Polycarp

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Polycarp bigraphy, stories - Christian bishop of Smyrna

Polycarp : biography

69 – 155

Polycarp ( Polýkarpos; AD 69–155) was a 2nd-century Christian bishop of Smyrna. According to the Martyrdom of Polycarp he died a martyr, bound and burned at the stake, then stabbed when the fire failed to touch him. Polycarp is regarded as a saint in the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, and Lutheran churches.

It is recorded by Irenaeus, who heard him speak in his youth, and by Tertullian,Tertullian, that he had been a disciple of John the Apostle., The Catholic Encyclopedia, 1913.Irenaeus, Adversus Haereses , Polycarp does not quote from the Gospel of John in his surviving letter, 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". Saint Jerome wrote that Polycarp was a disciple of John and that John had ordained him bishop of Smyrna.

The early tradition that expanded upon the Martyrdom to link Polycarp in competition and contrast with John the Apostle who, though many people had tried to kill him, was not martyred but died of old age after being exiled to the island of Patmos, is embodied in the Coptic language fragmentary papyri (the "Harris fragments") dating to the 3rd to 6th centuries.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). Frederick Weidmann, their editor, interprets the "Harris fragments" 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".Weidmann 1999:133. The fragments echo the Martyrology, and diverge from it.

With Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch, Polycarp is regarded as one of three chief Apostolic Fathers. The sole surviving work attributed to his authorship is his Letter to the Philippians; it is first recorded by Irenaeus of Lyons.

Life

There are two chief sources of information concerning the life of Polycarp: the letter of the Smyrnaeans recounting the martyrdom of Polycarp and the passages in Irenaeus’ Adversus Haereses. Other sources are the epistles of Ignatius, which include one to Polycarp and another to the Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp’s own letter to the Philippians. Other sources, such as Pionius’ Life of Polycarp or excerpts from Tertullian and Eusebius of Caesarea are considered largely unhistorical or based on previous material. In 1999, some third to 6th century Coptic fragments about Polycarp were also published.

Papias

According to Irenaeus, Polycarp was a companion of Papias,Irenaeus, . 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.

Irenaeus regarded the memory of Polycarp as a link to the apostolic past. He relates how and when he became a Christian, and in his letter to Florinus stated that he saw and heard Polycarp personally in lower Asia. In particular, he heard the account of Polycarp’s discussion with John 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.

Visit to Anicetus

According to Irenaeus, during the time his fellow Syrian, Anicetus, was the Pope, or Bishop of Rome, in the 150s or 160, Polycarp visited Rome to discuss the differences that existed between Asia and Rome "with regard to certain things" and especially about the time of the Easter festivals. Irenaeus said that on certain things the two bishops speedily came to an understanding, while as to the time of Easter, each adhered to his own custom, without breaking off communion with the other. Pope Anicetus—the Roman sources offering it as a mark of special honor—allowed Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in his own church. They might have found their customs for observing the Christian Passover differed, Polycarp following the eastern practice of celebrating Passover on the 14th of Nisan, the day of the Jewish Passover, regardless of what day of the week it fell.