Much of the information in this article is also in the book: Beliefs of the Original Catholic Church.

By Bob Thiel

Many have heard of Polycarp of Smyrna, but most do not know much about him.

What did Polycarp believe?

Did Polycarp hold Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox Catholic or Church of God catholic views?

(Here is a link to a related sermon: What Type of Catholic was Polycarp of Smyrna?)

It should be recognized that the Greco-Romans consider that Polycarp was a catholic and the document written by the Smyrnaeans known as The Martyrdom of Polycarp as well as Ignatius’ Letter to the Smyrnaeans as valid. As does the Continuing Church of God (CCOG).

Here is something Ignatius of Antioch’s early 2nd century Letter to the Smyrnaeans says:

Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church of God the Father and of the beloved Jesus Christ at Smyrna in Asia … Wherever the bishop appears, there let the congregation be; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church. (Ignatius. Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 0.0., 8.2. In Holmes, pp. 185-191)

At that time Polycarp was the Bishop/Pastor of the Church of God in Smyrna.

Now, here is something the late 2nd century The Martyrdom of Polycarp says:

The church of God which sojourns at Smyrna to the Church of God which sojourns in Philomelium and to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every place … the elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished. (The Smyrnaeans. The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna Concerning the Martyrdom of the Holy Polycarp, 0:1, 16.2. In Ante-Nicene Fathers by Roberts and Donaldson, Volume 4, 1885. Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody (MA), printing 1999, p. 42)

According to Roman Catholic and other scholars, Ignatius’ Letter to the Smyrnaeans as well as the Smyrnaeans Martyrdom of Polycarp, are the first ancient references to “the catholic church.”

Therefore, yes, it is proper to conclude that it was Polycarp’s church, the Smyrnaean Church of God, that the oldest literature points to as the original “catholic church.”

Also note that Polycarp was listed above as “an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna.” This points to the declaration that Polycarp taught prophecy and had apostolic succession. Therefore, he should be considered to have a/the mantle of top leadership of the known faithful prior to his death (first apostles, second prophets per 1 Corinthians 12:28).

Because it had succession from the apostles (as well as early writings), one could say that the Smyrna church was the original apostolic catholic Church of God. This view was carried forward into the 3rd century in Smyrna via Pionius and in later centuries by others (see also the free online book: Beliefs of the Original Catholic Church).

Tertullian Pointed to Two Groups

Before getting to what type of ‘catholic’ Polycarp was, let’s consider his claimed succession and some of his background.

In the late second century, Tertullian of Alexandria wrote of Asia (Ephesus) being an apostolic church:

Come now, you who would indulge a better curiosity, if you would apply it to the business of your salvation, run over the apostolic churches, in which the very thrones of the apostles are still pre-eminent in their places, in which their own authentic writings are read, uttering the voice and representing the face of each of them severally … Since you are able to cross to Asia, you get Ephesus (Tertullian. Prescription Against Heretics, Chapter 36).

Tertullian asserted that there was apostolic succession in Ephesus of Asia Minor.

Tertullian concluded that there were basically two possibly apostolic churches, plus the heretics:

Anyhow the heresies are at best novelties, and have no continuity with the teaching of Christ. Perhaps some heretics may claim Apostolic antiquity: we reply: Let them publish the origins of their churches and unroll the catalogue of their bishops till now from the Apostles or from some bishop appointed by the Apostles, as the Smyrnaeans count from Polycarp and John, and the Romans from Clement and Peter; let heretics invent something to match this (Tertullian. Liber de praescriptione haereticorum. Circa 200 A.D. as cited in Chapman J. Tertullian. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XIV. Copyright © 1912).

When Tertullian wrote the above, Alexandria and Jerusalem were basically aligned with the Romans, whereas Antioch was still aligned with the Smyrnaeans and the faithful in Asia Minor (it may have had connection to Armenia, parts of Europe, parts of Africa, and some in the British Isles then, but that is more difficult to prove).

The Romans and those of Asia Minor were not then in true fellowship with each other as Polycrates’ letter to the Roman Bishop Victor written around the same time as Tertullian wrote helps demonstrate (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book V, Chapter XXIV, Verses 2-7, p. 114).

Tertullian must have known that the two groups had different beliefs. And, of course, that meant only one, at most, could have been contending for the original faith (Jude 3; 1 John 2:19). Only one could really be the faithful and original apostolic catholic church: Either the major Church of the West or the one that best represented the original Church of the East.

Perhaps it should be pointed out that before being known as Asia Minor, the Smyrnaean territory was part of what was earlier called Anatolia, from Greek: Ἀνατολή, Anatolḗ, meaning “East.”

See of Ephesus/See of Smyrna

Most of the original apostles, all of which were once part of the mother church in Jerusalem, went to Asia Minor. And the last of the original apostles to die, John, died in Asia Minor (Ephesus). John passed the mantle of the “mother church” on to Polycarp.

The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches that “the See of Ephesus, {was} founded by St. John the Apostle” (Gerland, Ernst. The Byzantine Empire. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908).

Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary defines “see” as “a seat of a bishop’s office.”

“John had a disciple named Polycarp (AD 69-155), a young man who heard the apostle’s sermons in Ephesus, absorbed his teaching and became a bishop and martyr in nearby Smyrna” (Belmonte K. Let John Be John and Let Jesus Be Jesus. Huffington Post, October 6, 2013). Polycrates of Ephesus reported in the late 2nd century that the Apostle John died in Ephesus (Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 25).

Protestant historian James Charles Wall wrote of “Polycarp, the successor of St. John in the see of Ephesus” (Wall JC. The first Christians of Britain. Talbot & Co., 1927, p. 34). “See,” in this context, is pointing to an area where there was believed to be apostolic succession. Not simply to the city of Ephesus as Polycarp lived in Smyrna.

Coptic Orthodox Bishop H.G. Yousef wrote:

Polycarp … Appointed to be Bishop of the See of Smyrna by the Apostles themselves, (Youssef HG, Bishop. St. Polycarp the Blessed Peacemaker. Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States. Suscopts.org, accessed October 20, 2020)

Ignatius of Antioch somewhat combined Ephesus and Smyrna together when he wrote:

The Ephesians from Smyrna (whence I also write to you), who are here for the glory of God, as you also are, who have in all things refreshed me, salute you, along with Polycarp, the bishop of the Smyrnæans. (Ignatius. Letter to the Magnesians, Chapter 15, verse 1)

As shown before, some consider that Polycarp was the apostolic successor in the See of Ephesus, while others use the term See of Smyrna.

Notice the following Roman Catholic citations, followed by two Protestant ones using the See of Smyrna term:

See of Smyrna … Polycarp … its first patron … particularly charged by the Apostles to instruct it … (Annals of the Propagation of the Faith, Volumes 4-5. Society for the Propagation of the Faith, 1841, p. 82)

Polycarp … See of Smyrna… made Archbishop of Smyrna (Manahan P. Triumph of the Catholic Church in the Early Ages. Patrick Donahue, Boston, 1860, pp. 321-322)

Polycarp himself had learned from the Apostle John and others who had seen Jesus, and was appointed to the see of Smyrna by the Apostles themselves. (Mirus TV. Church Fathers: St. Polycarp and St. Papias. CatholicCulture.org, January 24, 2015)

in the see of Smyrna — Kamerios, who had been made a Deacon by Polykarp (Cadoux CJ. Ancient Smyrna: A History of the City from the Earliest Times to 324 A.D. Blackwell publishing, 1938, p. 356)

Polycarp had been the disciple of St. John, that he had supposed to have been consecrated by him to the See of Smyrna, (Hore HA. History of the Catholic Church. E.P. Duton, New York, 1896, p. 104)

(Camerius, spelled Kamerios above, died c. 220.)

