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E00066: Eusebius of Caesarea, in his Ecclesiastical History, summarises and quotes from the Martyrdom of *Polycarp/Polykarpos (bishop and martyr of Smyrna, S00004), of the 2nd/3rd c., describing various miracles accompanying the martyrdom in Smyrna (western Asia Minor). Written in Greek in Palestine, 311/325.

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posted on 30.09.2014, 00:00 by CSLA Admin
Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 4.15

4.15.10 (summarising Martyrdom of Polycarp 5.2: see E00008)

καὶ δὴ εὐχόμενον, ἐν ὀπτασίᾳ τριῶν πρότερον ἡμερῶν τῆς συλλήψεως νύκτωρ ἰδεῖν τὸ ὑπὸ κεφαλῆς αὐτῷ στρῶμα ἀθρόως οὕτως ὑπὸ πυρὸς φλεχθὲν δεδαπανῆσθαι, ἔξυπνον δ’ ἐπὶ τούτῳ γενόμενον, εὐθὺς ὑφερμηνεῦσαι τοῖς παροῦσι τὸ φανέν, μόνον οὐχὶ τὸ μέλλον προθεσπίσαντα σαφῶς τε ἀνειπόντα τοῖς ἀμφ’ αὐτὸν ὅτι δέοι αὐτὸν διὰ Χριστὸν πυρὶ τὴν ζωὴν μεταλλάξαι.

'And while he was praying, three days before his arrest, he saw during the night the pillow under his head completely consumed by fire; he woke up immediately and straightaway explained the vision to those present, not just foretelling the future, but clearly describing to his companions that he was to end his life through fire for the sake of Christ.'


4.15.17 (quoting Martyrdom of Polycarp 8.3-9.1: E00008)

θορύβου δὲ τηλικούτου ὄντος ἐν τῷ σταδίῳ, ὡς μηδὲ πολλοῖς ἀκουσθῆναι, τῷ Πολυκάρπῳ εἰσιόντι εἰς τὸ στάδιον φωνὴ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ γέγονεν· ἴσχυε, Πολύκαρπε, καὶ ἀνδρίζου. καὶ τὸν μὲν εἰπόντα οὐδεὶς εἶδεν, τὴν δὲ φωνὴν τῶν ἡμετέρων πολλοὶ ἤκουσαν.

'Now there was so much noise in the stadium that it was not heard by many, but, as Polycarp was entering the stadium, a voice came to him from heaven: "Be strong, Polycarp, and have courage". No one saw who was speaking, but many of our people heard the voice.'


4.15.27-28 (quoting Martyrdom of Polycarp 12.3: E00008)

(27.) ... τότε ἔδοξεν αὐτοῖς ὁμοθυμαδὸν ἐπιβοῆσαι ὥστε ζῶντα τὸν Πολύκαρπον κατακαῦσαι. (28.) ἔδει γὰρ τὸ τῆς φανερωθείσης αὐτῷ ἐπὶ τοῦ προσκεφαλαίου ὀπτασίας πληρωθῆναι· ὅτε ἰδῶν αὐτὸ καιόμενον προσευχόμενος, εἶπεν ἐπιστραφεὶς τοῖς μετ’ αὐτοῦ πιστοῖς προφητικῶς· δεῖ με ζῶντα καῆναι.

'(27.) Then they decided to shout out all together that Polycarp should be burnt alive. (28.) For the vision he had seen regarding his pillow had to be fulfilled, when he saw it burning, while he was praying, and turned to his faithful companions and prophetically said: "I am to be burned alive."'


4.15.36-39 (quoting Martyrdom of Polycarp 15-16: E00008)

