Tuesday, February 23, 2010

St. Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr

Today, much of the Western Church (including the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod) commemorates St. Polycarp of Smyrna, bishop and martyr.

St. Polycarp was perhaps the last living link to the last of the living apostles, being a disciple of St. John the beloved apostle. St. Polycarp (whose name means "much fruit") was martyred about 155 or 156 AD, in the ninth decade of his life on this side of the grave, for his refusal to worship Caesar. While waiting for the flames that would blaze around him at the stake, Father Polycarp was promised his freedom if he would only renounce Christ and just burn a pinch of incense in acknowledgment of the emperor's divinity.

The grizzled warrior of the cross replied: "Eighty and six years I have served him, how then can I blaspheme my King and Savior? Bring forth what you will." Instead of offering a pagan sacrifice to the imperial false deity, he defied the emperor by offering his life as a thank offering to the True God.

St. Polycarp's heroic witness for the Gospel was a powerful testimony of Christ and His Church, serving to fortify the thousands of Christians who were persecuted and martyred by the Roman government. Even today, St. Polycarp continues to give courage to our brothers and sisters around the world who are still being put to the sword for the sake of our Blessed Lord and as a consequence of their good confession.

Below is St. Polycarp's letter to the Philippians (c. 110-140 AD). It is the only surviving written work of Bishop Polycarp, and it is chock full of quotations from Holy Scripture - showing the reverence and submission the apostolic fathers had for the Word of God. St. Polycarp was the teacher and pastor of St. Irenaeus, one of the greatest theologians and defenders of orthodoxy against the attacks of the numerous heretics and heresies of his day - whose heirs continue to this very day to do Satan's work in attacking the two natures of our Blessed Lord Christ and the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity.

We give thanks to God for the testimony of the apostolic fathers, those who learned at the beautiful feet of the holy apostles of Jesus; men who served humbly and faithfully in perilous times and places, even unto death: doctors and presbyters of the Church whose preaching was backed by their works - even the work of following Jesus by taking up the cross of suffering and martyrdom. In this, they bore "much fruit" and offered their lives as a fragrant offering to the Lord, the "Savior of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the catholic church throughout the world" (Martyrdom of Polycarp 1:43).

May we be graced with their courage, faith, devotion to pure doctrine, and most of all, love.

THE EPISTLE OF POLYCARP TO THE PHILIPPIANS

Polycarp, and the presbyters with him, to the Church of God sojourning at Philippi: Mercy to you, and peace from God Almighty, and from the Lord Jesus Christ, our Saviour, be multiplied.

CHAPTER I.--PRAISE OF THE PHILIPPIANS.

I have greatly rejoiced with you in our Lord Jesus Christ, because ye have followed the example of true love [as displayed by God], and have accompanied, as became you, those who were bound in chains, the fitting ornaments of saints, and which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and our Lord; and because the strong root of your faith, spoken of in days long gone by, endureth even until now, and bringeth forth fruit to our Lord Jesus Christ, who for our sins suffered even unto death, [but] "whom God raised froth the dead, having loosed the bands of the grave." "In whom, though now ye see Him not, ye believe, and believing, rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory; " into which joy many desire to enter, knowing that "by grace ye are saved, not of works," but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

CHAPTER II.--AN EXHORTATION TO VIRTUE.

"Wherefore, girding up your loins," "serve the Lord in fear" and truth, as those who have forsaken the vain, empty talk and error of the multitude, and "believed in Him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead, and gave Him glory," and a throne at His right hand. To Him all things" in heaven and on earth are subject. Him every spirit serves. He comes as the Judge of the living and the dead. His blood will God require of those who do not believe in Him. But He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, falsewitness; "not rendering evil for evil, or railing for railing," or blow for blow, or cursing for cursing, but being mindful of what the Lord said in His teaching: "Judge not, that ye be not judged; forgive, and it shall be forgiven unto you; be merciful, that ye may obtain mercy; with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again; and once more, "Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God."

CHAPTER III.--EXPRESSIONS OR PERSONAL UNWORTHINESS.