Greco-Roman-Protestant scholars recognize that there was apostolic succession via Polycarp.

Asia Minor/Ephesian/Smyrnaean Succession Chart

c. 31 – c. 64-68 Apostles Peter and Paul
c. 67 – c. 98-102 Apostle John
c. 100 – c. 157 Polycarp
c. 157 – c. 160 Thraseas
c. 160 – c. 167 Sagaris
c. 167 – c. 170 Papirius
c. 170 –  c. 180 Melito
c. 180 –  c. 200 Polycrates
c. 200 –  c. 220 Camerius
c. 220 –  c. 245 Eudaemon *
c. 245 –  c. 250 Pionius **
250 – 339 Unknown in Asia Minor as Eusebius did not report (apparently intentionally according to even Roman Catholic sources).

Eudaemon reportedly apostatized by c. 250, but precisely when is not clear. A group calling itself the ‘Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Ephesus, of All Asiana, and the Americas’ used most of the list through above (including dates) through Eudaemon (though originally this author, then they had, him through 250—this author changed the date later after learning more about Eudaemon’s falling away and Pionius’ faithfulness). This claimed Greek patriarchate is NOT in full communion with the official Orthodox Catholic Church. As far as the origin of the list goes, Dr. Thiel, the author of this text originated it and later the other organization seemingly looked to have copied much of it. When this author called to speak to their patriarch about that, he told him he was uncertain of its origin, so this informed him how and when he developed that list.

** We in the CCOG do not consider that Pluinos of Ephesus, who is the first claimed leader in certain lists to come after Pionius, was a true Church of God Christian; nor do we consider that Heliodorus of Laodicea was either. This is based on a mid-late 2nd century writing from Dionysius, bishop of Alexandria where he said that Asia Minor no longer was divided from Alexandria and Jerusalem (Eusebius. Church History, Book VII, Chapter V, Verse I) as the main regions became part of a confederacy, which meant compromise hit Asia Minor, and Pluinos and Heliodorus would have thus not held original catholic church of God beliefs.

Anyway, with the exception of Eudaemon, all on the above list are considered to be saints by Roman, Orthodox, and CCOG catholics.

We in the Continuing Church of God would call the earlier shown list of successors from the Apostle John through Pionius as Smyrnaeans, partially because of the time that Polycarp of Smyrna arose in prominence as well as Tertullian’s use of the term (earlier, Ignatius also wrote that Polycarp was the bishop of the Smyrnaeans in his Epistle to Polycarp).

The Greek Orthodox, like the Roman Catholics, officially consider the early Smyrnaeans to have been true saints. Those early listed leaders held to Church of God doctrines which the Greco-Roman churches no longer accept. Examples include, the observance of Passover on the 14th, the binitarian nature of the Godhead, avoidance of unclean meats, and the coming of a literal millennium. However, all of these are still doctrines retained in the Continuing Church of God.

Whether referred to as Smyrnaeans or the See of Ephesus, the early leaders in the list shown above clearly held Church of God doctrines that were later condemned by the Greco-Roman churches (and often called an anathema to Protestant ones).

It should perhaps be mentioned that in the CCOG, we also accept there were saints (Romans 1:7) and apostles in Rome beginning with the Apostle Paul, but do not trace our succession through 2nd century Roman leaders such as Pius I or Anicetus I as they did not continue with, for example, the Apostle John’s Passover date. It perhaps should be pointed out that in 251, there were forty-four Jewish-Christian congregations in Rome (Orchard GH. A Concise History of Foreign Baptists. George Wightman Paternoster Row, London, 1838, p. 37), and one or more of them could have held succession.

That being said, the Continuing Church of God has laying on of hands succession from the apostles through Polycarp through this present day (a detailed list is in the free book Beliefs of the Original Catholic Church).

Background of Polycarp

The Life of Polycarp (a likely altered document from the 3rd century) suggests that the church in Smyrna was begun by the Apostle Paul:

TRACING … with the visit of the blessed Paul to Smyrna … in Smyrna he went to visit Strataeas, who had been his hearer in Pamphylia, being a son of Eunice the daughter of Lois. … But after the departure of the Apostle, Strataeas succeeded to his teaching, and certain of those after him, whose names, so far as it is possible to discover who and what manner of men they were, I will set down. But for the present let us proceed at once to Polycarp.

One whose name was Bucolus being bishop in Smyrna at that time, there was … a little lad named Polycarp. …  And in his untiring diligence, he from his Eastern stock bore (if one may so say) blossom as a token of good fruit hereafter to come. For the men who dwell in the East are distinguished before all others for their love of learning and their attachment to the divine Scriptures. (Pionius, Pseudo?, Life of Polycarp, Chapters 1-3. Translated by J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, 1889, pp.488-506)

Because Lois was the grandmother of Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5) and Timothy was a church leader then (c. 58-66 A.D.), leaders like Strataeas and Bucolos may have been deceased by the time Polycarp was appointed. Polycarp was less than 20 years of age at the time of Paul’s reported visit (possibly as young as 4, if he was martyred in 158 A.D. and the visit from Paul was in 58 A.D.).

As far as being of Eastern (apparently Greek) stock goes, understand that Polycarp held on to practices considered to be Jewish at the time when the majority churches in Rome and Jerusalem abandoned them because of fear and cowardice. Christians with original practices considered to be Jewish have been despised by many of the centuries.

Polycarp would have endured that from Imperial authorities and we in the CCOG endure that from those that do not practice the original catholic faith to this day.

As far as Polycarp’s age, here is something from the Syriac 3rd century documents known as the Harris Fragments:

There remained [—]ter him a disciple[e —] name was Polycar[p and] he made him bishop over Smyrna…He was… {an} old man, being one hundred and f[our] of age. (Weidman W. Polycarp and John: The Harris Fragments and Their Challenge to Literary Traditions. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame (IL), 1999, pp. 43-44)

When asked to revile Christ, Polycarp stated:

For 86 years I have been His servant, and He has done me no wrong. (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 9:3)

Subtracting 86 from 104 years at the time of his death, this points to Polycarp being baptized at age 18. This is mentioned, because some have falsely asserted he died at age 86 and was baptized as an infant by the Apostle John.

Polycarp had to have been older than 86 when he died to have possibly been appointed a bishop by any of the original apostles if this happened when Polycarp was around age forty. The following claim from the Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States is of interest:

Polycarp … Appointed to be Bishop of the See of Smyrna by the Apostles themselves, at the age of 40, he provides us with an important link in our long historical chain of Orthodox tradition clasping together the Apostles and the Second Century Church. (Youssef HG, Bishop. St. Polycarp the Blessed Peacemaker. Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States. http://suscopts.org/resources/literature/174/st-polycarp-the-beloved-peacemaker/ viewed 07/06/2020)

The above is of interest as it also supports the view that Polycarp lived to be an older age than many seem to believe and that there could have been bishops in Smyrna prior to him.