(36.) ἀναπέμψαντος δὲ αὐτοῦ τὸ ἀμὴν καὶ πληρώσαντος τὴν προσευχήν, οἱ τοῦ πυρὸς ἄνθρωποι ἐξῆψαν τὸ πῦρ, μεγάλης δὲ ἐκλαμψάσης φλογὸς θαῦμα εἴδομεν οἷς ἰδεῖν ἐδόθη, οἳ καὶ ἐτηρήθησαν εἰς τὸ ἀναγγεῖλαι τοῖς λοιποῖς τὰ γενόμενα. (37.) τὸ γὰρ πῦρ καμάρας εἶδος ποιῆσαν ὥσπερ ὀθόνης πλοίου ὑπὸ πνεύματος πληρουμένης, κύκλῳ περιετείχισε τὸ σῶμα τοῦ μάρτυρος, καὶ ἦν μέσον οὐχ ὡς σὰρξ καιομένη, ἀλλ’ ὡς χρυσὸς καὶ ἄργυρος ἐν καμίνῳ πυρούμενος· καὶ γὰρ εὐωδίας τοσαύτης ἀντελαβόμεθα ὡς λιβανωτοῦ πνέοντος ἢ ἄλλου τινὸς τῶν τιμίων ἀρωμάτων. (38.) πέρας γοῦν ἰδόντες οἱ ἄνομοι μὴ δυνάμενον τὸ σῶμα ὑπὸ τοῦ πυρὸς δαπανηθῆναι, ἐκέλευσαν προσελθόντα αὐτῷ κομφέκτορα παραβῦσαι ξίφος, (39.) καὶ τοῦτο ποιήσαντος, ἐξῆλθεν πλῆθος αἵματος, ὥστε κατασβέσαι τὸ πῦρ καὶ θαυμάσαι πάντα τὸν ὄχλον εἰ τοσαύτη τις διαφορὰ μεταξὺ τῶν τε ἀπίστων καὶ τῶν ἐκλεκτῶν·

'(36.) As he uttered his Amen and finished his prayer, the men in charge of the fire started to light it. A great flame blazed and those of us to whom it was given to see saw a miracle; and they were indeed preserved to announce the events to the rest. (37.) For the flames, like a ship’s sail filled by the wind, formed into the shape of a vault and thus surrounded the martyr’s body as with a wall. And he was within it not as burning flesh, but rather like gold and silver being purified in a furnace. And from it we perceived such a delightful fragrance as though it were smoking incense or some other costly perfume. (38.) At last, when the lawless realised that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they ordered a confector [executioner – Latin in the text] to go up and stab him with a dagger. (39.) When he did this, there came out a large quantity of blood, so that the flames were extinguished, and the whole crowd marvelled that there should be such a difference between the infidels and the elect.'

Text: Schwartz et al. 1999. Translation: E. Rizos.

History

Evidence ID

E00066

Saint Name

Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr, and other martyrs in Smyrna, ob. 2nd c. : S00004

Saint Name in Source

Πολύκαρπος

Type of Evidence

Literary - Other narrative texts (including Histories) Literary - Hagiographical - Accounts of martyrdom

Language

Greek

Evidence not before

311

Evidence not after

325

Activity not before

155

Activity not after

170

Place of Evidence - Region

Palestine Asia Minor

Place of Evidence - City, village, etc

Caesarea Maritima Smyrna

Place of evidence - City name in other Language(s)

Caesarea Maritima Smyrna Nicomedia Νικομήδεια Nikomēdeia Izmit Πραίνετος Prainetos Nicomedia

Major author/Major anonymous work

Eusebius of Caesarea

Cult activities - Rejection, Condemnation, Scepticism

Scepticism/rejection of miracles

Cult Activities - Miracles

Miracle at death Apparition, vision, dream, revelation Changing abilities and properties of the body Miraculous sound, smell, light Miraculous protection - of people and their property

