Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna in Asia Minor, provides a valuable link between the church of the apostles and the church of the 2nd Century. His martyrdom was recorded in detail, and this provides a touching account of his death.
Polycarp learned some of his Christian faith from St John, who lived his final years in Ephesus. Polycarp himself taught Irenaeus, who became bishop of Lyons in 177. Polycarp became the leader of the Christian community in Smyrna and 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 claim to great scholarship or theology, but called upon the Christians in Philippi to live carefully so as not to bring no discredit on the church. He quoted from Paul and from Matthew’s Gospel in support of his comments. The church was still very young. Polycarp was particularly anxious about those who deny that Christ was truly human. Some found it easier to believe in a Saviour who was a heavenly visitor rather than one of us.
From about 150 the church in Asia Minor became the centre of public dislike. Pagans and Jews alike sought to have the church crushed. The state was strongly promoting the religious oath to the Roman Emperor as a sign of loyalty to the state, and the Jews, who lived in an uneasy truce with Rome after the bloody and unsuccessful rebellion 20 years before, regarded the Christians as a probelm. Both groups, therefore, found the Christians a convenient target.
Polycarp himself was arrested, probably in 156, and urged to deny Christ and acknowledge the lordship of the Roman Emperor. “Swear and I will let you go”, the governor told him, “Curse Christ?” 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?”
BORN: 69-70 AD, Smyrna
DIED: 23 February 155 AD, Smyrna