The Catholic Defender: St. Polycarp, Follower of Christ, Catholic Martyr


(Editors Note) The believed date of John's writing of Revelation is about 96 A.D. The issue is Revelation 17 that speaks to the destruction of Jerusalem as if in the future, yet he was on the Island of Patmos when he wrote it.

Did John know the impending time of Jerusalem's destruction, or was it already a past event? I just placed this note here to let people know there are different time tables? Thanks Kerry Chivers for presenting this to me!

At the time the Apostle John began writing the book of Revelation, sometime believed to be between 68 A.D. (and 70 A.D.) as St. John clearly warns against the fall of Jerusalem (Revelation 17) which happens in 70 A.D. St. Polycarp was born (69 A.D.) who would become a Disciple of St. John and placed as the second Bishop of Smyrna (today known as Izmir), a city on the west coast of Turkey. St. Polycarp would follow another Disciple of St. John, St. Boukolos.

Jesus states, "And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write: 'The words of the first and the last, who died and came to life. 'I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and for ten days you will have tribulation. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life."

Jesus would infer that this Diocese was rich pointing to their strong devotion to Our Lord and to the Virgin Mary (Psalms 45:13, Matthew 5:3). Also, St. Boukolos was successful in combating heresy that rejected the Hebrews and called the God of the Old Testament a "tyrant". Jesus called this heresy a "synagogue of Satan".

It was about this time that St. Polycarp (80 A.D.) would hear St. John preach becoming another of the apostolic Fathers and became one of St. John's disciples and spiritual Father of St. Irenaeus.

St. Polycarp was a friend and contemporary of St. Ignatius of Antioch wrote to the Philippians, which is of great interest because it demonstrates the existence of New Testament texts, with quotes from Matthew and Luke, the Acts of the Apostles, and the first letters of Peter and John. St. Polycarp exhorts his people to remain strong in the faith standing firm against the early heresies of the Marcionites and Valentinians.

As Bishop of Smyrna (beginning about 96 A.D.), St. Polycarp received St. Ignatius of Antioch when he came as a prisoner on his way to martyrdom in Rome in 110 A. D. Of St. Polycarp, Ignatius wrote of Polycarp being clothed "with the garment of grace."

In his letter to Polycarp, Ignatius urged him to "Give ye heed to the bishop that God may give heed to you." St. Irenaeus was acquainted with St. Polycarp praising him for his respect and devotion to tradition and sound doctrine.

The events surrounding the arrest of St. Polycarp according to the writing "The Martyrdom of Polycarp":

When he heard about this, the redoubtable Polycarp was not in the least upset, and was happy to stay in the city, but eventually he was persuaded to leave. He went to friends in the nearby country, where as usual he spent the whole time, day and night, in prayer for all people and for the churches throughout the world.

Three days before he was arrested, while he was praying, he had a vision of the pillow under his head in flames. He said prophetically to those who were with him, ”I will be burnt alive.”

Those who were looking for him were coming near, so he left for another house. They immediately followed him, and when they could not find him, they seized two young men from his own household and tortured them into confession.

The sheriff, called Herod, was impatient to bring Polycarp to the stadium, so that he might fulfill his special role, to share the sufferings of Christ, while those who betrayed him would be punished like Judas.

The police and horsemen came with the young man at suppertime on the Friday with their usual weapons, as if coming out against a robber. That evening, they found him lying down in the upper room of a cottage. He could have escaped but he refused saying, “God’s will be done.”

When he heard that they had come, he went down and spoke with them. They were amazed at his age and steadfastness, and some of them said. “Why did we go to so much trouble to capture a man like this?” Immediately he called for food and drink for them, and asked for an hour to pray uninterrupted.

They agreed, and he stood and prayed, so full of the grace of God, that he could not stop for two hours. The men were astounded and many of them regretted coming to arrest such a godly and venerable an old man.

When he finished praying… they put him on a donkey, and took him into the city….