If Polycarp only lived to age 86, all the original apostles would have been dead by the time he was 40 (an 86 year-long life, would have made Polycarp age 40 around 118 A.D. and John seems to have died over a decade prior). But if Polycarp lived to 104, he would have been 40 in 94 A.D. and the Apostle John (who was alive then), and possibly others such as Philip, could have ordained him then. Although some suggest that 104 is too old for a Christian leader back then, let it be noted that Eusebius reported that Simeon, successor to the Apostle James in Jerusalem, was killed at age 120 (Eusebius. Church History, Book VIII, Chapter 32, vs. 3 & 6).

Perhaps it may be of interest to mention that back in 1821, “Cler. Gloc.” wrote that Polycarp was placed in charge of the “See of Smyrna” for around seventy years, that he calculated that Polycarp probably lived around 100 years based upon other historical records, and that the idea Polycarp died at age 86 was a “misconception” (Gloc, C. Letter to the Remembrancer, August 1821. As shown in Scott W. Garden F. Mozely JB. The Christian remembrancer. Printed for F.C. & J. Rivington, 1821, p. 454).

Irenaeus of Lyon wrote that Polycarp lived A VERY LONG TIME, was APPOINTED BISHOP BY THE APOSTLES, and was martyred when he was A VERY OLD MAN:

  1. But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, for he tarried [on earth] a very long time, and, when a very old man, gloriously and most nobly suffering martyrdom, (Against Heresies. Book III, Chapter 3, verse 4)

It should be considered that it is highly probable until near the time that the Apostle John died, the idea of apostolic succession was not considered to be a major issue. Yet, based on what information we have, Polycarp was designated in a manner that people believed he did have apostolic succession.

Now it should be pointed out that some believe that Polycarp was more of a disciple of the Apostle Paul as the Life of Polycarp suggests, whereas others the Apostle John as Irenaeus and the Harris Fragments assert (Berding K. John or Paul? Who was Polycarp’s Mentor? Tyndale Bulletin 59 (2008):135-143).

Although some scholars doubt Irenaeus’ testimony as biased to support his own “successor agenda” and claim that Polycarp did not know John (e.g. Sdao MC. Polycarp of Smyrna: Historical Enigma and Literary Legacies. Ohio State University History Honors Thesis, c. 2015), a later report from Polycrates is also supportive of the view that John and Polycarp knew each other.

Perhaps it should also be mentioned that a 2nd century collection of writings (which contains some erroneous doctrines), related to the Apostle John, has the following:

John went to Ephesus, and regulated all the teaching of the church, holding many conferences, and reminding them of what the Lord had said to them, and what duty he had assigned to each. And when he was old and changed, he ordered Polycarp to be bishop over the church. (Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian. Translated by Alexander Walker. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, 1885)

So we see this points to the belief that the Apostle John put Polycarp over the church. This seems to be a reference to the entire church as it only mentions Ephesus and Polycarp was in Smyrna. Or at minimum, this is showing that the Apostle John put Polycarp in charge of what might be called the See of Ephesus or See of Smyrna.

The late COG leader Herbert W. Armstrong wrote that Polycarp succeeded John:

It is significant that after his release John trained Polycarp elder of Smyrna, a city near Ephesus in the province of Asia. And according to Revelation 2:8-11, Smyrna follows Ephesus! …

In … Smyrna, Polycarp presided over the Church of God for half a century after John’s death. Polycarp stood up boldly for the truth while many fell away … (Armstrong HW. The Church They Couldn’t Destroy. Good News, December 1981)

Notice that Herbert W. Armstrong considered Polycarp was a Church of God leader for decades and a successor of the Apostle John.

Polycarp, himself, was a unique apostolic successor:

  1. Polycarp is the only possible direct apostolic successor considered by any church we are aware of that there was a letter written to him while he was alive. Yes, there were letters written in the New Testament to leaders, but none of them are in any of the ‘accepted’ succession lists this author has seen (other than Timothy, but the Apostle John came to Ephesus after Timothy).
  2. He is the only possible direct apostolic successor considered by any church we are aware of that to have written any document that we still possess to this day (there is a letter claimed to have been written by Clement of Rome, however, it does not say that he wrote it, nor is Clement considered to be the direct successor of any apostle–the Roman Catholic Church currently claims that Linus was Peter’s direct successor; there are also letters written by Ignatius of Antioch, but the two largest Antiochian Churches we are aware of claim that Evodius, not Ignatius, was Peter’s direct successor).
  3. Polycarp is the only possible direct apostolic successor considered by any church we are aware of to have any significant document written about him shortly after his death.
  4. Polycarp is the only possible direct successor to the apostles that was clearly called “bishop” (or overseer) while he was alive.
  5. Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Church of God historians all teach that Polycarp was a spiritually faithful Christian leader. Yet, consider that Polycarp refused to accept the authority of the Roman Bishop Anicetus.
  6. Polycarp is also the only possible successor to have a writing perhaps, at least partially, directed to him in the Bible. Some scholars believe that when John wrote to the “angel of the church Smyrna” that this actually was addressed to the leader of the church (the Greek term translated as “angel” can mean human representatives, e.g. Luke 7:24) who they feel was Polycarp.
  7. The ancient Romans stated about Polycarp: “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to worship the gods” (Martyrdom of Polycarp, 12:2). Even his opponents understood he was important to Christianity.

Clearly Polycarp was a most important apostolic successor. Protestant scholars tend to call Polycarp “proto-orthodox” essentially meaning that he was a faithful Christian and what is now considered to be acceptable (or “orthodox”) was later changed.

Which Catholic Church?

At risk of repeat, the Martyrdom of Polycarp states:

Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna (Martyrdom, 16:2).

Which ‘Catholic Church’ was Polycarp part of?

At risk of further repeat, the Martyrdom of Polycarp states:

The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna … (Martyrdom, 0:1b)

So, obviously this ‘Catholic Church’ was one that was in Smyrna (of Asia Minor) and would include all catholic churches accepting Polycarp’s role (Martyrdom, 0:1b).

The Orthodox, which once had a substantial presence in Asia Minor, consider Polycarp was their type of Catholic.

Interestingly, when this author and his wife visited Smyrna (now called Izmir), the “Church of St. Polycarp” was Roman Catholic, hence this suggests that the Church of Rome holds that Polycarp was their type of Catholic (we also confirmed that in a conversation with a priest inside the building).

That being said, those of us in the Continuing Church of God assert that Polycarp held to doctrines consistent with ours, yet held some in major conflict with the Roman and Eastern Orthodox Catholics.

While certain traditions can be important, they must be in harmony with the Scriptures in order to be valid.

Polycarp taught that the Kingdom of God was the reward of the saved, not heaven as later traditions pushed:

Blessed are the poor, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God. (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter II. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885)

And on the following sabbath he said; ‘Hear ye my exhortation, beloved children of God. … His   advent suddenly manifest as of rapid lightning, the great judgment by fire, the eternal life, His immortal kingdom. And all things whatsoever being taught of God ye know, when ye search the inspired Scriptures, engrave with the pen of the Holy Spirit on your hearts, that the commandments may abide in you indelible.’  (Life of Polycarp, Chapter 24. J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, 1889, pp. 488-506)

COG leaders in Asia Minor and elsewhere taught that as well as the millennium for centuries (see also Did The Early Church Teach Millenarianism?).

