Nicene and Ante-Nicene Fathers, Ser. II, Vol I:Early Church Fathers Index Previous Next
The Church History of Eusebius.: Chapter XIV
p. 187 Chapter XIV.—The Circumstances related of Polycarp, a Friend of the Apostles.
1. At this time, while Anicetus was at the head of the church of Rome, 1112 Irenæus relates that Polycarp, who was still alive, was at Rome, 1113 and that he had a conference with Anicetus on a question concerning the day of the paschal feast. 1114
2. And the same writer gives another account of Polycarp which I feel constrained to add to that which has been already related in regard to him. The account is taken from the third book of Irenæus work Against Heresies, and is as follows: 1115
3. “But Polycarp 1116 also was not only instructed by the apostles, and acquainted with many that had seen Christ, but was also appointed by apostles in Asia bishop of the church of Smyrna. 1117
4. We too saw him in our early youth; for he lived a long time, and died, when a very old man, a glorious and most illustrious martyrs death, 1118 having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, which the Church also hands down, and which alone are true. 1119
5. To these things all the Asiatic churches testify, as do also those who, down to the present time, have succeeded Polycarp, 1120 who was a much more trustworthy and certain witness of the truth than Valentinus and Marcion and the rest of the heretics. 1121 He also was in Rome in the time of Anicetus 1122 and caused many to turn away from the above-mentioned heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received from the apostles this one and only system of truth which has been transmitted by the Church.
6. And there are those that heard from him that John, the disciple of the Lord, going to bathe in Ephesus and seeing Cerinthus within, ran out of the bath-house without bathing, crying, Let us flee, lest even the bath fall, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within. 1123
7. And Polycarp himself, when Marcion once met him 1124 and said, Knowest 1125 thou us? replied, I know the first born of Satan. Such caution did the apostles and their disciples exercise that they might not even converse with any of those who perverted the truth; as Paul also said, A man that is a heretic, after the first and second admonition, p. 188 reject; knowing he that is such is subverted, and sinneth, being condemned of himself. 1126
8. There is also a very powerful epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, 1127 from which those that wish to do so, and that are concerned for their own salvation, may learn the character of his faith and the preaching of the truth.” Such is the account of Irenæus.
9. But Polycarp, in his above-mentioned epistle to the Philippians, which is still extant, has made use of certain testimonies drawn from the First Epistle of Peter. 1128
10. And when Antoninus, called Pius, had completed the twenty-second year of his reign, 1129 Marcus Aurelius Verus, his son, who was also called Antoninus, succeeded him, together with his brother Lucius. 1130
On Anicetus, see above, chap. 11, note 18. He was bishop probably from 154 to 165 a.d.187:1113
γένεσθαι ἐπὶ ῾Ρώμης. It is quite commonly said that Polycarp came to Rome during the episcopate of Anicetus; but our authorities say only that he was in Rome at that time, and do not specify the date at which he arrived there. Neither these words, nor the words of Irenæus in §5 below (ἐπιδηυήσας τῇ ῾Ρώμη), are to be translated “came to Rome,” as is often done (e.g. by Crusè, by Roberts and Rambaut, in their translation of Irenæus, and by Salmon, in the Dict. of Christ. Biog.), but “was at Rome” (as Closs, Stigloher, Lightfoot, &c., correctly render the words). Inasmuch as Polycarp suffered martyrdom in 155 or 156 a.d.(see below, chap. 15, note 2), he must have left Rome soon after Anticetus accession (which took place probably in 154); and though of course he may have come thither sometime before that event, still the fact that his stay there is connected with Anicetus episcopate, and his alone, implies that he went thither either immediately after, or shortly before Anicetus became bishop.187:1114
On the paschal controversies of the early Church, see below, Bk. V. chap. 23, note 1. We learn from Bk. V. chap. 24, that though Polycarp and Anicetus did not reach an agreement on the subject, they nevertheless remained good friends, and that Polycarp celebrated the eucharist in Rome at the request of Anicetus.187:1115
Irenæus, Adv. Hær. III. 3. 4.187:1116
Eusebius takes his account of Polycarp solely from Irenæus, and from the epistle of the church of Smyrna, given in the next chapter. He is mentioned by Irenæus again in his Adv. Hær. V. 33. 4 (quoted by Eusebius in Bk. III. chap. 39), and in his epistle to Florinus and to Victor. From the epistle to Florinus (quoted below in Bk. V. chap. 20), where quite an account of Polycarp is given, we learn that the latter was Irenæus teacher. He was one of the most celebrated men of the time, not because of his ability or scholarship, but because he had been a personal friend of some of the disciples of the Lord, and lived to a great age, when few if any were still alive that had known the first generation of Christians. He suffered martyrdom about 155 a.d. (see below, chap. 15, note 2); and as he was at least eighty-six years old at the time of his death (see the next chap., §20), he must have been born as early as 70 a.d. He was a personal disciple of John the apostle, as we learn from Irenæus epistle to Florinus, and was acquainted also with others that had seen the Lord. That he was at the head of the church of Smyrna cannot be doubted (cf. Ignatius epistle to him), but Irenæus statement