Archive for the ‘Polycarp’ Category

Martyrdom of Polycarp

March 29, 2013

The work called “The Martyrdom of Polycarp,” is a story of martyrdom that is itself more historical fiction than historical account. That is not to say that Polycarp was not martyred. Rather it is to say that many of the details of the story are not accurate.

In The Myth of Persecution, Dr. Candida Moss makes several interesting observations, but one that particularly struck home (pp. 103-04):

In a similar way, the author describes religious devotional practices that didn’t really take hold until the third century. At the conclusion of the piece, after Polycarp’s body is burned for a second time, the Christians steal the fragments of bone and ash that remain and deposit them in an appropriate place for safekeeping. This is not just a concern for proper burial; the author describes Polycarp’s remains as “more valuable than precious stones” and says that the remains were placed somewhere that Christians could gather to remember the saints and prepare themselves for their own martyrdom. The situation envisioned here is the veneration of relics.

… Apart from the Martyrdom of Polycarp, the practice of collecting and venerating the bodies of martyrs is completely unparalleled in the second century. Our next earliest references to relics are from the third century and are much less developed. They may not even be firm references to relics so much as references to the distribution of mementos. In contrast, the Martyrdom of Polycarp does not just refer to relics; it provides an explanation for why the church in Smyrna doesn’t have the whole body. That it was necessary to apologize for the absence of relics again presupposes a situation in which relic veneration was already booming. It’s difficult to imagine the need to offer this explanation, if the audience wasn’t expecting more, and it’s difficult to imagine that the audience would have expected more before the third century.

Dr. Moss has a full paper on the dating of “the Martyrdom of Polycarp,” which can be accessed for free (at this link). Ultimately, Dr. Moss concludes that the current version of the story was probably composed in the early third century.

For people looking for examples of the kinds of problems that readers of patristics face, I encourage people to check out Dr. Moss’ paper. The work should also help confirm our position on the reliability of the New Testament itself, which is not subject to the same textual transmission difficulties as the story of Polycarp’s end.

I think it is worth noting that Dr. Moss dates the work earlier than some of the scholars whose work she is addressing. That said, as Dr. Moss notes in the paper (p. 19): “To my knowledge, no scholar who has regarded MPol as a forgery has ever been convinced that the extant version was written in the middle of the second century.”

All the above dove-tails with a point I was noting to someone (in the comment box at GreenBaggins, if I’m not mistaken) that the cult of the dead was not part of the apostolic tradition and only arose later. Even by the time of Augustine in the 4th and 5th centuries, it was not so highly developed as it was in later centuries, such as under King Philip II of Spain (1527-98), who apparently housed 8,000 relics (and over 1,000 paintings) within his palace, el Escorial (see discussion here).



Away with the Atheists!

April 15, 2008

Those steeped in the Early Church Fathers will recall that title exclamation is one that Polycarp is supposed to have uttered at the request of his Roman persecutors. Polycarp was willing to utter it, because he was a monotheist, not an atheist, despite the contrary propaganda set forth by the pagans and, according to the same reports, the Jews.

There were, of course, atheists then as there are now. There have been atheists throughout much of history, whether they were open atheists, closet atheists, or simply de facto atheists. To combat atheism today, there is a new blog “Atheism is Dead” which takes over anti-atheist role of an earlier, less-seemly-title blog, which I’ll simply refer to as “Atheism Lacks Positive Value.”

There are two major underlying problems with the blog:

1) While it appears to be run by Christians, and while there are many Christian apologetics materials on atheism on the blog, the blog itself is open to anyone who wants to criticize atheism, even Wiccans. That doesn’t seem wise to the present author, any more than it would be wise to start a blog addressing the problems with Roman Catholicism and leave the blog open to Wiccan or Unitarian criticisms of Catholicism. The primary reason to reject atheism (or Catholicism) is the truth. The other criticisms – the criticisms that would be raised by, for example, Wiccans – are bound to be secondary criticisms.

2) The title of the blog, while optimistic, is plainly wrong one at least one level. If Atheism were dead, one would not devote an apologetic blog to its destruction. Atheism is not dead in the sense of having few or no adherents.

On the other hand, Atheism is a dead faith. It is a religion of death, that surely leads its adherents into the pits of Hell. There is no salvation for atheists as long as they remain atheists, but only judgment.

In any event, for now the site does have some redeeming value in that it provides at least some good, Christian apologetic materials demonstrating the error of Atheism. Furthermore, although discernment will be needed, given the open nature of the blog, it may be a handy resource if you ever find yourself debating an atheist.

Praise be to the true and living God!


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