Ante Nicene Fathers Timeline

Early Church Fathers of the Christian Church

Polycarp of Smyrna

Polycarp, or Πολύκαρπος (pronounced Polykarpos) in Greek, was born in AD 69 and died in AD 155. Irenaeus tells us that he was a disciple of, and taught by, the Apostle John. The apostle John moved from Jerusalem to Ephesus and it was probably around Ephesus that he became acquainted with Polycarp. John was clearly impressed with Polycarp because he later made him Bishop of Smyrna, modern day Izmir, which is about 10km from Ephesus.

It was in Smyrna that he met Ignatius, who was en route to Rome and his martyrdom. From Smyrna, Ignatius was taken by his Roman guards to Phillippi, where he was welcomed by the church leaders and members of the Church. He clearly made an impression on the Christians at Phillippi because they later asked Polycarp to send them copies of the epistles of Ignatius. Polycarp agreed, he kept his word and obtained copies of the epistles and included an epistle of his own, addressed to the Philippians. It is this Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians which gives us insight of his character as Church Father.

In old age Polycarp became a wanted man by Rome and when he heard this news he refused to resist arrest. Previously whilst in prayer he had a vision in which he was burned alive. He took this as a sign from God and told his friends how his life would end. When the soldiers arrested him he simply said, 'God's will be done' and he was taken to the Proconsul Statius Quadratus who questioned him in front of a crowd of onlookers. He carried on a witty dialogue with the Proconsul who eventually lost his temper and had his soldiers take him off for execution. The soldiers intended to nail him to a stake but Polycarp requested that he be allowed to suffer the fire without being nailed and they agreed. Polycarp then prayed aloud and the fire was lit. Chroniclers said his martyrdom was not as burning flesh but more like baking bread, or as gold and silver, refined in a furnace. Many people witnessed his martyrdom and he was remembered by all.

Polycarp, now St Polycarp, is recognised by all the main branches of Christianity as one of the three major Apostolic Fathers of the early Church, along with Clement of Rome and Ignatius of Antioch.

Polycarp of Smyrna, one of the early Church Fathers

Polycarp to the Philippians

The Letter of Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, to Church at Philippi

Polycarp and the Church Elders with him, to the church of God that is at Philippi: May mercy and peace be multiplied to you from God Almighty and Jesus Christ, our Saviour.

Chapter 1 Praise of the Church at Philippi

I rejoice with you greatly in our Lord Jesus Christ, in that you have welcomed and followed the models of true Love, and have helped on their way, as opportunity was given you, those men who are bound in chains which became the saints, which are indeed the diadems of the true elect of God and of our Lord. I also rejoice because the firm root of your faith, famous from the earliest times, still abides and bears fruit for our Lord Jesus Christ, who endured for our sins even to face death, “whom God raised up, having loosed the pangs of Hades.” In him, “though you have not seen him, you believe with inexpressible and exalted joy”, joy that many have longed to experience, knowing that “you are saved by grace, not because of works,” namely, by the will of God through Jesus Christ.

Chapter 2 Exhortation to Virtue and the Teachings of the Lord Jesus Christ

“Therefore, girding your loins, serve God in fear” and in truth, forsaking empty vanity and the erroneous teaching of the crowd, “believing on him who raised our Lord Jesus Christ from the dead and gave him glory” and a throne on his right hand, “to whom he subjected all things, whether in heaven or on earth,” whom “everything that breathes” serves, who will come as “judge of the living and the dead,” whose blood God will require from those who disobey him. For “he who raised him from the dead will raise us also,” if we do his will and follow his commandments, and love what he loved, refraining from all wrongdoing, avarice, love of money, slander, and false witness; “not returning evil for evil or abuse for abuse,” or blow for blow, or curse for curse; but rather remembering what the Lord said when he taught: “Judge not, that you be not judged; forgive, and you will be forgiven; be merciful, that you may be shown mercy; the measure you give will be the measure you get”; and “blessed are the poor and those persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the Kingdom of God.”

