St Polycarp (23rd February)

James 4.13-17; Psalm 48; Mark 9.38-40

Polycarp (who died around the year 155) is one of the most winsome and attractive characters of the post-apostolic generation. He tells us that he had heard the apostle John preach, and both Irenaeus and Tertullian confirm this tradition. Irenaeus describes him as a companion of Papias, who also was said to have heard St John. For Irenaeus, Polycarp was an important embodiment of the apostolic succession; movingly he writes of his own early days as a Christian: I could tell you the place where the blessed Polycarp sat to preach the Word of God. It is yet present to my mind with what gravity he everywhere came in and went out; what was the sanctity of his deportment, the majesty of his countenance; and what were his holy exhortations to the people. I seem to hear him now relate how he conversed with John and many others who had seen Jesus Christ, the words he had heard from their mouths.’

Polycarp became Bishop of Smyrna (modern-day Izmir), one of the Churches to which the Apocalypse of St John the Divine was addressed. [2.8-11] There he was a steadfast opponent of heresy. He was arrested and sentenced to death for his Christian faith, but the Roman proconsul felt pity for this gentle old man and urged him just quietly to affirm that ‘Caesar is Lord’ and offer a bit of incense on the imperial altar. Polycarp’s bold rejoinder is one of the best-attested events of antiquity. ‘Eighty-six years I have been a servant of Christ and he has never failed me; how could I now blaspheme the King who has saved me?’ Tradition holds that Polycarp was stabbed to death because the fire to which he was put failed to consume his body.

Posted in Daily Reflection.