Thursday, February 18, 2010

returning to the Apostolic Fathers

Since I finished reading Ignatius' letters about six weeks ago or so I haven't continued reading through the Apostolic Fathers, mostly because I was fascinated by Ignatius and I didn't want to "move on" from him. But in those weeks my little green volume has beckoned me from my shelf, and so this morning I resumed my reading by beginning Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians. Michael Holmes presents a brief, helpful introductory discussion, but the text itself begins fairly straightforwardly. After a nearly Pauline salutation and introduction, Polycarp urges the Philippian Christians to "gird their loins" for loyal service to the Lord. What I find fascinating, however, is how Polycarp employs a piece of Jesus' teaching in service of his exhortation. Jesus' words about judgment and forgiveness, as well as his blessing on the poor and persecuted, did not originally bolster a call to service, at least not as they are preserved in the gospels. Nevertheless, notice how Polycarp's exhortation reapplies Jesus' teaching (and picks up an echo of Paul's teaching in Romans 12!):
Therefore prepare for action and serve God in fear and truth, . . . the one who raised him from the dead will raise us also, if we do his will and follow his commandments and love the things he loved, while avoiding every kind of unrighteousness, greed, love of money slander and false testimony, not repaying evil for evil or insult for insult or blow for blow or curse for curse, but instead remembering what the Lord said as he taught: "Do not judge, so that you may not be judged; forgive, and you will be forgiven; show mercy, so that you may be shown mercy; with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you;" and, "blessed are the poor and those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God." (Polycarp, Philippians 2.1, 2–3)

I also note that the exhortation to not judge (see Matt 7.1) is separated from the saying on measurement (see Matt 7.2) by Jesus' exhortation to exercise forgiveness (compare Matt 6.14–15; 18.35) and a parallel—but unattested—saying, "show mercy, so that may be shown mercy" [ἐλεᾶτε, ἵνα ἐλεηθῆτε]. I think this is very interesting. Does Polycarp have access to tradition that no longer exists? Or is he just vamping, producing variations on a theme here? Or is the saying at Matt 5.7—"Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy" [μακάριοι οἱ ἐλεήμονες, ὅτι αὐτοὶ ἐλεηθήσονται]—a factor here?

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