This series has five easy 5 minute installments. This first installment: Irenaeus Observations.
The Roman emperor Antoninus Pius, who died A.D. 161, had been tolerant to the new Judaic sect known as Christians. Under his mild regime, although he did not encourage them, the faithful had greatly multiplied. The Christians had become a body great enough to be reckoned with in a political sense. The populace were generally hostile to them as “enemies of the gods.” More than one of the apostolic fathers had suffered martyrdom, among them Ignatius, a disciple of St. John and bishop of Antioch, who is said to have been thrown to the lions in the Circus about A.D. 107. But the account of the martyrdom of Polycarp is probably the first authentic description we have.
The selections are from:
There’s 3 installments by Homersham Cox and 2 installments by Polycarp. We begin with Homersham Cox.
Place: Rome and Smyrna, Turkey
Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, was undoubtedly a companion of the apostle John, and received instruction from other apostles. “About this time,” says Eusebius, referring to the commencement of the second century, “flourished Polycarp in Asia, an intimate disciple of the apostles, who received the episcopate of the Church of Smyrna at the hands of eye — witnesses and servants of the Lord.”
The lengthened life of the apostle John, who attained to an extreme old age, connects the fathers of the second century with the immediate followers of Christ. Polycarp must have been a contemporary of St. John for about twenty years.
A letter of Irenaeus, who was a pupil of Polycarp, has been preserved, which gives a graphic and remarkably interesting account of the familiar intercourse of Polycarp with the apostle. The letter is addressed by Irenaeus to a friend named Florinus, with whom he remonstrates for holding erroneous doctrines:
These doctrines, O Florinus, to say the least, are not of a sound understanding. These doctrines are inconsistent with the Church, and calculated to thrust those that follow them into the greatest impiety; these doctrines not even the heretics out of the Church ever attempted to assert; these doctrines were never delivered to thee by the presbyters before us, those who also were the immediate disciples of the apostles.
For I saw thee when I was yet a boy in Lower Asia with Polycarp moving in great splendor at court, and endeavoring by all means to gain his esteem. I remember the events of those times much better than those of more recent occurrence, as the studies of our youth growing with our minds unite with them so firmly that I can tell also the very place where the blessed Polycarp was accustomed to sit and discourse, and also his entrances, his walks, his manner of life, the form of his body, his conversations with the people and familiar intercourse with John, as he was accustomed to tell, as also his familiarity with those that had seen the Lord; also concerning his miracles, his doctrine; all these were told by Polycarp in consistency with the Holy Scriptures, and he had received them from the eye — witnesses of the doctrine of salvation.
These things, by the mercy of God and the opportunity then afforded me, I attentively heard, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart; and these same facts I am always in the habit, by the grace of God, of recalling faithfully to mind; and I can bear witness in the sight of God that, if that blessed and apostolic presbyter had heard any such thing as this, he would have exclaimed and stopped his ears, and, according to his custom, would have said: ‘O good God! unto what things hast thou reserved me, that I should tolerate these things?’ He would have fled from the place in which he had sat or stood hearing doctrines like these.
“From his epistles also, which he wrote to the neighboring churches in order to confirm them, or to some of the brethren in order to admonish or exhort them, the same thing may be clearly shown.”
In another place Irenaeus states that Polycarp was appointed bishop of Smyrna by the apostles themselves:
“Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also by apostles in Asia appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he lived a very long time; and when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, departed this life, having always taught those things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true.”
Of the numerous letters which Polycarp as bishop of Smyrna wrote to the neighboring churches only one is extant. It is addressed by “Polycarp and the presbyters with him to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi,” and probably was written about the middle of the second century. In this epistle he praises the Philippians for their firm Christian faith, and exhorts them to adhere to the doctrine which St. Paul had taught them by word of mouth and by his epistle. After various exhortations to presbyters, deacons, and other members of the Church, Polycarp refers to the martyrdom of Ignatius, but apparently was ignorant of the circumstances attending it, for the epistle concludes with a request for information respecting him.
The martyrdom of Polycarp himself is described in an epistle addressed by the Church of Smyrna, of which he was bishop, to the Church of Philomelium, a city of the neighboring province of Phrygia. There are probably some interpolations; but, excepting these, the document can hardly be of much later date than the death of the martyr. There are several reasons for this conclusion.
In the first place, the general tenor shows that it is intended to give information of events which had recently happened; secondly, a postscript states that a copy of it belonged to Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp; and thirdly, a large part of it is transcribed by Eusebius, who treats it as an authentic document.
The date of the death of Polycarp is well ascertained to be A.D. 167, in the reign of Marcus Aurelius. For some time previously there had been a cruel persecution of the Christians at Smyrna, in which both the Gentile and Jewish inhabitants took part. Against Polycarp especially, as the chief minister of the Christian Church, their hostility was directed. After several Christians had been tortured and thrown to the lions, the multitude clamored for the death of the bishop.
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