Feast Day of St. Polycarp of Smyrna

1 comment February 23rd, 2020 Headsman

Second-century Christian bishop and martyr St. Polycarp of Smyrna has his feast day on February 23. Be sure to shout supplications loudly, as he’s the patron for earaches.

Reputedly inducted into the mysteries by the Apostle John himself in the late first century, Polycarp was a consequential clergyman in the early church and a living link between the early church fathers and the literal companions of Christ.

As the bishop of the Christian community in Smyrna — these days it’s the Turkish city of Izmir; pilgrims can visit a cave where Polycarp was supposedly tortured, but the ruins of the old Roman amphitheater where he was martyred have been buried by urban development — he’s credited with an important epistle to the Philippians.* Likewise, he’s the addressee of the Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans (c. 110).**

Less pleasantly, a mid-second century century document titled Martyrdom of Polycarp is the earliest account of a Christian martyrdom outside the of actual scripture, and unsurprisingly casts its subject in a bold and eloquent mold.

On his being led to the tribunal, there was immense clamour at the news that Polycarp had been apprehended. At last, when he was brought near, the Proconsul asked him, if he were Polycarp; and, on his acknowledging it, he began to persuade him to deny the faith, saying, “Compassionate thine years;” and other similar expressions, which it is their wont to use. “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; think better of the matter; say, Away with the godless men.” But Polycarp regarded with a sad countenance the whole multitude of lawless heathen in the theatre; and waving his hand towards them, groaned, and looking up to Heaven said, “Away with the godless men.” And when the Governor urged him further, and said, “Swear, and I will dismiss thee; revile Christ;” Polycarp replied; “Eighty and six years have I been his servant, and he hath wronged me in nothing, and how can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour.” And on his pressing him again, saying, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar,” Polycarp replied; “If ye vainly suppose that I shall swear by Caesar’s fortune, as ye call it, pretending to be ignorant of my real character, let me tell you plainly, I am a Christian; and if ye wish to hear the Christian doctrine, appoint me a time, and hear me.” The Proconsul answered, “Persuade the people.” Polycarp replied, “To you I thought it right to give account, for we have been taught to give to rulers and the powers ordained of God such fitting honour as hurteth not our souls; but them I deem not worthy, that I should defend myself before them.” The Proconsul said unto him, “I have wild beasts in readiness, to them will I throw thee, if thou wilt not change thy mind.” But he said, “Bring them forth then, for the change of mind from better to worse I will never make. From cruelty to righteousness it were good to change.” Again he said unto him, “I will have thee consumed by fire, since thou despisest the wild beasts, except thou change thy mind.” Polycarp answered; “Thou threatenest me with a fire that burneth for an hour, and is speedily quenched; for thou knowest not of the fire of future judgment and eternal punishment reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring what thou wilt.” (an 1833 translation)

* Prevailing scholarship holds Polycarp’s epistle to the Philippians to be a concatenation of two distinct epistles.

** Polycarp probably appreciated that this letter featured sections admonishing congregants “Let nothing be done without the bishop” and “Honour the bishop”.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: Ancient,Arts and Literature,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,God,History,Martyrs,Milestones,Public Executions,Put to the Sword,Religious Figures,Roman Empire,Torture,Turkey,Uncertain Dates

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