Many people don’t know who St. Polycarp is and mistakenly think his name means “many fish.” Fortunately, his name has nothing to do with fish and actually means “much fruit.”
This is fitting for St. Polycarp because he is one of the most important saints in the early Church. Around A.D. 155, at the age of 86, St. Polycarp was martyred and his martyrdom lit a fire in the ancient world to draw many into the Catholic Church. I myself chose St. Polycarp as my patron saint because he is such a significant link between Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition.
Growing up as a Protestant, it was important for me to see this link before becoming Catholic five years ago. St. Polycarp was a disciple of the Apostle John, friends with St. Ignatius of Antioch, and was bishop of Smyrna. The story of his martyrdom is the first written story of a Christian martyr outside of the Bible. Interestingly enough, we only have one surviving document written from the hand of St. Polycarp (probably around A.D. 107), a letter he wrote to the Philippians.
Here are 10 bold quotes from St. Polycarp’s Letter to the Philippians.
1. Prisoner chains are diadems
In reference to the chains of Christians in prison, St. Polycarp calls them “the diadems of those who are truly chosen by God and our Lord” (1:2). He’s saying to wear them as jewelry!
2. Judgment of God
“To [Jesus] all things in heaven and on earth were subjected, whom every breathing creature serves, who is coming as judge of the living and the dead, for whose blood God will hold responsible those who disobey him” (2:1).
3. Purity above all
“The younger men must be blameless in all things; they should be concerned about purity above all, reining themselves away from all evil” (5:3). I think St. Paul would agree!
4. Homosexual acts are sinful
“For it is good to be cut off from the sinful desires in the world, because every sinful desire wages war against the spirit, and neither fornicators nor men who have sex with men (whether as the passive or as the active partner) will inherit the kingdom of God, nor will those who do perverse things” (5:3). Can’t mince those words.
5. Strong obedience
“Be obedient to the presbyters and deacons as to God and Christ” (5:3). Many today would benefit from this advice.
6. Love of money
“The love of money is the beginning of all troubles. Knowing, therefore, that we brought nothing into the world and cannot take anything out, let us arm ourselves with the weapons of righteousness, and let us first teach ourselves to follow the commandment of the Lord. Anyone who does not avoid love of money will be polluted by idolatry and will be judged as one of the Gentiles, who are ignorant of the Lord’s judgment” (4:1; 11:2).
7. “Firstborn of Satan“
“For everyone who does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist; and whoever does not acknowledge the testimony of the cross is of the devil; and whoever twists the sayings of the Lord to suit his own sinful desires and claims that there is neither resurrection nor judgment—well, that person is the firstborn of Satan” (7:1).
8. How to treat fallen-away Christians
“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” (11:4). Even St. Thomas taught of mercy for the fallen-away and ignorant.
9. Pray for rulers and enemies
“Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings and magistrates and rulers, and for those who persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, so that your fruit may be evident among all people, so that you may be perfect in him” (12:3). How often do we actually do this, though?
10. Final exhortation
“Now may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the eternal high priest himself, the Son of God Jesus Christ, build you up in faith and truth and in all gentleness and in all freedom from anger and forbearance and steadfastness and patient endurance and purity, and may he give to you a share and a place among his saints, and to us with you, and to all those under heaven who will yet believe in our Lord and God Jesus Christ and in his Father who raised him from the dead” (12:2).
Although his feast day, February 23rd, falls on a Sunday this year and we won’t be celebrating him liturgically, we can still honor him and ask for his intercession. If you would like to hear this whole writing, I recently released an episode (Poly 46) on my podcast, Polycarp’s Paradigm, that has his letter to the Philippians in it.
St. Polycarp, pray for us!