Source

The letter of the Church of Smyrna describing the martyrdom of Polycarp (Letter of the Smyrnaeans) is one of the most important and controversial documents on early Christianity. It is viewed by many as the earliest martyrdom account, indeed as the document that inaugurates martyrial literature as a genre ($E00035). Written in the form of a general epistle addressed from the church of Smyrna to the church of Philomelion in Phrygia, it purports to be written shortly after the martyrdom of Polycarp in the 2nd century. It survives in two versions: (a) A version, partially summarised and partially quoted in full, in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (4.15.1-46), written in the 320s. Eusebius' quotations prove that the letter is a genuinely early composition. Eusebius apparently regards it as an important original document on the history of the persecutions, and he reports that the version he consulted included other accounts concerning martyrdoms in Smyrna (4.15.46) ($E00014). (b) A self-standing version (MPol = Martyrdom of Polycarp) preserved in eight manuscript collections of hagiographical texts (menologia for February) dating from the 10th to the 13th centuries. All of these contain similar versions of the Letter of the Smyrnaeans, and are thought to belong to the same line of manuscript tradition, except the 13th century Codex Mosquensis 150 (in the Synodal Library, Moscow) which belongs to a different manuscript family. At the end of the Letter of the Smyrnaeans proper, the menologium version attaches a paragraph on the date of Polycarp's feast, a second paragraph of greetings (which purports to be the epilogue of the letter), and the so-called epilogue with information about the transmission history of the text (MPol 21, 22 and 22a, on which see $E00054 and $E00056). MPol sections 1.1 and 8.1-19.1 coincide with the paragraphs of the Letter of the Smyrnaeans quoted in full by Eusebius, with minor alterations. MPol 2-7.3 are summarised by him. The Letter of the Smyrnaeans as quoted in MPol includes a series of passages which draw a parallel between the martyrdom of Polycarp and the passion of Christ. These are absent from Eusebius’ quotation. For some scholars, they were secondarily interpolated into the original text, before or after Eusebius. The Letter of the Smyrnaeans also survives in Syriac, Coptic, and Armenian versions, all dependent upon the Eusebian text. There is also an Old Church Slavonic translation of MPol in a 15th century menologion, and an abridged Latin translation. It is a text of the utmost importance for the history of the cult of saints and saint-related literature. Unlike other early martyrdom accounts, it is characterised by a relatively developed narrative sophistication, pronounced references to miracles ($E00008, $E00066) and to the veneration of the saint's remains ($E00087, $E00057). It is structurally and stylistically closely related to the late 2nd century Letter of the Churches of Lyons and Vienne (see $E00212) and the 3rd century martyrdom accounts of *Pionios and *Fructuosus ($###). For bibliography, see: Hartog 2013, 165-239; Rebillard 2017, 82-85.

Discussion

In these passages, Eusebius summarises and quotes the descriptions of miracles in the the Letter of the Smyrnaeans on the martyrdom of Polycarp. He makes a number of changes aiming to moderate extravagant descriptions of the supernatural in his source text (cf. the same quotations in E00008) (Buschmann 1998, 177-179, 291-323; Campenhausen 1957, 21-23; Hartog 2013, 295-6, 305, 311-315). The passage on Polycarp’s prophetic vision of the burning pillow is among the parts of the Letter of the Smyrnaeans which Eusebius paraphrases, rather than quotes (= MPol 5.2; see E00008 and E00035). In this particular line, Eusebius seems to be simply converting the text into indirect speech, without removing much from the original (4.15.10). Eusebius’ version of the story, however, differs from MPol as he states that Polycarp has his vision in a dream, after which he wakes up and tells his companions (νύκτωρ ἰδεῖν τὸ ὑπὸ κεφαλῆς αὐτῷ στρῶμα ἀθρόως οὕτως ὑπὸ πυρὸς φλεχθὲν δεδαπανῆσθαι, ἔξυπνον δ’ ἐπὶ τούτῳ γενόμενον, εὐθὺς ὑφερμηνεῦσαι τοῖς παροῦσι τὸ φανέν). By contrast, the MPol version talks of a waking vision (ὀπτασία, optasia) which Polycarp has while praying, and omits to mention that he wakes up (E00008). It seems that MPol is closer to the version of Eusebius' source-text, because, in a later quotation of the full passage referring to the fulfilment of the vision, Eusebius himself uses the term ὀπτασία (Euseb. HE 4.15.27-28 = MPol 12.3). The church historian most probably deliberately intervenes in his source-text, removing elements that seem implausible, or correcting passages that look corrupt (Hartog 2013, 285-6). In a Coptic version of the text, one can follow the opposite process: here the saint has a vision of his clothes burning rather than the pillow (Campenhausen 1957, 21). Here, the word pillow, which can logically lead one to think that Polycarp has a dream while sleeping, has to go altogether, so as not to distract from the miracle of the vision. A similar divergence between MPol and Eusebius can be observed in the passage with the miraculous voice from heaven (cf. E00008) (Hartog 2013, 295). Eusebius’ version reads: θορύβου δὲ τηλικούτου ὄντος ἐν τῷ σταδίῳ, ὡς μηδὲ πολλοῖς ἀκουσθῆναι, τῷ Πολυκάρπῳ εἰσιόντι εἰς τὸ στάδιον φωνὴ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ γέγονεν ἴσχυε, Πολύκαρπε, καὶ ἀνδρίζου. καὶ τὸν μὲν εἰπόντα οὐδεὶς εἶδεν, τὴν δὲ φωνὴν τῶν ἡμετέρων πολλοὶ ἤκουσαν. (Euseb. HE 4.15.17) ‘Although there was so much tumult in the stadium, that most people did not hear, a voice from heaven came to Polycarp, as he was entering the stadium: "Be strong, Polycarp, and have courage." No one saw who was speaking, but many of our people heard the voice.’ The same line in MPol is divided into two distinct sentences, and reads quite differently: ἐπορεύετο ἀγόμενος εἰς τὸ στάδιον, θορύβου τηλικούτου ὄντος ἐν τῷ σταδίῳ ὡς μηδὲ ἀκουσθῆναί τινα δύνασθαι. Τῷ δὲ Πολυκάρπῳ εἰσιόντι εἰς τὸ στάδιον φωνὴ ἐξ οὐρανοῦ ἐγένετο· Ἴσχυε, Πολύκαρπε, καὶ ἀνδρίζου. καὶ τὸν μὲν εἰπόντα οὐδεὶς εἶδεν, τὴν δὲ φωνὴν τῶν ἡμετέρων οἱ παρόντες ἤκουσαν. (MPol 8.3-9.1) ‘…he walked into the stadium taken by them, and there was so much tumult in the stadium that no man’s voice could be heard. And as Polycarp entered the stadium, a voice came to him from heaven: "Be strong, Polycarp, and have courage." No one saw who was speaking, but those of our people who were present did hear the voice.’ In both cases, the phrase on the noise in the stadium is explanatory, but to a different effect. MPol underlines the supernatural character of the voice: in that tumult it was impossible to hear any human voice speaking; therefore what the Christians heard must indeed have come from heaven. By contrast, Eusebius uses the same phrase to justify why the voice was not heard by everyone: many Christians heard a voice, but in that terrible noise some did not. The difference in the two narratives' accent is evident: just as in the case of the pillow vision, Eusebius seems to be underplaying the supernatural element in the narrative. In any case, the lines θορύβου τηλικούτου ... ἤκουσαν (MPol 8.3–9.1 = Euseb. 4.15.17) are syntactically incoherent and are indeed highly likely to be interpolated (Campenhausen 1957, 21). Eusebius' quotation of the stabbing and the blood miracle needs no particular comment, except for the absence of the dove miracle, known from MPol 16.1 (see E00008). Unless it is indeed a later interpolation into MPol, the ecclesiastical historian must have regarded this phrase also as extravagant and removed it. The same may be the reason behind the absence of the metaphor of the baking bread used in MPol 15.2 (Hartog 2013, 313).

