luke 6:37) be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; (Luke 6:36) with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again; (Matthew 7:2; Luke 6:38) and once more, “Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.” (Matthew 5:3, Matthew 5:10; Luke 6:20)
Chap. III. — Expressions of Personal Unworthiness.
These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself, but because ye have invited me to do so. For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom (Comp. 2Peter 3:15) of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and stedfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love in God and Christ, (εἰς θεὸν καὶ Χριστὸν) and our neighbour, “is the mother of us all.” (Comp. Galations 4:26) For if any one be inwardly possessed of these graces, he hath fulfilled the command of righteousness, since he that hath love is far from all sin.
Chap. IV. — Various Exhortations.
“But the love of money is the root of all evils.” (1st Timothy 6:10) Knowing, therefore, that “as we brought nothing into the world, so we can carry nothing out,” (1st Timothy 6:7) let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness; (Comp. Ephesians 6:11) and let us teach, first of all, ourselves to walk in the commandments of the Lord. Next, your wives in the faith given to them, and in love and purity tenderly loving their own husbands in all truth, and loving all equally in all chastity; and to train up their children in the knowledge and fear of God. Teach the widows to be discreet as respects the faith of the Lord, praying continually (Comp. 1st Thessolonains 5:17) for all, being far from all slandering, evil-speaking, false-witnessing, love of money, and every kind of evil; knowing that they are the altar of God, that He clearly perceives all things, and that nothing is hid from Him, neither reasonings, nor reflections, nor any one of the secret things of the heart.
Chap. V. — The Duties of Deacons, Youths, and Virgins.
Knowing, then, that “God is not mocked,” (Galations 6:7) we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory. In like manner should the deacons be blameless before the face of His righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ (ὡς θεοῦ καὶ Χριστοῦ – Some read God in Christ. It is clear, that Polycarp did not see two distinct Persons, but one.), and not of men. They must not be slanderers, double-tongued, (Comp. 1st Timothy 3:8) or lovers of money, but temperate in all things, compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the servant (Comp. Matthew 20:28) of all. If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live9 worthily of Him, “we shall also reign together with Him,” (2nd Timothy 2:12) provided only we believe. In like manner, let the young men also be blameless in all things, being especially careful to preserve purity, and keeping themselves in, as with a bridle, from every kind of evil. For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since “every lust warreth against the spirit;” (1st Peter 2:11) and “neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God,” (1st Corinthians 6:9-10) nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming. Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ (θεῷ καὶ Χριστῷ). The virgins also must walk in a blameless and pure conscience.
Chap. VI. — The Duties of Elders and Others.
And let the Elders be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always “providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man;” (Romans 12:17; 2nd Corinthians 8:21) abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; (Matthew 6:12-14) for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and “we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself.” (Romans 14:10-12; 2nd Corinthians 5:10) Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord . Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offence, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error.
Chap. VII. — Avoid the Docetae, and Persevere in Fasting and Prayer.
“For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist;” (1st John 4:3) and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from (Comp. Jude 1:3) the beginning; “watching unto prayer,” (1st Peter 4:7) and persevering in fasting; beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God “not to lead us into temptation,” (Matthew 6:13; Matthew 26:41) as the Lord has said: “The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Matthew 26:41; Mark 14:38)
Chap. VIII. — Persevere in Hope and Patience.
Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, “who bore our sins in His own body on the tree,” (1st Peter2:24) “who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth,” (1stPeter 2:22) but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. (Comp. 1st John4:9) Let us then be imitators of His patience; and if we suffer (Comp. Acts 5:41; 1st Peter 4:16) for His name’s sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example (Comp. 1st Peter 2:21) in Himself, and we have believed that such is the case.
Chap. IX. — Patience Inculcated.
I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness, and to exercise all patience, such as ye have seen before your eyes, not only in the case of the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and the rest of the apostles. in the assurance that all these have not run (Comp. Philippians 2:16; Galatians 2:2) in vain, but in faith and righteousness, and that they are in their due place in the presence of the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not this present world, but Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead.