As Polycarp was being taken into the arena, a voice came to him from heaven: “Be strong, Polycarp and play the man!” No one saw who had spoken, but our brothers who were there heard the voice. When the crowd heard that Polycarp had been captured, there was an uproar.

The Proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On hearing that he was, he tried to persuade him to apostatize, saying, “Have respect for your old age, swear by the fortune of Caesar. Repent, and say, ‘Down with the Atheists!’”

Polycarp looked grimly at the wicked heathen multitude in the stadium, and gesturing towards them, he said, “Down with the Atheists!” “Swear,” urged the Proconsul, “reproach Christ, and I will set you free.”

“86 years have I have served him,” Polycarp declared, “and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”

“I have wild animals here,” the Proconsul said. “I will throw you to them if you do not repent.” “Call them,”

Polycarp replied. “It is unthinkable for me to repent from what is good to turn to what is evil. I will be glad though to be changed from evil to righteousness.” “If you despise the animals, I will have you burned.” “You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and is then extinguished, but you know nothing of the fire of the coming judgment and eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. Why are you waiting? Bring on whatever you want.”

It was all done in the time it takes to tell. The crowd collected wood and bundles of sticks from the shops and public baths.

The Jews , as usual, were keen to help. When the pile was ready, Polycarp took off his outer clothes, undid his belt, and tried to take off his sandals – something he was not used to, as the faithful always raced to do it for him, each wanting to be the one to touch his skin – this is how good his life was.

But when they went to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am, for he that gives me strength to endure the fire, will enable me not to struggle, without the help of your nails.”

So they simply bound him with his hands behind him like a distinguished ram chosen from a great flock for sacrifice. Ready to be an acceptable burnt-offering to God, he looked up to heaven, and said, Lord, almighty God, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to the knowledge of yourself, God of angels, of powers, of all creation, of all the race of saints who live in your sight, I bless you for judging me worthy of this day, this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ, your anointed one, and so rise again to eternal life in soul and body, immortal through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May I be received among the martyrs in your presence today as a rich and pleasing sacrifice. God of truth, stranger to falsehood, you have prepared this and revealed it to me and now you have fulfilled your promise. I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal priest of heaven, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him be glory to you, together with him and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

Then the fire was lit, and the flame blazed furiously. We who were privileged to witness it saw a great miracle, and this is why we have been preserved, to tell the story. The fire shaped itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind, and formed a circle around the body of the martyr. Inside it, he looked not like flesh that is burnt, but like bread that is baked, or gold and silver glowing in a furnace. And we smelt a sweet scent, like frankincense or some such precious spices.

Eventually, when those wicked men saw that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to pierce him with a dagger. When he did this [a dove flew out and] [*this may well be a later interpolation or transcription error] such a great quantity of blood flowed that the fire was extinguished. The crowd were amazed at the difference between the unbelievers and the elect – of whom the great Polycarp was surely one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word he spoke either has been or shall be accomplished.

When the Enemy saw the wonder of his martyrdom, his blameless life and now his crowning with immortality, he did his utmost to stop us keeping any memorial of him or taking possession of his holy body. He inspired Nicetes, the father of Herod, along with the Jews to ask the governor not to hand over his body for burial. “They might turn from worshiping the crucified one,” he said, “only to start worshipping this one.” They did not realize that it is impossible for us to abandon Christ who suffered for the salvation of the world, or to worship any other….

The centurion then, seeing the disturbance caused by the Jews, took the body and publicly burnt it. Later, we collected up his bones, more precious than jewels and better purified than gold, and put them in an appropriate place where, the Lord willing, we shall celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom each year with joy and rejoicing, both to remember those who have run their race and to prepare those yet to walk in their steps.

This is the story of the blessed Polycarp, the twelfth martyr in Smyrna, though he has a unique place memory of all people, being remembered even by all the heathen. He was not merely an illustrious teacher, but also a pre-eminent martyr, whose death all desire to imitate, being altogether consistent with the Gospel of Christ. Having overcome the unjust governor with patience and acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous, glorifies God the Father with joy, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, the Ruler of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world.

February 23 is St. Polycarp's Feast day

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