Heresies Denounced by Asia Minor

Martyrdom of Polycarp from Ceiling of the Church of St. Polycarp, Smyrna (now called Izmir, Turkey)


Which area in the second century denounced heretics and which area tolerated them?

As regular readers of the page are aware, Asia Minor was the primary location of the most faithful church in the second century (the century immediately after the death of John, the last of the original apostles to die).

The Apostle John appointed Polycarp as the pastor/bishop of Smyrna.  And he apparently heard that there were heresies tolerated in Rome.

Polycarp was an old man when he finally visited Rome, around 155 AD. It took months to get there from Smyrna at that time, and this would have been a physically difficult trip for Polycarp.

However, there were apparently so many heresies originating in Rome, that he felt that as the senior leader of the true Church, that he needed to personally try to deal with them. In the late 2nd Century, the Catholic historian Irenaeus recorded that the Bishops of Rome had problems with them and that both John and Polycarp strongly renounced the Gnostic heretics:

Valentinus came to Rome in the time of Hyginus, flourished under Pius, and remained until Anicetus. Cerdon, too…Marcion, then, succeeding him, flourished under Anicetus.

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 — a man who was of much greater weight, and a more stedfast witness of truth, than Valentinus, and Marcion, and the rest of the heretics. He it was who, coming to Rome in the time of Anicetus caused many to turn away from the aforesaid heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that he had received this one and sole truth from the apostles… John, the disciple of the Lord…exclaiming, “Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within.” And Polycarp himself replied to Marcion, who met him on one occasion, and said, “Dost thou know me?” “I do know thee, the first-born of Satan” (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 4, Verse 3 and Chapter 3, Verse 4).

Valentinus, Cerinthus, and Marcion are considered by Catholics and others to have been Gnostic heretics, while Hyginus, Pius, and Anicetus were bishops of Rome. Thus these quotes from Irenaeus show that the Roman bishops did not have a higher leadership role than Polycarp of Smyrna had, because it apparently took the stature of the visiting Polycarp to turn many Romans away from the Gnostic heretics.

Marcion was possibly the first heretic to attempt to do away with the Sabbath. Valentinus of Rome, who Polycarp denounced, who is believed to have been the first affiliated with Christianity to teach the Trinitarian concept of three hypostasis or make any clear statement of ‘equality’ regarding three alleged persons of God .

Irenaeus also reported

And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points…For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect; so that they parted in peace one from the other, maintaining peace with the whole Church, both those who did observe [this custom] and those who did not Irenaeus. (FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc.).

Apparently Anicetus conceded enough (such as about Polycarp’s position on that and probably about Marcion—who Anicetus agreed was a heretic) that no recorded major ‘blowup’ between the two survived. It appears that Anicetus, tried to satisfy Polycarp to some degree, and tried to appear not to be a complete heretic.  Sadly, Irenaeus had a history of pretending that certain differences between Rome and Asia Minor were not important.

It appears likely that Polycarp, when he returned to Asia Minor, would have told the Christians there that he was successful in turning some away from heretics such as Marcion and Valentinus. He probably was so disgusted by his Roman experience that he let those in Asia Minor know that they should not receive doctrine or other instruction from any in Rome–he also specifically would not change Passover observance to Sunday. This seems to be confirmed by Polycrates’ writings a few decades later.

What these writings in this section seem to show is that the aged Polycarp went to Rome to primarily deal with Gnostic heretics that claimed to be Christian. It was Polycarp, and no “bishop of Rome”, who was successful in turning Christians away from these heretics. It was Polycarp, and no Roman bishop, who was the faithful “heretic fighter” in the second century.

Now even though Catholics agree that Marcion and Valentius were heretics, notice that according to Tertullian, Rome tolerated these heretics for a very long time:

Where was Marcion then, that shipmaster of Pontus, the zealous student of Stoicism? Where was Valentinus then, the disciple of Platonism? For it is evident that those men lived not so long ago,—in the reign of Antoninus for the most part,—and that they at first were believers in the doctrine of the Catholic Church, in the church of Rome under the episcopate of the blessed Eleutherus, until on account of their ever restless curiosity, with which they even infected the brethren, they were more than once expelled (Tertullian. The Prescription against Heretics, Chapter 30. Translated by Peter Holmes. Electronic Version Copyright © 2006 by Kevin Knight).

How long of a time?  Well, they were denounced by Polycarp around 155, yet Eleutherius (there are differing spellings of his name) was the Bishop of Rome from 175-189.  Hence, the heretics Marcion and Valentinus were tolerated by Rome before Polycarp arrived and apparently were in the Roman Church to some degree until at least 175.

Actually, history repeatedly records evidence that leaders in Asia Minor denounced heresies generally before Rome did. And sadly, Rome adopted or later accepted some version of many of these heresies.

Table of Early Heretics/Heresies First Denounced by Leaders of Asia Minor

2nd Century Heretic


Heretic/Heresy Denounced By Asia Minor/Antioch

Tolerated by Rome Until


Ten commandments done away.

