Polycarp of Smyrna

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The holy, glorious and right-victorious Hieromartyr Polycarp of Smyrna was a bishop and martyr of the early Church and the writer and subject, respectively, of two of the works in the collection called the Apostolic Fathers. The year of his birth is reported as anywhere from A.D. 69 to 81, and his martyrdom is recorded as being from A.D. 155 to 167. According to tradition, he was burned at the stake in Smyrna (the seat of his episcopacy and modern day Izmir in Turkey), and he was also reported to be a disciple of the Apostle John.


Polycarp was a correspondent of St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of the other Apostolic Fathers. Ignatius addressed a letter to him, and mentions him in the letters to the Ephesians and to the Magnesians. Polycarp visited Rome during the time of Pope Anicetus, and found their customs for observing Pascha differed. They agreed to peaceably disagree on this matter. Polycarp was offered the opportunity of celebrating the Eucharist in the Pope's church.

His sole surviving work, the Letter to the Philippians, and an account of The Martyrdom of Polycarp form part of the writings usually collected under the title The Apostolic Fathers. The latter is considered the earliest genuine post-biblical account of a Christian martyrdom, and one of the very few genuine such writings from the actual age of the persecutions.

St. Irenaeus of Lyons relates how and when he became a Christian and in his letter to Florinus stated that he saw and heard him personally in lower Asia; in particular he heard the account of Polycarp's intercourse with John the Evangelist and with others who had seen Jesus Christ. Irenaeus also reports that Polycarp was converted to Christianity by apostles, was consecrated a bishop, and communicated with many who had seen Jesus. He repeatedly emphasizes the very old age of Polycarp. The Martyrdom has Polycarp himself give his age on the day of his death as 86 years.

The date of Polycarp's death is disputed. Eusebius of Caesarea dates it to the reign of Marcus Aurelius, circa 166-167. However, a post-Eusebian addition to the treatise The Martyrdom of Polycarp dates his death to Saturday, February 23 in the proconsulship of Statius Quadratus—which works out to be 155 or 156. These earlier dates better fit the tradition of his association with Ignatius and John the Evangelist.


  • Encyclopaedia Britannica, 1958 edition, vol. 18, pp 178-180

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