Polycarp

From Academic Kids

Polycarp of Smyrna (martyred in his 87th year, ca. 155-167) was a Christian bishop of Smyrna (now in Turkey) in the second century. He died a martyr, by being stabbed and his corpse burned at the stake in Smyrna, and is recognized as a saint in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches. "He had been a disciple of John, and opinions differ as to whether this John was the son of Zebedee, or John the Presbyter" (Lake 1912). Traditional advocates follow Eusebius in insisting that the apostolic connection was with John the Evangelist, and that the author of the Gospel of John was the Apostle.

Contents

Relationships

Polycarp was a companion of Papias (Irenaeus V.xxxii) 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 the 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.


Visit to Pope Anicetus

Polycarp visited Rome during the time of his fellow Syrian, Pope Anicetus in the 150s or 160s, and they found their customs for observing Easter differed, Polycarp following the eastenr practice of celebrating Easter on the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Jewish Passover, regardless of what day of the week it falls. They agreed to peaceably disagree on this matter. Polycarp was offered the opportunity of celebrating the Eucharist in the Pope's church.


Surviving Writing and Early Accounts

His sole surviving work is the Letter to the Philippians, a mosaic of references to the New Testament. It, and an account of The Martyrdom of Polycarp that takes the form of a circular letter from the church of Smyrna to the churches of Pontus, form part of the collection of writings Roman Catholics term "The Apostolic Fathers" to emphasize their particular closeness to the apostles in Church traditions. The Martyrdom is considered the earliest genuine account of a Christian martyrdom, and one of the very few genuine such writings from the actual age of the persecutions.

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 intercourse 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 old age of Polycarp. The Martyrdom has Polycarp himself give his age on the day of his death as 86 years.

Span of Life

The date of Polycarp's death is disputed. 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.


Importance

St. Polycarp ocupies an important place in the history of the Christian Church. He is the among the earliest Christians whose writings survive. It is probable that he knew St. John the Evangelist, the disciple of Jesus. He was bishop of an important church in an area where the apostles laboured. And he is from an era whose orthodoxy is widely accepted by Orthodox Churches, Oriental Churches, Protestants and Catholics alike. All of this make 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 stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics," Irenaeus said Irenaeus, who remembered him from his youth. (Adversus Haereses III.3.4). 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. 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.

Polycarp was a great transmitter and authenticator of Christian Revelation in a period when the gospels and epistles were just beginning to achieve acceptance. His visit to Rome to meet the pope was significant and has long been used by the Roman Catholic Church to butress papal claims.

References

  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1958 edition, vol. 18, pp 178-180
  • Kirsopp Lake 1912. The Apostolic Fathers, vol. I, pp. 280-28

External links

nl:Polycarpus pl:Polikarp I (biskup Bizancjum) fi:Polykarpos sv:Polykarpus

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