Polycarp of Smyrna

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Polycarp of Smyrna ( ancient Greek Πολύκαρπος ὁ Σμυρναῖος Polycarpos ho Smyrnaios , German ' Polycarp of Smyrna ' ; * around 69; † around 155 in Smyrna ) was bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor (today Izmir in Turkey ) in the 2nd century . He is counted among the Apostolic Fathers .

The name Polycarp means "the one who brings much fruit". Polycarp's life data are not exactly secured. Tradition has it that he was 86 years old at the time of his death. He was probably executed by the Romans in 155. He is also called the “destroyer of the pagan gods ”.

Apostolic Father and Bishop

Church tradition sees Polycarp as an apostolic father, i.e. someone who personally knew the original apostles from the time of Jesus of Nazareth . Irenaeus of Lyons narrates that Polycarp was appointed bishop of Smyrna by the apostle John , whereas the writings of Ignatius of Antioch and Papias of Hierapolis point to John the presbyter . The assumption of a monarchical bishopric as early as the 1st century contradicts the sources - even in the 1st letter of Clement there are only references to elders, but no reference to a monarchical bishop.

The sources

The Apostolic Constitution from the 4th century names an Ariston as the first, Strataeas , the son of Lois, as the second and another Ariston as the third Bishop of Smyrna. The life of Polycarp , a compilation of older writings concerning Polycarp, from the 4th century, is known to Strataeas as the first bishop after Paul was in Smyrna, followed by Ariston. Bucolus was then the predecessor of Polycarp.

The report of Irenaeus

Irenäus von Lyon (* around 135; † around 200) writes in his work Adversus haereses (2.22.5; 3.3.4) against the Gnostics about Polycarp. He was told by the apostle John shortly before his death during the reign of Trajan (98-117) and installed as bishop of Smyrna. Irenaeus describes himself as a disciple of Polycarps, who taught him about the apostles in his childhood (letter to Florinus, quoted in Euseb's Church History 5: 20: 5-6).

Tertullian (* 160; † around 225) also mentions the appointment of Polycarps as bishop of Smyrna by the apostle John ( Against the Heretics , 32); however, his report is based on that of Irenaeus.

Reports of Ignatius

Ignatius of Antioch visited Asia Minor and Smyrna around the time when John died there according to Irenaeus' report. In his letter from Smyrna to Ephesus, however, he only mentions the apostle Paul, who died a long time ago, but not the apostle John or Polycarp. Polycarp himself was known to Ignatius personally, as is evident from Ignatius' letter to Polycarp . Polycarp is also mentioned in the letter of Ignatius to the Magnesians and that to the Ephesians .

Papias report

Irenaeus ( Adversus hereses 5,33,4) writes that Papias of Hierapolis was a companion of Polycarp. A report by Papias himself has been preserved in parts in the church history of Eusebius. In this (3,39,4) Papias distinguishes between the apostle John and the presbyter John. He writes of the former as well as other apostles in the past tense; therefore it is believed that there were no apostles left at that time. On the other hand, he knows John the presbyter and an Aristion in the present tense ; the latter can be identified with the Bishop Smyrnas of the same name.


As Bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp met in Rome in 155 with Anicetus , the Bishop of Rome , to clarify questions about the date of Easter . The Eastern Church celebrated Easter on the Jewish festival of Passover , regardless of the day of the week ( Quartodecimans ). The western church, on the other hand, celebrated Easter on the first Sunday after Passover. The Easter festival dispute was not settled at that time; both sides kept their practice.

When he returned, Polycarp was arrested. He stood by his faith, and at the request of the proconsul Quadratus to deny Christianity, he even offered him an appointment for instruction in the Christian faith - if he was interested. Finally, it was performed in the circus for popular amusement. The proconsul refused to have Polycarp mangled by animals because this part of the program had already ended, but he allowed Polycarp to be burned. The people immediately took this into their own hands; In the midst of the cheering crowd, he was burned at the stake at the age of 86. According to legend, the flames could not harm him, a fragrance rose from the pyre. After all, Polycarp had to be stabbed with a dagger.

The circumstances surrounding his death are related to the martyrdom of Polycarp from the 2nd century, which is addressed by the community in Smyrna to that in Philomelium . The martyrdom of Polycarp enjoyed great popularity and dissemination in the early Church. As one of the few contemporary descriptions (eyewitness accounts) of persecution of Christians in the 2nd century , this text is also of historical interest.


Polycarp is viewed as a martyr by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and recognized as a saint . Relics of the saint are on the high altar of the church of Sant'Ambrogio della Massima .

Remembrance day


A number of letters from Polycarp to neighboring parishes were known in the early church. Today, however, only his letter to the Philippians remains , in which he refers to the Philippians and emphasizes Paul's importance for the Church. The letter contains the representation of the teaching of the incarnation and death of Christ (against the heresy of the docetes ). The letter also contains all sorts of admonitions about right faith and Christian conduct and instills obedience to the presbyters and deacons. He does not refer to his vocation as bishop by John or its importance in Asia Minor. This may show a preference for Pauline theology over that of the apostle or presbyter John, or point to the minor importance of Johannine teaching in Asia Minor.


Web links

Commons : Polycarp of Smyrna  - collection of images, videos and audio files


  1. Clemens Bombeck: They too shaped Rome. At the graves of the saints and blessed in the Eternal City . Schnell & Steiner, Regensburg 2004, ISBN 3-7954-1691-4 , pp. 24-25.