155 A.D. by Polycarp

c. 180 A.D. Marcion was excommunicated.


Jesus not coming for millennial reign.

c. 170 A.D. by Melito

Marcion excommunicated, but heresy later accepted.


God is three hypostases.

155 A.D. by Polycarp

Still accepted; formally adopted 381.

Valentinus and Anicetus

Traditions in conflict with the Bible can be source of doctrine.

155 A.D. by Polycarp; c. 170 A.D. by Melito

c. 180 A.D. Valentinus excommunicated, but heresy still accepted.

Anicetus, Victor, and other early Roman leaders

Passover is on Sunday.

155 A.D. by Polycarp;

c. 195 A.D. by Polycrates

Still accepted.


False prophecies.

c. 157 A.D. by Thraseas and others.

c. 206-218 A.D.


God is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

c. 157 A.D. by Thraseas and others.

Still accepted.


Father is same as Son.

c. 200 by Smyrna presbyters.

c. 220 A.D.

“Gospel of Peter”

Considering false gospel as scripture.

c. 200 by Serapion of Antioch

Probably into 4th century.

Note: There were many other heresies introduced in the second to fourth centuries that were never accepted by the Quartodeciman successors to the second century Asia Minor leaders. The second century Asia Minor leaders did not teach the Jewish apocrypha, special dress for the clergy, celibacy for the clergy, immortal souls going to heaven, idols in church, baptism by sprinkling, unclean meat consumption, military service for Christians, a mystic Eucharist, and a winter holiday somewhat coinciding with Saturnalia ceremonies. And interestingly, many Catholic/Orthodox “saints” in the first few centuries originally condemned those doctrines—though such teachings are now accepted by the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholics.

Would the leaders of the true Church be more likely to tolerate or denounce heretics?

The answer should be obvious (and to those it is not, recall that Jesus, Peter, Paul, Jude, John and others denounced false religious leaders in the New Testament).

Several articles of possibly related interest may include:

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.
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 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?
Melito of Sardis Who was this 2nd Century Church Leader? What Old Testament did he list? What did he teach that most who call themselves Christian later change?
Thraseas Thraseas died circa 160 in Smyrna, but oversaw the churches from Eumenia.
Sagaris Sagaris died circa 166-167 and oversaw a church in Laodicea of Asia Minor.
Papirius He died circa 170 and oversaw churches from Smyrna.
Polycrates of Ephesus He was an early church leader that claimed to continue the practices of the Gospel, John, Philip, Melito, and Polycarp, while refusing to accept traditions that came from Rome.
Apollonius of Ephesus He died circa 210.
Theophilus of Antioch This is one of the second century leaders of some Christians in Antioch and is considered a Patriarch of the Greek Orthodox Church of Antioch.
Serapion of Antioch He was possibly a faithful third century leader in Antioch.
Marcion: The First Protestant? Considered to have been an organized heretic, he taught against the Old Testament, the law, and the Sabbath. Some have considered him to be the first Protestant reformer. But was he?
Valentinus: The Gnostic Trinitarian Heretic He apparently was the first Christ-professing heretic to come up with the idea of three hypostases.
Justin Martyr: Saint, Heretic, or Apostate? Justin is considered one of the first Christian theologians and scholars. But did he support a Gnostic version of Christianity? Do you know what he taught about souls going to heaven upon death? This article shows from his own writings, what Justin really taught.
Marcus and the Marcosians: Developers of the Eucharist? Marcus was a second century heretic condemned for having a ceremony similar to one still practiced by many who profess Christ. Might he also be in the apostolic succession list of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria?
Irenaeus: The Most Dangerous Heretic? Was Irenaeus a faithful peacemaker or was he possibly the most dangerous of the early heretics?
“Pope” Hyginus (136-140) He is claimed to have come up with the idea of “godparents”. He may have been involved in the institution of a Sunday Passover. The heretic Valentinus appeared by his time.
“Pope” Pius I (140-155) He was inspired by the ideas of the heretic Justin expressed in the “Dialogo con Trifone”. He did observe a Sunday Passover. He was ineffective in stopping the heretic Valentinus.
“Pope” Anicetus (155-166) Bishop Anicetus (perhaps the first clear “bishop of Rome”, none were called popes until the late fourth century) was a collaborator with the heretic Justin, and ineffective against the heretics Marcion and Valentinus.
“Pope” Soter (166-175) Bishop Soter is claimed to have called marriage a sacrament. He is supposedly the one to fix the Sunday date of Passover (though others have been cited for this as well).
“Pope” Eleutherius (175-189) He allegedly dispensed with the obligations of Christians to follow several dietary laws of biblical origin. He went along with the Sunday date of Passover and decided against publicly opposing the Montanists.
“Pope” Victor I (189-199) He was the first Roman bishop to attempt to act like a pope, but was somewhat unsuccessful. He attempted to force those in Asia Minor to accept Roman Passover Sunday tradition over the Bible and the teachings of the apostles. Polycrates, in response, told him “those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man'”.
Which Is Faithful: The Roman Catholic Church or the Living 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.
Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Living 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?

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