By Study and Also By Faith

An LDS (Mormon) blog representing a search for knowledge, understanding, and wisdom.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

St. Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis

I started writing about Papias, an early church father, but the paper grew unwieldy as I found myself adding in other church fathers. I have now cut back to Papias only and will occasionally post some of the other comments later.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia (The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume XI, Copyright © 1911 by Robert Appleton Company, Online Edition Copyright © 2003 by K. Knight) entry on St. Papias at New Advent :

Bishop of Hierapolis (close to Laodicea and Colossae in the valley of the Lycus in Phrygia) and Apostolic Father, called by St. Irenaeus "a hearer of John, and companion of Polycarp, a man of old time". He wrote a work in five books, logion kyriakon exegesis, of which all but some fragments is lost. We learn something of the contents from the preface, part of which has been preserved by Eusebius (III, xxix):

"I will not hesitate to add also for you to my interpretations what I formerly learned with care from the Presbyters and have carefully stored in memory, giving assurance of its truth. For I did not take pleasure as the many do in those who speak much, but in those who teach what is true, nor in those who relate foreign precepts, but in those who relate the precepts which were given by the Lord to the faith and came down from the Truth itself. And also if any follower of the Presbyters happened to come, I would inquire for the sayings of the Presbyters, what Andrew said, or what Peter said, or what Philip or what Thomas or James or what John or Matthew or any other of the Lord's disciples, and for the things which other of the Lord's disciples, and for the things which Aristion and the Presbyter John, the disciples of the Lord, were saying. For I considered that I should not get so much advantage from matter in books as from the voice which yet lives and remains."

I have seen Papias mentioned in a number of Early Christian histories, but only briefly. Very little remains of his writing, sadly. Wouldn’t it have been wonderful to have access to those five volumes?! Even if they were not considered reliable enough to become scripture, they still would likely have provided us with much information about the teachings of Jesus Christ.

From the quote of Papias’ preface above, which is from Eusebius of Caesarea’s (c.260-c.340) Church History (which can be found also at New Advent under “Fathers” where they have the writings of the Church Fathers), it certainly sounds as though Papias put in a great effort to be accurate and to write only those teachings that came from men who were close to Jesus and would have heard Him speak directly, or from men who were taught by those direct disciples. Papias states that he includes his interpretations, but since he also wrote the teachings themselves, it would have been a most useful book.

Eusebius himself apparently didn’t think too highly of Papias, because he said:

I guess he got these ideas from a misinterpretation of the apostolic accounts. For he did not understand what they said mystically & in figurative language. For he obviously was a man of very little intelligence, as one can tell judging from his sayings. Nevertheless, it was due to him that so many churchmen after him adopted a similar opinion, basing their position on the fact that he was a man of the earliest era. (Eccles. Hist. 3.39.12-13).

Nevertheless, I picture Papias as an earnest little man, trying his best to preserve the true teachings of Jesus Christ. I think that is why he has caught my attention, for although he is mentioned in the writings of Eusebius and Irenaeus and in some modern works, little is known about him and his writings overall. It is too bad that these and many other writings have been lost. Still, discoveries are occasionally made and can be studied. We get a little of what Papias wrote in Eusebius’s Church History (Ecclesiastical History).

I find myself fascinated by all the writings that were preserved and how far back they go. There is definitely a lot more to Early Christian history than I had first thought.

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