THE EARLY CHRISTIAN CHURCH - Volume 2: by Philip Carrington, Archbishop of Quebec. Published by the syndics of the Cambridge University Press, 1957. Katapi edition by Paul Ingram, 2013.


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Pius, the bishop of Rome, died about 154, and was succeeded by Anicetus. The figures which are given in connexion with the old episcopal lists work out at 155-6-7; but we are obliged to place it a little earlier so as to allow room for the visit of St Polycarp to Rome, which must have taken place before his martyrdom in February of 155 or 156; for the object of his visit was to see the new bishop.

It is clear from the fact of the synchronism that Polycarp visited Rome in honour of his accession, if not to be present at his election and consecration. It was now about forty years since he had planned to visit Antioch for the council which was held there when the see was vacant by the martyrdom of St Ignatius; and, knowing the determination of his character, we may feel sure that he actually attended, unless circumstances made it completely impossible. The present occasion was a rather similar one. A veteran bishop, one of the elders of the whole catholic church, had passed to his rest; a successor was being installed in his place or had been installed.

The position of Anicetus was not easy. There were bodies of Christians, or so-called Christians, who refused to accept him as their bishop. We learn, for instance, that Valentine continued into his time and that Marcion waxed strong. The differences and divisions which occur at episcopal elections must have accentuated the gravity of the situation. In such circumstances recognition by bishops of other countries must have been looked for, and Anicetus would greatly value the support of the pupil of St John and the tutor of St Irenaeus, who must by now have been the most influential figure in the Christian world. His visit made a deep impression on the Roman church and Irenaeus records that many Christians who had joined the heretical |123 schools returned to its communion. We depend on Irenaeus for the story of this visit, and it is possible that he was in Rome at the time. He appends to it the tale of the attempt of Marcion to secure recognition from the aged disciple of St John, and the spirited reply, 'I recognize you as the first-born of Satan.' If we assume that this encounter took place during Polycarp's visit to Rome, as seems natural, we note that age had not robbed him of his characteristic vigour; for he was now eighty-four or eighty-five.

Many matters were discussed between the two bishops, and it has been suggested that a synod or council of visiting bishops took place. The points of difference were easily composed, Irenaeus says. They did not choose to be too contentious about the exact day of the Paschal fast. Polycarp was not prepared to abandon the tradition which he had received from St John, and Anicetus would not surrender the tradition of the Roman elders, a word of great honour in the Roman tradition which is used here to include the succession of bishops. The controversy was not allowed to disturb the harmony of the occasion. Anicetus conceded to Polycarp his own position as celebrant at the eucharist, and the concordat sanctioned by Bishop Xystus was allowed to continue. The alliance between Asia and Rome was firmly cemented.

The episode supplies a good background for a statement which Irenaeus made at a later date about the catholic tradition. We have seen that the witness was a dispersed witness, its authority being distributed among the various churches of apostolic foundation. Among these he very naturally singles out the churches of Asia and the church of Rome, which he calls the churches in 'the central parts of the world'. To Rome however, he allots a position of stronger leadership; potentiorem principalitatem are the words, as we find them in the Latin translation (Ad, Haer. iii, 3, 1), for the Greek original has not survived. It was necessary, he adds, for every church to meet at Rome, since the faith was preserved there by the faithful who visited it from every quarter. This position as an international centre, where bishops, teachers and prophets from all parts of the empire and even beyond its borders, could meet together and so contribute to the preservation of the faith, was maintained until the end of the century. This picture agrees with the other evidence. During this whole period, from about 150 to about 200, we do not know for certain of a single eminent Roman-born teacher; they are all foreigners. The bishops may have been Roman-|124born, but from Linus to Pius only two (or three) out of nine have Latin names; between Pius and Victor all the names are Greek, and Greek is still the language of the church.

If we ask where the strong witness in the church is to be found after the death of Polycarp, we are bound to say that it passes to Rome. It passes to the church itself and its succession of bishops, rather than to any individual; the individual who stands highest after the death of Polycarp would probably be Justin, who is now accepted as a Roman teacher, and becomes a Roman martyr.