Life of Polycarp and Harris Fragments

Although many modern scholars have dismissed the Harris Fragments and Life of Polycarp as inauthentic, they are still considered to have value (Still TD, Wilwhite DE, eds. The Apostolic Fathers and Paul. T&T Clark, 2018, p. 205). And certainly, they do.

It is known that the document called the Life of Polycarp has questionable parts and was changed in the fourth century (Hartog P, ed. Polycarp’s Epistle to the Philippians and the Martyrdom of Polycarp: Introduction, Text, and Commentary. University Press, 2013, p. 6).

So, how should these questioned documents be looked at?

Well, consider that they were intended convey parts of Polycarp’s life and beliefs, which would have been in place in much of the second century.

The Harris Fragments tend to confirm other information about Polycarp, such as his association with John and his age. But statements in it claiming Polycarp never forgot anyone he met, would seem to be an embellishment.

Furthermore, while, for example, the Life of Polycarp was believed to have been corrupted through additions in the 4th century, one would have to ask, what would not have been added?

The Life of Polycarp teaches that early Christians kept the Days of Unleavened Bread and that the Passover had to be in that same season with those days. That would not have been a later addition by Greco-Roman writers (who held to a different view).

Nor would Polycarp’s observance of the Sabbath or discussing the biblical holydays known as the Last Great Day and the Feast of Tabernacles. The idea that he read from the Old and New Testaments at church services would not seem to have been added either. These types of details are also consistent with other reports about Polycarp as well as those for early Christians in Asia Minor.

However, the comment in Life of Polycarp about Polycarp also keeping the “Lord’s Day” as an apparent reference to Sunday would seem to logically have been an unauthorized addition—and that is part of a section that certain other scholars have felt was questionable (Hartog, p. 5; Dehandschutter B. Polycarpiana, Selected Essays. Leuven University Press, 2007). As probably were, certain stories of his early youth, certain claimed miracles, and visions various ones were said to have had (Hartog, p. 5)—those type of embellishments were relatively common in questionable and inaccurate literature.

But they, of themselves, do not dismiss everything in the documents as invalid.

But what kind of Catholic was Polycarp?

Well, related to The Martyrdom of Polycarp document itself, Gerd Buschmann says that document is “catholic-normative” and displays “the dogmatic common sense of the proto-Catholic Church” (Weidmann FW. Reviewed Work: Das Martyrium des Polykarp by Gerd Buschmann. Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 120, No. 3 Autumn, 2001, pp. 585-587).

Yet, that is somewhat misleading. Instead, a more proper view would be that the original portions of The Martyrdom of Polycarp should be considered part of the original, not “proto” needing to be changed, catholic church.  And, if the Martyrdom of Polycarp’s statement related to Polycarp, “For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished,” is accurate related to doctrine—that doctrine should NOT change!

This is consistent with scripture.

The Rheims New Testament of 1582 (an English translation from the Latin) states:

3 … contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3).

If Polycarp was doing that, and the CCOG contends that he was, it is important to know what he taught.

Before going further, let us note that Polycarp was NOT a Protestant. He did not hold to many ‘extra-biblical’ teachings that the Protestants who accepted and taught.

For details, check out the free online book: Hope of Salvation: How the Continuing Church of God Differs from Protestantism.

Muratorium Fragment

Polycarp knew the books of the New Testament.

While some consider the Muratorian fragment (which also uses the expression ‘catholic church’) to be the earliest list of New Testament books, it improperly includes the heretical books of the Apocalypse of Peter and Wisdom of Solomon, but excludes Book of Hebrews, James, 1 Peter, 2 Peter, and one of John’s epistles.

This was not the same ‘catholic church’ that was in Smyrna as those in Asia Minor and Antioch were in communion with each other then, but not then with the predominant church in Rome. Nor did the Christians of Asia Minor or Antioch accept the extra heretical books that the Muratorian fragment included.

Plus, Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians showed that those in at least Asia Minor and Philippi recognized books that the Muratorian fragment excluded since Polycarp quoted Hebrews 3:1, 12:28 and 1 Peter 1:21, 2:12,21,22,24, 3:9,22, 4:7 and refers to teachings in James, 2 Peter, and the three epistles of John. Nor did it include the pseudopigraphal work known as the Apocalypse of Peter.

In that early 2nd century letter, Polycarp of Smyrna stated:

For I trust that ye are well versed in the Sacred Scriptures (Polycarp, Chapter XII. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

Those of Philippi could not have been well versed in the Sacred Scriptures if they did not know what they were!

This shows that Polycarp and other catholic Christians with him knew what the books of the Bible were. They did NOT wait for centuries to hear await decisions of councils of men.

Furthermore, the Harris Fragments state:

Polycarp … continued to walk [i]n the canons which he had learned from his youth from John the a[p]ostle (Weidman W. Polycarp and John: The Harris Fragments and Their Challenge to Literary Traditions. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame (IL), 1999, pp. 43-44)

The canons from his youth would seem to include the first books of the New Testament, and then later (since Polycarp continued) the rest of the canon which John would have known.

For more on the canon, see the book, free online at ccog.org, Who Gave the World the Bible? The Canon: Why do we have the books we now do in the Bible? Is the Bible complete?

Sabbath

The New Testament shows that Christians in Asia Minor kept the Sabbath (cf. Acts 13:13-14, 42; 14:1).

Notice also something from the Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John:

John … on the seventh day, it being the Lord’s day, he said to them: Now it is time for me also to partake of food. … he ordered Polycarp to be bishop over the church. (Acts of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian. Translated by Alexander Walker. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 8. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, 1885)

Polycarp continued to keep the seventh-day Sabbath. “Specifically, Vita Pol. {Life of Polycarp} supplies evidence … for Christian gatherings on the Sabbath” (Hartog, p. 6), after New Testament times.

Perhaps the earliest influential person who tried to do away with the seventh-day Sabbath was Marcion of Pontus (Tertullian. Against Marcion, Book IV, Chapter 12. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 3. Edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. American Edition, 1885). Irenaeus reported that Polycarp directly denounced Marcion (Irenaeus. Adversus Haereses. Book III, Chapter 3, Verse 4. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

Sabbath keeping continued with Polycarp (Life of Polycarp, Chapter 24) and centuries later (cf. Socrates Scholasticus. Ecclesiastical History, Book V, Chapter XXII. Excerpted from Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, Second Series, Volume 2. Edited by Philip Schaff and Henry Wace. American Edition, 1890). Notice also:

[T]here are many traces of continual Sabbath-keeping, especially among Greek-speaking churches in the East …  Christians in Smyrna were still keeping the Sabbath around 156 A.D. (Zivadinovic D. REVISED and CORRECTED “SABBATH in the EAST.” Andrews University, 2016).

Notice something about Polycarp and his teachings:

For he would extend his discourse to great length on diverse subjects, and from the actual Scripture which was read he would furnish edification with all demonstration and conviction …

And on the sabbath, when prayer had been made long time on bended knee, he, as was his custom, got up to read; and every eye was fixed upon him. Now the lesson was the Epistles of Paul (Life of Polycarp, Chapter 24. From J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, 1889, pp. 488-506)

As far as the original church services, Polycarp taught using actual scriptures and did so on the Sabbath (Saturday).

Let it also be pointed out, mistranslations aside, that early writings show that Ignatius of Antioch also kept the Sabbath (cf. Ignatius. Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chapters IV-V. Excerpted from Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1. Edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885.), as did other Church of God leaders like Polycarp of Smyrna and Theophilus of Antioch.

Passover on the 14th and the Days of Unleavened Bread

As a successor to the Apostle John, Polycarp kept Passover on the 14th of the month of Abib/Nisan, like the Jews did (Exodus 12:6,11).

Eusebius noted that in Polycarp’s region:

… the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Saviour’s Passover. (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book V, Chapter XXIII, Verse 1, p. 113)

An “older tradition” perhaps would be more accurately called the original practice of the apostles, which was also specifically done by Jesus (cf. Mark 14:12-25). Polycarp and his spiritual descendants continued the practices of the apostles in their area, who were known to have been Philip and John in the latter portion of the 1st century, but Paul earlier.

Yet during Polycarp’s time, Bishop of Rome Anicetus preferred Sunday. Irenaeus reported:

And when the blessed Polycarp was sojourning in Rome in the time of Anicetus, although a slight controversy had arisen among them as to certain other points … For neither could Anicetus persuade Polycarp to forego the observance [in his own way], inasmuch as these things had been always observed by John the disciple of our Lord, and by other apostles with whom he had been conversant; nor, on the other hand, could Polycarp succeed in persuading Anicetus to keep [the observance in his way], for he maintained that he was bound to adhere to the usage of the presbyters who preceded him. And in this state of affairs they held fellowship with each other; and Anicetus conceded to Polycarp in the Church the celebration of the Eucharist, by way of showing him respect (Irenaeus. FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson, editors; American Edition copyright © 1885).

Polycarp told the one that many now consider to have been “the pope,” no.  This also shows that Rome did not have dominion over the faithful as many now act like that it did.

Furthermore, consider that Anicetus acquiesced to having Passover service when Polycarp said to:

Anicetus’ acquiescence to Polycarp’ views concerning the Pascha … presumes an accepted representation of some ‘apostolic’ tradition in the latter. (Hartog p. 16)

Yes, Polycarp was recognized, even by the Bishop of Rome, as having major ecclesiastical standing. Polycarp did NOT keep what became Easter Sunday (nor did he or any early Christians observe Christmas nor most of the dates that the Greco-Roman-Protestant faiths observe).

That being said, this author does not agree with Irenaeus’ ‘spin’ (which may have been edited that way by Eusebius) that Polycarp and Anicetus were fine with each other with the difference. What Irenaeus was really saying was that the two held a Passover service together on the date Polycarp insisted. Scholars such as H. Wace and W.C. Piercy also concluded that Irenaeus was referring to a Passover service (Wace H, Piercy WC, eds. Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature to the End of the Sixth Century A.D., with an Account of the Principal Sects and Heresies. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. edition. ISBN: 1-56563-460-8 reprinted from the edition originally titled A Dictionary of Christian Biography and Literature, published by John Murray, London, 1911, reprint 1999).

What seems to have happened is that Anicetus realized that since Polycarp made it clear he was going to observe Passover on the 14th, if he wanted to be seen with Polycarp, he’d better do so. So, he did.

The idea that the Church of God in Asia Minor always kept Passover on the 14th was confirmed by Bishop Polycrates of Ephesus in the 190s A.D. when he wrote the following to the Roman Bishop Victor:

We observe the exact day; neither adding, nor taking away. For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord’s coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ‘We ought to obey God rather than man’ … I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Book V, Chapter XXIV, Verses 2-7. Translated by A. Cushman McGiffert. Digireads.com Publishing, Stilwell (KS), 2005, p. 114).

So, Polycrates declared that the Apostles in Asia Minor, and their successors, including Polycarp, kept Passover on the 14th according to the Gospel. As far as the day putting away leaven, that was a reference to what is done immediately prior to the Days of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:19).

Luke, a Gentile writing to another Gentile (Theophilus per Acts 1:1) refers to the Days of Unleavened Bread in Jerusalem (Acts 12:3) and the Gentile area of Philippi (Acts 20:6), without the need to explain what they were, which is consistent with the fact that early Christians would have kept them.

That is also consistent with the Pionius’ Life of Polycarp which says that the Apostle Paul told the faithful in Smyrna to keep Passover at the time of unleavened bread (Pionius. Life of Polycarp, Chapter 2. Translated by J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, 1889, pp .488-506).

31 Then the Jews, (because it was the parasceve,) that the bodies might not remain on the cross on the sabbath day, (for that was a great sabbath day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31, DRB)

31 Therefore, because it was the Preparation Day, that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. (John 19:31, OSB)

Notice a statement from the Martyrdom of Polycarp:

21:1 Now, the blessed Polycarp suffered martyrdom on the second day of the month Xanthicus just begun, the seventh day before the Kalends of May, on the great Sabbath, at the eighth hour.

Certain scholars, like Adolphus Hilgenfeld, have concluded that Polycarp was killed on the First Day of Unleavened Bread:

Hilgenfeld … adopts the day given by the Paschale Chronicle, vii Kal. April. …, so that Polycarp must have suffered on the 15th Nisan, i.e. on the First Day of Unleavened Bread. (Lightfoot JB. S. Ignatius. S. Polycarp: Revised Texts with Instructions, Notes, Dissertations, and Translations, Volume 1, 2nd edition. Macmillan, 1889. Original from the University of California Digitized Feb 1, 2012, p. 45)

Bucher … further calculates that in A.D. 169, March 26 coincided with Nisan 15, the First Day of Unleavened Bread. … In like manner, Ussher… adopts 169 as the year of the martyrdom and accepts the day as given in the Paschale Chronicle. (Ibid, p. 702)

This author does not believe that the martyrdom of Polycarp took place in February around Purim (like some claim) as the term ‘great Sabbath’ was not used for weekly Sabbaths that occurred that time of the year nor was Purim a Sabbath. Even Greco-Roman scholars like Mauricio Saavedra Monroy recognize that the Passover season is alluded to as the time in the Martyrdom (Monroy MS. The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community. Peter Lang edition, 2015, pp. 284, 318). Let it be mentioned that a martyrdom of 158 also coincides with the first Day of Unleavened Bread being on a Saturday.

So why the confusion on the date of his death?

There may also be a confusion here since the Macedonian month of Xanthicus corresponds to the Roman month of February, but also the month of April on the Syro-Macedonian calendar, widespread in the East (Monroy MS. The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community. Peter Lang edition, 2015, p. 280).

That being said, as testimony from Polycarp, Polycrates, and Apollonius demonstrate, they and the original apostles kept Passover on the 14th of Nisan.

The Days of Unleavened Bread and Pentecost were also kept as reports related to Polycrates and Polycarp, respectively, demonstrate.

There is a partially questionable book containing what seems to be fantasies, called The Life of Polycarp that is of some interestThis book, which seems to somewhat based on some truths in the second century, was changed–at least slightly–in or by the fourth century (other scholars agree with me that the text was tampered with after originally written. See Monroy MS. The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community. Peter Lang edition, 2015, p. 31). Yet, the Life of Polycarp contains some possibly helpful information about Polycarp.

