Papirius of Smyrna

by COGwriter

Papirius, not to be confused with Papias of Hierapolis, was an early Church of God leader who lived in Smyrna. He is believed to have been the next bishop in the Church of God in Smyrna to succeed Polycarp. However since there were other Christian leaders in Asia Minor, it appears that some others, like Thraseas and Sagaris were considered to be a bit more prominent until they died. Papirius himself probably died around 170 A.D.

For more on his church, please see the article on the early Church of God in Smyrna.

Papirius was a Quartodeciman

The Catholic writer Eusebius recorded that Polycrates of Ephesus, around 195 A.D. wrote the following to the Roman Bishop Victor who wanted all who professed Christ to change Passover from the 14th of Nisan to Sunday:

We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ' We ought to obey God rather than man' (Eusebius. Church History, Book V, Chapter 24. Translated by Arthur Cushman McGiffert. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Series Two, Volume 1. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight).

Hence it is clear that throughout the second century, that Papirius and the churches in Asia Minor continued to observe the Passover on the 14th of Nisan, unlike the Romans.

Papirius Apparently Kept the Sabbath

Papirius apparently kept the seventh day Sabbath.

How do we now this?

There are four reasons:

  1. He was a successor to Polycarp of Smyrna.
  2. He refused to accept a changing of the date of Passover to a Sunday, whereas Sunday observers accepted this change.
  3. His church reported about the Sabbath while he was there.
  4. Sabbath-keeping was still happening in his Asia Minor region until at least the fifth century.

According to the letter The Martyrdom of Polycarp by the Smyrnaeans, which was sent out while Papirius was there (and which Papirius likely approved and co-wrote),

on the day of the preparation, at the hour of dinner, there came out pursuers and horsemen" and the Polycarp was killed "on the day of the great Sabbath (The Martyrdom of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Verses 7.1 & 8.1. Charles H. Hoole's 1885 translation. © 2001 Peter Kirby).

The use of these two expressions ("day of the preparation" and "the day of the great Sabbath") strongly indicates that those in Smyrna were still keeping the Sabbath in the latter portion of the 2nd century.

Otherwise, since Asia Minor (including Smyrna) was a Gentile area, the terms preparation and Sabbath would not have been relevant.

Sozomen, in the mid-fifth century reported:

The people of Constantinople, and almost everywhere, assemble together on the Sabbath as well as on the first day of the week, which custom is never observed at Rome or at Alexandria (Sozomen. THE ECCLESIASTICAL HISTORY OF SOZOMEN. Comprising a History of the Church, from a.d. 323 to a.d. 425. Book VII, Chapter XIX. Translated from the Greek. Revised by Chester D. Hartranft, Hartford Theological Seminary UNDER THE EDITORIAL SUPERVISION OF PHILIP SCHAFF, D.D., LL.D., AND HENRY WACE, D.D., Professor of Church History in the Union Theological Seminary, New York. Principal of King's College, London. T&T CLARK, EDINBURGH, circa 1846).

This shows that Sabbath keeping continued in parts of Asia Minor through the time of Sardis and into what is sometimes considered to be the Pergamos era, but that Rome and Alexandria were only observing Sunday (even though they observed the Sabbath until at least the early second century).

Papirius Was In the Hierarchy of the Church of God

Irenaeus records this about Polycarp and his successors:

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 we have from this early Roman Catholic source that Polycarp and his successors in Asia Minor (at least until the time that Irenaeus wrote this, around 180 A.D., which would include Papirius) practiced the true teachings that they learned from the apostles (it should be noted that these churches had several doctrines that differ from those currently held by the Roman Church, some of which are documented in the article Location of the Early Church: Another Look at Ephesus, Smyrna, and Rome). This is also later (maybe 20 years later) essentially confirmed by Tertullian:

Anyhow the heresies are at best novelties, and have no continuity with the teaching of Christ. Perhaps some heretics may claim Apostolic antiquity: we reply: Let them publish the origins of their churches and unroll the catalogue of their bishops till now from the Apostles or from some bishop appointed by the Apostles, as the Smyrnaeans count from Polycarp and John, and the Romans from Clement and Peter; let heretics invent something to match this (Tertullian. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum. Circa 200 A.D. as cited in Chapman J. Transcribed by Lucy Tobin. Tertullian. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

It is probable that Tertullian was aware of bishops of Rome prior to Clement (as Irenaeus wrote prior to him), as well as bishops of Smyrna prior to Polycarp, but that Tertullian felt that the apostolic succession could only have gone through Polycarp (who he listed first) or Clement. It must be understood that Tertullian's writing above, according The Catholic Encyclopedia, is one of the most important writings regarding the Catholic Church. Specifically the Catholic Church teaches:

Among the writings of the Fathers, the following are the principal works which bear on the doctrine of the Church: ST. IRENÆUS, Adv. Hereses in P.G., VII; TERTULLIAN, De Prescriptionibus in P. L... (Joyce G.H. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. The Church. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume III. Copyright © 1908 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus Catholics themselves must recognize the importance of these statements by Tertullian--there were two churches with proper apostolic claims as far as he was concerned. And not just Rome--but one in Asia Minor that had been led by the Apostle John through Polycarp and his descendants, like Papirius.

