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Polycarp, St.


Bishop of Smyrna, 2d-century martyr. Polycarp, a disciple of St. John, probably the Apostle, was visited by ignatius of antioch in the course of Ignatius's journey to Rome for martyrdom (c. 116); and Ignatius wrote a letter to Polycarp from Troas, as well as a letter to the community at Smyrna. Some 40 years later Polycarp journeyed to Rome as representative of the churches in Asia Minor and dealt with Pope anicetus (155166) on the quartodeciman question and the date for the celebration of Easter. During his stay in Rome he met many Valentinian heretics and came face to face with marcion and his followers.

At the age of 86, on a "great Sabbath," Polycarp was put to death in the Stadium at Smyrna, possibly on Feb. 22 or 23, 155 (Mart. Poly. 21), under the Proconsul Statius Quadratus. As eusebius of caesarea (Hist. Eccl. 4.15.1) records his death in the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161180), it is possible that the date should be between 161 and 169.

Information concerning Polycarp's life, though scanty in detail, is authentic. The acts of his martyrdom (Martyrium Polycarpi ) are the earliest-preserved, fully reliable account of a Christian martyr's death; and Irenaeus (Adv. Haert. 3.3.4) and Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 4.14.38; 5.20.48; 24.1617) concur in the main facts. The Vita by Pionius (c. 400), however, is a legendary account of his life.

Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians is preserved in Greek (ch. 19.2) and wholly in an early, poor Latin translation. Eusebius recorded also ch. 9 and 13 (Hist. Eccl. 3.36.1315), The letter was written in response to a request from the community at Philippi, who had also asked Polycarp to furnish them with a collection of the letters of Ignatius. It appears that in the MSS of the letter, ch. 13 is an interpolation that served originally as the covering note to the Ignatian letters (Harrison); while ch. 112 (and possibly 14) are a pastoral epistle that Irenaeus described as "a vigorous letter in which those seeking salvation can apprehend the nature of the faith and the teaching of the truth" (Adv. Haer. 3.3.4).

Polycarp based his moral exhortation on the imitation of Christ in his patience (8.2; 9.1). He inculcated Christian virtue following the Gospels and St. Paul (23), citing liberally from these NT writings, and included all members of the community in his admonitions; bishop, priests, deacons, married couples, virgins, widows, young men, and orphans (46). Almsgiving was an essential practice (10.2), and the Christian was to pray for kings, powers, and rulers, for his enemies and persecutors (12.313).

Feast: Feb. 23

Bibliography: p. t. camelot, ed. and tr., Sources Chrétiennes 10 (3d ed. 1958) 183275. j. a. kleist, Ancient Christian Writers 6 (1948) 67102, 184204. p. n. harrison, Polycarp's Two Epistles to the Philippians (New York 1936). j. quasten, Patrology, 4 v. (Westminster, Md. 195086) 1:7682. p. meinhold, Paulys Realenzyklopädie der klassischen Altertumswissenschaft, ed. g. wissowa et al. 21.2 (1952) 166293. h. i. marrou, Analecta Bollandiana 71 (1953) 520. h. von campenhausen, Bearbeitungen des Polykarpmartyriums (Sitzungsberichte der Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Heidelberg 3; 1957). h. grÉgoire et al., Académie royale de Belgique: Bulletin de la classe des lettres, 5th ser. 47 (1961) 7283. l. w. barnard, Church Quarterly Review 163 (1962) 421430. j. a. fischer, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 8:597598. f. w. weidmann, Polycarp & John: The Harris Fragments and Their Challenge to the Literary Traditions (Notre Dame, Ind. 1999).

[f. x. murphy]

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