Introduction to The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippianshttp://www.earlychristianwritings.com/polycarp-intro.html
The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians
The following is transcribed from Kirsopp Lake in The Apostolic Fathers (published London 1912), v. I, pp. 280-281.
Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna in the first half of the second century, and was martyred, in all probability, on February 23rd, 155 A.D., at the age of eighty-six. He had been a disciple of John, and opinions differ as to whether this John was the son of Zebedee, or John the Presbyter.
According to Irenaeus [Adv. Haer. v. 33. 4] Polycarp wrote several epistles, but only one is extant. This is the epistle sent to the Philippians in connection with Ignatius.
The object of the epistle is apparently partly to warn the Philippians against certain disorders in the Church at Philippi, and especially against apostasy; but it appears to have been immediately called for by the desire of the Philippians to make a collection of the letters of Ignatius. They had written to Polycarp to help him in this task, and the letter to the Philippians is, as we should say, a “covering letter” for the copies which Polycarp sends of all the Ignatian epistles to which he had access. It is interesting to notice that the one epistle which neither Polycarp nor the Philippians could easily obtain would be that to the Romans, and that it is this letter which in the Ignatian MSS. seems to have had a different textual history from that of the other six.
The epistle is preserved in eight defective Greek MSS., representing a single archetype, in two long quotations in Eusebius, and in a Latin version contained in the Latin version of the Corpus Ignatianum (see p. 171). The reconstructed archetype of the Greek MSS. is quoted as G, that of the Latin MSS, as L, and Eusebius as Eus. A full collation of the individual Greek and Latin MSS. is given by Lightfoot.
1 Polycarp and the Elders with him to the Church of God sojourning in Philippi; mercy and peace from God Almighty and Jesus Christ our Saviour be multiplied to you.
The hospitality of the Philippians — Their faith
1 I rejoice greatly with you in our Lord Jesus Christ that you have followed the pattern of true love, and have helped on their way, as opportunity was given you, those who were bound in chains, which become the saints, and are the diadems of those who have been truly chosen by God and our Lord. 2 I rejoice also that your firmly rooted faith, which was famous in past years, still flourishes and bears fruit unto our Lord Jesus Christ, who endured for our sins, even to the suffering of death, “whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of Hades, 3 in whom, though you did not see him, you believed in unspeakable and glorified joy,” — into which joy many desire to come, knowing that “by grace ye are saved, not by works” but by the will of God through Jesus Christ.
Exhortation to virtue — The hope of resurrection — The Lord’s Teaching
1 “Wherefore girding up your loins serve God in fear” and truth, putting aside empty vanity and vulgar error, “believing on him who raised up our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and gave him glory,” and a throne on his right hand, “to whom are subject all things in heaven and earth,” whom all breath serves, who is coming as “the Judge of the living and of the dead,” whose blood God will require from them who disobey him. 2 Now “he who raised him” from the dead “will also raise us up” if we do his will, and walk in his commandments and love the things which he loved, refraining from all unrighteousness, covetousness, love of money, evil speaking, false witness, “rendering not evil for evil, or railing for railing,” or blow for blow, or curse for curse, 3 but remembering what the Lord taught when he said, “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, “Blessed are the poor, and they who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”
Polycarp’s reason for writing: the invitation ofthe Philippians
1 These things, brethren, I write to you concerning righteousness, not at my own instance, but because you first invited me. 2 For neither am I, nor is any other like me, able to follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who when he was among you in the presence of the men of that time taught accurately and stedfastly the word of truth, and also when he was absent wrote letters to you, from the study of which you will be able to build yourselves up into the faith given you; 3 “which is the mother of us all” when faith follows, and love of God and Christ and neighbour goes before. For if one be in this company he has fulfilled the command of righteousness, for he who has love is far from all sin.
Exhortations to virtue
1 “But the beginning of all evils is the love of money.” Knowing therefore that “we brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing out of it,” let us arm ourselves with the armour of righteousness, and let us first of all teach ourselves to walk in the commandment of the Lord; 2 next teach our wives to remain in the faith given to them, and in love and purity, tenderly loving their husbands in all truth, and loving all others equally in all chastity, and to educate their children in the fear of God. 3 Let us teach the widows to be discreet in the faith of the Lord, praying ceaselessly for all men, being far from all slander, evil speaking, false witness, love of money, and all evil, knowing that they are the altar of God, and that all offerings are tested, and that nothing escapes him of reasonings or thoughts, or of “the secret things of the heart.”
Christian obligations to a virtuous life
1 Knowing then that “God is not mocked,” we ought to walk worthily of his commandment and glory. 2 Likewise must the deacons be blameless before his righteousness, as the servants of God and Christ and not of man, not slanderers, not double-tongued, not lovers of money, temperate in all things, compassionate, careful, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the “servant of all.” For if we please him in this present world we shall receive from him that which is to come; even as he promised us to raise us from the dead, and that if we are worthy citizens of his community, “we shall also reign with him,” if we have but faith. 3 Likewise also let the younger men be blameless in all things; caring above all for purity, and curbing themselves from all evil; for it is good to be cut off from the lust of the things in the world, because “every lust warreth against the Spirit, and neither fornicators nor the effeminate nor sodomites shall inherit the Kingdom of God,” nor they who do iniquitous things. Wherefore it is necessary to refrain from all these things, and to be subject to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ. The virgins must walk with a blameless and pure conscience.
