You may recall several months ago that I posted Irenaeus’ description of Polycarp and the Apostle John showing their militancy against a certain heretic Cerinthus. Well, while reading with Mrs. Martin last night I came across another wonderful description by Irenaeus of Polycarp’s intolerance of heresy.
Irenaeus lived in an age where the orthodox teaching of the apostles was under attack by the Gnostics. On one occasion he wrote to a friend of his, Florinus, and pleaded with him to remain faithful to the true Christian teaching. In so doing, he recalls his acquaintance with Polycarp (who knew John and the apostles), and writes of him:
When I was still a boy I saw you in lower Asia with Polycarp, when you were shining brilliantly in the royal palace and trying to win favor from him. I remember the events of those days bettter than recent ones, for childhood learning grows up with the soul and is united with it, so that I can speak of the place where the blessed Polycarp sat and discussed, his entrances and exits and the character of his life, the appearance of his body, the discourses he made to the multitude, how he related his life and how he remembered their words, and what he heard about the Lord from them, about his miracles and teaching–how Polycarp received this from the eyewitnesses of the life of the Word and proclaimed it all in accordance with the scriptures. Because of God’s mercy given me I heard these things eagerly even then, and I recorded them not on paper but in my heart, and I meditate on them accurately by God’s favor.
And I can testify before God that if that blessed apostolic presbyter had heard anything of this kind he would have shouted and stopped his ears and said, as was his custom, “O good God, for what sort of times have you preserved me, that I should put up with this?” He would have fled from the place where he was sitting or standing when he heard such words. This can be made plain from his letters which he sent to the churches nearby, stregthening them, or to some of the brothers, exhorting and warning them.*
*Eusebius, Church History 5.20.4-8, cited in Robert M. Grant, Irenaeus of Lyons (New York: Routledge, 1997), 2.