Episcopal Elections in Late Antiquity (ca. 250 – ca. 600 AD) location:Leuven, Belgium date:26-28 October 2009
This presentation seeks to examine the image of the second century bishop-martyr Polycarp of Smyrna as it is found in the Vita Polycarpi, a late third or fourth century text from Asia Minor. This document, often regarded as late and historically unreliable, has largely been neglected by contemporary scholarship. More recent studies, however, tend to recognize its importance as a hagiographical, liturgical and even historical source of information. In line with this recent trend of scholarship, this presentation will deal with the Vita, focusing especially on its portrayal of Polycarp as an ideal candidate for bishop’s office and his subsequent Episcopal election. This description will then be compared to the presentation of Polycarp’s (pre-) election for martyrdom in the Martyrium Polycarpi, a mid second century document from Smyrna. Albeit written in different circumstances and by different authors, who did not make the same emphases in drawing the image of Polycarp, the two texts, i.e. Martyrium and Vita, exhibit several striking linguistic and conceptual parallels. Corresponding passages in the two documents will be compared and analyzed in order to identify the character of their relationship. This synchronic reading of the sources eventually aims at pointing to a possible transformation of the martyr ideal (in the Martyrium) into the image of the ideal bishop in the Vita Polycarpi.