Chapter 3 Polycarp's Reason for writing to the Philippians

I write these things about righteousness, brethren, not at my own instance, but because you first invited me to do so. Certainly, neither I nor anyone like me can follow the wisdom of the blessed and glorious Paul, who, when he was present among you face to face with the generation of his time, taught you accurately and firmly “the word of truth.” Also when absent he wrote you letters that will enable you, if you study them carefully, to grow in the faith delivered to you, “which is a mother of us all,” accompanied by hope, and led by love to God and Christ and our neighbor. For if anyone is occupied in these, he has fulfilled the commandment of righteousness; for he who possesses love is far from all sin.

Chapter 4 Exhortations to Virtue

But “the love of money is the beginning of all evils.” Knowing, therefore, that “we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out,” let us arm ourselves “with the weapons of righteousness,” and let us first of all teach ourselves to live by the commandment of the Lord. Then you must teach your wives in the faith delivered to them and in love and purity, to cherish their own husbands in all fidelity, and to love all others equally in all chastity, and to educate their children in the fear of God. And the widows should be discreet in their faith pledged to the Lord, praying unceasingly on behalf of all, refraining from all slander, gossip, false witness, love of money. In fact, from evil of any kind, knowing that they are God’s altar, that everything is examined for blemishes, and nothing escapes him whether of thoughts or sentiments, or any of “the secrets of the heart.”

Chapter 5 Duties of Deacons and Obligations of Christians

Knowing, then, that “God is not mocked,” we ought to live worthily of his commandment and glory.

Likewise the deacons should be blameless before his righteousness, as servants of God and Christ and not of men; not slanderers, or double-tongued, not lovers of money, temperate in all matters, compassionate, careful, living according to the truth of the Lord, who became “a servant of all”; to whom, if we are pleasing in the present age, we shall also obtain the age to come, inasmuch as he promised to raise us from the dead. And if we bear our citizenship worthy of him, “we shall also reign with him” if we have faith.

Similarly also the younger ones must be blameless in all things, especially taking thought of purity and bridling themselves from all evil. It is a fine thing to cut oneself off from the lusts that are in the world, for “every passion of the flesh wages war against the Spirit,” and “neither fornicators nor the effeminate nor homosexuals will inherit the Kingdom of God,” nor those who do perverse things. Wherefore it is necessary to refrain from all these things, and be obedient to the presbyters and deacons as unto God and Christ. And the young women must live with a blameless and pure conscience.

Chapter 6 Duties of Presbyters

Also the presbyters must be compassionate, merciful to all, turning back those who have gone astray, looking after the sick, not neglecting widow or orphan or one that is poor, but “always taking thought for what is honorable in the sight of God and of men,” refraining from all anger, partiality, unjust judgment, keeping far from all love of money, not hastily believing evil of anyone, nor being severe in judgment, knowing that we all owe the debt of sin. If, then, we pray the Lord to forgive us, we ourselves ought also to forgive, for we are before the eyes of the Lord and God, and “everyone shall stand before the judgment seat of Christ and each of us shall give an account of himself.” So then let us “serve him with fear and all reverence,” as he himself has commanded, and also the apostles who preached the gospel to us and the prophets who foretold the coming of the Lord.

Let us be zealous for that which is good, refraining from occasions of scandal and from false brethren, and those who bear in hypocrisy the name of the Lord, who deceive empty headed people.

Chapter 7 Avoid Heresy and Continue Steadfastly in Fasting and Prayer

For “whosoever does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is antichrist”; and whosoever does not confess the testimony of the cross “is of the devil”; and whosoever perverts the sayings of the Lord to suit his own lusts and says there is neither resurrection nor judgment, such a one is the first-born of Satan. Let us therefore, forsake the vanity of the crowd and their false teachings and turn back to the word delivered to us from the beginning, “watching unto prayer” and continuing steadfast in fasting, beseeching fervently the all-seeing God “to lead us not into temptation,” even as the Lord said, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Chapter 8 Patient Endurance of Suffering for his Name Sake

Let us, then, hold steadfastly and unceasingly to our Hope and to the Pledge of our righteousness, that is, Christ Jesus, “who bore our sins in his own body on the tree, who committed no sin, neither was guile found on his lips”; but for our sakes he endured all things that we might live in him. Therefore let us be imitators of his patient endurance, and if we suffer for the sake of his name, let us glorify him. For he set us this example in his own Person, and this is what we believed.

