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§ 19 Antoninus Pius. a.d. 137–161. The Martyrdom of Polycarp.

Comte de Champagny (R.C.): Les Antonins. (a.d. 69–180), Paris, 1863; 3d ed. 1874. 3 vols., 8 vo. Merivale’s History.

Martyrium Polycarp (the oldest, simplest, and least objectionable of the martyr-acts), in a letter of the church of Smyrna to the Christians in Pontus or Phrygia, preserved by Eusebius, H. Eccl. IV. 15, and separately edited from various MSS. by Ussher (1647) and in nearly all the editions of the Apostolic Fathers, especially by O. v. Gebhardt, Harnack, and Zahn, II. 132–168, and Prolog. L-LVI. The recension of the text is by Zahn, and departs from the text of the Bollandists in 98 places. Best edition by Lightfoot, S. Ign. and S. Polycarp, I. 417 sqq., and II. 1005–1047. Comp. the Greek Vita Polycarpi, in Funk, II. 315 sqq.

Ignatius: Ad. Polycarpum. Best ed., by Lightfoot, l.c.

Irenaeus: Adv. Haer. III. 3. 4. His letter to Florinus in Euseb. v. 20.

Polycrates of Ephesus (c. 190), in Euseb. v. 24.

On the date of Polycarp’s death:

Waddington: Mémoire sur la chronologie de la vie du rhéteur Aelius Aristide (in "Mém. de l’ Acad: des inscript. et belles letters," Tom. XXVI. Part II. 1867, pp. 232 sqq.), and in Fastes des provinces Asiatiques, 1872, 219 sqq.

Wieseler: Das Martyrium Polykarp’s und dessen Chronologie, in his Christenverfolgungen, etc. (1878), 3 87.

Keim: Die Zwölf Märtyrer von Smyrna und der Tod des Bishops Polykarp, in his Aus dem Urchristenthum (1878), 92–133.

E. Egli: Das Martyrium des Polyk., in Hilgenfeld’s "Zeitschrift für wissensch. Theol." for 1882, pp. 227 sqq.

Antoninus Pius protected the Christians from the tumultuous violence which broke out against them on account of the frequent public calamities. But the edict ascribed to him, addressed to the deputies of the Asiatic cities, testifying to the innocence of the Christians, and holding them up to the heathen as models of fidelity and zeal in the worship of God, could hardly have come from an emperor, who bore the honorable title of Pius for his conscientious adherence to the religion of his fathers;3333    He always offered sacrifice himself as high-priest. Friedländer III. 492.2 and in any case he could not have controlled the conduct of the provincial governors and the fury of the people against an illegal religion.

The persecution of the church at Smyrna and the martyrdom of its venerable bishop, which was formerly assigned to the year 167, under the reign of Marcus Aurelius, took place, according to more recent research, under Antoninus in 155, when Statius Quadratus was proconsul in Asia Minor.3434    So Waddington, who has made it almost certain that Quadratus was Roman consul a.d. 142, and proconsul in Asia from 154 to 155, and that Polycarp died Feb. 23, 155. He is followed by Renan (1873), Ewald (1873), Aubé (1875), Hilgenfeld (1874), Lightfoot (1875), Lipsius (1874), 0. v. Gebhardt (1875), Zahn, Harnack (1876), Egli (1882), and again by Lightfoot (1885, l.c. I. 647 sqq). Wieseler and Keim learnedly defend the old date (166-167), which rests on the authority of Eusebius and Jerome, and was held by Masson and Clinton. But Lightfoot refutes their objections (I. 647, sqq.), and sustains Waddington.3 Polycarp was a personal friend and pupil of the Apostle John, and chief presbyter of the church at Smyrna, where a plain stone monument still marks his grave. He was the teacher of Irenaeus of Lyons, and thus the connecting link between the apostolic and post-apostolic ages. As he died 155 at an age of eighty-six years or more, he must have been born a.d. 69, a year before the destruction of Jerusalem, and may have enjoyed the friendship of St. John for twenty years or more. This gives additional weight to his testimony concerning apostolic traditions and writings. We have from him a beautiful epistle which echoes the apostolic teaching, and will be noticed in another chapter.

Polycarp steadfastly refused before the proconsul to deny his King and Saviour, whom he had served six and eighty years, and from whom he had experienced nothing but love and mercy. He joyfully went up to the stake, and amidst the flames praised God for having deemed him worthy "to be numbered among his martyrs, to drink the cup of Christ’s sufferings, unto the eternal resurrection of the soul and the body in the incorruption of the Holy Spirit." The slightly legendary account in the letter of the church of Smyrna states, that the flames avoided the body of the saint, leaving it unharmed, like gold tried in the fire; also the Christian bystanders insisted, that they perceived a sweet odor, as of incense. Then the executioner thrust his sword into the body, and the stream of blood at once extinguished the flame. The corpse was burned after the Roman custom, but the bones were preserved by the church, and held more precious than gold and diamonds. The death of this last witness of the apostolic age checked the fury of the populace, and the proconsul suspended the persecution.

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