For example, it specifically mentions the Sabbath, Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost, and the Last Great Day of the Feast of Tabernacles. And it endorses keeping them:

In the days of unleavened bread Paul, coming down from Galatia, arrived in Asia, considering the repose among the faithful in Smyrna to be a great refreshment in Christ Jesus after his severe toil, and intending afterwards to depart to Jerusalem. So in Smyrna he went to visit Strataeas, who had been his hearer in Pamphylia, being a son of Eunice the daughter of Lois. These are they of whom he makes mention when writing to Timothy, saying; Of the unfeigned faith that is in thee, which dwelt first in thy grandmother Lois and in thy mother Eunice; whence we find that Strataeas was a brother of Timothy. Paul then, entering his house and gathering together the faithful there, speaks to them concerning the Passover and the Pentecost, reminding them of the New Covenant of the offering of bread and the cup; how that they ought most assuredly to celebrate it during the days of unleavened bread, but to hold fast the new mystery of the Passion and Resurrection. For here the Apostle plainly teaches that we ought neither to keep it outside the season of unleavened bread, as the heretics do, especially the Phrygians … but named the days of unleavened bread, the Passover, and the Pentecost, thus ratifying the Gospel (Pionius. Life of Polycarp, Chapter 2. Translated by J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers, vol. 3.2, 1889, pp.488-506).

What must one say, when even He that was gentler than all men so appeals and cries out at the feast of Tabernacles? For it is written; And on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried saying, If any man thirsteth, let him come to Me and drink (Chapter 19).

And on the sabbath, when prayer had been made long time on bended knee, he, as was his custom, got up to read; and every eye was fixed upon him. Now the lesson was the Epistles of Paul to Timothy and to Titus, in which he says what manner of man a bishop ought to be. And he was so well fitted for the office that the hearers said one to another that he lacked none of those qualities which Paul requires in one who has the care of a church. When then, after the reading and the instruction of the bishops and the discourses of the presbyters, the deacons were sent to the laity to enquire whom they would have, they said with one accord, ‘Let Polycarp be our pastor and teacher’ (Chapter 22).

And on the following sabbath he said; ‘Hear ye my exhortation, beloved children of God…’ (Chapter 24).

Hence, there is an ancient document that claims that Polycarp did keep the Sabbath and the Holy Days (of course, other ancient documents, support this–see also the free book Should You Keep God’s Holy Days or Demonic Holidays?). And there would have been no reason for Greco-Roman supporters in the 4th century to change the document to indicate that he did so, hence The Life of Polycarp does claim that Polycarp kept the Sabbath and the Holy Days (yet, there are reasons to believe that one or more added information about Sunday, hence that is one reason that I consider that The Life of Polycarp was tampered with).

That being said, Polycarp of Smyrna in the 2nd century and certain others in Asia Minor in the late 4th century kept the Feast of Tabernacles and Passover in Asia Minor, not Jerusalem. This is confirmed by sources such as the Catholic saint Jerome (Migne JP Argumentum Patrologia Latina Volumen MPL025 Ab Columna ad Culumnam 1415 – 1542A, pp. 922, 930) and research done by the 20th century Cardinal Danielou (Danielou, Cardinal Jean-Guenole-Marie. The Theology of Jewish Christianity. Translated by John A. Baker. The Westminister Press, 1964, pp. 345-346).

Furthermore, notice the following relating to the death penalty for Quartodecimans (people who kept Passover on the 14th of Nisan/Abib):

Edicts of Theodosius against the heretics, A.D. 380-394…Theodosius…decreed that…by the death of the offender; and the same capital punishment was inflicted on the Audians, or Quartodecimans, who should dare to perpetrate the atrocious crime of celebrating on an improper day the festival (Gibbon E. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Volume III, Chapter XXVII. ca. 1776-1788).

Theodosius was a Greco-Roman Catholic, was endorsed by the Greco-Roman churches, and killed people for following Polycarp’s (as well as others’) example of keeping Passover on the 14th of Nisan.

The non-violent Polycarp was NOT their type of catholic.

Taught the Bible over Tradition

In the late 2nd century, Irenaeus reported:

Polycarp related all things in harmony with the Scriptures. (Eusebius. The History of the Church. Book V, Chapter XX, verse 6c. Digireads, Stilwel, KS, p. 112)

But Polycarp also was not only instructed by apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also, by apostles in Asia, appointed bishop of the Church in Smyrna … always taught the things which he had learned from the apostles, and which the Church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time … (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 3, Verse 4)

So, it was written that Polycarp did related all things in harmony with scripture as did those who succeeded him in Asia Minor into the early 3rd century.

Polycarp condemned those who accepted human traditions above the Bible. Sadly, he found that by his time, many had:

For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist, and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross {stauros}, is of the devil; and whosoever perverts the oracles of the Lord to his own lusts, and says that there is neither a resurrection nor a judgment, he is the first-born of Satan. Wherefore, forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning. (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians, Chapter VII)

The Eastern Orthodox state the following in a ceremony about Polycarp:

As a sharer of the ways and a successor to the throne of the Apostles, O inspired of God, thou foundest discipline to be a means of ascent to divine vision. Wherefore, having rightly divided the word of truth, thou didst also contest for the Faith even unto blood, O Hieromartyr Polycarp …  This apostolic and prophetic man, and model of faith and truth, was a disciple of John the Evangelist (Polycarp the Holy Martyr & Bishop of Smyrna. Greek Archdiocese of America. https://www.goarch.org/chapel/saints?contentid=439 viewed 01/21/21).

Bishop/Pastor Polycarp was a faithful saint who rightly divided the word of truth—meaning he properly understood the Bible. He was a martyr and also refused to accept the traditions as accepted by the Bishops of Rome, like an Easter Sunday Passover (FRAGMENTS FROM THE LOST WRITINGS OF IRENAEUS, Chapter 3. Translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. © 1885).

Millennium

COG leader Papias is consider a saint by Greco-Romans and the CCOG. Notice the following:

These things are attested by Papias, an ancient man who was a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp … there will be a period of some thousand years after the resurrection of the dead, and that the kingdom of Christ will be set up in material form on this very earth. (Eusebius. The History of the Church, Chapter XXXIX, Digireads, 2005, pp. 68-69)

This would be consistent with the view that Polycarp would have held millennial views.

Despite being an original catholic belief, the millennium was formally condemned by the Greco-Romans at the Council of Constantinople in 381. However, it should be pointed out that some descendants of those churches (particularly among branches of the Eastern/Russian Orthodox) still hold to a version of the original millennial teaching.

Here is a writing from the Eastern Orthodox:

CHILIASM: Chiliasm, from the Greek word meaning “1000,” is a belief based on Revelation 20:2-7. In its classical form (which interprets the Revelation 20 verses verbatim), Chiliasm teaches that Satan will be bound by Christ for 1000 years, at which time Jesus and the Saints will reign on earth, and after which, Satan will be finally defeated and the Eternal Kingdom of God will be inaugurated. In modern times, Chiliasm has been “boiled down” to the teaching that the world will end after one thousand years (or a number of years that is a multiple of one thousand). Though some Ancient Church Fathers of the first three centuries AD had Chiliast leanings, the Orthodox Church formally denounced Chiliasm at the Second Ecumenical Council, in 381. The Church maintains that the 1000 year reign mentioned in Revelation 20 is symbolic of the era of the Christian Church’s ministry in this fallen world, which shall come to its completion at a time unknown to all but God the Father. (Orthodox Christian Beliefs and Practices. © 2006-2007 Ukrainian Orthodox Church of Canada. http://www.uocc.ca/en-ca/faith/beliefs/ 09/24/14).