Chap. X. — Exhortation to the Practice of Virtue.
Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, (Comp. 1st Peter 2:17) and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good, defer it not, because “alms delivers from death.” (Tobit 4:10, 12:9) Be all of you subject one to another, (Comp. 1Peter 5:5) having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles,” (1Peter 2:12) that ye may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! (Isaiah 52:5) Teach, therefore, sobriety to all, and manifest it also in your own conduct.
Chap. XI. — Expression of Grief on Account of Valens.
I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a Elder among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him . I exhort you, therefore, that ye abstain from covetousness, and that ye be chaste and truthful. “Abstain from every form of evil.” (1st Thessalonians 5:22) For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen. But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord? “Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world?” (1st Corinthians 6:2) as Paul teaches. But I have neither seen nor heard of any such thing among you, in the midst of whom the blessed Paul laboured, and who are commended in the beginning of his Epistle. For he boasts of you in all those Churches which alone then knew the Lord; but we had not yet known Him. I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! (Valens operated between 100 and 160. This letter was written between 110-140. It is possible that Polycarp wrote this letter early in Valens’ Gnostic career when it was not too late for him to return.)( And be ye then moderate in regard to this matter, and “do not count such as enemies,” (2nd Thessalonians 3:15) but call them back as suffering and straying members, that ye may save your whole body. For by so acting ye shall edify yourselves. (Comp. 1st Corinthians 12:26)
Chap. XII. — Exhortation to Various Graces.
For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures (Although the canon had not been settled, the idea that Paul’s letters, and it seems even Tobit, were Sacred was in the mind of Polycarp), and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet granted. It is declared then in these Scriptures, “Be ye angry, and sin not,” (Psalms 4:5) and, “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” (Ephesians 4:26) Happy is he who remembers this, which I believe to be the case with you. But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who “raised Him from the dead. (Galatians 1:1) Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings, (Comp. 1st Timothy 2:2) and potentates, and princes, and for those that persecute and hate you, (Matthew 5:44) and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that ye may be perfect in Him.
Chap. XIII. — Concerning the Transmission of Epistles.
Both you and Ignatius wrote to me, that if any one went into Syria, he should carry your letter with him; which request I will attend to if I find a fitting opportunity, either personally, or through some other acting for me, that your desire may be fulfilled. The Epistles of Ignatius written by him to us, and all the rest which we have by us, we have sent to you, as you requested. They are subjoined to this Epistle, and by them ye may be greatly profited; for they treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord. Any more certain information you may have obtained respecting both Ignatius himself, and those that were with him, have the goodness to make known to us. (Polycarp and Ignatius were long time friends, thus the desire to know something of his friend who sure gave his life for his God.)
Chap. XIV. — Conclusion.
These things I have written to you by Crescens, whom up to the present time I have recommended unto you, and do now recommend. For he has acted blamelessly among us, and I believe also among you. Moreover, ye will hold his sister in esteem when she comes to you. Be ye safe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with you all. Amen.
Week with Polycarp – Introduction
As many of your suspect, I am not the real Polycarp. Although this will come as a shock to some of you, it is nevertheless very true; however, Polycarp was a real historical figure that deserves some attention, so I have decided to devoted a week to his writings and those either too him (Ignatius) are about him (Ireneaus). Let’s start by discovering who Polycarp is.
Polycarp of Smyrna (ca. 69 – ca. 155) was a second century bishop of Smyrna. He died a martyr when he was stabbed after an attempt to burn him at the stake failed. Polycarp is recognized as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. It is recorded that “He had been a disciple of John.” This John may be identified with John the Apostle, John the Presbyter, or John the Evangelist. With Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is one of three chief Apostolic Fathers. His sole surviving work is his Letter to the Philippians.
Polycarp was a companion of Papias another “hearer of John” as Irenaeus interprets Papias’ testimony, and a correspondent of Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius addressed a letter to him, and mentions him in his letters to the Ephesians and to the Magnesians.
