Polycarp

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Saint Polycarp
Burghers michael saintpolycarp.jpg
S. Polycarpus, engraving by Michael Burghers, ca 1685
Martyr, Church Father and Bishop of Smyrna
BornAD 69
DiedAD 156 (aged 86 or 87)
Smyrna, Asia, Roman Empire
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church,
Oriental Orthodox Church,
Roman Catholic Church
Eastern Catholic Churches
Anglican Communion,
Lutheran Church
Feast February 23 (formerly January 26)
Attributes Wearing the pallium, holding a book representing his Epistle to the Philippians
Major works Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians

Polycarp ( /ˈpɒlikɑːrp/ ; Greek : Πολύκαρπος, Polýkarpos; Latin : Polycarpus; AD 69 155) was a 2nd-century Christian bishop of Smyrna. [1] According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp , he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to consume his body. [2] Polycarp is regarded as a saint and Church Father in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Catholic, Anglican, and Lutheran churches. His name means "much fruit" in Greek.

Greek language Language spoken in Greece, Cyprus and Southern Albania

Greek is an independent branch of the Indo-European family of languages, native to Greece, Cyprus and other parts of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. It has the longest documented history of any living Indo-European language, spanning more than 3000 years of written records. Its writing system has been the Greek alphabet for the major part of its history; other systems, such as Linear B and the Cypriot syllabary, were used previously. The alphabet arose from the Phoenician script and was in turn the basis of the Latin, Cyrillic, Armenian, Coptic, Gothic, and many other writing systems.

Christianity is an Abrahamic monotheistic religion based on the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. Its adherents, known as Christians, believe that Jesus is the Christ, whose coming as the messiah was prophesied in the Hebrew Bible, called the Old Testament in Christianity, and chronicled in the New Testament. It is the world's largest religion with about 2.4 billion followers.

Martyrdom of Polycarp is a manuscript written in the form of a letter that relates the religious martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and disciple of John the Apostle in the 2nd century AD. It forms the earliest account of Christian martyrdom outside of the New Testament. The author of Martyrdom of Polycarp is unknown, but it has been attributed to members of the group of early Christian theologians known as the Church Fathers. The letter, sent from the church in Smyrna to another church in Asia Minor at Philomelium, is partly written from the point of view of an eye-witness, recounting the arrest of the elderly Polycarp, the Romans' attempt to execute him by fire, and subsequent miraculous events.

Contents

Both Irenaeus, who as a young man heard Polycarp speak, and Tertullian [3] record that Polycarp had been a disciple of John the Apostle. [4] Jerome writes that Polycarp was a disciple of John and that John had ordained him bishop of Smyrna.[ citation needed ]

Irenaeus Bishop and saint

Irenaeus was a Greek bishop noted for his role in guiding and expanding Christian communities in what is now the south of France and, more widely, for the development of Christian theology by combating heresy and defining orthodoxy. Originating from Smyrna, now Izmir in Turkey, he had seen and heard the preaching of Polycarp, the last known living connection with the Apostles, who in turn was said to have heard John the Evangelist.

Tertullian Christian theologian

Tertullian was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. Of Berber origin, he was the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was an early Christian apologist and a polemicist against heresy, including contemporary Christian Gnosticism. Tertullian has been called "the father of Latin Christianity" and "the founder of Western theology."

John the Apostle apostle of Jesus; son of Zebedee and Salome, brother of James,; traditionally identified with John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, and the Beloved Disciple

John the Apostle was one of the Twelve Apostles of Jesus according to the New Testament. Generally listed as the youngest apostle, he was the son of Zebedee and Salome or Joanna. His brother was James, who was another of the Twelve Apostles. The Church Fathers identify him as John the Evangelist, John of Patmos, John the Elder and the Beloved Disciple, and testify that he outlived the remaining apostles and that he was the only one to die of natural causes. The traditions of most Christian denominations have held that John the Apostle is the author of several books of the New Testament, although this has been disputed by scholars.

