Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Polycarp: "To Save Your Whole Body"

+Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp to the Philippians

The Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians is thought to date around the time of Ignatius' martyrdom, about AD 110. The text itself isn't earth-shattering, and begins in a Pauline fashion: "Polycarp and the presbyters with him to the church of God that sojourns at Philippi: may mercy and peace from God Almighty and Jesus Christ our Savior be yours in abundance." The rest of the letter is essentially an exhortation in which Polycarp reminds the Philippian church of the ethical content of much of the New Testament, with ample quotations.

It may have been the case that he wrote them on the occasion of their distress over a local finanicial scandal involving one of their priests. (He also mentions their request for copies of Ignatius' letters.) I think his statement on the scandal is noteworthy:
"I have been deeply grieved for Valens, who once was a presbyter among you, because he so fails to understand the office that was entrusted to him. ... I am deeply grieved for him and for his wife; may the Lord grant them true repentance. You, therefore, for your part must be reasonable in this matter, and do not regard such people as enemies, but, as sick and straying members, restore them, in order that you may save your body in its entirety. For by doing this you build up one another."
I am always struck by the simple, organic ecclesiology present in some of these writings. Polycarp does not give the church permission to throw up their hands and walk away, but makes very clear that the errant member is still very much a part of them. We can't help but in some way to bear the sins and errors(as well as the joys!) of those with whom we are joined in the Christian community.

Lord, help us. Teach us to build up one another, and never to write off or dismiss one another, but rather work to "save our body in its entirety."

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Post Script: Oh, and I'm a little behind on this. I'll offer some reflections on +Ignatius of Antioch soon, if you're on the edge of your seat. If you're interested in highlights from part II of the Epistle to Diognetus, go see Mike.


The Archer of the Forest said...

I love the icons of Polycarp...he always looks like a Klingon.

Anonymous said...

Because reconciliation and acceptance is terrible...

Kyle said...

Ooh, he does look like a Klingon, doesn't he?