Polycarp of Smyrna.

Counted among the apostolic fathers.


Attributed text(s).
Epistle to the Philippians 1-14.

Related text(s).
Apostolic fathers.
Martyrdom of Polycarp.
Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp.

Useful links.
Polycarp at EarlyChurch.
Polycarp in the Catholic Encyclopedia.

Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna in Asia and was a contemporary of Ignatius and Papias. One epistle of Polycarp is extant, that to the Philippians. Also, Ignatius of Antioch, on his way to Rome, wrote an epistle to Polycarp. Finally, shortly after his death the church in Smyrna sent out an account of his martyrdom.

Jerome, On Famous Men 17:

Polycarpus, Ioannis apostoli discipulus et ab eo Smyrnae episcopus ordinatus, totius Asiae princeps fuit, quippe qui nonnullos apostolorum et eorum qui viderant dominum magistros habuerit et viderit. hic propter quasdam super die paschae quaestiones, sub imperatore Antonino Pio, ecclesiam in Urbe regente Aniceto, Romam venit, ubi plurimos credentium Marcionis et Valentini persuasione deceptos reduxit ad fidem. cumque ei fortuito obviam fuis et Marcion et diceret: Cognosce nos, respondit: Cognosco primogenitum diaboli. postea vero, regnante M. Antonino et L. Aurelio Commodo quarta post Neronem persecutione Smyrnae sedente proconsule, et universo populo in amphitheatro adversus eum personante, igni traditus est. scripsit ad Philippenses valde utilem epistolam, quae usque hodie in Asiae conventu legitur.

Polycarp, disciple of the apostle John and ordained by him as bishop of Smyrna, was chief of all Asia, where he saw and had as teachers some of the apostles and those who had seen the Lord. He, on account of certain questions concerning the day of the Passover, went to Rome in the time of the emperor Antoninus Pins while Anicetus ruled the church in that city, where he led back to the faith many of the believers who had been deceived through the persuasion of Marcion and Valentinus; and Marcion met him by chance and said: Do you know us? He replied: I know the firstborn of the devil. Afterwards, during the reign of Marcus Antoninus and Lucius Aurelius Commodus in the fourth persecution after Nero, in the presence of the proconsul ruling at Smyrna and all the people crying out against him in the amphitheater, he was delivered up by fire. He wrote a very valuable epistle to the Philippians, which is read to the present day in the meetings in Asia.

Irenaeus, Against Heresies 3.3.4 (Greek from Eusebius, History of the Church 4.14.3-8a; 3.23.3; English translation slightly modified from that in the Ante-Nicene Fathers):

Και Πολυκαρπος δε ου μονον υπο αποστολων μαθητευθεις και συναναστραφεις πολλοις τοις τον Χριστον εωρακοσιν, αλλα και υπο αποστολων κατασταθεις εις την Ασιαν εν τη εν Σμυρνη εκκλησια επισκοπος, ον και ημεις εωρακαμεν εν τη πρωτη ημων ηλικια, επιπολυ γαρ παρεμεινε και πανυ γηραλεος, ενδοξως και επιφανεστατα μαρτυρησας, εξηλθε του βιου, ταυτα διδαξας αει α και παρα των αποστολων εμαθεν, α και η εκκλησια παραδιδωσιν, α και μονα εστιν αληθη. μαρτυρουσιν τουτοις αι κατα την Ασιαν εκκλησιαι πασαι, και οι μεχρι νυν διαδεδεγμενοι τον Πολυκαρπον, πολλω αξιοπιστοτερον και βεβαιοτερον αληθειας μαρτυρα οντα Ουαλεντινου και Μαρκιωνος και των λοιπων κακογνωμονων. ος και επι Ανικητου επιδημησας τη Ρωμη, πολλους απο των προειρημενων αιρετικων επεστρεψεν εις την εκκλησιαν του θεου, μιαν και μονην ταυτην αληθειαν κηρυξας υπο των αποστολων παρειληφεναι, την υπο της εκκλησιας παραδεδομενην. και εισιν οι ακηκοοτες αυτου οτι Ιωαννης ο του κυριου μαθητης εν τη Εφεσω πορευθεις λουσασθαι, και ιδων εσω Κηρινθον εξηλατο του βαλανειου συμπεση, ενδον οντος Κηρινθου του της αληθειας εχθρου. και αυτος δε ο Πολυκαρπος Μαρκιωνι ποτε εις οψιν αυτω ελθοντι και φησαντι· Επιγινωσκεις ημας; απεκριθη· Επιγινωσκω [σε] τον πρωτοτοκον του Σατανα. τοσαυτην οι αποστολοι και οι μαθηται αυτων εσχον ευλαβειαν προς το μηδε μεχρι λογου κοινωνειν τινι των παραχαρασσοντων την αληθειαν, ως και Παυλος εφησεν· αιρετικον ανθρωπον μετα μιαν και δευτεραν νουθεσιαν παραιτου, ειδως οτι εξεστραπται ο τοιουτος, και αμαρτανει, ων αυτοκατακριτος. εστι δε και επιστολη Πολυκαρπου προς Φιλιππησιους γεγραμμενη ικανωτατη, εξ ης και τον χαρακτηρα της πιστεως αυτου, και το κηρυγμα της αληθειας, οι βουλομενοι και φροντιζοντες της εαυτων σωτηριας δυνανται μυθειν.* αλλα και η εν Εφεσω εκκλησια υπο Παυλου μεν τεθεμελιωμενη, Ιωαννου δε παραμειναντος αυτοις μεχρι των Τραιανου χρονων, μαρτυς αληθης εστι της των αποστολων παραδοσεως.

