Today the church remembers St. Polycarp. Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna for at least forty and possibly sixty or more years. Born in 69 C.E. and martyred ca. 155-160 C.E., the Martyrdom of Polycarp is the oldest known written account of a Christian martyrdom outside the documents of the New Testament. In honor of this day I thought I might list several of my favorite passages from the Martyrdom of Polycarp as a means of devotion and reflection. The quotations that follow are taken from Michael Holmes’ edition of the Apostolic Fathers.
“Then he immediately ordered that a table be set for [those who had come to arrest him] to eat and drink as much as they wished at that hour, and he asked them to grant him an hour so that he might pray undisturbed. When they consented, he stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God that for two hours he was unable to stop speaking; those who heard him were amazed, and many regretted that they had come after such a godly old man.” (Mart. Poly. 7.3)
“After transferring him to their carriage and sitting down at his side, [Herod and Nicetes] tried to persuade him, saying, ‘Why, what harm is there in saying, “Caesar is Lord,” and in offering incense’ (and other words to this effect) ‘and thereby saving yourself?’ Now at first he gave them no answer. But when they persisted, he said, ‘I am not about to do what you are suggesting to me.'” (Mart. Poly. 8.2)
“Therefore, when he was brought before him, the proconsul asked if he were Polycarp. And when he confessed that he was, the proconsul tried to persuade him to recant, saying, ‘Have respect for your age,’ and other such things as they were accustomed to say: ‘Swear by the Genius of Caesar; repent, say, “Away with the Atheists!”‘ So Polycarp solemnly looked at the whole crowd of lawless heathen who were in the stadium, motioned toward them with his hand, and then (groaning as he looked up to heaven) said, ‘Away with the atheists!'” (Mart. Poly. 9.2)
“Polycarp said: ‘You threaten with a fire that burns only briefly and after just a little while is extinguished, for you are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, which is reserved for the ungodly. But why do you delay? Come, do what you wish.'” (Mart. Poly. 11.2)
“So they did not nail him, but tied him instead. Then he, having placed his hands behind him and having been bound, like a splendid ram chosen from a great flock for a sacrifice, a burnt offering prepared and acceptable to God, looked up to heaven and said: ‘O Lord God Almighty, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of you, the God of angels and powers and of all creation, and of the whole race of the righteous who live in your presence, I bless you because you have considered me worthy this day and hour, that I might receive a place among the number of the martyrs in the cup of your Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and of body, in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among them in your presence today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as you have prepared and revealed beforehand, and have now accomplished, you who are the undeceiving and true God. For this reason, indeed for all things, I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son, through whom to you with him and the Holy Spirit be glory both now and for the ages to comes. Amen.'” (Mart. Poly. 14.1-3)
“For this one, [Christ] who is the Son of God, we worship, but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord, as they deserve, on account of their matchless devotion to their own King and Teacher. May we also become partners and fellow disciples!” (Mart. Poly. 17.3)
The Common Worship collect for Polycarp is:
who gave to your servant Polycarp
boldness to confess the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ
before the rulers of this world
and courage to die for his faith:
grant that we also may be ready
to give an answer for the faith that is in us
and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.
I always get a kick out of the part where Polycarp waves his hand at the crowd and huffs, “Away with the atheists!” Classic.
Yes! That’s probably my favorite part. It’s so good!
Why does a Christian writing about a Christian use C.E. instead of A.D.? As it says, what harm is there in saying, “Caesar is Lord,”. Well Caesar is not Lord and we do not live in a common era. We live in the years of Our Lord /A.D.
Tom, Because I for one don’t attach great (read: any) theological value to the language I use for dates. Thursday isn’t Thor’s Day, and I make no commitment to Thor nor betray Jesus by using the word. Either way, the A.D. calendar’s dating is off by several years, and Jesus is Lord of the Common Era regardless of what we prefer to call it.
J.Michael, sorry to have to have questioned your commitment I should have expressed my dislike for C.E. differently. I think that anyone who is interested in the subject would know that Jesus was not born in the year A.D.1 so I don’t see how that’s relevant. Your Thursday comment led me to understand why you don’t attach any theological value to the language for dates. I will try to explain how I see it. There is a long established tradition of using the Norse or Roman gods for days of the week. Nobody today thinks they exist. There is also a tradition of dividing the calendar between BC and AD. There may be reasons to change it in the interest of political correctness but it makes me sad to see Christians encouraging such a change. To me the push to change seems to be coming from the Religious studies departments universities. The History, Lit., Philosophy, and Art History depts. seem to still use BC/AD. Anyway, we all know what the difference between BCE and CE is. So if we really want to change the calendar we should pick a new starting date as well. Didn’t the French try to do such a calendar reform during the Revolution?
Tom, Thanks for following up. I am generally sympathetic to your concerns, so let me explain why I prefer B.C.E. and C.E. First, history and theology should be related closely enough that if we are going to attach theological significance to B.C. and A.D. then we should get the dating right. I’m not willing to make a theological commitment to a historically oriented dating system that is obviously flawed at its most important point, even if we all know it’s flawed. Second, I prefer B.C.E. and C.E. because its rules are simpler. It always follows the date, unlike B.C. and A.D., and so it always looks cleaner to me. Third, I prefer to use language that is as neutral and respectful as possible (although I’m not always as successful at this as I would like to be). If my biblical or theological claims cause offense, so be it, but I don’t want my language to do so. So I prefer B.C.E., Hebrew Bible (sometimes), gender neutral language (although I’m by no means fanatical about this), and other such examples. Thanks again for your reply. As I said, I am sympathetic, but I still prefer the common era designation.
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