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Polycarp, Fragments from Victor of Capua (2006). Preface to the online text.


Irenaeus in Adv. Haer. 3:3,4 mentions several other letters of Polycarp which have not come down to us.  In his note against this passage an early editor, François Feuardent (Feuardentius; 1539-1610) in his 1596 edition 1 published certain extracts which he had discovered in a medieval catena as fragments of these lost letters.  

His description is as follows:

Harum [epistolarum] porro quinque non asperanda fragmenta a me superioris quadragesimae tempore Virduni in quadam vetustissimis characteribus manu descripta super quattuor evangelistas Catena inventa, ut a Victore episcopo Capuano ante mille et centum annos ibidem laudantur, hoc loco inserere operae pretium visum est.  Haec itaque ibidem leguntur: Victor episcopus Capuae ex responsione capitulorum sancti Polycarpi Smyrnensis episcopi, discipuli Joannis evangelistae. 

Further, since I found five not to be despised fragments of these [letters] above, during 40 days at Verdun, written in a hand in the oldest form of letters in a Catena on the four gospels 2 , which were praised in that very place by Victor, bishop of Capua, 1100 years before, it seemed right to insert the works in this place.  And so these very words were read: Victor, bishop of Capua, from the response to the 'chapters' 3 of St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, disciple of the evangelist John.

After this heading follow the fragments in Latin which follow, but with the introductory sentence:

Divi Polycarpi Smyrnensis episcopi et martyris b. Joannis evangelistae quondam discipuli responsionum fragmenta.  Matthaeus Dominum dixisse testatur... (and so on).

Fragments of the responsiones of St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna and martyr and sometime disciple of the blessed John the evangelist.  Matthew says that the Lord... (and so on).

At the end of the fragments, Feuardent adds the following:

Haec Victor Capuanus vir Graece et Latine doctus circa annum Dom. 480 ex Graeco Responsionum capitulorum b. Polycarpi, quem nactus erat, codice a se Latina facta recensuit; et in supra nominata Catena manuscripta, quam penes me habeo et, quum per typographicos licebit, studiosis communicabo, citantur.

This Victor the Capuan, a learned man in Greek and Latin, reviewed from the Greek [a volume] of the responses of the chapters of St. Polycarp, and translated the codex into Latin; and in the above mentioned manuscript Catena, which I have as my own property, and which as soon as the printers permit, I will communicate to the learned, they are quoted.

Lightfoot adds that no such publication of the Catena ever took place, and the manuscript of it is now lost.4  The fragments have been reprinted since in various later writers, some of whom presume wrongly that the catena was compiled by Victor of Capua.  

Cardinal Pitra located a manuscript of the Expositio in Heptateuchum of John the Deacon. 5 John wrote a biography of Gregory the Great and lived in the 9th century, but he refers to a Responsiones written by Victor of Capua.  Pitra found two fragments, which he proposed to add to Feuardent's fragments.  The first is a comment on Gen. 2:7, introduced by

Victor episcopus Capuae in libro suo Responsorum capitulo [ms reads capitula] vigesimo primo...

Victor, bishop of Capua, in his book of Responsiones, chapter 21...

This must relate to the heading given by Feuardentius, where 'Victor episcopus Capuae ex responsione capitulorum' is a corruption (or misreading of an abbreviation) for Victor episcopus Capuae ex responsione capitulo [...], and likewise indicates a (missing) chapter number in Victor's book.  The extracts, then, were written in the Catena by someone who had read Victor's book, and seen that it contained material ascribed to Polycarp.  The compiler of the catena is unknown; Pitra suggests that it too may have been written by John the Deacon, as the only person known to have seen Victor's book.

Victor's epitaph is extant and shows that he died in A.D. 554, having held the see for 13 years.  

The authenticity of the extracts, found in a catena where names tend to drift from one entry to another, is doubtful.  The manuscript is lost and we are anyway dependent on a quotation of a quotation for the name of Polycarp, which may be mistaken.  The portion beginning 'Legitur et in dolio...' in fragment 2 seems unlike a comment by Polycarp, who must have known John's life for himself, and is presumably an addition by the catena writer or Victor. The contents of fragment 3 have also suggested a later date to some.

John Chapman, John the Presbyter and the Fourth Gospel (Oxford: Clarendon, 1911), 101 n.2, made the following conjecture:

I will boldly say that I am inclined to believe that all the five Pseudo-Polycarp fragments enshrine bits of Papias. The heading to them as given by Feuardent was: Victor Episcopus Capuae ex responsione capitulorum sancti Polycarpi Smyrnensis episcopi, discipuli Ioannis evangelistae [Victor Bishop of Capua from the replies to the chapters of saint Polycarp bishop of Smyrna, disciple of John the evangelist]. Either Victor himself (though he was a careful man) or a scribe wrote Polycarp for Papias.

UPDATE (2015): Stephen C. Carlson writes: "The Pseudo-Polycarp fragments that I had translated from Lightfoot and donated to your web site had been attributed--successfully in my opinion--by Harnack back in 1921 to a certain Latinius Drepanius Pacatus who wrote the a Latin response to Porphyry in the early 5th century. Harnack's argument can be found conveniently here.


1. I am unsure whether the note appeared in any preceding edition of the text by Feuardent; such editions begin in 1575.

2. Lit. 'four evangelists'.

3. Or 'headings' or '(biblical) questions'.

4. J. B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers. S. Ignatius, S. Polycarp. vol. 3, pt. 2.  London and New York (1889). p.420 f.  All this information comes from Lightfoot's detailed preface.  The translations are by Roger Pearse.

5. Spicilegium Solesm. vol. 1, p. 266 ff, Paris (1852).  The manuscript is Paris ms. 838 (Sangermanensis 60).  


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Written by Roger Pearse, Ipswich, UK, 2006. All material on this page is in the public domain - copy freely.

Greek text is rendered using unicode.


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