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Saint Polycarp was bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor in the second century AD. A disciple of Saint John the Evangelist, Polycarp died martyr in AD 155 or 156 for refusing to renounce Christianity. His martyrdom was marked by various miraculous prodigies, but foremost among them, perhaps, is the incredible fortitude of the man--who was at least 86 at the time of his trial--and his willingness to speak the truth to power even with the threat of immediate death hanging over his head.
Here is an excerpt from the account of his martyrdom, recorded by Saint Irenaeus, in which Polycarp debates with the Roman proconsul, Statius Quadratus:
Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from heaven, saying, "Be strong, and show yourself a man, O Polycarp!" No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were present heard the voice.
And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, "Have respect to your old age," and other similar things, according to their custom, [such as], "Swear by the fortune of Cæsar; repent, and say, 'Away with the Atheists.'"
But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, "Away with the Atheists."
Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, "Swear, and I will set you at liberty, reproach Christ."
Polycarp declared, "Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?"
And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, "Swear by the fortune of Cæsar."
He answered, "Since you are vainly urgent that, as you say, I should swear by the fortune of Cæsar, and pretend not to know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and you shall hear them."
The proconsul replied, "Persuade the people."
But Polycarp said, "To you I have thought it right to offer an account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honor (which entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God. [Romans 13:1-7; Titus 3:1] But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any account from me.
The proconsul then said to him, "I have wild beasts at hand; to these will I cast you, unless you repent."
But he answered, "Call them then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is righteous."
But again the proconsul said to him, "I will cause you to be consumed by fire, seeing you despise the wild beasts, if you will not repent."
But Polycarp said, "You threaten me with fire which burns for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but are ignorant of the fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why do you tarry? Bring forth what you will."
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Several of the accounts contained in this book may be found excerpted in a much more haphazard format here, so if you enjoy reading this blog, you will appreciate this book.