‘Tradition’ has become something of a dirty word in certain quarters. This is a great shame as properly understood it means the process whereby what is valuable is handed on to the next generation. For the Church, tradition is not the dead faith of the living but rather the living faith of the dead. We have received our faith from those who have gone before us.
All the saints have played a vital part in this process but some of those from the earliest days of the Church deserve a special mention. One such is the saint we celebrate today. Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna in modern day Turkey. He was martyred there as a very old man of 86 in the year 155. He had been taught the faith by St. John the Evangelist. And in his turn he taught St Irenaeus, whose feast we celebrate in June, and who wrote the first systematic exposition of Christian doctrine. Reading the writings of these ‘Fathers’ of the Church and others we see clearly already well developed doctrine about the Eucharist, the sacraments and the primacy of the Bishop of Rome.
We are called now not to make up a new faith and new understanding but rather to hand on faithfully what we ourselves have received: the faith that can be traced back to the Apostles and Christ himself. P.D.