Polycarp

c.70-155/160. Bishop of Smyrna and martyr. He is depicted in the sources as a faithful pastor, champion of apostolic tradition, and pillar of catholic orthodoxy. The young Irenaeus heard him in Roman Asia describing his conversation with John the Apostle (the Elder?) and other eyewitnesses of Christ, and later prized his link with the primitive era through Polycarp, allegedly made bishop by apostles.

While en route to Rome, Ignatius was warmly received at Smyrna about 110 and afterward wrote from Troas both to the Smyrnaeans and to Polycarp, already their bishop. In a letter to the Roman presbyter, Florinus, another former disciple of Polycarp, Irenaeus mentions his letter-writing ministry, but only one to the Philippians is extant, two-thirds in Greek but complete in a Latin translation. P.N. Harrison has convinced majority opinion that it consists of two letters-one sent soon after Ignatius passed through Philippi, to accompany Ignatius's collected letters requested by the Philippians, and another written after they inquired about (Paul's teaching on) “righteousness.” Few accept Harrison's date (c.135-37) for the second letter, which may be little later than the first. It illumines the development of the Philippian community (still without monepiscopacy), but is virtually a catena of quotations and echoes covering at least thirteen NT books and 1 Clement. It warns against heresy, Docetism,* and avarice, which had corrupted a presbyter, Valens, and his wife. Polycarp visited Rome about 155, agreeing amicably to differ with Bishop Anicetus on the Quartodeciman* issue, and converting Valentinians and Marcionites. He clashed with Marcion* in person, at Rome or earlier in Asia.

The Martyrdom of Polycarp, a letter from the Smyrnaeans to the Church of Philomelium in Phrygia and “to all the Christian congregations in the world,” is the earliest extant “acts” of a martyr, compiled by Marcianus (Marcion) within a year of the event from eyewitness accounts. Endless discussion of the dating in the appendix has yielded no consensus. The day was 23 February (22 if a leap year). Many argue for 154-60, others for the 160s or even 177. Precision would be invaluable because Polycarp professed to have been a Christian for eighty-six years, which probably indicates his age (and perhaps his infant baptism). The Martyrdom may have undergone interpolation or redaction. It presents Polycarp as an imitator of Christ, at times fancifully, but its historical value (e.g., on the embryonic martyr cult) and spiritual stature are unquestionable.

See Apostolic Fathers for editions (especially Lightfoot) and English translations, and for Martyrdom see Acts of the martyrs; ed. T. Camelot (Sources Chrétiennes 10, 4th ed., 1969), ET W.R. Schoedel (1967). See also C.P.S. Clarke, St. Ignatius and St. Polycarp (1930); P.N. Harrison, Polycarp's Two Epistles to the Philippians (1936); J. Quasten, Patrology 1 (1950), pp.76-82; P. Meinhold in Pauly-Wissowa- Kroll, Realencyklopädie der klassichen Altertumswissenschaft 21 (1952), 1662-93.