THE EPISTLE OF SAINT POLYCARP.

1

THE Epistle of Polycarp was written in reply to a communication from the Philippians. They had invited him to address words of exhortation to them (§ 3); they had requested him to forward by his own messenger the letter which they had addressed to the Syrian Church (§ 13); and they had asked him to send them any epistles of Ignatius which he might have in his hands (ib.).

    This epistle is intimately connected with the letters and martyrdom of Ignatius himself. The Philippians had recently welcomed and escorted on their way certain saints who were in bonds (§ 1). From a later notice in the epistle it appears that Ignatius was one of these (§ 9) Two others besides are mentioned by name, Zosimus and Rufus (ib.). A not improbable conjecture makes these persons Bithynian Christians who had been sent by Pliny to Rome to be tried there and had joined Ignatius at Philippi. In this case they would be placed under the same escort with Ignatius, and proceed with him to Rome in the custody of the ‘ten leopards’ (Ign. Rom. 5). It is clear that Ignatius—probably by word of mouth—had given to the Philippians the same injunction which he gave to the churches generally (Philad. 10, Smyrn. 11, Polyc. 7), that they should send letters, and (where possible) representatives also, to congratulate the Church of Antioch on the restoration of peace. Hence the request of the Philippians, seconded by Ignatius himself, that Polycarp would forward their letter to Syria. It is plain likewise, that they had heard, either from Ignatius himself or from those about him, of the epistles which he had addressed to the Churches of Asia Minor, more especially to Smyrna. Hence their further petition that Polycarp would send them such of these letters as were in his possession. The visit of Ignatius had been recent—so recent indeed, that Polycarp, though he assumes that saint has suffered martyrdom, is yet without any certain knowledge of the fact. He therefore asks the Philippians, who are some stages nearer to Rome than Smyrna, to communicate to him any information which they may have received respecting the saint and his companions (§ 13).

    Beyond these references to Ignatius there is not much of personal matter in the letter. Polycarp refers to S. Paul's communications with the Philippians, both written and oral (§§ 3, 11). He mentions the fame of the Philippian Church in the primitive days of the Gospel, and he congratulates them on sustaining their early reputation (§§ 1, 11). Incidentally he states that the Philippians were converted to the Gospel before the Smyrnæans (§ 11)—a statement which entirely accords the notices of the two churches in the New Testament.

    The fair fame of the Philippian Church however had been sullied by the sin of one unworthy couple. Valens and his wife—the Ananias and Sapphira of the Philippian community—had been guilty of some act of greed, perhaps of fraud and dishonesty. Valens was one of presbyters, and thus the church was more directly responsible for his crime. Polycarp expresses himself much grieved. Though the incident itself is only mentioned in one passage, it has plainly made a impression on him. The sin of avarice is denounced again andagain in the body of the letter (§§ 2, 4, 6, 11).

    The letter is sent by the hand of one Crescens. The sister of Crescens also, who purposes visiting Philippi, is commended to them (§ 14).

2

The authorities for the text are as follows.

(1) GREEK MANUSCRIPTS (G). These are nine in number (Vaticanus 859 [v], 0ttobonianus 348 [o], Florentinus Laur. vii. 21 [f], Parisiensis Graec. 937 [p], Casanatensis G. V. 14 [c], Theatinus [t], Neapolitanus Mus. Nat. II. A. 17 [n], Salmasianus [s], Andrius [a]), and all belong to the same family, as appears from the fact that the Epistle of Polycarp runs on continuously into the Epistle of Barnabas without any break, the mutilated ending of Polycarp § 9 avpoqano,nta kai. diV h`ma/j u`po. being followed by the mutilated beginning of Barnabas § 5 to.n lao.n to.n kaino.n k)t)l) Within this family however the MSS fall into two subdivisions: (1) vopf all MSS in which the Epistle of Polycarp is attached to the pseudo-Ignatian letters; and (2) ctna (to which we may probably add s), where it stands alone. In the first subdivision, opf have no independent authority, being derived directly or indirectly from v. Of the two subdivisions the former is slightly superior to the latter.

(2) LATIN VERSION (L). In the earlier part of the epistle this version is sometimes useful for correcting the text of the extant Greek MSS; for, though very paraphrastic, it was made from an older form of the Greek than these.  But the two are closely allied, as appears from the fact that this version is always found in connexion with the Latin of the pseudo-Ignatian letters and seems to have been translated from the same volume which contained them. For the latter part of the epistle, from § 10 onward, it is the sole authority; with the exception of portions of § 12, which are preserved in Syriac in passages of Timotheus and Severus or elsewhere, and nearly the whole of § 13, which is given by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History. The MSS of which collations have been made for this part either by myself or by others are nine in number (Reginensis 81 [r], Trecensis 412 [t], Pansiensis 1639, formerly Colbertinus 1039 [c], Bruxellensis 5510 [b], Oxon. Balliolensis 229 [o], Palatinus 150 [p], Florentinus Laur. xxiii. 20 [f], Vindobonensis 1068 [v], Oxon. Magdalenensis 78 [m]).

It will have been seen that, so far as regards the Greek and Latin MSS, the Epistle of Polycarp is closely connected with the Long Recension of the Ignatian Epistles. This fact, if it had stood by itself, would have thrown some discredit on the integrity of the text. It might have been suspected that the same hand which interpolated the Ignatian Epistles had tampered with this also. But the internal evidence, and especially the allusiveness of the references to the Ignatian Epistles, is decisive in favour of its genuineness. As regards external evidence, not only does Irenæus, a pupil of Polycarp, allude to ‘the very adequate epistle of Polycarp written to the Philippians,’ but the quotations of Eusebius, Timotheus, and Severus, with the other Syriac fragments, are a highly important testimony. They show that, wherever we have opportunity of testing the text of the Greek and Latin copies, its general integrity is vindicated.