The late tradition surrounding Polycarp that expanded upon the Martyrdom is embodied in a collection of fragmentary Coptic-language papyri known as the Harris Fragments, dated to the 3rd to 6th centuries. [5] These fragments compare and contrast Polycarp with John the Apostle, who, though many people had tried to kill him, was not martyred but died of old age on the island of Patmos. Frederick Weidmann, editor of the Harris fragments, interprets them as Smyrnan hagiography addressing Smyrna–Ephesus church rivalries, which "develops the association of Polycarp and John to a degree unwitnessed, so far as we know, either before or since". [6] The fragments both echo the Martyrology and diverge from it.[ clarification needed ][ citation needed ]

Coptic language Latest stage of the Egyptian language

Coptic or Coptic Egyptian, is the latest stage of the Egyptian language, a northern Afro-Asiatic language spoken in Egypt until at least the 17th century as an official language. Egyptian began to be written in the Coptic alphabet, an adaptation of the Greek alphabet with the addition of six or seven signs from Demotic to represent Egyptian sounds the Greek language did not have, in the 2nd century BC.

Old age Human life cycle stage

Old age refers to ages nearing or surpassing the life expectancy of human beings, and is thus the end of the human life cycle. Terms and euphemisms include old people, the elderly, seniors, senior citizens, older adults, and the elders.

Patmos Place in Greece

Patmos is a small Greek island in the Aegean Sea. It is the location of the vision given to the disciple John in the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, and where the book was written.

With Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers. He is the patron saint of Smyrna.[ citation needed ]

Ignatius of Antioch Early Catholic writer, Patriarch of Antioch and martyr saint

Ignatius of Antioch, also known as Ignatius Theophorus or Ignatius Nurono, was an early Christian writer and bishop of Antioch. While en route to Rome, where he met his martyrdom, Ignatius wrote a series of letters. This correspondence now forms a central part of the later collection known as the Apostolic Fathers, of which he is considered one of the three chief ones together with Pope Clement I and Polycarp. His letters also serve as an example of early Christian theology. Important topics they address include ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role of bishops.

The Apostolic Fathers were core Christian theologians among the Church Fathers who lived in the 1st and 2nd centuries AD, who are believed to have personally known some of the Twelve Apostles, or to have been significantly influenced by them. Their writings, though popular in Early Christianity, were not included in the canon of the New Testament. Many of the writings derive from the same time period and geographical location as other works of early Christian literature which came to be part of the New Testament. Some of the writings found among the Apostolic Fathers appear to have been highly regarded as some of the writings which became the New Testament.

Patron saint saint regarded as the tutelary spirit or heavenly advocate of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family, or person

A patron saint, patroness saint, patron hallow or heavenly protector is a saint who in Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism or Eastern Orthodoxy, is regarded as the heavenly advocate of a nation, place, craft, activity, class, clan, family or person.

Surviving writings and early accounts

The sole surviving work attributed to him is the Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians , a mosaic of references to the Greek Scriptures, which, along with an account of The Martyrdom of Polycarp , forms part of the collection of writings Roman Catholics and some Protestants term "The Apostolic Fathers." After the Acts of the Apostles, which describes the death of Stephen, the Martyrdom is considered one of the earliest genuine accounts of a Christian martyrdom. [1]

Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians Letter from Polycarp to the church at Philippi

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians is an epistle attributed to Polycarp, an early bishop of Smyrna, and addressed to the early Christian church in Philippi. It is widely believed to be a composite of material written at two different times, in the first half of the second century. The epistle is described by Irenaeus as follows:

Septuagint Greek translation of Hebrew scriptures

The Septuagint is the earliest extant Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures. It is estimated that the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, known as the Torah or Pentateuch, were translated in the mid-3rd century BCE and the remaining texts were translated in the 2nd century BCE. The Septuagint was the Koine Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and the base of the Christian Old Testament, and was in wide use by the time of Jesus and Paul of Tarsus because most Jews could no longer read Hebrew. For this reason it is quoted more often than the original Hebrew Bible text in the New Testament, particularly in the Pauline epistles, by the Apostolic Fathers, and later by the Greek Church Fathers.

