Bishop of Smyrna, Martyr


Polycarp miraculously extinguishing the fire burning the city of Smyrna
Polycarp, Birshop of Smyrna, Martyr

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Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, is a valuable link between the 1st and 2nd century Church. His martyrdom, recorded in detail, provides a touching account of his death.

Polycarp learned from St John, who lived his final years in Ephesus. Polycarp then discipled Irenaeus, who became bishop of Lyon in 177. Polycarp became the leader of the Christian community in Smyrna, he was bishop there for many years. In the early 2nd century Asia Minor was the area in which Christianity found the strongest support.

When Ignatius of Antioch passed Smyrna on his way to martyrdom in Rome in 107, he wrote to the church in Smyrna, and a letter of Polycarp to the Philippians about the same time also survives. Polycarp made no pretensions to scholarship and theology, but exhorted the Christians in Philippi to live circumspectly and bring no discredit on the church. He quoted from Paul and the gospel of Matthew in support of his comments. The church was young and still developing firm theological convictions. Polycarp was anxious about those who deny that Christ was truly human.

From about 150 the church in Asia Minor came under persecution. Pagans and Jews both sought to crush Christianity. The Roman Empire was promoting the religious oath to the emperor as a sign of loyalty. Jews, were living in an uneasy truce with Rome after the failed bloody rebellion 20 years before and regarded Christians as a destabilising influence. Both groups, therefore, found Christians a convenient target.

Polycarp was arrested, about 156 A.D. Urged by the governor to “Curse Christ,” deny his faith and acknowledge the lordship of the emperor. Polycarp replied:

“For 86 years I have been his servant, and he has done me no wrong. How can I blaspheme against my King and Saviour?"
"You threaten me with a fire that burns for a season, and after a little while is quenched; but you are ignorant of the fire of everlasting punishment that is prepared for the wicked."

Polycarp, at age 86, was burned at the stake and pierced with a spear for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor.

BORN: 69-70 AD, Smyrna, Asia Minor, Roman Empire.

DIED: AD 155; Smyrna, Asia Minor, Roman Empire. (Turkey)