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Lightfoot's Apostolic Fathers In English - J. B. Lightfoot, D. D., D.C. L., LL. D.

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 nessenger 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 the 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 with 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 their 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 deep impression on him. The sin of avarice is denounced again and again 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).








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