* Till this point the Greek has come from 4.14.3-8a; the last sentence, then, comes from 3.23.3.

Et Polycarpus autem non solum ab apostolis edoctus et conversatus cum multis ex eis qui dominum nostrum viderunt, sed etiam ab apostolis in Asia, in ea quae est Smyrnis ecclesia constitutus episcopus, quem et nos vidimus in prima nostra aetate, multum enim perseveravit et valde senex gloriosissime et nobilissime martyrium faciens exivit de hac vita, haec docuit semper quae ab apostolis didicerat, quae et ecclesiae tradidit et sola sunt vera. testimonium his perhibent quae sunt in Asia ecclesiae omnes, et qui usque adhuc successerunt Polycarpo; qui vir multo maioris auctoritatis, et fidelior veritatis est testis, quam Valentinus et Marcion et reliqui qui sunt perversae sententiae. is enim est qui sub Aniceto cum advenisset in urbem, multos ex his quos praediximus, haereticos convertit in ecclesiam dei, unam et solam hanc veritatem annuntians ab apostolis percepisse se, quam et ecclesiae tradidit. et sunt qui audierunt eum quoniam Iohannes domini discipulus in Epheso iens lavari, cum vidisset intus Cerinthum, exsilierit de balneo non lotus, dicens quod timeat ne balneum concidat cum intus esset Cerinthus inimicus veritatis. et ipse autem Polycarpus Marcioni aliquando occurrenti sibi et dicenti: Cognoscis nos? respondit: Cognosco te primogenitum Satanae. tantum apostoli et horum discipuli habuerunt timorem ut neque verbo tenus communicarent alicui eorum qui adulteraverant veritatem, quemadmodum et Paulus ait: Haereticum autem hominem post unam correptionem devita, sciens quoniam perversus est qui est talis, et est a semetipso damnatus. est autem et epistola Polycarpi ad Philippenses scripta perfectissima, ex qua et characterem fidei eius et praedicationem veritatis qui volunt et curam habent suae salutis possunt discere. sed et quae est Ephesi ecclesia a Paulo quidem fundata, Iohanne autem permanente apud eos usque ad Trajani tempora, testis est verus apostolorum traditionis.

But Polycarp also was not only discipled 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. We too saw him in our early youth, for he lived a long time, and died, when a very old man, the glorious and most illustrious death of a martyr, having always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, which the church also hands down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic churches testify, as do also those who down to the present time have succeeded Polycarp, who was a much more trustworthy and certain witness of the truth than Valentinus and Marcion and the rest of the heretics. He also was in Rome in the time of Anicetus and caused many to turn away from the abovementioned heretics to the church of God, proclaiming that he had received from the apostles this one and only system of truth which has been transmittted by the church. 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 bathhouse without bathing, crying: Let us flee, lest even the bath fall, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within. And Polycarp himself Marcion once met and said to him: Do you know us? He replied: I know the firstborn 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: Reject a man that is a heretic after the first and second admonition, knowing that the one who is such is subverted, and is sinning, being condemned of himself. There is also a very powerful epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians, from which those that wish to do so, and who are concerned for their own salvation, may learn the character of his faith and the preaching of the truth. But the church in Ephesus, which was founded by Paul, and where John remained until the time of Trajan, is also a faithful witness of the apostolic tradition.

Eusebius, History of the Church 5.20.4-8 (English translation slightly modified from that in the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers):

Εν η γε μην προειρηκαμεν προς τον Φλωρινον ο Ειρηναιος επιστολη αυθις της αμα Πολυκαρπω συνουσιας αυτου μνημονευει, λεγων·

In the epistle to Florinus, of which we have spoken, Irenaeus mentions again his intimacy with Polycarp, saying:

Ταυτα τα δογματα, Φλωρινε, ινα πεφεισμενως ειπω, ουκ εστιν υγιους γνωμης· ταυτα τα δογματα ασυμφωνα εστιν την εκκλησια εις την μεγιστην ασεβειαν περιβαλλοντα τους πειθομενους αυτοις· ταυτα τα δογματα ουδε οι εξω της εκκλησιας αιρετικοι ετολμησαν αποφηνασθαι ποτε· ταυτα τα δογματα οι προ ημων πρεσβυτεροι, οι και τοις αποστολοις συμφοιτησαντες, ου παρεδωκαν σοι.

These doctrines, Florinus, to speak mildly, are not of sound judgment. These doctrines disagree with the church and drive into the greatest impiety those who accept them. These doctrines not even the heretics outside of the church have ever dared to publish. These doctrines the presbyters who were before us and who were companions of the apostles did not deliver to you.

Ειδον γαρ σε, παις ετι ων, εν τη κατω Ασια παρα Πολυκαρπω, λαμπρως πρασσοντα εν τη βασιλικη αυλη και πειρωνμενον ευδοκιμειν παρ αυτω. μαλλον γαρ τα τοτε διαμνημονευω των εναγχος γινομενων, αι γαρ εκ παιδων μαθησεις συναυξουσαι τη ψυχη, ενουνται αυτη, ωστε με δυνασθαι ειπειν και τον τοπον εν ω καθεζομενος διελεγετο ο μακαριος Πολυκαρπος, και τας προοδους αυτου και τας εισοδους και τον χαρακτηρα του βιου και την του σωματος ιδεαν και τας διαλεξεις ας εποιειτο προς το πληθος, και την μετα Ιωαννου συναναστροφην ως απηγγελλεν και την μετα των λοιπων των εορακοτων τον κυριον, και ως απεμνημονευεν τους λογους αυτων, και περι του κυριου τινα ην α παρ εκεινων ακηκοει, και περι των δυναμεων αυτου, και περι της διδασκαλιας ως παρα των αυτοπτων της ζωης του λογου παρειληφως ο Πολυκαρπος απηγγελλεν παντα συμφωνα ταις γραφαις.

For when I was a boy I saw you in lower Asia with Polycarp, doing brilliantly in the royal court, and endeavoring to gain his approbation. I remember the events of that time more clearly than those of recent years. For what boys learn, growing with their mind, becomes joined with it, so that I am able to describe the very place in which the blessed Polycarp sat as he discoursed, and his goings out and his comings in, and the manner of his life, and his physical appearance, and his discourses to the people, and the accounts which he gave of his intercourse with John and with the others who had seen the Lord. And as he remembered their words and what he heard from them concerning the Lord, and concerning his miracles and his teaching, having received them from eyewitnesses of the word of life, Polycarp related all things in harmony with the scriptures.

Ταυτα και τοτε δια το ελεος του θεου το επ εμοι γεγονος σπουδαιως ηκουον, υπομνηματιζομενος αυτα ουκ εν χαρτη, αλλα εν τη εμη καρδια· και αει δια την χαριν του θεου γνησιως αυτα αναμαρυκωμαι, και δυναμαι διαμαρτυρασθαι εμπροσθεν του θεου οτι ει τι τοιουτον ακηκοει εκεινος ο μακαριος και αποστολικος πρεσβυτερος, ανακραξας αν κα εμφραξας τα ωτα αυτου και κατα το συνηθες αυτω ειπων· Ω καλε θεε, εις οιους με καιρους τετηρηκας, ινα τουτων ανεχωμαι, πεφευγει αν και τον τοπον εν ω καθεζομενος η εστως των τοιουτων ακηκοει λογων.

These things being told me by the mercy of God, I listened to them attentively, noting them down, not on paper, but in my heart. And continually, through the grace of God, I recall them faithfully. And I am able to bear witness before God that, if that blessed and apostolic presbyter had heard any such thing, he would have cried out and stopped his ears and, as was his custom, would have exclaimed: O good God, unto what times have you spared me that I should endure these things? And he would have fled from the place where, sitting or standing, he had heard such words.

Και εκ των επιστολων δε αυτου ων επεστειλεν ητοι ταις γειτνιωσαις εκκλησιαις, επιστηριζων αυτας, η των αδελφων τισι, νουθετων αυτους και προτρεπομενος, δυναται φανερωθηναι.

And this can be shown plainly from the epistles which he sent, either to the neighboring churches for their confirmation or to some of the brethren, admonishing and exhorting them.

Ταυτα ο Ειρηναιος.

These are the things that Irenaeus wrote.