The duties of the presbyters — Forgiveness — The service of God
1 And let the presbyters also be compassionate, merciful to all, bringing back those that have wandered, caring for all the weak, neglecting neither widow nor orphan nor poor, but “ever providing for that which is good before God and man,” refraining from all wrath, respect of persons, unjust judgment, being far from all love of money, not quickly believing evil of any, not hasty in judgment, knowing that “we all owe the debt of sin.” 2 If then we pray the Lord to forgive us, we also ought to forgive, for we stand before the eyes of the Lord and of God, and “we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, and each must give an account of himself.” 3 So then “let us serve him with fear and all reverence,” as he himself commanded us, and as did the Apostles, who brought us the Gospel, and the Prophets who foretold the coming of our Lord. Let us be zealous for good, refraining from offence, and from the false brethren, and from those who bear the name of the Lord in hypocrisy, who deceive empty-minded men.
1 The introductory formula “knowing that” renders it probable that these words are a quotation, but the source is unknown.
Warning against heresy
1 “For everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is an anti-Christ”; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the Cross is of the devil: and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord for his own lusts, and says that there is neither resurrection nor judgment, — this man is the first-born of Satan. 2 Wherefore, leaving the foolishness of the crowd, and their false teaching, let us turn back to the word which was delivered to us in the beginning, “watching unto prayer” and persevering in fasting, beseeching the all-seeing God in our supplications “to lead us not into temptation,” even as the Lord said, “The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
1 This phrase, according to Irenaeus (Adv. Haer. 3/3:4) was applied, presumably later, by Polycarp to Marcion.
1 Let us then persevere unceasingly in our hope, and in the pledge of our righteousness, that is in Christ Jesus, “who bare our sins in his own body on the tree, who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth,” but for our sakes, that we might live in him, he endured all things. 2 Let us then be imitators of his endurance, and if we suffer for his name’s sake let us glorify him. For this is the example which he gave us in himself, and this is what we have believed.
The examples of the martyrs
1 Now I beseech you all to obey the word of righteousness, and to endure with all the endurance which you also saw before your eyes, not only in the blessed Ignatius, and Zosimus, and Rufus, but also in others among yourselves, and in Paul himself, and in the other Apostles; 2 being persuaded that all of these “ran not in vain,” but in faith and righteousness, and that they are with the Lord in the “place which is their due,” with whom they also suffered. For they did not “love this present world” but him who died on our behalf, and was raised by God for our sakes.
Perseverance in philanthropy and good works
1 Stand fast therefore in these things and follow the example of the Lord, “firm and unchangeable in faith, loving the brotherhood, affectionate to one another,” joined together in the truth, forestalling one another in the gentleness of the Lord, despising no man. 2 When you can do good defer it not, “for almsgiving sets free from death; be ye all subject one to the other, having your conversation blameless among the Gentiles,” that you may receive praise “for your good works” and that the Lord be not blasphemed in you. 3 “But woe to him through whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed.” Therefore teach sobriety to all and show it forth in your own lives.
Valens — Against avrice — The treatment ofValens
1 I am deeply sorry for Valens, who was once made a presbyter among you, that he so little understands the place which was given to him. I advise, therefore, that you keep from avarice, and be pure and truthful. Keep yourselves from all evil. 2 For how may he who cannot attain self-control in these matters enjoin it on another? If any man does not abstain from avarice he will be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as if he were among the Gentiles who “know not the judgment of God.” Or do we “not know that the saints shall judge the world?” as Paul teaches. 3 But I have neither perceived nor heard any such thing among you, among whom the blessed Paul laboured, who are praised in the beginning of his Epistle. For concerning you he boasts in all the Churches who then alone had known the Lord, for we had not yet known him. 4 Therefore, brethren, I am deeply sorry for him [i.e. Valens] and for his wife, and “may the Lord grant them true repentance.” Therefore be yourselves also moderate in this matter, and “do not regard such men as enemies,” but call them back as fallible and straying members, that you may make whole the body of you all. For in doing this you edify yourselves.
1 The Greek was perhaps ‘tois ousin en arche epistolais autou’, and ought to be rendered “who were his epistles in the beginning,” with a reference to 2 Cor. 3:2.
The need of forgiveness — Prayer for blessing
1 For I am confident that you are well versed in the Scriptures, and from you nothing is hid; but to me this is not granted. Only, as it is said in these Scriptures, “Be ye angry and sin not,” and “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.” Blessed is the man who remembers this, and I believe that it is so with you. 2 Now may God and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the “eternal Priest” himself, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, build you up in faith and truth, and in all gentleness, and without wrath, and in patience, and in longsuffering, and endurance, and purity, and may he give you lot and part with his saints, and to us with you, and to all under heaven who shall believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his “Father who raised him from the dead.” 3 “Pray for all the saints. Pray also for the Emperors,” and for potentates, and princes, and for “those who persecute you and hate you,” and for “the enemies of the Cross” that “your fruit may be manifest among all men, that you may be perfected” in him.
1 Probably this ought to be regarded as a quotation from the letter of the Philippians to Polycarp.2 “Pro regibus’ is no doubt a translation of ‘huper basileon’ and ‘basileus’ is regularly used as the title of the Emperor.
Ignatius and the Church in Syria
1 Both you and Ignatius wrote to me that if anyone was going to Syria he should also take your letters. I will do this if I have a convenient opportunity, either myself or the man whom I am sending as a representative for you and me. 2 We send you, as you asked, the letters of Ignatius, which were sent to us by him, and others which we had by us. These are subjoined to this letter, and you will be able to benefit greatly from them. For they contain faith, patience, and all the edification which pertains to our Lord. Let us know anything further which you have heard about Ignatius himself and those who are with him.
1 I have written this to you by Crescens, whom I commended to you when I was present, and now commend again. For he has behaved blamelessly among us, and I believe that he will do the same with you. His sister shall be commended to you when she comes to you. Farewell in the Lord Jesus Christ in grace, with all who are yours. Amen.