Ignatius to Polycarp, foundational church fathers

Polycarp

Around 69 A.D., Polycarp was born into a Christian family that had survived the early persecutions. Not a lot is known today about Polycarp’s life. He was raised Christian and held fast to the faith until his fiery end. Polycarp is a critical early fiber in the thread because, like Ignatius, he lived in the first generation after the apostles and was directly linked to them.

Like most of the early church leaders, Polycarp fought on two fronts. In addition to the persecution that believers periodically endured, the church was threatened for centuries with heresies that jeopardized its foundation. Polycarp, along with those such as Clement, carried with them the stamp of apostolic approval from direct teachings. Both maintained the teachings of Christ that had been faithfully delivered to them firsthand, and increasingly through the circulated letters from which the New Testament was ultimately derived.

As we will see with so many others in this thread, he took on heretics who were seducing believers from the truth. For Polycarp, it was early Gnostics, connecting him to many who followed after him and defended the faith of Christ against the heresies of the Gnostics. Gnosticism was already established at the time the New Testament was being written, and became a hodge-podge umbrella of beliefs that survived for centuries. It claimed the Old Testament God was an evil God and the God of the Gospels was a good God.

One letter from Polycarp, to the church in Philippi, survived.

A striking element of the letter is that it is riddled with quotes from New Testament books, long before they were canonized, further suggesting that they were already in heavy use.

Polycarp leaves us with another heritage. His is the first martyrdom since Stephen that we have recorded in detail. Many other Christians had been killed for their faith before him, but their death was not so recorded. His death is described by his church in Smyrna, and the story remains today.

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