Polycarp, Fragments from Victor of Capua (2006). Text and translation.

[Translated by Stephen C. Carlson--COGwriter comments in bold italics]

The following is possibly from Polycarp. Some believe that it was not really from him and have attributed it to pseudo-Polycarp.1 Because I see no doctrinal problems in the following (other than something I will comment at the end), I accept that it is possible that Polycarp may have written it:

§ 1. Matthew testifies that the Lord said that Moses writes that Adam spoke in this way: Now this is a bone from my bones, flesh from my flesh, because of this a man will leave [his] father and mother etc. [Matt 19:5] But the words of the Lord do not agree with the discourses of Moses. For, because Adam, showing deference, prophesied by divine inspiration, he was related by Moses to have said this; yet God, who formed these words in the heart of Adam by divine inspiration, the father himself was related correctly by the Lord to have spoken. For both Adam produced this prophecy and the father, who inspired it, is rightly said to have produced.2

§ 2. The same to these words of Christ: you drink my cup etc. [Matt 20:23]

By this kind of drink he means the passion that James indeed was to most recently perfect by martyrdom, yet his brother John to depart without martyrdom, although he also withstood many afflictions and exiles, but Christ judged the mind prepared for martyrdom to be a martyr. For the apostle Paul said I die daily; while it is impossible for a person to die daily, in his death by which this life is ended once. But since for the gospel he is continually prepared for death, he testified about himself to die daily under this meaning. It is also read that the blessed John had been plunged in a vat of boiling oil in the name of Christ.3

§ 3. The same on the beginning of the gospel according to Mark.

Reasonably, the evangelists used different beginnings although the one and the same purpose of evangelization is represented. Matthew, as writing to Hebrews, composed the order of the genealogy of Christ, so that he would show that Christ had descended from this progeny, from which all the prophets had foretold him to be born. But John, based in Ephesus, made the beginning of the gospel from the reason of our redemption, of us who from the gentiles as it were did not know the law, which reason is evident from him that God wished his son to be incarnated for our salvation. Luke, however, began from Zacharias the priest so that he would declare the divinity of Christ to the gentiles by the miracle of the birth of his son and by the office of so many preachers. From which Mark too declares the ancient qualifications of the prophetic mystery of the coming of Christ so that his preaching had been proven not to be new but uttered from ancient times or account of that. The evangelists were concerned with using introductions, which each decided to set forth that for the listeners. Thus nothing is found to the contrary where even for different writings the same basis is arrived at.

§ 4. The same in this: I do not want to call your friends but the poor and the weak etc. (Luke 14:12-13)

He teaches that not friends but whoever are sick are to be called to a meal. But if the lame or anyone of them would be a friend, without a doubt such is at least to be called for friendship, where these com-mands almost seem to oppose each other. For if not the friends but the lame and blind are to be invited, it would affect those that are friends too, then we should by no means call. But, I decide to understand first to owe them in this place whom of this would esteem the earthly considerations, not in view of divine contemplation. These are, therefore, friends to be left.

Accordingly, he proposed examples of weakness, which we can necessarily desire for none, unless so much for the fruit of the eternal reward.

§ 5. The same in this: I have completed the work you have given me to do (John 17:4).

How does he commemorate the fulfillment of the work of human salvation when he had not yet climbed the standard of the cross? But by the determination of his will, by which he decided to undergo all the marks of the venerable passion, he properly means that he completed the work himself.

1. Perhaps the most accessible discussion of the Pseudo-Polycarp fragments along with Latin text (but with no translation) can be found at J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers: S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp (1889; repr. Hendricksons, 1989), vol.3 pt.2, pp.419-422.

2. The odd part about this fragment is that Matt 19:5 does not include the citation of the "bone from my bones and flesh of my flesh" bit from Gen 2:23.

3. The detail of John being plunged in boiling oil is usually conjectured to have been in the lost beginning of the late-second-century apocryphal Acts of John and has generally been responsible for the skepticism for the attribution to Polycarp.

Note: I (COGwriter, Bob Thiel) left in the scriptural citations as they were in the translation, but need to emphasize that Polycarp did not have the chapters and verses in scripture as now commonly are used AND the above is a translation from Latin, and Polycarp wrote in Greek, hence the above at best is likely to be a translation of a translation as recorded by Victor of Capua. This may explain the bone and flesh portion that is not part of Matthew's account.

Now I would also add that the boiling oil account was also reported by Tertullian, and he worded it as follows:

...Apostle John was first plunged, unhurt, into boiling oil, and thence remitted to his island-exile...(Tertullian. The Prescription Against Heretics. Chapter 36. Translated by Peter Holmes. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Online Edition Copyright © 2004 by K. Knight)

So, I do not discount the idea that fragment put together by Victor of Capua could possibly have originally been written by Polycarp because of the boiling oil comment as the boiling oil account has other support--and most scholars have considered that Tertullian was a credible historian.

COGwriter 2011

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