Ignatius (c. 110 A.D.) addressed one of his few letters:

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and of the beloved Jesus Christ, which has through mercy obtained every kind of gift, which is filled with faith and love, and is deficient in no gift, most worthy of God, and adorned with holiness: the Church which is at Smyrna, in Asia, wishes abundance of happiness, through the immaculate Spirit and word of God…Ignatius. Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 0.0).

Papirius, was possibly born by the time the above was written. Also, notice the following written at the time of Polycarp's death (and Papirius was alive and part of that church then, and probably co-wrote):

The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna...(Martyrdom of Polycarp, 0.0. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co., 1885.) Revised and edited for New Advent by Kevin Knight. <>)

The Church in Smyrna called itself the Church of God. Thus, it should be clear that Papirius would have considered himself an early leader of the Church of God.

Interestingly, although he is not in the list of Bishops of Rome (since he was not Roman, that is logical), Papirius is mentioned in the article on titled Hierarchy of the Early Church in The Catholic Encyclopedia:

A. Mention of Bishops by Polycrates

In a synodal letter written by Polycrates of Ephesus about the year 190 this bishop, sixty-five years of age, speaks of seven of his relatives who had been bishops before him. Besides these he mentions Polycarp and Papirius of Smyrna, Thraseas of Eumenea, Sagaris of Laodicea and Melito of Sardes (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccles.", v, 24, 2 sq.) (Borkowski S. De Dunin. Transcribed by Douglas J. Potter. Hierarchy of the Early Church. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VII. Copyright © 1910 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, June 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

It should be noted that in the above reference, the order that Polycrates placed Papirius in is somewhat different than that. Polycrates actually placed Papirius after Sagaris, not before Thraseas.

The Catholic Encyclopedia recognize that the Smyrnaeans were a faithful church:

Smyrna...Christianity was preached to the inhabitants at an early date. As early as the year 93, there existed a Christian community directed by a bishop for whom St. John in the Apocalypse (i, II; ii, 8-11) has only words of praise…There were other Christians in the vicinity of the city and dependent on it to whom St. Polycarp wrote letters (Eusebius, "Hist. Eccl.", V, xxiv). When Polycarp was martyred…the Church of Smyrna sent an encyclical concerning his death to the Church of Philomelium and others. The "Vita Polycarpi" attributed to St. Pionius, a priest of Smyrna martyred in 250, contains a list of the first bishops: Strataes; Bucolus; Polycarp; Papirius; Camerius; Eudaemon (250), who apostatized during the persecution of Decius; Thraseas of Eumenia, martyr, who was buried at Smyrna (Vailhe’ S. Transcribed by Lucia Tobin. Smyrna. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by Kevin Knight. Nihil Obstat, July 1, 1912. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Thus even the Roman Church concedes that until sometime in the third century, the leaders in Smyrna were faithful.

Concluding Comments on Papirius

Since Papirius was apparently approved by the Christian Polycrates, it appears that Papirius was a true Christian. Papirius clearly was an early leader in the Church of God.

The writings about him and the early Church of God in Smyrna suggest a theology closer to that held by the Continuing Church of God, than the Orthodox or Catholic faiths. And that helps demonstrate that it is the true COG which hold positions most consistent with truly orthodox Christianity, than the majority who now profess Christianity do.

See also:

Where is the True Christian Church Today? This free online pdf booklet answers that question and includes 18 proofs, clues, and signs to identify the true vs. false Christian church. Plus 7 proofs, clues, and signs to help identify Laodicean churches. A related sermon is also available: Where is the True Christian Church? Here is a link to the booklet in the Spanish language: ¿Dónde está la verdadera Iglesia cristiana de hoy? Here is a link in the German language: WO IST DIE WAHRE CHRISTLICHE KIRCHE HEUTE? Here is a link in the French language: Où est la vraie Église Chrétienne aujourd’hui?
Continuing History of the Church of God This pdf booklet is a historical overview of the true Church of God and some of its main opponents from Acts 2 in the first century to the 21st century. Two related sermon links would include Continuing History of the Church of God: c. 31 to c. 300 A.D. and Continuing History of the Church of God: 4th-16th Centuries. In Spanish: Marque aquí para ver el pdf folleto: Continuación de la Historia de la Iglesia de Dios.

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