St. Polycarp of Smyrna AD 69-155
Most people have probably heard the story of the gospel; about Jesus Christ and his life, death and resurrection. And I would bet that many of those who know about Jesus also know about those he sent; the Apostles and their successors like Paul of Tarsis. But this is where the Sacred Scriptures end in the telling of history. How many know of that next generation that came after the Apostles?
One of those people is in fact St Polycarp of Smyrna. Tradition tells us that he was a disciple of the Apostle John, that he wrote epistles (one of which still survives), that he was Bishop in Smyrna and that he was martyred on Feb 23 in the year 155… give or take a few years. Polycarp is also known as one of the Chief Apostolic Fathers, and shares this title with St. Clement and St. Ignatius.
One of the most interesting things about ancient people is their name, and when I hear of strange old names I like to go and look up their meanings. Polycarp is a name that comes from two greek words poly (many/much) and carp (fruit). So basically his name means fruitful, or one who bears much fruit. A fitting name for a man who helped to carry the torch from the hands of the very Apostles. And it seems that his name probably found fulfilment in his life. He was known for his stance on orthodoxy and is said to have converted many from the early gnostic sects that were forming.
St. Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians leaves us with a plethora of quotes from what would become the New Testament. His usage of these provided evidence that he was familiar with and accepted as Sacred Scripture most of the books of the New Testament. He also quotes the Hebrew Scriptures and Deutero-Canonicals (apocrypha) which were part of the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Jewish Sacred Scriptures used by the early church.
This may be the most important aspect of his transitional position, connecting the Apostles with the church of the second century and later. When the time arose to compile and canonize the New Testament, in the 4th century, the tradition the church relied on for their decision starts right after the apostles with the testimonies of people like Polycarp. This is after all what tradition means as the church uses the term, the handing down of information from primary sources through the generations that followed. The closing of the New Testament canon, as well as the accepting the books contained in the Septuagint, wasn’t a blind decision made on a whim, but was an appeal to what they understood as coming from those who lived before; what books or epistles, were handed down from the start, even from the men who sat at the apostle’s feet. Seeing that Polycarp quoted many of these books supports their early acceptance among the church as well as demonstrates they were written early enough to be of apostolic origin as opposed to a later forgery.