In other words, Orthodox Church scholars know that early Christian leaders, which it calls, “Ancient Church Fathers” taught chiliasm (called millenarianism in Latin), yet it CHANGED that teaching AND CONDEMNED it in a church council and now think it is somehow symbolic (note: Many Russian and American Orthodox still teach the millennium, see Some Similarities and Differences Between the Orthodox Church and the Continuing Church of God).

Notice that the following Roman Catholic priest admitted that the Apostle John believed in a thousand year reign. First he mentions chapter 20 (XX) of the Apocalypse (the Book of Revelation) as well as what he believes the Apostle John believed:

Chapter XX. relates to the expulsion of Satan from the world for 1,000 years…

In St. John’s outlook, however, the end of the world could not have been included the “hour of temptation”, because a thousand years must intervene between the days of Antichrist and the end of the world (Kramer H.B. L. The Book of Destiny.  Nihil Obstat: J.S. Considine, O.P., Censor Deputatus.  Imprimatur: +Joseph M. Mueller, Bishop of Sioux City, Iowa, January 26, 1956.  Reprint TAN Books, Rockford (IL), pp. 24,101).

As I am unaware of any 1,000 years where Satan was gone from the world, the fact that the Bible teaches the 1,000 years, and the fact that the last living Apostle (John) believed in the 1,000 years, I believe that those three points should be sufficient evidence to anybody who wants to believe God that the 1,000 years is literal and still to happen.

The Catholic Encyclopedia notes:

The fundamental idea of millenarianism, as understood by Christian writers, may be set forth as follows: At the end of time Christ will return in all His splendour to gather together the just, to annihilate hostile powers, and to found a glorious kingdom on earth for the enjoyment of the highest spiritual and material blessings; He Himself will reign as its king, and all the just, including the saints recalled to life, will participate in it … The duration of this glorious reign of Christ and His saints on earth, is frequently given as one thousand years. Hence it is commonly known as the “millennium”, while the belief in the future realization of the kingdom is called “millenarianism” (or “chiliasm”, from the Greek chilia, scil. ete)…

…a large number of Christians of the post-Apostolic era, particularly in Asia Minor, yielded so far to Jewish apocalyptic as to put a literal meaning into these descriptions of St. John’s Apocalypse; the result was that millenarianism spread and gained staunch advocates not only among the heretics but among the Catholic Christians as well…

Bishop Papias of Hierapolis, a disciple of St. John, appeared as an advocate of millenarianism. He claimed to have received his doctrine from contemporaries of the Apostles, and Irenaeus narrates that other “Presbyteri”, who had seen and heard the disciple John, learned from him the belief in millenarianism as part of the Lord’s doctrine. According to Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., 111, 39) Papias in his book asserted that the resurrection of the dead would be followed by one thousand years of a visible glorious earthly kingdom of Christ, and according to Irenaeus (Adv. Haereses, V, 33), he taught that the saints too would enjoy a superabundance of earthly pleasures…

St. Irenaeus of Lyons, a native of Asia Minor, influenced by the companions of St. Polycarp, adopted millenarian ideas, discussing and defending them in his works against the Gnostics (Adv. Haereses, V, 32)…

A witness for the continued belief in millenarianism in the province of Asia is St. Melito, Bishop of Sardes in the second century…

Gnosticism rejected millenarianism. In Asia Minor, the principal seat of millenarian teachings, the so-called Alogi rose up against millenarianism as well as against Montanism, but they went too far in their opposition, rejecting not only the Apocalypse of St. John, alleging Cerinthus as its author, but his Gospel also…

In the West, the millenarian expectations of a glorious kingdom of Christ and His just, found adherents for a long time. The poet Commodian (Instructiones, 41, 42, 44) as well as Lactantius (Institutiones, VII) proclaim the millennial realm and describe its splendour…

Moreover, the attitude of the Church towards the secular power had undergone a change with closer connection between her and the Roman empire. There is no doubt that this turn of events did much towards weaning the Christians from the old millenarianism (Kirsch J.P. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. Millennium and Millenarianism. The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume X. Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company. Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1911. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York).

Yet, even though they know that opposition to millenarianism really came from Gnostics and other Alogi heretics (the Alogi-means against the word–the word of God, that is), scholars of the Catholic Church also teach against this.

The Roman Catholic Church, in spite of the fact that it admits that many of its claimed early saints taught the millennium, now strongly condemns this belief. Notice:

676 The Antichrist’s deception already begins to take shape in the world every time the claim is made to realize within history that messianic hope which can only be realized beyond history through the eschatological judgment. The Church has rejected even modified forms of this falsification of the kingdom to come under the name of millenarianism, especially the “intrinsically perverse” political form of a secular messianism. (Catechism of the Catholic Church. Imprimatur Potest +Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger. Doubleday, NY 1995, p. 194).

It should be noted that the millennial teaching appears to be the only doctrine associated with Antichrist that is condemned in the current official Catechism of the Catholic Church (which is the first new one in hundreds of years). The one that has the imprimatur of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger who is now called Pope Emeritus and was Pope Benedict XVI.

Hence, since Polycarp held what the Vatican is calling an Antichrist doctrine, Polycarp obviously was not a Roman catholic.

Apocatastasis

The Catholic Encyclopedia teaches:

Apocatastasis A name given in the history of theology to the doctrine which teaches that a time will come when all free creatures will share in the grace of salvation; in a special way, the … lost souls. (Batiffol P. Apocatastasis. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907)

In the early 2nd century, Bishop/Pastor Ignatius of Antioch exhorted Bishop/Pastor Polycarp of Smyrna to teach that all may be saved:

I entreat you, by the grace with which you are clothed, to press forward in your course, and to exhort all that they may be saved. (Ignatius. Letter to Polycarp, Chapter 1).

Notice the teaching “to exhort ALL that they may be saved.” Not only the Jews. Not only some Gentiles. Not only those who are called in this age.

Many do not understand that today. Related to it we have a free online book: Universal OFFER of Salvation, Apokatastasis: Can God save the lost in an age to come? Hundreds of scriptures reveal God’s plan of salvation.

In the 2nd century, Polycarp wrote of “the prophetic mystery of the coming of Christ” (Polycarp, Fragments from Victor of Capua. Translated by Stephen C. Carlson, 2006). There was a mystery about God’s plan that many still do not understand (see also our free online book, available at www.ccog.org, titled The MYSTERY of GOD’s PLAN: Why Did God Create Anything? Why Did God Make You?).

Ten Commandments

Jesus and the Apostles kept the Ten Commandments.