These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not because I take anything upon myself, but because ye have invited me to do so. For neither I, nor any other such one, can come up to the wisdom" of the blessed and glorified Paul. He, when among you, accurately and stedfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbour, "is the mother of us all." For if any one be inwardly possessed of these graces, he hath fulfilled the command of righteousness, since he that hath love is far from all sin.

CHAPTER IV.--VARIOUS EXHORTATIONS.

"But the love of money is the root of all evils." Knowing, therefore, that "as we brought nothing into the world, so we can carry nothing out," let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness; and let us teach, first of all, ourselves to walk in the commandments of the Lord. Next, [teach] your wives [to walk] in the faith given to them, and in love and purity tenderly loving their own husbands in all truth, and loving all [others] equally in all chastity; and to train up their children in the knowledge and fear of God. Teach the widows to be discreet as respects the faith of the Lord, praying continually for all, being far from all slandering, evil-speaking, false-witnessing, love of money, and every kind of evil; knowing that they are the altar s of God, that He clearly perceives all things, and that nothing is hid from Him, neither reasonings, nor reflections, nor any one of the secret things of the heart.

CHAPTER V.--THE DUTIES OF DEACONS, YOUTHS, AND VIRGINS.

Knowing, then, that "God is not mocked," we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory. In like manner should the deacons be blameless before the face of His righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ, and not of men. They must not be slanderers, double-tongued, or lovers of money, but temperate in all things, compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the servant of all. If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of Him, "we shall also reign together with Him," provided only we believe. In like manner, let the young men also be blameless in all things, being especially careful to preserve purity, and keeping themselves in, as with a bridle, from every kind of evil. For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since "every lust warreth against the spirit; " and "neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God," nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming. Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ. The virgins also must walk in a blameless and pure conscience.

CHAPTER VI.--THE DUTIES OF PRESBYTERS AND OTHERS.

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always "providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man ; " abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from . all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil re port] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and "we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself." Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offence, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error.

CHAPTER VII.--AVOID THE DOCETAE, AND PERSEVERE IN FASTING AND PRAYER.

"For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist;" and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning; "watching unto prayer," and persevering in fasting; beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God "not to lead us into temptation," as the Lord has said: "The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak."

CHAPTER VIII.--PERSEVERE IN HOPE AND PATIENCE.

Let us then continually persevere in our hope, and the earnest of our righteousness, which is Jesus Christ, "who bore our sins in His own body on the tree," "who did no sin, neither was guile found in His mouth," but endured all things for us, that we might live in Him. Let us then be imitators of His patience; and if we suffer for His name's sake, let us glorify Him. For He has set us this example s in Himself, and we have believed that such is the case.

CHAPTER IX.--PATIENCE INCULCATED.

I exhort you all, therefore, to yield obedience to the word of righteousness, and to exercise all patience, such as ye have seen [set] before your eyes, not only in the case of the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and the rest of the apostles. [This do] in the assurance that all these have not run in vain, but in faith and righteousness, and that they are [now] in their due place in the presence of the Lord, with whom also they suffered. For they loved not this present world, but Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead.

CHAPTER X.--EXHORTATION TO THE PRACTICE OF VIRTUE.

Stand fast, therefore, in these things, and follow the example of the Lord, being firm and unchangeable in the faith, loving the brotherhood, and being attached to one another, joined together in the truth, exhibiting the meekness of the Lord in your intercourse with one another, and despising no one. When you can do good, defer it not, because "alms delivers from death."" Be all of you subject one to another? having your conduct blameless among the Gentiles," that ye may both receive praise for your good works, and the Lord may not be blasphemed through you. But woe to him by whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed! Teach, therefore, sobriety to all, and manifest it also in your own conduct.

CHAPTER XI.--EXPRESSION OF GRIEF ON ACCOUNT OF VALENS.

