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Reading the Martyrdom of Polycarp
In my reading schedule, I try to alternate between primary source texts and secondary literature in biblical studies.
Recently I’ve been reading the Martyrdom of Polycarp about, well, the martyrdom of Polycarp, a Christian bishop in Smyrna in the second century.
Two lines really do stand out for me.
First, when Polycarp explains why he has no intention of abandoning Christ, even when threatened with death, because he cannot abandon the king who saved him.
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 are 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!” But when the magistrate persisted and said, “Swear the oath, and I will release you; revile Christ,” Polycarp replied, “For eighty-six years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” (9.2-4).
Second, when it comes to the practice of worshipping Jesus and venerating martyrs, the author of the work explains:
For this one, 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 their partners and fellow disciples (17.3).
All the more reason to read the Apostolic Fathers, some great stuff in there, I might even make a video about the Martyrdom of Polycarp one day!
Translation: Holmes, Michael W. (1999). The Apostolic Fathers: Greek texts and English translations (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker).