Faith of Our Fathers

Faith of Our Fathers

The Character of Polycarp: Second Century

Written by Bill Burkett

The last half of the second century was a time of tremendous crisis for the church. Two heresies (departures from truth) became a serious threat to apostolic teaching. They were gnosticism and Montanism.

One went so far as to deny that Christ even appeared on earth. Ridiculous humanist concepts of Christ were springing up everywhere. One group of gnostics taught that Christ was seen and observed but was a mirage and not in the flesh.

These teachings were blatant contradictions of the apostles writings. These evil men simply did not respect the writings of the apostles and became authority unto themselves.

Montanism taught that the Holy Spirit did not come on the day of Pentecost as scripture records, but that the Holy Spirit was now (AD 180) to be given and that the end of the world was at hand. The church was being inundated with many new and false teachings. (Does that sound familiar?)

Constantinople in that time was a very rich shipping port. A man by the name of Marcion was among those who made a fortune in that enterprise. Marcion became a Christian and fell in among the gnostics who held many teachings that were contrary to scripture.

As time went on, Marcion sold his shipping business in Constantinople and moved to Rome becoming one of the leading teachers of gnostic ideas in the church there with many followers. He made large gifts of money to the needy and became a leading figure in the false teachings of gnosticism.

In every age of the church, God has chosen men and movements to stand up against devilish heresies that threaten to corrupt the church. The character of these men who stood for the truth of scripture in the church’s early history was of a very special caliber.

Christianity was in it’s small beginning and growing fast but not liked by powerful elements within the government and the popular religious power structures. Philosophers, heretics and heathen apologists came against the church with fury and persecution.

It was about this time that the great converted philosopher, Justin, was martyred at Rome. This served notice on the church that it was living in peril by holding to the teachings of the Nazarene. The Apostolic Fathers stood firm.

The church was being dangerously threatened by enemies within and without.

About this time, Polycarp had moved from the region of Constantinople to Smyrna where he became the bishop (senior pastor) of the church. Polycarp was a staunch champion of the faith, fully embracing the teaching of scriptures. Before moving to Smyrna from the East, he knew Marcian there and probably his Father also.

But these two men, Polycarp and Marcian, took two very different courses in their faith. Polycarp, a Father of the faith; Marcian a spoiler and heretic though rich and influential.

Polycarp, while living in Smyrna, paid a visit to Rome. Marcion and Polycarp met during that visit. Several of Marcion’s men were with him. Marcion knew that if the godly Polycarp would approve him, it would give him more power and influence over the church.

Marcion kept urging Polycarp to be more tolerant and fellowship with their people, Polycarp would not submit. There was only silence from him.

Finally Marcion cried out to Polycarp, “Recognize us Polycarp, recognize us!”

Polycarp said, “I recognize you, you are the firstborn of Satan.”

If it were not for the firm character of our church Fathers, what would have happened to the early church being overridden with powerful and persuasive teachers of false doctrine? The answer is, the same thing that will happen today if the Polycarps do not return!


  1. Princess Reply
    Were you one of the guys who got their feet-washed last week? I know it's obvious, but that also was done dreictly by the Lord both out of love and as an example. The canticle we used for Sunday night Vespers during Lent (1 Peter 2:21-24) Is also specific in setting out an example to be followed and is most specifically priestly, in that it describes what led to his sacrifice (He did no wrong, no deceit was found in His mouth) His behavior in the time of his Passion (When He was insulted, He returned no insult. When He was made to suffer, He did not counter with threats.) and His part in the sacrifice itself. (He delivered Himself up to the One Who judges justly.) Though it is valid for all Christians, it is certainly most true for priests. Genuine renewal comes from the imitation of Christ Who gives a new law of love figured on His love, not merely to love the other as you love yourself , but as I have loved you. In contrast to His challenge to those in authority is his acknowledgement of their authority ( They have taken their place on the chair of Moses, therefore do and observe all they command. ) His love for them even to the extremity of forgiving them and making excuses for them while they murder Him. ( Father, forgive them, they do not know what they are doing. ) and His own literal living out in His Passion of all the woes He had previously condemned them with. Christ felt very much one with humanity, specifically with those who were killing Him, as He hung upon the cross. They set Him up as someone outside the law, outside their community, and accomplished their desire to make Him even outside of the living, but He found unity with them in this moment. He did not take the false identity they gave, but refused to define Himself against His enemies, but rather, for them, and for us. He obeyed them even in their injustice, and went to the cross.To desire reform in the Church is not a bad thing at all, but the path to reform, personal or ecclesial, is to endure the cross, particularly the bearing of that which is unreformed in our view. So it is that no one who is a rival of the Church can ever serve to reform the Church, but only the one who lays down his life for the Church, like her Divine Spouse.

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