St Polycarp Martyr and Bishop of Smyrna
The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning in
Philomelium, and to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in every
place: Mercy, peace, and love from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, be
We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and especially to
the blessed Polycarp, who put an end to the persecution, having, as it were, set a
seal upon it by his martyrdom. For almost all the events that happened previously [to
this one], took place that the Lord might show us from above a martyrdom becoming
the Gospel. For he
waited to be delivered up, even as the Lord had done, that we also might become his
followers, while we look not merely at what concerns ourselves but have regard also
to our neighbors. For it is the part of a true and well-founded love, not only to wish
one’s self to be saved, but also all the brethren..80
All the martyrdoms, then, were blessed and noble which took place according to the
will of God. For it becomes us who profess greater piety than others, to ascribe the
authority over all things to God. And truly, who can fail to admire their nobleness of
mind, and their patience, with that love towards their Lord which they displayed? —
who, when they were so torn with scourges, that the frame of their bodies, even to
the very inward veins and arteries, was laid open, still patiently endured, while even
those that stood by pitied and bewailed them. But they reached such a pitch of
magnanimity, that not one of them let a sigh or a groan escape them; thus proving to
us all that those holy martyrs of Christ, at the very time when they suffered such
torments, were absent from the body, or rather, that the Lord then stood by them,
and communed with them. And, looking to the grace of Christ, they despised all the
torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by [the
suffering of] a single hour. For this reason the fire of their savage executioners
appeared cool to them. For they kept before their view escape from that fire which is
eternal and never shall be quenched, and looked forward with the eyes of their heart
to those good things which are laid up for such as endure; things “which ear hath not
heard, nor eye seen, neither have entered into the heart of man,” but were revealed
by the Lord to them, inasmuch as they were no longer men, but had already become
angels. And, in like manner, those who were condemned to the wild beasts endured
dreadful tortures, being stretched out upon beds full of spikes, and subjected to
various other kinds of torments, in order that, if it were possible, the tyrant might, by
their lingering tortures, lead them to a denial [of Christ].
For the devil did indeed invent many things against them; but thanks be to God, he
could not prevail over all. For the most noble Germanicus strengthened the timidity of
others by his own patience, and fought heroically with the wild beasts. For, when the
proconsul sought to persuade him, and urged him to take pity upon his age, he
attracted the wild beast towards himself, and provoked it, being desirous to escape
all the more quickly from an unrighteous and impious world. But upon this the whole
multitude, marveling at the nobility of mind displayed by the devout and godly race of
Christians, cried out, “Away with the Atheists; let Polycarp be sought out!”
Now one named Quintus, a Phrygian, who was but lately come from Phrygia, when he
saw the wild beasts, became afraid. This was the man who forced himself and some
others to come forward voluntarily [for trial]. Him the proconsul, after many
entreaties, persuaded to swear and to offer sacrifice. Wherefore, brethren, we do not
commend those who give themselves up [to suffering], seeing the Gospel does not
teach so to do.
But the most admirable Polycarp, when he first heard [that he was sought for], was in
no measure disturbed, but resolved to continue in the city. However, in deference to
the wish of many, he was persuaded to leave it. He departed, therefore, to a country
house not far distant from the city..There he stayed with a few [friends], engaged in
nothing else night and day than praying for all men, and for the Churches throughout
the world, according to his usual custom. And while he was praying, a vision
presented itself to him three days before he was taken; and, behold, the pillow under
his head seemed to him on fire. Upon this, turning to those that were with him, he
said to them prophetically, “I must be burnt alive.”
And when those who sought for him were at hand, he departed to another dwelling,
whither his pursuers immediately came after him. And when they found him not, they
seized upon two youths [that were there], one of whom, being subjected to torture,
confessed. It was thus impossible that he should continue hid, since those that
betrayed him were of his own household. The Irenarch then (whose office is the same
as that of the
Cleronomus), by name Herod, hastened to bring him into the stadium. [This all
happened] that he might fulfill his special lot, being made a partaker of Christ, and
that they who betrayed him might undergo the punishment of Judas himself.
