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INTRODUCTION MONG THE narratives which have been handed down purporting to describe the passion and death of the Christian martyrs, some have little value either as history or literature; others may be attractively or forcefully written, yet contain so much unauthentic elaboration that their historical worth is small; still others do not suffer in literary merit from being authentic, first-hand accounts of the events they relate. It is in this third class that scholars have generally agreed to place the Martyrdom of St. Polycarp, which has, moreover, the added distinction of being among the oldest of the formal Acts of the Martyrs-if not indeed the very oldest-that we possess. Of the little that can be related with certainty concerning the life of St. Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna in the first half of the second century, most has been set out above in the Introduction of his Letter to the Philippians.1 To that outline the narrative contained in the present document serves as a happily detailed and circumstantial supplement, narrating his martyr's death on (probably) February 22, 156.2 The work is so clearly and simply written that it tells its own story and conveys its own high example of heroism without the need of I See above. pp. 129 f. 2 The year 155 has also been argued for. See the Martyrdom 21. for day and the month. The Roman Martyrology enters the name of St. Polycarp at 26 January. 147 148 SAINT POLYCARP comment or explanatory detail.3 Yet it will not be out of place to append a brief statement of the reasons which lead to an early dating of the document and a summary discussion of its literary form. The Martyrdom, as we now have it, consists of two parts: 4 (1) a letter from the Christians of Smyrna addressed to Churches everywhere and especially to that at Philomelium (Chapters 1-20); (2) a group of three supplements: (a) a chronological appendix (21), (b) a commendatory postscript (22.1 ), (c) a history of the transmission of the document (22.2-4). The early date and genuineness of the body of the document , the letter of the Smymaeans, is virtually guaranteed by the use made of it by Eusebius,5 who transcribes or paraphrases the greater part, holding it, moreover, to be the oldest written record of a martyrdom that he knew. Striking parallels between the Smymaean letter and dated documents of A.D. 165 and 177 suggest that the letter was widely disseminated well before the time of Eusebius. We may note here that the Smyrnaean letter is not only addressed to 'all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place,' but contains a request (20.1) that steps be taken to secure its extended circulation. The evidence of Eusebius unfortunately cannot be employed to establish the date and genuineness of the three sup3 Following suggestions of Lightfoot. Essays 220-223. the reader may profitably note the details of St. Polycarp's martyrdom which reproduce or parallel the Passion of our Lord. The letter itself (1.1; 19.1) shows that the Smyrnaeans were themselves aware of these resemblances. 4 This analysis and various arguments based on it are drawn from Lightfoot. Apostolic Fathers 185·187. 5 Eusebius. Historia ecclesiastica 4.15. INTRODUCTION 149 plements, since his quotations and paraphrases do not extend even to the very end of the main part of the document. Of the three supplements, the chronological appendix appears to be a genuine addition made by the author of the Smymaean letter. The commendatory postscript, though lacking in several witnesses to the text, could well have been added by the Church at Philomelium in carrying out the Smymaeans' request to dispatch copies of the basic letter. The history of the transmission, which appears in an expanded form in the best Greek manuscript (that of Moscow6 ), ends in all the manuscripts with a note (23.4) professing to be written by a certain Pionius, who is represented as having been enabled to find a copy of the document through a revelation of St. Polycarp himself. The miraculous element here suggested reappears in a Life of St. Polycarp which passes under the name of Pionius, and this writer is probably the author as well of the third supplement to the letter of the Smymaeans.7 This 'Pionius' relates that upon St. Polycarp's appointment as bishop a dove hovered about his head. In the Smymaean letter (16...


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