that he was appointed bishop of Smyrna by apostles is probably to be looked upon as a combination of his own. He reasoned that bishops were the successors of the apostles; Polycarp was a bishop, and lived in the time of the apostles; and therefore he must have been appointed by them. The only known writing of Polycarps is his epistle to the Philippians, which is still extant (see below, note 16). His character is plainly revealed in that epistle as well as in the accounts given us by Irenæus and by the church of Smyrna in their epistle. He was a devoutly pious and simple-minded Christian, burning with intense personal love for his Master, and yet not at all fanatical like his contemporary Ignatius. The instances related in this chapter show his intense horror of heretics, of those whom he believed to be corrupting the doctrine of Christ, and yet he does not seem to have had the taste or talent to refute their errors. He simply wished to avoid them as instruments of Satan. He was pre-eminently a man that lived in the past. His epistle is full of reminiscences of New Testament thought and language, and his chief significance to the Christians of the second century was as a channel of apostolic tradition. He does not compare with Ignatius for vigor and originality of thought, and yet he was one of the most deeply venerated characters of the early Church, his noble piety, his relation to John and other disciples of the Lord, and finally his glorious martyrdom, contributing to make him such. Upon Polycarp, see especially Lightfoots edition of Ignatius and Polycarp, and the article of Salmon, in Smith and Waces Dict. of Christ. Biog.187:1117
The church of Smyrna (situated in Asia Minor) was one of the “seven churches of Asia,” and is mentioned in Rev. i. 11; ii. 8–11.187:1118
On his age and the date of his death, see chap. 15, note 2. A full account of his martyrdom is given in the epistle of the church of Smyrna, quoted in the next chapter.187:1119
Irenæus emphasizes here, as was his wont, the importance of tradition in determining true doctrine. Compare also Eusebius words in chap. 21.187:1120
Of these successors of Polycarp we know nothing.187:1121
See above, note 2.187:1123
See above, Bk. III. chap. 28, where the same story is related.187:1124
Marcion came to Rome about 135 a.d., but how long he remained there we do not know. Polycarps words show the great abhorrence in which he was held by the Church. He was considered by many the most dangerous of all the heretics, for he propagated his errors and secured many followers among all classes. Marcions conduct in this case is very significant when compared with that of the Gnostics. He tried everywhere to gain support and to make friends with the Church, that he might introduce his reforms within it; while the genuine Gnostics, on the contrary, held themselves aloof from the Church, in pride and in a feeling of superiority. Polycarp in his Epistle to the Philippians, chap. 7, shows the same severity toward false teachers, and even uses the same expression, “first born of Satan,” perhaps referring to Marcion himself; but see below, note 16.187:1125
ἐπιγινώσκεις, which is the reading of the great majority of the mss., and is adopted by Schwegler, Laemmer, Harnack, Lightfoot, and others. Three mss., supported by Nicephorus, Rufinus, and the Latin version of Irenæus, read ἐπιγίνωσκε, and this is adopted by Valesius, Heinichen, Stroth, Closs, and Crusè.188:1126
Titus 3:10, 11.188:1127
Polycarps Epistle to the Philippians is still extant, and is the only work of Polycarp which we have. (The Greek text is given in all editions of the apostolic Fathers, and with especially valuable notes and discussions in Zahns Ignatius von Antiochien, and in Lightfoots Ignatius and Polycarp, II. p. 897 sqq.; an English translation is contained in the latter edition, and also in the Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I. p. 31–36.) The date of its composition it is very difficult to determine. It must have been written after the death of Ignatius (chap. 9), and yet soon after, as Polycarp does not seem to know all the circumstances attending that event (see chap. 13). Its date therefore depends upon the date of the martyrdom of Ignatius, which is a very difficult question, not yet fully decided. The attack upon false teachers reminds us of Marcion, and contains traits which seem to imply that Polycarp had Marcion in his mind at the time of writing. If this be so, the epistle was written as late as 135 a.d., which puts the date of Ignatius death much later than the traditional date (on the date of Ignatius death, see above, Bk. III. chap. 36, note 4). The genuineness of Polycarps epistle has been sharply disputed—chiefly on account of its testimony to the Ignatian epistles in chap. 13. Others, while acknowledging its genuineness as a whole, have regarded chap. 13 as an interpolation. But the external testimony for its genuineness is very strong, beginning with Irenæus, and the epistle itself is just what we should expect from such a man as Polycarp. There is no good reason therefore to doubt its genuineness nor the genuineness of chap. 13, the rejection of which is quite arbitrary. The genuineness of the whole has been ably defended both by Zahn and by Lightfoot, and may be regarded as definitely established.188:1128
Polycarp in his epistle makes constant use of the First Epistle of Peter, with which he was evidently very familiar, though it is remarkable that he nowhere mentions Peter as its author (cf. Bk. III. chap. 3, note 1).188:1129
Antoninus Pius reigned from July 2, 138, to March 7, 161.188:1130
Both were adopted sons of Antoninus Pius. See above, chap. 12, note 3.
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