His pursuers then, along with horsemen, and taking the youth with them, went forth
at supper-time on the day of the preparation, with their usual weapons, as if going
out against a robber. And being come about evening [to the place where he was],
they found him lying down in the upper room of a certain little house, from which he
might have escaped into another place; but he refused, saying, “The will of God be
done.” So when he heard that they were come, he went down and spake with them.
And as those that were present marveled at his age and constancy, some of them
said. “Was so much effort made to capture such a venerable man? Immediately then,
in that very hour, he ordered that something to eat and drink should. be set before
them, as much indeed as they cared for, while he besought them to allow him an
hour to pray without disturbance. And on their giving him leave, he stood and prayed,
being full of the grace of God, so that he could not cease for two full hours, to the
astonishment of them that heard him, insomuch that many began to repent that they
had come forth against so godly and venerable an old man.
Now, as soon as he had ceased praying, having made mention of all that had at any
time come in contact with him, both small and great, illustrious and obscure, as well
as the whole Catholic Church throughout the world, the time of his departure having
arrived, they set him upon an ass, and conducted him into the city, the day being
that of the great Sabbath. And the Irenarch Herod, accompanied by his father Nicetes
(both riding in a chariot), met him, and taking him up into the chariot, they seated
themselves beside him, and endeavored to persuade him, saying, “What harm is
there in saying, Lord Caesar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed
on such occasions, and so make sure of safety?” But he at first gave them no answer;
and when they continued to urge him, he said, “I shall not do as you advise me.” So
they, having no hope of persuading him, began to speak bitter words unto him, and
cast him with violence out of the chariot, insomuch that, in getting down from the
carriage, he dislocated his leg [by the fall]. But without being disturbed, and as if
suffering nothing, he went eagerly forward with all haste, and was conducted to the
stadium, where the tumult was so great, that there was no possibility of being heard.
Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice from
heaven, saying, “Be strong, and show thyself 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 thy old age,” and other similar things,
according to their custom, [such as],” Swear by the fortune of Caesar; 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 thee 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
Caesar,” he answered, “Since thou art vainly urgent that, as thou sayest, I should
swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest 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 thou shalt hear them.” The
proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.” But Polycarp said, “To thee 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. 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 thee,
except thou 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 thee to be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if
thou wilt not repent.” But Polycarp said, “Thou threatenest me with fire which burneth
for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the fire of the
coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly. But why
tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt.”
While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with confidence and
joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely did it not fall as if
troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary, the proconsul was
astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of the stadium thrice,
“Polycarp has confessed that he is a
Christian.” This proclamation having been made by the herald, the whole multitude
both of the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with uncontrollable
fury, and in a loud voice, “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, and
the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not to sacrifice, or to
worship the gods.” Speaking thus, they cried out, and besought Philip the Asiarch to
let loose a lion upon Polycarp. But Philip answered that it was not lawful for him to
do so, seeing the shows of wild beasts were already finished. Then it seemed good to
them to cry out with one consent, that Polycarp should be burnt alive. For thus it
behooved the vision which was revealed to him in regard to his pillow to be fulfilled,
when, seeing it on fire as he was praying, he. turned about and said prophetically to
the faithful that were with him, “I must be burnt alive.”
This, then, was carried into effect with greater speed than it was spoken, the
multitudes immediately gathering together wood and fagots out of the shops and
baths; the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting them in it. And
when the funeral pile was ready, Polycarp, laying aside all his garments, and loosing
his girdle, sought also to take off his sandals, — a thing he was not accustomed to
do, inasmuch as every one of the faithful was always eager who should first touch his
skin. For, on account of his holy life, he was, even before his martyrdom, adorned
with every kind of good. Immediately then they surrounded him with those
substances which had been prepared for the funeral pile. But when they were about
also to fix him with nails, he said, “Leave me as I am; for He that giveth me strength
to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain
without moving in the pile.”