Saint Stephen 1st-century early Christian martyr and saint

Stephen, traditionally venerated as the protomartyr or first martyr of Christianity, was according to the Acts of the Apostles a deacon in the early church at Jerusalem who aroused the enmity of members of various synagogues by his teachings. Accused of blasphemy at his trial, he made a long speech denouncing the Jewish authorities who were sitting in judgment on him and was then stoned to death. His martyrdom was witnessed by Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee who would later become a follower of Jesus and known as Paul the Apostle.

Life

Polycarp in the Nuremberg Chronicle Nuremberg chronicles f 114r 1.png
Polycarp in the Nuremberg Chronicle

The chief sources of information concerning the life of Polycarp are The Martyrdom of Polycarp , Adversus Haereses , [7] the epistles of Ignatius, and Polycarp's own letter to the Philippians. In 1999, the Harris Fragments, a collection of 3rd- to 6th-century Coptic texts that mention Polycarp, were published. [8]

Papias

According to Irenaeus, 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. [9]

Irenaeus regarded the memory of Polycarp as a link to the apostolic past. In his letter to Florinus, a fellow student of Polycarp who had become a Roman presbyter and later lapsed into heresy, Irenaeus relates how and when he became a Christian: [10]

I could tell you the place where the blessed Polycarp sat to preach the Word of God. It is yet present to my mind with what gravity he everywhere came in and went out; what was the sanctity of his deportment, the majesty of his countenance; and what were his holy exhortations to the people. I seem to hear him now relate how he conversed with John and many others who had seen Jesus Christ, the words he had heard from their mouths. [11]

In particular, he heard the account of Polycarp's discussion with John the Presbyter and with others who had seen Jesus. Irenaeus 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 great age of Polycarp.[ citation needed ]

Visit to Anicetus

According to Irenaeus, during the time his fellow Syrian Anicetus was Bishop of Rome, Polycarp visited Rome to discuss differences in the practices of the churches of Asia and Rome. Irenaeus states that on certain things the two bishops speedily came to an understanding, while as to the observance of Easter, each adhered to his own custom, without breaking off full communion with the other. [12] Polycarp followed the Eastern practice of celebrating the feast on the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Jewish Passover, regardless of the day of the week on which it fell, while Anicetus followed the Western practice of celebrating the feast on the first Sunday following the first full moon after the spring equinox. Anicetus allowed Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in his own church, which was regarded by the Romans as a great honor. [12]

Date of martyrdom

Polycarp miraculously extinguishing the fire burning the city of Smyrna Izmir St Polycarp Church Icon Miraculously Extinguishing Smyrna Fire.JPG
Polycarp miraculously extinguishing the fire burning the city of Smyrna

In the Martyrdom, Polycarp is recorded as saying on the day of his death: "Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong." This could indicate either that he was then eighty-six years old [13] or that he had lived eighty-six years after his conversion. [2] Polycarp goes on to say: "How then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked." [11] Polycarp was burned at the stake and pierced with a spear for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. [14] On his farewell, he said: "I bless you, Father, for judging me worthy of this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ." [11]

The date of Polycarp's death is in dispute. Eusebius dates it to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, c. 166–167. However, a post-Eusebian addition to the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the authenticity of which has not been established, dates his death to Saturday, February 23, in the proconsulship of Lucius Statius Quadratus, c. 155 or 156. These earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius and John the Evangelist. Although a date of 177 has been proposed,[ by whom? ] the earlier date of 156 is generally accepted. [15]

Great Sabbath

Because the Smyrnaean letter known as the Martyrdom of Polycarp states that Polycarp was taken "on the day of the Sabbath" and killed on "the Great Sabbath," some[ who? ] believe that this is evidence that the Smyrnaeans under Polycarp observed the seventh-day Sabbath:

Some[ who? ] believe that the expression "the Great Sabbath" refers to the Christian Passover or another annual Jewish holy day. If so, then Polycarp's martyrdom would have had to occur at least a month after the traditional February 23 dating, since according to the Hebrew calendar, the earliest Nisan 14, the date of the Passover, can fall on in any given year is late March. Other "Great Sabbaths" fall in the spring, late summer, and the fall; none occur in winter.[ citation needed ]

