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Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Fathers Speak: The Martyrdom of Polycarp

The Fathers Speak:
The Martyrdom of Polycarp

          St. Polycarp (feast day Feb. 23) was a second century bishop of Smyrna (modern-day Turkey).  He learned the Faith from St. John the Apostle and subsequently passed it on to St. Irenaeus.  Below is an excerpt from The Martyrdom of Polycarp, written in about the year A.D. 155.  It is the earliest factual account of a martyr’s death besides that of St. Stephen in the Book of Acts.  Besides giving us a look at the courageous death of this early Christian hero, it highlights the fact that the Church has been celebrating the feast days of the martyrs and Apostles from the beginning.
  When the Proconsul urged him and said, “Take the oath and I will release you; revile Christ,” Polycarp answered: “Eighty-six years I have served Him, and He has never done me wrong.  How, then, should I be able to blaspheme my King who has saved me?
  “…In this way and for all things I do praise you, I do bless you, I do glorify you through the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, your beloved Child: through whom be glory to you with Him and with the Holy Spirit, both now and through ages yet to come.  Amen.”
  And of the elect, he was one indeed, the wonderful martyr Polycarp, who in our days was an apostolic and prophetic teacher, bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna.  For every word which came forth from his mouth was fulfilled and will be fulfilled.
  [Christ] we worship as the Son of God; but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the Lord; and rightly so, because of their unsurpassable devotion to their own King and Teacher…The Lord will permit us, when we are able, to assemble [at Polycarp’s tomb] in joy and gladness; and to celebrate the birthday of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already engaged in the contest, and for the practice and training of those who have yet to fight.