POLYCARP, SAINT (c. 69-c. 156), bishop of Smyrna who was martyred (feast day: 29 Amshir). This entry consists of two articles: Life of Polycarp and Letters of Polycarp
Life of Polycarp.
Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna (modern Izmir, Turkey) and defender of orthodox belief. According to Saint Irenaeus (c. 130-200), he was closely associated with Saint John, one of the twelve disciples, by whom he was consecrated bishop. He is therefore a vital link between the apostolic age and the generation of great Christian writers who flourished toward the end of the second century.
When Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was on his way to Rome, where he was martyred by order of Emperor Trajan, he visited Polycarp in Smyrna and, in chains, greeted and encouraged this staunch pillar of the true faith. Also, on reaching Troas, Ignatius dispatched letters to Polycarp, which the latter preserved and, with his own additions, made into an important document on orthodoxy.
He was also held in great esteem outside his own diocese, and other churches valued his teachings at a time of acute theological controversies that troubled the Christian church. At the age of eighty he traveled to Rome to participate in settling the dispute between Eastern and Western churches on the question of the date of Easter. Though no visible agreement could be reached on this topic, Bishop Anicetus of Rome requested that he celebrate the Orthodox Eucharist in his church as a mark of honor and esteem.
On his return to Smyrna, Polycarp was arrested by Roman authorities during a pagan festival. On trial he refused to recant his Christian faith, and consequently he was burned to death, while the gleeful mob shouted: "Let him be burned, he is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the destroyer of our gods." His martyrdom took place on Holy Saturday, the eve of Easter, probably in the year 156 or shortly afterward. He died happily, confessing Jesus Christ.
Polycarp is regarded as the "angel of the Church in Smyrna," and a special reference to Smyrna's martyrs is made in the book of Revelation: "I know thy works and tribulation, and poverty (but thou art rich) and I know the blasphemy of them which say they are Jews and are not, but are the synagogue of Satan. Fear none of those things which thou shalt suffer . . . be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life" (Rev. 2:9-10).
Letters of Polycarp
Ignatius sent a letter from Troas to Polycarp, who was bishop of Smyrna, after he had spent quite a time previously in Smyrna on his prison journey. According to Irenaeus (in Eusebius, Historia Ecclesiastica 5.20.8), Polycarp wrote letters to neighboring congregations and to individual brethren. The letter to the Philippians has survived, and is probably composed of two different epistles sent to Philippi (1951, pp. 203-223). Philippians 13.2 shows that Polycarp is as yet unaware of the martyrdom of Ignatius, who was also in Philippi on his prison journey (or perhaps he cannot be aware of it because it has not yet taken place). "Tell me also anything more reliable that you can discover about Ignatius himself and about those who are with him." However, according to Philippians 9, Ignatius, together with others and with the Apostles, is in the place that is appropriate for them with the Lord, with whom they too have suffered. Here the martyrdom is presupposed. Philippians 13 (probably without chapter 14) is the short covering letter for the transmission of the letters of Ignatius, which were desired by Philippi directly after Ignatius's stay there. Philippians 1-12 and 14 would then be a later letter (chapter 14 is more appropriate as the conclusion to a relatively long letter).
The composite letter has come down in Greek and only partly in Latin. Coptic elements are to be found in the "Roman Martyrdom" of Ignatius, in Lefort (1952), pp. 102-103 (Sahidic and Bohairic); pp. 97-98 (French translation).
During a persecution of Christians in Smyrna, Polycarp died as a martyr on 23 February of uncertain year, at the age of 86. P. Brind’Amour (1980, pp. 456-62) argues for the year 167. Shortly after Polycarp's death the Martyrium Policarpi was composed in Smyrna as a letter from the congregation in Smyrna to that of Philomelium. Discussion of it over the last few years has shown that it is basically authentic. The Coptic version has been published by I. Balestri and H. Hyvernat (1953), from the Vatican Library, Coptic Codex 58, fols. 79r-89v (Latin translation by Hyvernat in Balestri and Hyvernat, 1950, pp. 43-50; S.VIII reference to the previous edition by E. Amélineau). Here, however, we are dealing not with a translation of the whole text of the Martyrium but with one account from Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica, which has been worked over particularly at the beginning and at the end (see Dehandschutter, 1979).
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