Bibliography

Edition: Schwartz, E., Mommsen, T., and Winkelmann, F., Eusebius Werke II: Die Kirchengeschichte. 3 vols: (Die Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller der ersten drei Jahrhunderte NF 6/1-3; Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 1999). Translations: Lake, K., Oulton, J.E.L., and Lawlor, H.J., Eusebius of Caesarea: The Ecclesiastical History. 2 vols. (Loeb Classical Library; London and Cambridge, MA: Heinemann and Harvard University Press, 1926). Williamson, G.A., and Louth, A., Eusebius: The History of the Church from Christ to Constantine (London: Penguin, 1989) The Martyrdom of Polycarp: Buschmann, G., Das Martyrium des Polykarp. Vol. 6 (Kommentar zu den Apostolischen Vätern; Göttingen, 1998). Campenhausen, H. von, Bearbeitungen und Interpolationen des Polykarpmartyriums (Sitzungsberichte der Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften, Philologisch-Historische Klasse; Heidelberg: C. Winter, 1957). Reprinted in H. von Campenhausen, Aus der Frühzeit des Christentums. Studien zur Kirchengeschichte des ersten und zweiten Jahrhunderts (Tübingen: Mohr, 1963), 253-301. Dehandschutter, B., Martyrium Polycarpi. Een literair-kritische studie (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 52; Leuven: Universitaire Pers Leuven, 1979). Dehandschutter, B., Polycarpiana. Studies on Martyrdom and Persecution in Early Christianity. Collected Essays edited by J. Leemans, (Bibliotheca Ephemeridum Theologicarum Lovaniensium 205; Leuven: Peeters, 2007). Dehandschutter, B., “The Martyrium Polycarpi: A Century of Research,” Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt II.27.1 (1993), 485-522. Delehaye, H., Les passions des martyrs et les genres littéraires (2ed.; Bruxelles: Société des Bollandistes, 1966), 15-46. Lightfoot, J.B., The Apostolic Fathers II: S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp. 2 vols. Vol. 1 (London: Mcmillan, 1889), 604-722.

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