In his Letter to the Philippians, Polycarp repeatedly taught that Christians should keep the commandments (chapters 2,4,5, & 11). Notice:

He who raised Him up from the dead will raise up us also, if we do His will, and walk in His commandments, and love what He loved, keeping ourselves from all unrighteousness, covetousness … Knowing, then, that “God is not mocked,” we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory. … “neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God,” nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming. … The virgins also must walk in a blameless and pure conscience. …  If a man does not keep himself from covetousness, he shall be defiled by idolatry, and shall be judged as one of the heathen. But who of us are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord?

Unlike various Protestants, Polycarp and all early faithful Christians believed that they should keep the Ten Commandments.

A free online book is available: The Ten Commandments: The Decalogue, Christianity, and the Beast.

On the Ministry

Related to elders in the ministry, Polycarp wrote:

And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always “providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man ; ” abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and “we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself.” Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence, even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offence, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error (Polycarp, Chapter VI. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

It may be of interest to note that the term sacraments is not part of Polycarp’s description (nor is that term in the New Testament). This does not mean that elders and pastors did not baptize or perform marriages (which took a relatively small part of their time) for example, but does indicate that sacramental duties were not the focus of church leaders in the first and second centuries.

Notice also:

Now the lesson was the Epistles of Paul to Timothy and to Titus, in which he says what manner of man a bishop ought to be. And he was so well fitted for the office that the hearers said one to another that he lacked none of those qualities which Paul requires in one who has the care of a church. (Life of Polycarp, Chapter 22).

The epistles of Paul to Timothy and Titus focus on the character of the ministry and do focus on what some may be considered sacramental duties.

Polycarp’s focus, when speaking at church services, was messages from the Bible.

Warned Against False Teachers

Polycarp warned against false teachers and the emerging ecumenical confederation of his day:

Polycarp in his letter To the Philippians . . . invites his recipients to abandon the vanity of the multitude and their false doctrines (τάς ψευδιδασκαλίας), to return to the word that was transmitted from the beginning … (Monroy MS. The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community. Peter Lang edition, 2015)

By warning about “the vanity of the multitude,” Polycarp was admonishing the Church of God to be separate. And a distance, a separation, occurred throughout history. Both Polycrates of Ephesus and Serapion of Antioch were witnesses to this separation into the third century.

Sadly, most of “the many” who claim that Polycarp was a saint of their faith do not have the same teachings or practices that Polycarp did. Nor will they keep “the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning” (cf. Jude 3).

Godhead

Although some lay people have claimed that Polycarp held a trinitarian view of the Godhead, there are no quotes from him, nor early quotes about him, that support that claim.

Actually, the existing evidence is to the contrary.

Polycarp of Smyrna wrote:

But may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Son of God, and our everlasting High Priest, build you up in faith and truth, and in all meekness, gentleness, patience, long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and may He bestow on you a lot and portion among His saints, and on us with you, and on all that are under heaven, who shall believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ, and in His Father, who “raised Him from the dead (Polycarp. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1 as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885. Chapter 12 modified by B. Thiel to correct omission in translation).

For whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, is antichrist (Polycarp, Chapter VII. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

Him who died for us, and for our sakes was raised again by God from the dead (Polycarp, Chapter IX. Letter to the Philippians. From Ante-Nicene Fathers, Volume 1as edited by Alexander Roberts & James Donaldson. American Edition, 1885).

Even scholars like the Greco-Roman Mauricio Saavedra Monroy recognize that Polycarp made binitarian statements:

As for the binitarian confessional formula, which confesses the Father and the Son, we likewise find examples in Polycarp and Ignatius. (Monroy MS. The Church of Smyrna: History and Theology of a Primitive Christian Community. Peter Lang edition, 2015, p. 292)

Furthermore, consider that in the 4th century the Orthodox Catholic bishop Marcellus of Ancyra wrote:

Now with the heresy of the Ariomaniacs, which has corrupted the Church of God … These then teach three hypostases, just as Valentinus the heresiarch first invented in the book entitled by him ‘On the Three Natures’.  For he was the first to invent three hypostases and three persons of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and he is discovered to have filched this from Hermes and Plato (Logan A. Marcellus of Ancyra (Pseudo-Anthimus), ‘On the Holy Church’: Text, Translation and Commentary. Verses 8-9.  Journal of Theological Studies, NS, Volume 51, Pt. 1, April 2000, p.95).

This is relevant here because Polycarp denounced Valentinus’ teachings and turned people away from him (Irenaeus. Adversus Haeres. Book III, Chapter 3, Verse 4).

The following quote attributed to Polycarp shows that he (and thus by inference the rest of Smyrna) was not unitarian:

Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal High-priest Himself, the [Son of] God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth, and in all gentleness and in all avoidance of wrath and in forbearance and long suffering and in patient endurance and in purity; and may He grant unto you a lot and portion among His saints, and to us with you, and to all that are under heaven, who shall believe on our Lord and God Jesus Christ and on His Father (The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians in APOSTOLIC FATHERS (as translated by J.B. LIGHTFOOT) 12:6,7).

It probably should be noted that Dr. Lightfoot left out “Son of” in his translation, which is in the Latin. It should also be pointed out that there is another translation of this section by Roberts and Donaldson in Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol, 1 which omitted the term “God” before Jesus Christ, but this author verified that the term “deum” is in the Latin version of this epistle {the original Greek versions did not survive pass chapter 10}. Dr. Lightfoot’s translation “our Lord and God Jesus Christ” is a literal translation of the Latin “dominum nostrum et deum Iesum Christum.” The University of Notre Dame Latin Dictionary and Grammar Aid states “deus -i m. [a god , deity].” The term “deum” is the masculine accusatory form of the word “deus.” Since traditional unitarians do not call Jesus God, it appears clear that Polycarp clearly was not one of them. Furthermore, he did not ever call the Holy Spirit “God.”

Polycarp held a binitarian view of the Godhead, taught contrary to Unitarianism, and denounced an apostate who was claimed to be the first to teach the trinitarian view of three hypostasis.

In Summary

Polycarp was the Bishop/Pastor in charge of the Church of God in Smyrna–the first church that was addressed as the ‘catholic church’ in the earliest Christian literature.

Polycarp was not baptized as an infant, and looks to have been martyred when he was about 104 years of age.

Polycarp was a successor to the apostles.

Polycarp knew the books of the New Testament as he learned the canon from the Apostle John.

Polycarp taught the Ten Commandments.

Polycarp related all teachings with scripture and did not believe tradition should override scripture.

Polycarp kept the seventh-day Sabbath.

Polycarp kept Passover on the 14th of Nisan.

Polycarp kept the biblical holy days–which basically the Greco-Roman-Protestants do not.

Polycarp did not keep Christmas, Easter, or most other days observed by the Greco-Roman-Protestants.

Polycarp taught the kingdom of God.

Polycarp believed in the millennial reign.

Polycarp had a binitarian view of the Godhead.

Polycarp was essentially a COG, not Roman, type of original catholic.

That being said, the Continuing Church of God has laying on of hands succession from the apostles through Polycarp through this present day (a detailed list is in the free book Beliefs of the Original Catholic Church). It also has the same basic beliefs, practices, and teachings that Polycarp and those of the original catholic church held.

Polycarp was a heretic fighter. He heeded Jude’s admonishment to:

3 … contend for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3, Original RNT).

Will you?

Here is a link to a related sermon: What Type of Catholic was Polycarp of Smyrna?