Shortly after his return to Smyrna, either in 155 to 156, Polycarp met his death by way of martyrdom. We have not been so fortunate as to have a record of a martyrdom other than the Passion of Jesus himself and those of Stephen, James the Just and Symeon ben Clopas: all Palestinian. « For Jewish examples see IV Maccabees and the Ascension of Isaiah. These are the first 'Acts of the martyrs', designed perhaps for liturgical use at their anniversaries, and so related as to recall the Passion narrative itself and to assimilate the martyr to his Lord. Our account of the martyrdom of Polycarp belongs to this class of literature, which appears to have been well established by this time. It was composed by a certain Marcianus, on behalf of the 'church of God sojourning at Smyrna', and addressed to the 'church of God sojourning at Philomelium' and 'to all sojournings in every place of the holy and catholic church'. The technical terms here used are very interesting. The verb paroikein means to reside as a stranger or alien in a foreign city and is translated in the English Bible as 'sojourn'. Its use in the Christian church goes back to 1 Peter, an Epistle written in view of martyrdom and specially valued by Polycarp; it emphasizes the fact that all Christians are strangers and pilgrims in this world. Clement uses it in addressing the church of Corinth, and Polycarp in addressing the church of Philippi. It has now provided a new technical term in the word paroikia, a 'sojourning', which comes down to us almost unchanged in the word 'parish'. The paroikia, or sojourning, was the local Christian community under its bishop (what we would call his diocese) in contrast to the world-wide or 'catholic' church of which it is a part. The word 'catholic', which we first noticed in Ignatius, is also a technical |125 term by now, and is used of the world-wide confederation of legitimate paroikiai.

The use of the word is particularly suitable here, because Polycarp of Smyrna had become a 'catholic' or universal figure, like Ignatius of Antioch or Clement of Rome before him. He had grown in strength and glory and occupied a unique position as a link with the apostolic age. Locally he was ' the blessed Polycarp', the' most marvellous Polycarp, who had been in our times an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the holy church in Smyrna'. The heathen called him 'the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the destroyer of our gods, teaching men not to sacrifice or worship'. Allowing something for the literary style of Marcianus, we are still left with a picture of a powerful personality in a strong position. It is a mistake to read the records of primitive Christianity in terms of unpractical other-worldly idealists without any flesh-and-blood organization or interests. In actual fact we have a picture of a vigorous and turbulent democratic life balanced by an apostolic and prophetic leadership which was given increasing constitutional authority. Celsus does not picture the Christian bishops as lean ascetics; he says they were the kind of men you would choose to captain a band of brigands. The bishop was a man of authority and prestige, who had an adequate staff and resources. He was regarded with reverence and awe. The respect in which Polycarp was held may be measured by the simple fact that he had not been in the habit of taking off his own shoes; this was a duty which any of the faithful were ready and willing to perform as a tribute to his character and great age. It is the service which John the Baptist said that he was unworthy to perform for his strong successor; it was the work of a personal slave or servant. A man of any position did not dress or undress or bathe himself.


It was in the month of January of 155 or 156. Philip of Tralles, the Asiarch and high priest of the imperial cultus, was in Smyrna, to be present at the annual games as one of the duties of his office. Statius Quadratus, the proconsul, was also present to take official part in them. It was a festival occasion. Twelve Christians were to be given to the fire or to the wild beasts. Some of them were Phrygians from Philadelphia. One of these Phrygians, named Quintus, had |126 voluntarily surrendered himself as a martyr and had persuaded a number of others to do the same. It accorded with the highly emotional Phrygian temperament and with the theology of enthusiasm which was cultivated in those parts, but it was not approved by the church, Marcianus says, 'because it is not what the gospel teaches'. There were Phrygian enthusiasts who did not agree with Marcianus on this point.

The more cautious attitude towards martyrdom is exemplified in Polycarp and defended by Marcianus. Acting on advice rather than inclination, Polycarp withdrew to a property in the country with a number of his clergy, including Marcianus himself, we would judge. Cyprian of Carthage and other leading men did the same in similar circumstances. It was a matter of policy rather than flight, though flight is counselled in the Gospels. 'When they persecute you in one city', we read, 'flee unto another.' It was a question of preserving the sacred order and administration intact. A persecution was an act of war upon the church; it required direction and organization on the Christian side; there were prisoners to be ministered to; the faithful had to be organized in prayer, the waverers encouraged, the families of prisoners supported, and so forth.

We have very few particulars about the opening days of the festival, of which, it would appear, Marcianus was not an eyewitness. He tells us how the victims were scourged with the Roman flagellum, a whip with leather lashes reinforced with lead; it tore the skin and flesh so as to expose the veins and inner organs. Many of the martyrs bore this without a groan; it seemed that they were with Christ in the spirit, or that the Lord was conversing with them. The exaltation of the martyr in the Spirit closely resembled the ecstasy of the prophet, in which he saw visions and heard voices. 'Attending to the grace of Christ, they despised worldly torments, and worked out their eternal punishment in a single hour.' This is, no doubt, the conventional language of martyrology, but it is of great historical, theological and psychological importance; it expresses in ultimate existential language the sheer dynamic faith which was at the core of the gospel; a faith which persecution served to intensify.

The fire seemed cold to these martyrs when compared with that which is eternal and unquenchable. They could endure it, because they saw before their mind's eye those good things which ear heard not, and eye saw not, nor did it ascend into the heart of man; but |127 the Lord revealed it to to them because they were no longer men but angels.

And so it came to pass [Marcianus says] in the case of those who were condemned to the wild beasts, or suffered terrible tortures, or whose flesh was scraped off with shells, with the object of turning them, if it were possible, to denial ... for there were many devices which the devil brought against us.

Marcianus brings his theology of persecution to an end with this mention of the devil; for how could Christians doubt that the men who operated these 'devices' and the crowds who took a delirious pleasure in watching them were impelled by a non-human frenzy? If it required a more than human fortitude to withstand these tortures, it also required a more than human ferocity and hatred to inflict them. The half-mythological language of Justin about the daemons, and the half-mythological language of the Revelation of Peter about eternal fire giving to spiritual realities a poetic form and substance, are explained now as being in origin the language of a martyr church, which had to assert in words which completely satisfied it the existential reality of the spiritual situation.

Marcianus mentions two men by name, one for eternal shame and one for eternal glory. One was Quintus the Phrygian, whose courage failed him when he saw the wild beasts, so that he was persuaded by the proconsul to' swear and sacrifice'. The other was the noble Germanicus who lept upon the wild beasts, as Ignatius had resolved to do, wishing to pass quickly from this unjust and lawless life. The crowd marvelled at the nobility of the god-loving and god-fearing race of Christians, shouting 'Away with the atheists!' and 'Search out Polycarp!' The whole scene in the stadium has thus been brought before our eyes and for the first time we see what was meant by the popular clamour which Hadrian had deprecated.


Polycarp, meanwhile, spent his time, night and day, in prayer for all his people in their hour of ordeal, 'and for all the churches throughout the world', as was his custom. The universal church was in his mind. If he were to fail when he saw the wild beasts it would be a day of defeat not only for Smyrna, but also for the catholic church and for the gospel |128 of Christ. He stood now where Ignatius had stood forty years before, but with an even clearer consciousness of what it meant. His character and bearing were, of course, very different; for he was stolid, unemotional, and short of speech. Yet he had his visions. Three days before his martyrdom he dreamed that his pillow was on fire, and said to his company, 'I must be burned alive.' It would appear, therefore, that his heart was set on martyrdom, not on escape.

The 'pursuers' were now coming near, and Marcianus tells how Polycarp and his company moved to another farm; and a third flight could have been arranged if he had consented. On arriving at his first place of refuge, the officers found two of his slaves and tortured them until one of them confessed where he had gone. Justin had spoken of torture being applied to slaves in order to make them give evidence against their masters, and so does Athenagoras, rashly adding that they never did so. It follows that Christians were often men with estates and properties, and not, as some romantics think, mainly of the slave class themselves.

The narrative now begins to draw out the likeness between the martyrdom of Polycarp and the Passion of our Lord, which was fundamentally a strong and realistic sentiment, though it was compatible with some artificialities and led to an unbalanced reverence for the martyr. It was no doubt a very real thing, however, for those who lived through it, or died through it. The name of the 'officer of the peace', who was in charge of the pursuers, was Herod, and he was accompanied by his father Nicetes, whose sister Alke had received a special message of affection from Ignatius forty years previously. They had with them the wretched young slave who had played the part of Judas, the betrayer. It was a Friday at supper-time, and they found Polycarp in the upper room. They were amazed at his age and erect bearing. He invited them to eat and drink as his guests and asked for an hour in which to pray. He stood in prayer for about two hours, Marcianus says, remembering by name all those who had accompanied him and all the catholic church throughout the world; and when the hour was come to go forth, they mounted him on an ass, and brought him into the city, it being the Great Sabbath, a day which has now been identified with the Jewish feast of Purim, not with the Passover as older scholars thought.

On the way to the stadium, Herod and Nicetes did their best to |129 persuade him to deny; for the glory of breaking down the champion would be greater for them than the glory of making him a martyr, and far more damaging to the church. 'What harm can there be', they asked him, 'in saying Caesar is Lord, and making the offering, and so forth, and saving yourself?'

He kept them waiting for an answer for a considerable time, and all he said was, 'I do not propose to do what you advise.'

It was the first of a number of matter-of-fact answers, which were very different in character from the heroics of the more emotional brethren.


The scene now changes to the crowded stadium, with its bedlam of angry voices. It was the afternoon of 23 February 155, or 22 February 156. The wild-beast show, the so-called dog-hunt, was over. We think naturally of the counsels which Ignatius had given to him; 'time for continual prayer ... stand firm like an anvil under the blows ... it is the part of a great athlete to be beaten and to conquer'. There were not wanting among the Christians present those who heard voices from heaven. 'Be strong, Polycarp,' a voice was heard to say, 'be strong and play the man.'

And now he stands before the proconsul, whose duty it was to certify the guilt of the accused, and the usual persuasions begin, 'Show some respect for your old age', they said. 'Swear by the genius of Caesar. Repent, and say, Away with the atheists!'

Polycarp groaned and looked up to heaven.' Away with the atheists!' he said, indicating by a motion of his hand the crowd of howling heathen who filled the stadium.

'Swear, and I will release you. Revile Christ.'

'Eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?'

It is the great saying of the century. It brings before us the lapse of time since the days when the apostles were preaching the gospel, and Roman armies encircled Jerusalem. Eighty and six years take us back to the year 69 or 70, when Polycarp began his life in Christ. He knew the answers to all the questions which the historian would like to ask; he knew Philip and Aristion and John; he had seen the development of the episcopate into a universal apostolic order; he had welcomed the |130 Gospels of Matthew and John when they were new; he had heard the Revelation when it was first unrolled in his own church of Smyrna, and a special message given to that church, 'Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life.' It is fortunate for the historian that the Asian teachers laid great stress on seniority and therefore had a way of referring to their ages. Polycrates, for instance, who was bishop of Ephesus about 190, gave his age at that time as sixty-five; he was therefore about thirty years old when Polycarp died. He speaks of seven members of his own family who had been bishops, and some of these must have been in office at this time. He mentions the martyrdom of Polycarp at Smyrna, and of Thraseas of Eumeneia at the same place. A whole series of lives and events are thus seen to interlock, and fall into place along a hundred years of continuous history.

The interrogation went on. 'Swear by the genius of Caesar', the proconsul said again. The one question which was fatal to the Christian was purposely being delayed. Polycarp was being given the opportunity to evade it; but he went straight to the point himself.

'If you foolishly imagine that I am going to swear by the genius of Caesar, as you call it, and are pretending not to know who I am, hear it openly. I am a Christian ; and if you want to learn the doctrine of Christianity, appoint a day, and you shall hear it.'

The incriminating words must have aroused a fearful uproar, for the proconsul again refers to the crowd. 'Persuade the people', he said: the demos which was the foe of constituted authority in every Greek city.

'I considered that you were entitled to an explanation', replied Polycarp, 'because we are taught to render a fitting honour, provided it is not hurtful to ourselves, to the powers and authorities which are ordained by God; but I see no reason why I should make any defence or explanation to them.'

It was a proud strong speech, and the proconsul turned from persuasions to the usual threats of wild beasts and fire; but Polycarp was unmoved and even spoke of the coming judgement and the everlasting fire which was reserved for the godless. The proconsul's part was now over, for his criminal had confessed his guilt. He had conducted the legal enquiry which was required by Hadrian's rescript. A herald was sent into the stadium, to proclaim three times, 'Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian '; and once again an angry roar went up. Philip |131 the Asiarch was urged to bring back the lion; for, contrary to the popular impression today, few municipalities possessed more than one lion. The lion, however, was in no mood for Christians after the 'dog-hunt', and the cry went up that Polycarp should be burned alive; and so, says Marcianus, his words were shown to be prophetic, when he said, 'I must be burned alive.'


Marcianus now tells of the gathering of the faggots for the fire, in which the Jews were very much to the fore, 'as is their custom'. It was their feast of Purim, the leading idea of which was the fearful punishment executed upon the enemies of God and of their race. The story read at this feast was the story of Esther, and it is significant that Christian writers steer clear of this book, « It is quoted by Clement of Rome, but excluded from the canon by Melito and Athanasius. which was only received with difficulty into the Jewish canon; it describes the hanging on a cross « Stauros in the Septuagint. of Haman, the enemy of the Jewish race. There is no reason to doubt that the more fanatical members of the synagogue played their part in the persecution of Christians. We have noted that Herod, the 'officer of the peace', had a Jewish name himself.

Polycarp put off his cloak, and loosened the girdle of his tunic, and unlaced his shoes - a service which others had always done for him. He was tied to the wooden upright, being spared the nails of crucifixion at his own request; for, said he, 'The God who will give me power to endure the fire, will also give me power to remain unmoved in the flame without the security of your nails.' He stood there, Marcianus says, like a notable ram out of a great flock, chosen for a whole burnt-offering, well-pleasing to God. He looked up to heaven, and uttered a prayer of blessing and thanksgiving, on the lines of the great eucharistic prayer. The flame was kindled, and bellied out like a great sail, as if it were unwilling to touch him. « Compare the story of the Three Children in the Septuagint version of Daniel. He was in the midst like silver or gold being fired in the furnace, « Compare Ecclesiasticus ii. 5, 1 Peter i. 7, etc. or bread being baked in the oven; and there was a fragrance like incense or one of the costly spices. This is the customary phraseology of the Acts of the Martyrs, and suggests that |132 the Acts of Polycarp were not the first composition of their kind. The bread and the incense are, of course, liturgical symbols, and so, of course, is the cup in the prayer of Polycarp.

When it was seen that the body was not being consumed, a gladiator was sent in to despatch him. He stabbed him to the heart with a dagger, and there came out round the hilt so much blood as to put out the fire; and the crowd marvelled to see so much difference between the unbelievers and the elect. There is a curious textual point connected with this passage. The manuscripts read 'there came out a dove and'. The words 'a dove and' appear in Greek letters as ΠΕΡΙCΤΕΡΑΚΑΙ; the reading ΠΕΡΙCΤΥΡΑΚΑ, 'round the handle', is a modern conjecture and a very good one. Nevertheless, the word 'dove' could be an ideogram or symbol for the soul leaving the body: it is a catacomb emblem of the Christian soul.

And now a strange contest takes place. The Christians in some way made known to the authorities their desire to have the dear body of their dead bishop; but the Jews joined battle with them as they were about to take it. Here is an interesting comment on all those theological dialogues and debates on the subject of Judaism; the antagonism underlying them suddenly appears in its historical setting. The Jews were a powerful body, apparently, and harboured a great animosity against the Christians. At last Nicetes, the father of the sinister Herod and brother of the Christian Alke, persuaded the proconsul to refuse the request, ' lest they should abandon the crucified, and begin to worship this one'; « Compare Trypho's statement that Christians had 'abandoned God' to set their hope on a crucified man. at which Marcianus is highly incensed: 'for we worship Christ as Son of God', he says, 'but we love the martyrs as disciples and imitators of the Lord, on account of our never-to-be-exaggerated happiness in our king and teacher.' We are obviously dealing here with a tradition which has grown up on both sides with regard to martyrs and martyrdoms. The request for the body should be compared with the request for the body of Jesus at the end of the Passion narrative. The Romans normally allowed the bodies of executed criminals to be given back for burial.

So the centurion burned the body, but later on, Marcianus says, we took up the bones, more precious than precious stones and more proved than gold (an echo of 1 Peter), and laid them up where it was |133 fitting. 'And there, as it may be possible, we shall assemble in joy and gladness, and the Lord will grant us to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom, and to commemorate also those who underwent the contest before him, and train and prepare those who are to do so.' And so we see clearly that the cult of the martyrs was well established, including the observation of their anniversaries or 'birthdays'.


It was some little time, it would seem, before a request arrived from the church at Philomelium for a full record of the martyrdom. Our reconstruction of the events would be that the Philomelians were represented at the election or consecration of a successor to Polycarp; that different versions of the story were going round; and that some of these stories needed to be supplemented. The more fanatical Phrygian Christians may have been critical of the withdrawal of Polycarp. A summary account was drawn up by order of the church of Smyrna,' through our brother Marcianus' for the information of that church and of the brethren in those parts. It was in the same manner that the Roman church had written to the Corinthian church 'through Clement', as Dionysius of Corinth says, and of course Peter to Pontus and Bithynia 'through Silvanus'. Marcianus was the actual author. The name of the scribe who wrote it was Euarestus, as he tells us himself, following the example of Tertius, the scribe who wrote St Paul's Epistle to the Romans.

Philomelium was in eastern Phrygia, north of Little Antioch; but the letter was not addressed to that region alone; it was for' all the paroikiai of the holy catholic church'. It was a catholic Epistle in short, intended for circulation throughout the universal church. It went far and wide, for it influenced the writer of the Acts of the Gallican martyrs in 177. These churches in southern France were in close touch with the churches of Asia Minor, through their Phrygian and Asian members, one of whom was their presbyter Irenaeus, who dedicated one of his books to a certain Marcianus.

The liturgical use of this Epistle is fairly clear from its character, and from its reference to the birthdays of the martyrs. Possibly these anniversary celebrations were modelled on the annual commemoration of the Passion of Jesus, with its readings from the Passion narratives of |134 the Gospels. The Acts of the Martyrdom of James the Just, which had occurred at the Passover, were written up in the Gospel style, in the version which Hegesippus brought to Rome about this time. The martyr was assimilated to Jesus himself; he was the imitator and perfect disciple, as Marcianus says. This is obvious throughout the Epistles of Ignatius and the Acts of Polycarp, and not least in the prayer which he utters at the stake. This prayer must, of course, owe something to the art of the composer of the Acts; but it must also contain many phrases which Polycarp uttered; they are expressed in the language of euchar-istic prayer, which was full of stereotyped phrases.

O Lord God, the Almighty,
The father of thy beloved and blessed child, Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the Knowledge concerning thee.
Compare the benedictions over the bread in the baptismal eucharist of the Didache.
O God of angels and powers and all creation, and of all of the race of the righteous who live before thee:

I bless thee for that thou hast deemed me worthy of this day and this hour,
To receive my portion in the number of the Martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, unto resurrection of life eternal, of soul and body, in incorruption of Holy Spirit,
Among whom may I be received before thee this day as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, even as thou hast prepared and revealed it beforehand, and fulfilled it, O real and true God:

Wherefore, for this cause, and on account of all things, I praise thee, I bless thee, I glorify thee, through the eternal and heavenly high priest, Jesus Christ, thy beloved child, through whom, to thee, with him and the Holy Spirit, be glory now and ever and into the ages to come. Amen.

This is perhaps our best example of the second-century eucharistic prayer. It divides into three parts. The first part is an address to God in the familiar style of the Jewish benedictions, through Jesus Christ the beloved 'child'; and the third part is another act of thanksgiving or eucharist of the same sort, terminating in a trinitarian ascription of glory; they are the familiar substance of eucharistic prayer. Between the two comes the thanksgiving for his martyrdom, which gives the |135 whole prayer its specific meaning. Marcianus would have no difficulty in reconstructing the prayer substantially along the lines of what Polycarp said. He had often heard Polycarp at prayer. He had prayed aloud for two hours, the night before.


The Epistle of Marcianus has been preserved in two ways. Eusebius gives a shortened version of it in his Ecclesiastical History, and Pionius appends it to his life of Polycarp. At the end of the manuscript, as he gives it, we find some colophons, or notes by scribes, which are of interest. The first is

This copy was made by Gaius from the papers of Irenaeus, a disciple of Polycarp: this Gaius also lived with Irenaeus.

and under this

And I, Socrates [or Isocrates] wrote it in Corinth from the copy of Gaius. Grace be with all.

and under this

And I again, Pionius, wrote it out from the above-mentioned copy, after I had searched it out ... gathering it together when it was wellnigh worn out by age, that the Lord Jesus Christ may also gather me into his eternal kingdom. ...

The manuscripts do not agree in their wording, but both say that Pionius found the manuscript through a revelation given him by the blessed Polycarp himself. Pionius, who lived in the third century, had a great devotion to the memory of Polycarp, but he was a man of vivid imagination, and unfortunately it showed itself in the composition of a biography of the saint which must be regretfully dismissed as a pious fiction, even though here and there he may be preserving a small fragment of old tradition.

These colophons look as if they were genuine, but in one manuscript, the Moscow manuscript, they are considerably enlarged. We find additional stories which it says are taken from the writings of Irenaeus. The first is that of the encounter of Polycarp with Marcion, which we |136 know to be genuine; the second has no outside support. They run as follows,

This Irenaeus, being in Rome at the time of the martyrdom of Bishop Polycarp, instructed many; and many excellent and orthodox writings of his are in circulation. In these he mentions Polycarp and says that he was his pupil. He powerfully refuted every heresy, and handed down the ecclesiastical and catholic rule as he had received it from the saint. He mentions this fact too, that when Marcion, after whom the Marcionists are called, once met the holy Polycarp, and asked Polycarp to recognize him, he said to Marcion,' I recognize you? I recognize you as the first-born of Satan.' And this is also current in the writings of Irenaeus, that on the day and hour that Polycarp witnessed in Smyrna, Irenaeus, who was in the city of the Romans, heard a voice like a trumpet saying, 'Polycarp has witnessed.'

This very shadowy testimony is the only ancient evidence which states in so many words that Irenaeus actually taught at Rome; but there is much circumstantial evidence which leaves us without any doubt that he did.


We have seen in the tradition of Ignatius and Polycarp, that is to say of Syria and Asia Minor, a clear and consistent picture of the catholic church as the totality of all the local churches in Christ. It was closely related by Ignatius to the holy order of the episcopate, which he regarded as established in his time to the ends of the earth. In Polycarp it is related to the liturgical order. It was his custom in prayer to remember all the churches throughout the world. These churches, therefore, formed a spiritual unity, and we have noticed how they were knit together by visits of bishops or their envoys, exchange of Epistles and other documents, and migrations of teachers and prophets. One of the responsibilities of the bishop was the provision of hospitality for visiting Christians, probably in the house or houses which were placed under his management for church purposes. In consequence the church was fully conscious of itself as a world-church; and in cases of persecution, schism, or any other difficulty, one local church had no hesitation in addressing another and offering a word of comfort or advice or material assistance.

