Bigger Carp to Fry

The development of Christianity is a tricky subject, especially when dealing with the really early history of the Church. The Catholic Church likes to claim that there’s an unbroken line of succession of bishops from Jesus’ apostles to the present day, but this sort of claim is always doubtful, especially when few reliable records of the acts of the disciples exist. Even the Biblical book of Acts is suspect in some parts, and I don’t think it says anything about the appointing of bishops. The Catholics’ best sources for their position are the writings of the first century Christians Ignatius and Polycarp. These two were associates, both thought to be students of the apostle John.

Ignatius was the Bishop of Antioch, and wrote about the role of bishops in the church. He was also one of the first known theologians to advocate celebrating the Lord’s Day instead of the Sabbath, and to use the word “katholikos” to describe the institution.

Polycarp, as well as being the winner of the coveted Church Father Whose Name Sounds Most Like a Pokémon Award, was the Bishop of Smyrna and an opponent of Marcion and other teachers of what came to be considered heretical beliefs. Of course, they were only heretical because the people who opposed them won out, and if Christianity were really dictated from the Almighty God you’d think there wouldn’t have been so many schisms so early on. Oh, well. Not much is known of Polycarp’s life, but a fair amount has been written about his death. In fact, both Ignatius and Polycarp are said to have been martyred, the former being eaten by lions in the Colosseum, and the latter burned at the stake. Actually, there’s a tale that the flames couldn’t harm the guy, so he was stabbed instead.

The tradition developed that Polycarp was martyred in the place of John, the only original disciple to die of natural causes, but I didn’t know martyrdom was something you could pass off to your students. It’s not exactly grading papers, you know. Apparently a lot of early Christians jumped at the chance to die for their faith, though. Strangely, it isn’t anywhere near as popular among today’s religious faithful. For that matter, we don’t know how many of the stories about how the apostles died are based on actual fact, and I think the main reason people think John lived so long was that they credit him as the author of Revelation. Because there couldn’t possibly have been more than one early Christian with the incredibly popular name John, could there?

For that matter, I’ve been reading some stuff about how Polycarp might not have existed at all. I really don’t know enough about the evidence presented to have any idea whether the blogger has a legitimate case, although I did like the point that we have accounts of two Church Fathers who were martyred, and the one who was burned to death ISN’T the one with a name related to fire.

This entry was posted in Catholicism, Christianity, Historical Personages, History, Religion, Roman Empire and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Bigger Carp to Fry

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Curiouser and curiouser, indeed….

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