ANF – The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians

Hard to believe it’s been eight months since I last read through part of the Ante-Nicene Fathers (those writers that are post-Apostolic, but prior to the Council of Nicaea).

Polycarp lived from roughly 65AD to 155AD.  He is said by Irenaeus to be a disciple of St. John the Apostle and was in touch with others (not apostles) who had direct experience and knowledge of Jesus.  He served as the Bishop of Smyrna, tradition has it that St. John himself conferred this position to him) and was martyred.  Tradition is that he was sentenced to burn at the stake, but the fire would not burn him so he was stabbed to death.  His Epistle to the Philippians is his only surviving work, copied by Irenaeus.

This short letter commends the faith of the Philippians and exhorts them to continued faithfulness and perseverance.  He speaks very highly of St. Paul, and quotes or paraphrases from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke as well as a majority of the Epistles.  He condemns what sounds like Docetism, and this might be the earliest reference to the heresy that claimed Jesus was not actually physical but rather purely spiritual and only appearing to be physical.  This heresy was undoubtedly influenced by Greek philosophy which held that only the spiritual could be perfect (and therefore divine), because matter is corruptible.

Polycarp (Greek for “much or abundant fruit”) references two early martyrs, Rufus and Zosimus, who have statues of themselves over St. Peter’s Square in Rome since the 18th century.  They are said to have died under Emperor Trajan’s persecution in 107 AD, martyred in the arena by wild animals.

He has instructions for leaders of congregations (presbyters) and laments for a former presbyter no longer in his position, perhaps due to some sort of sexual sin or failure to chastity with his wife.

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