We are not aware of any constitution or system of canons which regulated this corporate unity. The idea of a catholic church was not an |137 imposed idea; it was simply a recognition of the historical realities. The church felt itself to be the continuation in apostolic form of the old Israel or people of God, which was already dispersed throughout the world. It was conscious, of course, of a transformation in the body, but not of a break in the succession. This continuity was nowhere more clearly expressed than in the liturgy. Prayers for the gathering into unity of the Israelites dispersed throughout the world had been an important feature of the Jewish ritual; it was a prophetic and apocalyptic hope, and therefore a high point in the liturgy too. The idea passed quite easily into Christian apocalyptic and Christian liturgy. The Lord, when he came, would 'send out his angels to gather his elect from the four winds', and Christians prayed for the realization of this messianic hope both now and in the future. The chiliasm of Papias was only a specific too-concrete form of this hope; Montanism would soon provide another. In the liturgy, however, it remained on its primitive level of symbolism and spirituality; and there are a couple of prayers in the Didache which express this thought.

As this broken bread was scattered upon the mountains and was gathered together and became one, so may thy church be gathered together from the ends of the world into thy kingdom. (Didache, ix, 4.)

[And again after the communion has taken place.] Remember, O Lord, thy church, to deliver her from every evil, and to make her perfect in thy love; and gather her together from the four winds, when she has been made holy, into thy kingdom, which thou hast prepared for her. (Didache, x, 5.)

The Didache in its present form is probably no later than the martyrdom of Polycarp, and the substance of these prayers is doubtless much older; they may be used with confidence in connexion with the prayers of Polycarp, to illustrate the catholicity of the period, and particularly its devotional style. Their position in such intimate connexion with the breaking of the bread and the act of communion distinguishes them altogether from the ordinary 'prayers of the brethren'. They would appear to have been a part of the eucharistic action, and to have brought the whole universal church into the scope of the offering, in the spirit of St Paul's saying that 'we, being many, are one bread, one body'.

The unity of Christians was not centred in Jerusalem, then, or in any earthly city. It was centred in the exalted Christ, and realized locally in the breaking of the bread, in the full meeting of the whole paroikia, |138 under the presidency of the bishop; 'for this is what is spoken by the Lord,

In every place and time to offer me a pure sacrifice; for I am a great King, saith the Lord, and my Name is wonderful among the Gentiles.'
(Didache, xiv, 3.)

Such is the form of the quotation in the Didache ; but it is worth giving it in full, according to the Septuagint text, since it is the great eucharistic text of the second-century fathers, and exactly expresses their consciousness of themselves as a catholic church,

I have no pleasure in you, saith the Lord Almighty, and I will not receive sacrifice from your hands [he is speaking to the Jerusalem priesthood]; because from the rising of the sun even unto the setting, my name is glorified among the Gentiles, and in every place incense is offered to my name, and pure sacrifice; for my name is great among the Gentiles saith the Lord the Almighty.
(Malachi i. 10b - 11.)

For I am a great king, saith the Lord the Almighty, and my name is glorious among the Gentiles. (Malachi i. 14.)

The 'name' of the Lord was a symbol for the revelation of himself in his glory in response to the Temple worship at Jerusalem, which was the place which he had chosen to put his 'name' there. But now the sacrifices offered at Jerusalem were rejected; the divine presence was parted and distributed among the Gentiles. Worship was offered to him in every place. And yet it is one act. Such is the vision of the one catholic church which Christians of this generation were given in their eucharistic worship, when they still expressed themselves naturally in the forms and symbols drawn from the old Judaeo-Christian spirituality.

Note. Since the claims of the Life of Polycarp by Pionius to serious historical consideration have recently been revived (C. K. Barrett, Commentary on St John, S.P.C.K., 1955), it is worth pointing out that his story of the foundation of the church in Smyrna by St Paul is contrary to the express statement of Polycarp himself in his Epistle, 'we were not yet in Christ'.
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