Polycarp’s famous pupil was Irenaeus, for whom the memory of Polycarp was a link to the apostolic past. Irenaeus relates how and when he became a Christian, and in his letter to Florinus stated that he saw and heard him personally in lower Asia; in particular he heard the account of Polycarp’s discussion with John the Evangelist and with others who had seen Jesus. Irenaeus also reports that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by apostles, was consecrated a bishop and communicated with many who had seen Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the very great age of Polycarp. In the Martyrdom, Polycarp indicates on the day of his death: “Eighty and six years I have served him”, which “probably means he was then eighty-six years old” (and was baptized as an infant), though he may have been older.
The date of Polycarp’s death is in dispute. Eusebius dates it to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, circa 166 – 167. However, a post-Eusebian addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday, February 23 in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus—which works out to be 155 or 156. These earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius and John the Evangelist. However, the addition to the Martyrdom cannot be considered reliable on only its own merits. Further, numerous lines of evidence have been given to place the dating of Polycarp’s death to the end of the 160s, perhaps even later. James Ussher, for example, calculated this to 169; William Killen seems to agree with this dating. Some of those evidences include that the Martyrdom uses the singular when referring to the Emperor and Marcus Aurelius only became the sole emperor of Rome in 169 (and beginning in 161); Eusebius and Jerome both state Polycarp died under Marcus Aurelius (cf. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 629, 632); this martyrdom took place during a major persecution, which could correspond to the late 160s or the one in 177 with that of Lyons and Vienne (Ibid., pp. 629-30). Lightfoot would argue for the earlier date of Polycarp’s death, to which others such as Killen would greatly disagree.
Polycarp occupies an important place in the history of the Christian Church. He is among the earliest Christians whose writings survive. He knew John the Apostle, the disciple of Jesus. He was an elder of an important congregation in an area where the apostles laboured. And he is from an era whose orthodoxy is widely accepted by Orthodox Churches, Oriental Churches, Seventh Day Church of God groups, Protestants and Catholics alike. All of this makes his writings of great interest.
Polycarp was not a philosopher or theologian. He appears, from surviving accounts, to have been a practical leader and gifted teacher, “a man who was of much greater weight, and a more steadfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics,” said Irenaeus, who remembered him from his youth. He lived in an age after the deaths of the apostles, when a variety of interpretations of the sayings of Jesus were being preached. His role was to authenticate orthodox teachings through his reputed connection with the apostle John: “a high value was attached to the witness Polycarp could give as to the genuine tradition of apostolic doctrine,” Wace commented, “his testimony condemning as offensive novelties the figments of the heretical teachers. Irenaeus states (iii. 3) that on Polycarp’s visit to Rome his testimony converted many disciples of Marcion and Valentinus. Surviving accounts of the bravery of this very old man in the face of death by burning at the stake added credence to his words.
His martyrdom is of particular importance in understanding the position of the church in the pagan era of the Roman Empire. While the persecution is supported by the local proconsul, the author of the account noted the bloodthirstiness of the crowd in their calls for the death of Polycarp (Ch. 3). Additionally, the account also demonstrates the complexity of the Roman government’s position toward Christianity, since the Christians are given the opportunity to recant and are not punished immediately as confessed criminals. This rather odd judicial system toward the crime of Christianity would later be derided by Tertullian in his Apology.
Polycarp was a great transmitter and authenticator of Christian Revelation in a period when the gospels and epistles were just beginning to achieve acceptance. Although his visit to Rome to meet Anicetus has in the past been used by some in the Roman Catholic Church to buttress papal claims, the documented truth according to Catholic sources is that Polycarp did not accept the authority of the Roman Bishops to change Passover (rather, they agreed to disagree, both believing their practice to be Apostolic) — nor did some of those who have been suggested to be his spiritual successors, such as Melito of Sardis and Polycrates of Ephesus.
We’ll continue next with Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians.