*** This is a rough transcript of today’s show ***

It is the 23rd of February 2022. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org; I’m Dan van Voorhis.

Today we go back to the first century- not to Jesus and the Apostles but to one who lived in the latter part of that century, was a student of the Apostle John, and wrote a critical letter to the Philippian church- he was the Apostolic Father Polycarp.

Polycarp belongs to two different groups essential to understanding church history- the Ante-Nicene Fathers and the Apostolic Fathers. An Ante-Nicene Father is a leader in the church before 325 and the council of Nicea (Ante with an E means before- think Antebellum America meaning “before the Bellum” or “before the war”). And while Nicene doctrine comes from that council, it also represents the watershed years for Constantine. If you are “Ante-Nicene,” you lived when Christianity was illegal. That was a whole different ballgame.

So Polycarp belongs to the Ante-Nicene fathers but also the select group within that group known as the “Apostolic Fathers”- that is, they are Church Fathers whom an Apostle directly taught- this group numbers 3 (that we know of) Polycarp, Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome.

So- know you know he was “Ante-Nicene” and “Apostolic Father.” I think what you primarily want to know about Polycarp comes down to his letter to the Philippians and his martyrdom.

The traditional years assigned to Polycarp are AD 69 to AD 155. The account of his martyrdom claims that he was killed on February 23rd, and thus today is the traditional day for his feast.

We know Polycarp from the epistle of Ignatius (the other Apostolic Father taught by St. John) from Irenaeus and the letter regarding his martyrdom.

This letter to the Philippians comes from the mid 2nd century and from Polycarp, who was acknowledged as the Bishop of Smyrna. His letter would be read, circulated, and preserved tells us something about the church’s thought of this man who would have been one of the last links to the Apostles.

The letter is simple- it is an exhortation and a condemnation of certain Gnostics. You can find the text online- check out the rough transcript at 1517.org for a link.

Interestingly, this epistle is how often it quotes scripture- and especially the Apostle Paul. Remember that Paul was the Apostle who called himself “born untimely” in that he didn’t meet Christ as the other Apostles, and Paul had also been involved with controversies surrounding Peter and James. So it is essential that Polycarp enthusiastically quotes Paul, refers to his writings as scripture, and mentions it along with other Scripture from the New Testament.

But Paul had been used by some, most notably a cat called Marcion, to divorce the Old Testament from the New Testament and spiritualize the person of Jesus to the extent that his “actual” death and resurrection were eliminated.

Polycarp goes hard after those- quoting from Paul and the epistles of John. He couches the root of these heresies in vanity, lusts, and temptation. And while we might look at some of the early church heresies as quaint or silly, Polycarp helps us understand that these doctrines were attractive (there’s a show in here about how attractive heresy looks).

And, as so much of the New Testament does, Polycarp calls on Christians to imitate Christ. Doctrine is couched in the practice of imitation- Polycarp quotes Paul in saying that we are saved by grace and not works, but this doesn’t preclude him from exhorting his fellow Christians.

And the ultimate stamp of authority and proof of imitation was persecution and execution. It might be hard to fathom how famous martyrdom was in the first centuries of the church.

1st- it wasn’t hard to get martyred, especially under a few zealous emperors.

2nd- Although Polycarp went to his execution as a Bishop- martyrdom knew none of the divisions in society. Women and slaves could be martyred too!

3rd- There is a good deal in writing about Polycarp’s martyrdom that stresses that God will give grace to those who must go to their death. Others around Polycarp got excited but withered and ran. This wasn’t a condemnation of them as much as the point that not everyone is called to martyrdom.

Tradition holds that Polycarp was the first Christian to be burnt at stake. That he refused being bound to the stake and instead willingly stood on the pyre, and that when he wouldn’t burn, he was stabbed to death.

Today we remember the martyr, Ante-Nicene, and Apostolic Father on his death in 155- the bishop Polycarp.

The Last Word for today comes from the Epistle to the Philippians from Polycarp.

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 steadfastly 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 has fulfilled the command of righteousness, since he that has love is far from all sin.

This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of February 2022 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org.

The show is produced by a man whose favorite Carps include Poly, Mono, and all the “various species of oily freshwater fish from the family Cyprinidae.” He is Christopher Gillespie.

The show is written and read by a man whose favorite Carp is the band Carp of one time Hollywood star Gary Busey. I am Dan van Voorhis

You can catch us here every day- and remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness and the redemption of all things are true…. Everything is going to be ok.