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Pionius, Life of Polycarp (1889). Preface to the online edition.

This text has come down to us in a single Greek manuscript in Paris, shelfmark Bibl.Nat. 1452, also known as the Medicean manuscript, which dates to the 10th century.  It contains various lives, martydoms and eulogies of saints for the month of February.  The Life of Polycarp occupies folios 182a-192b, -- although some leaves are wrongly ordered so that they run 182, 185, 183, 184, 187, 188, 186, 189, 190, 191, 192 --, and is assigned to Feb. 23.  It is followed immediately by a copy of the genuine Letter to the Smyrnaeans which describes the martyrdom of Polycarp.

The text is imperfect as given in this, the only manuscript.  In chapter 3 a list of early bishops of Smyrna is promised, but never appears.  In chapter 12 there is a promise to include Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians  but this is not found.  In chapter 20 we are told that Polycarp's explanations of scripture will appear later, but they do not.  The document seems to be mutilated at the end, and a wide lacuna is present between chapters 28-29.  Various words are also missing.  

Since the colophon to the Martrydom also is signed by Pionius, who intends to explain how he obtained it, and seems to be in the same style as this text, the author is given this name.  However this is not the Pionius who was martyred in the Decian persecution, since the work shows no knowledge of the most important facts about Polycarp; that he was the disciple of John and a quartodeciman.   The work is therefore a piece of fiction, written late and probably belonging to the latter half of the 4th century, when so many "pious" legends were invented as entertainment for the newly Christianised society.  The writer shows some knowledge of the locality around Smyrna, but perhaps not enough for a native of that city, who might be expected to know of Polycarp's links with St. John.  He probably lived in the province and had a casual knowledge of the city.

The text is entirely fictional and tells us nothing about Polycarp.  Rather it is useful as an indication of what stories might be written and believed in the late 4th century.  The account of how a bishop was chosen and consecrated is thus of interest as indicating what practises were in force at that date.

Roger Pearse summarised from Lightfoot's preface.

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This text was transcribed by Roger Pearse, 2006. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

Greek text is rendered using unicode.

Early Church Fathers - Additional Texts