It is claimed[ by whom? ] that the "Great Sabbath" is alluded to in John 7:37, where it is referred to as "the last day, that great day of the feast" and is a separate annual holy day immediately following the Feast of Tabernacles. Others argue that the gospel writer is referring to the seventh day of the Feast and later refers to the Eighth Day or annual Sabbath in John 9:14. It is more likely that the "Great Sabbath," as referred to in the Martyrdom of Polycarp is alluded to in John 19:31 which points out "that [weekly] Sabbath day" following the "[day of the] preparation" was a "high day" or "great."[ citation needed ]

Importance

Polycarp occupies an important place in the history of the early Christian Church. [8] He is among the earliest Christians whose writings survived. Jerome wrote that Polycarp was a "disciple of the apostle John and by him ordained bishop of Smyrna". [17] He was an elder of an important congregation that was a large contributor to the founding of the Christian Church. He is from an era whose orthodoxy is widely accepted by Eastern Orthodox Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches, Church of God groups, Sabbatarian groups, mainstream Protestants and Catholics alike. According to David Trobisch, Polycarp may have been the one who compiled, edited, and published the New Testament. [18]

According to Eusebius, Polycrates of Ephesus cited the example of Polycarp in defense of local practices during the quartodeciman controversy. [19]

Irenaeus, who as a young man had heard Polycarp preach, described him as [20] "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". Polycarp had learned from apostle John to flee from those who change the divine truth.[ citation needed ] Polycarp 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 old apostolic doctrine" [2] "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.

See also

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References

  1. 1 2 Saint Polycarp at the Encyclopædia Britannica
  2. 1 2 3 Henry Wace, Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies, s.v. "Polycarpus, bishop of Smyrna".
  3. Tertullian, De praescriptione hereticorum 32.2
  4. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses III.3, Polycarp does not quote from the Gospel of John in his surviving epistle, which may be an indication that whichever John he knew was not the author of that gospel, or that the gospel was not finished during Polycarp's discipleship with John. Weidmann suggests (Weidmann 1999:132) that the "Harris fragments" may reflect early traditions: "the raw material for a narrative about John and Polycarp may have been in place before Irenaeus; the codification of the significance of a direct line of succession from the apostle John through Polycarp may arguably be linked directly to Irenaeus".
  5. Dating according to Frederick W. Weidmann, ed. and tr. Polycarp and John: The Harris Fragments and Their Challenge to the Literary Tradition (University of Notre Dame Press, 1999).
  6. Weidmann 1999:133.
  7. Wikisource-logo.svg  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain : Bacchus, Francis Joseph (1911). "St. Polycarp"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . 12. New York: Robert Appleton.
  8. 1 2 Hartog, Paul (2002). Polycarp and the New Testament. p. 17. ISBN   978-3-16-147419-4.
  9. Irenaeus, V.xxxiii.
  10. Wikisource-logo.svg Bacchus, Francis Joseph (1911). "St. Polycarp"  . In Herbermann, Charles (ed.). Catholic Encyclopedia . 12. New York: Robert Appleton Company.
  11. 1 2 3 Fr. Paolo O. Pirlo, SHMI (1997). "St. Polycarp". My First Book of Saints. Sons of Holy Mary Immaculate - Quality Catholic Publications. pp. 58–59. ISBN   971-91595-4-5.
  12. 1 2 Andrews, Herbert Tom (1911). "Polycarp"  . In Chisholm, Hugh (ed.). Encyclopædia Britannica . 22 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 20–22.
  13. Staniforth, Maxwell, trans. Early Christian Writings London: Penguin Books (1987): 115.
  14. "Polycarp - Martyrdom". Polycarp.net.
  15. Ferguson, Everett (16 June 2005), "4: The Church and the Empire", Church History: From Christ to pre-Reformation, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, p. 80, ISBN   978-0-310-20580-7
  16. Cave, Primitive Christianity: or the Religion of the Ancient Christians in the First Ages of the Gospel. 1840, revised edition by H. Cary. Oxford, London, pp. 84–85).
  17. Schaff, Philip (ed.), Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2, 3
  18. Tobisch, David , "Who Published the New Testament?", Free Inquiry, 28:1 (2007/2008) pp.30–33
  19. Eusebius, Church History, Book V, Chapter 24
  20. Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses III.3.4