Chapter 9 Exhortation to Obedience, Patience and Righteousness

Now I exhort all of you to be obedient to the word of righteousness and to exercise all patient endurance, such as you have seen with your very eyes, not only in the blessed Ignatius and Zosimus and Rufus, but also in others amoung yourselves, and in Paul himself and the rest of the apostles; being persuaded that all these “did not run in vain,” but in faith and righteousness, and that they are now in their deserved place with the Lord, in whose suffering they also shared. For they “loved not this present world,” but Him who died on our behalf and was raised by God for our sakes.

Chapter 10 Exhortation to the Practice of Virtue

Stand firm, therefore, in these things and follow the example of the Lord, “steadfast and immovable” in the faith, “loving the brotherhood,” “cherishing one another,” “fellow companions in the truth”; in “the gentleness of the Lord preferring one another” and despising no one. “Whenever you are able to do a kindness, do not put it off,” because “almsgiving sets free from death.” All of you submit yourselves to one another, having your manner of life above reproach from the heathen, so that you may receive praise for your good works and the Lord may not be blasphemed on your account. “Woe to them, however, through whom the name of the Lord is blasphemed.” Therefore, all of you teach the sobriety in which you are yourselves living.

Chapter 11 Expression of Grief on Account of Valens

I have been exceedingly grieved on account of Valens, who was once a presbyter among you, because he so forgot the office that was given him. I warn you, therefore, to refrain from the love of money and be pure and truthful. “Shun evil of every kind.” For how shall he who cannot govern himself in these things teach others? If anyone does not refrain from the love of money he will be defiled by idolatry and so be judged as if he were one of the heathen, “who are ignorant of the judgment of the Lord.” Or “do we not know that the saints will judge the world,” as Paul teaches? However, I have neither observed nor heard of any such thing among you, with whom blessed Paul labored and who were his epistles in the beginning. Of you he was wont to boast in all the churches which at that time alone knew God, for we did not as yet know him. I am, therefore, very grieved indeed for that man and his wife. “May the Lord grant them true repentance.” But you, too, must be moderate in this matter; and “do not consider such persons as enemies,” but reclaim them as suffering and straying members, in order that you may save the whole body of you. For in doing this you will edify yourselves.

Chapter 12 Exhortation to the Graces, Forgiveness and Prayer

I am confident, indeed, that you are well versed in the sacred Scriptures and that nothing escapes you, something not granted to me only, as it is said in these Scriptures, “be angry but sin not” and “let not the sun go down on your anger.” Blessed is he who remembers this. I believe it is so with you. May God and the 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, without anger and in patient endurance, in long-suffering, forbearance, and purity; and give you a portion and share among his saints, and to us also along with you, and to all under heaven who are destined to believe in our Lord Jesus Christ and in “his Father who raised him from the dead.” “Pray for all the saints.” “Pray also for emperors and magistrates and rulers,” and for “those who persecute and hate you,” and for “the enemies of the cross,” that your fruit may be manifest in all, so that you may be perfected in him.

Chapter 13 Concerning the Distribution of the Epistles of Ignatius

Both you and Ignatius have written me that if anyone is leaving for Syria he should take your letter along too. I shall attend to this if I have a favorable opportunity, either myself or one whom I shall send to represent you as well as me. We are sending you the letters of Ignatius, those he addressed to us and any others we had by us, just as you requested. They are herewith appended to this letter. From them you can derive great benefit, for they are concerned with faith and patient endurance and all the edification pertaining to the Lord. Of Ignatius himself and those who are with him, let us have any reliable information that you know.

Chapter 14 Final Farewell of Polycarp to the Philippians

I am sending you this letter by Crescens, whom I recently commended to you and now commend him again. He has lived with us blamelessly, and I believe he will do so among you. I also commend to you his sister, when she arrives among you. Farewell in the Lord Jesus Christ in grace, both you and all who are yours. Amen.

Early Church Fathers

Clement of Rome Ignatius of Antioch Polycarp of Smyrna
Clement of Alexandria Tertullian of Carthage Cyprian of Carthage
Irenaeus of Lyons Origen of Alexandria Athanasius of Alexandria

Council of Nicaea AD 325