“Martyrdom of Polycarp” from Ceiling of the Church of St. Polycarp, Smyrna (now called Izmir, Turkey)
February 23rd is considered the “Feast of Polycarp” by the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholics. Some believe that he was martyred on that date (though an early Spring martyrdom seems to have been more likely), and thus some read parts or all of a second century account called The Martyrdom of Polycarp.
Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John. In the late 1st century (or the early second century) he was put in charge of the Church of God in Smyrna. Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox revere him as a saint (as do some Protestants). We in the Continuing Church of God primarily trace our early history from Peter, Paul, and John through Polycarp (we also trace our history through other areas that had faithful Christians for a while, such as Jerusalem).
Almost everyone associated with Christendom considers that Polycarp was a true and faithful Christian leader.
In the late second century, the Catholic and Orthodox saint Irenaeus wrote:
But 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…always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4).
So if Polycarp was a faithful saint who was appointed by the apostles, then perhaps real Christians would follow his practices as he followed the Bible?
In the famous account of his martyrdom, he made some statements that even under the face of death suggested that he had a sense of humor:
9:1 But as Polycarp entered into the stadium, a voice came to him from heaven; ‘Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.’ And no one saw the speaker, but those of our people who were present heard the voice. And at length, when he was brought up, there was a great tumult, for they heard that Polycarp had been apprehended.
9:2 When then he was brought before him, the proconsul enquired whether he were the man. And on his confessing that he was, he tried to persuade him to a denial saying, ‘Have respect to thine age,’ and other things in accordance therewith, as it is their wont to say; ‘Swear by the genius of Caesar; repent and say, Away with the atheists.’
Then Polycarp with solemn countenance looked upon the whole multitude of lawless heathen that were in the stadium, and waved his hand to them; and groaning and looking up to heaven he said, ‘Away with the atheists.’
9:3 But when the magistrate pressed him hard and said, ‘Swear the oath, and I will release You; revile the Christ,’ Polycarp said, ‘Fourscore and six years have I been His servant, and He hath done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King who saved me?’
Perhaps it should be mentioned that some have interpreted the above account as proof that Polycarp died at age 86 and hence was baptized as an infant, but another ancient document (known as the Harris Fragments) records that he lived until age 104, thus is supportive that Polycarp was baptized at age 18 (see also Baptism and the Early Church).
And even though many Greco-Romans observe the presumed date of his martyrdom as a feast, it is not likely that many of those who do so realize that he held many (though not all) views that sometimes conflict with those now held by the Greco-Roman churches. Actually, he was a heretic fighter and even tried to get Anicetus, Bishop of Rome to change.
Here is a summary of some of Polycarp’s beliefs and practices:
A Binitarian view, that acknowledged the Holy Spirit, was held by the apostolic and post-apostolic true Christian leaders, like Polycarp.
Hierarchical church governance was advocated by Polycarp.
The canon of the New Testament was known by Polycarp as he seemed to refer to all the books it in the famous Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians.
Christmas was not observed by Polycarp nor any professing Christ prior to the third century, or ever by those holding to early teachings.
Deification of Christians after the resurrection was taught by the early leaders of the Church, including Polycarp.
Easter per se was not observed by the apostolic church, and Polycarp fought against it.
The Fall Holy Days were observed by true early Christians, including Polycarp.
The Father was considered to be God by all early professing Christians, including Polycarp.
Polycarp taught against idols (and that would include icons).
Polycarp taught against the immortality of the soul.
Jesus was considered to be God by the true Christians, including Polycarp.
The Kingdom of God was taught by Polycarp.
Leavened Bread was removed from the homes of early Christians like Polycarp.
Lent was not observed by Polycarp.
Limbo was not taught by Polycarp.
Military Service was not allowed for true early Christians like Polycarp.
Millenarianism (a literal thousand year reign of Christ on Earth, often called the millennium) was taught by the early Christians who succeeded Polycarp.
Passover was kept on the 14th of Nisan Polycarp.
Purgatory was not taught by Polycarp.
The Resurrection of the dead was taught Polycarp.
The Sabbath was observed on Saturday by Polycarp.
The Ten Commandments were observed by the apostolic and true post-apostolic Christians, including Polycarp–and in the order that the Living Church of God claims they are in.
The Continuing Church of God has all of the same beliefs and practices as Polycarp (although we observe no particular day in his honor).
If Polycarp really was a saint that was placed in charge by Christ’s apostles–which he was–shouldn’t you have the same beliefs and practices?
Several articles of possibly related interest may include:
Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome What actually happened to the primitive Church? And did the Bible tell about this in advance?
Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians Did Polycarp refer to all the books in the New Testament? This is Roberts and Donaldson’s translation, corrected by me in one place, where they made a small error in translating Latin by omitting one word. It is also annotated with scriptures to demonstrate that Polycarp did have the New Testament canon.
Polycarp of Smyrna: The Heretic Fighter Polycarp was the successor of the Apostle John and a major leader in Asia Minor. Do you know much about what he taught? Does the Living Church of God or the Church of Rome more faithfully follow his teachings and practices?
The Martyrdom of Polycarp This was written shortly after Polycarp died; likely involving Papirius. A mistranslation is corrected in this version.
Polycarp, Fragments from Victor of Capua This may have been written by Polycarp or “pseudo-Polycarp”.
The History of Early Christianity Are you aware that what most people believe is not what truly happened to the true Christian church? Do you know where the early church was based? Do you know what were the doctrines of the early church? Is your faith really based upon the truth or compromise?
What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History? Although most believe that the Roman Catholic Church history teaches an unbroken line of succession of bishops beginning with Peter, with stories about most of them, Roman Catholic scholars know the truth of this matter. This eye-opening article is a must-read for any who really wants to know what Roman Catholic history actually admits about the early church.
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Continuing Church of God? Do you know that both groups shared a lot of the earliest teachings? Do you know which church changed? Do you know which group is most faithful to the teachings of the apostolic church? Which group best represents true Christianity? This documented article answers those questions.
Why Should American Catholics Should Fear Unity with the Orthodox? Are the current ecumenical meetings a good thing or will they result in disaster? Is doctrinal compromise good?
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Continuing Church of God Both groups claim to be the original church, but both groups have differing ways to claim it. Both groups have some amazing similarities and some major differences. Do you know what they are?