Thursday, January 26, 2017

January 26: St Polycarp

St Polycarp (69 – 155 AD) was a 2nd century bishop of Smyrna, martyred for refusing to burn incense to the Emperor.  The account of his martyrdom is one of the earliest surviving of such accounts.  And his Epistle to the Philippians is similarly important as one of the earliest documents of the Fathers.

He is particularly important as a documented link in the apostolic succession: his pupil St Irenaeus relates that he heard the account of Polycarp's discussion with "John the Presbyter" (St John the Evangelist) and with others who had seen Jesus. Irenaeus also reports that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by apostles, was consecrated a bishop, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus.

He also featured in an early play of the controversy of the date for Easter, favouring what has become the Orthodox tradition, and attributing the dating to St John.  He travelled to Rome to discuss the issue with the Pope of the time, however, and St Irenaeus reported that they agreed to each do their own thing on the matter:

"When the blessed Polycarp was at Rome in the time of Anicetus, and they disagreed a little about certain other things, they immediately made peace with one another, not caring to quarrel over this matter. For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp not to observe what he had always observed with John, the disciple of our Lord, and the other apostles with whom he associated.... Neither could Polycarp persuade Anicetus to observe it."

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