I am greatly grieved for Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so little understands the place that was given him [in the Church]. I exhort you, therefore, that ye abstain from covetousness, and that ye be chaste and truthful. "Abstain from every form of evil." For if a man cannot govern himself in such matters, how shall he enjoin them on others ? If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen. But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord ? "Do we not know that the saints shall judge the world ?" as Paul teaches. But I have neither seen nor heard of any such thing among you, in the midst of whom the blessed Paul laboured, and who are commended in the beginning of his Epistle. For he boasts of you in all those Churches which alone then knew the Lord; but we [of Smyrna] had not yet known Him. I am deeply grieved, therefore, brethren, for him (Valens) and his wife; to whom may the Lord grant true repentance! And be ye then moderate in regard to this matter, and "do not count such as enemies," but call them back as suffering and straying members, that ye may save your whole body. For by so acting ye shall edify yourselves.

CHAPTER XII.--EXHORTATION TO VARIOUS GRACES.

For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures, and that nothing is hid from you; but to me this privilege is not yet granted. It is declared then in these Scriptures, "Be ye angry, and sin not," and, "Let not the sun go down upon your wrath." Happy is he who remembers this, which I believe to be the case with you. But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who "raised Him from the dead. Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings, and potentates, and princes, and for those that persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that ye may be perfect in Him.

CHAPTER XIII.--CONCERNING THE TRANSMISSION OF EPISTLES.

Both you and Ignatius wrote to me, that if any one went [from this] into Syria, he should carry your letter with him; which request I will attend to if I find a fitting opportunity, either personally, or through some other acting for me, that your desire may be fulfilled. The Epistles of Ignatius written by him to us, and all the rest [of his Epistles] which we have by us, we have sent to you, as you requested. They are subjoined to this Epistle, and by them ye may be greatly profited; for they treat of faith and patience, and all things that tend to edification in our Lord. Any more certain information you may have obtained respecting both Ignatius himself, and those that were with him, have the goodness to make known to us.

CHAPTER XIV.--CONCLUSION.

These things I have written to you by Crescens, whom up to the present time I have recommended unto you, and do now recommend. For he has acted blamelessly among us, and I believe also among you. Moreover, ye will hold his sister in esteem when she comes to you. Be ye safe in the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace be with you all. Amen.

2 comments:

Theophilus said...

I appreciate this summary of the faith of St. Polycarp. It was with great interest and total agreement that I read this.

What was striking to me was that Polycarp focused on the gospel message of Jesus:

Like Jesus, he repeatedly reminded his hearers of their true identity as the sons of God - "saints!"

Like Jesus, he repeatedly called his hearers to walk the way of "righteousness."

Like Jesus, he directed his hearers to the promises of God so that they could "persevere in hope."

I looked in vain for any reference to Christianity's dogma-tradition, those humanly conceived "truths" about God and about Jesus. It was good to see that Polycarp was still on the right track.

Listening to Polycarp strengthens my conviction that we need to focus on Jesus' message of glad tidings, like he did. Christianity's dogma-tradition only muddies the waters.

Blessings!

Father Hollywood said...

Dear Theo:

Indeed! I agree with you. St. Polycarp preached the truth and opposed heresies like Docetism (condemned in Chapter VII) - a false doctrine that denied our Lord's holy and miraculous incarnation in the flesh.

St. Polycarp was no Thomas Jefferson!

In fact, as Irenaeus reports (Adversus Haereses 3:3:4), St. Polycarp called Marcion (who redacted the Scriptures along the line of Mr. Jefferson) the "first-born of Satan" to his face.

I also agree with you about "glad tidings" - "good news." The Gospel is the Good News promised in Gen 22:8, and delivered in John 1:28 (as recorded by Polycarp's teacher, the Apostle John - who preached the divine Jesus with great clarity, especially in John 1:1-14).

Thanks be to our Triune God for the testimony of St. Polycarp, who in word and in deed defended both the Lordship (divinity) of Jesus as well as His incarnate humanity.

Just as Jesus was not crucified for mouthing platitudes, but rather for claiming to be God, Polycarp was martyred for refusing to pray to Caesar the way he prayed to Jesus, God in the flesh.

Nothing humanly-conceived about St. Polycarp's good confession of Jesus his Lord and God!