They did not nail him then, but simply bound him. And he, placing his hands behind
him, and being bound like a distinguished ram [taken] out of a great flock for
sacrifice, and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto God, looked up to
heaven, and said, “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy beloved and blessed Son
Jesus Christ, by whom we have received the knowledge of Thee, the God of angels
and powers, and of every creature, and of the whole race of the righteous who live
before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted me, worthy of this day and
this hour, that I should have a part in the number of Thy martyrs, in the cup of thy
Christ, to the resurrection of eternal life, both of soul and body, through the
incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among whom. may I be accepted this day
before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice, according as Thou, the ever-truthful
God, hast fore-ordained, hast revealed beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled.
Wherefore also I praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with
the everlasting and heavenly Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and
the Holy Ghost, be glory both now and to all coming ages. Amen.”
When he had pronounced this amen, and so finished his prayer, those who were
appointed for the purpose kindled the fire. And as the flame blazed forth in great
fury, we, to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle, and have been
preserved that we might report to others what then took place. For the fire, shaping
itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when filled with the wind,
encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. And he appeared within not like
flesh which is burnt, but as
bread that is baked, or as gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we
perceived such a sweet odor [coming from the pile], as if frankincense or some such
precious spices had been smoking there.
At length, when those wicked men perceived that his body could not be consumed by
the fire, they commanded an executioner to go near and pierce him through with a
dagger. And on his doing this, there came forth a dove, and a great quantity of blood,
so that the fire was extinguished; and all the people wondered that there should be
such a difference between the unbelievers and the elect, of whom this most
admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times been an apostolic and prophetic
teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which is in Smyrna. For every word that
went out of his mouth either has been or shall yet be accomplished..
But when the adversary of the race of the righteous, the envious, malicious, and
wicked one, perceived the impressive nature of his martyrdom, and [considered] the
blameless life he had led from the beginning, and how he was now crowned with the
wreath of immortality, having beyond dispute received his reward, he did his utmost
that not the least memorial of him should be taken away by us, although many
desired to do this, and to become possessors of his holy flesh. For this end he
suggested it to Nicetes, the father of Herod and brother of Alce, to go and entreat
the governor not to give up his body to be buried, “lest,” said he, “forsaking Him that
was crucified, they begin to worship this one.” This he said at the suggestion and
urgent persuasion of the Jews, who also watched us, as we sought to take him out of
the fire, being ignorant of this, that it is neither possible for us ever to forsake
Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the whole
world (the blameless one for sinners ), nor to worship any other. For Him indeed, as
being the Son of God, we adore; but the martyrs, as disciples and followers of the
Lord, we worthily love on account of their extraordinary affection towards their own
King and Master, of whom may we also be made companions and fellow-disciples!
The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed the body in the
midst of the fire, and consumed it. Accordingly, we afterwards took up his bones, as
being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified than gold, and
deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered together, as opportunity is
allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall grant us to celebrate the
anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already finished
their course, and for the exercising and preparation of those yet to walk in their steps.
This, then, is the account of the blessed Polycarp, who, being the twelfth that was
martyred in Smyrna (reckoning those also of Philadelphia), yet occupies a place of his
own in the memory of all men, insomuch that he is everywhere spoken of by the
heathen themselves. He was not merely an illustrious teacher, but also a pre-eminent
martyr, whose martyrdom all desire to imitate, as having been altogether consistent
with the Gospel of Christ. For, having through patience overcome the unjust governor,
and thus acquired the crown of immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the
righteous [in heaven], rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord
Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of
the Catholic Church throughout the world.
Since, then, ye requested that we would at large make you acquainted with what
really took place, we have for the present sent you this summary account through our
brother Marcus. When, therefore, ye have yourselves read this Epistle, be pleased to
send it to the brethren at a greater distance, that they also may glorify the Lord, who
makes such choice of His own servants. To Him who is able to bring us all by His
grace and goodness into his everlasting kingdom, through His only-begotten Son
Jesus Christ, to Him be glory, and honor, and power, and majesty, for ever. Amen.
Salute all the saints. They that are with us salute you, and Evarestus, who wrote this
Epistle, with all his house..
Now, the blessed Polycarp suffered martyrdom on the second day of the month
Xanthicus just begun, the seventh day before the Kalends of May, on the great
Sabbath, at the eighth hour. He was taken by Herod, Philip the Trallian being high
priest, Statius Quadratus being proconsul, but Jesus Christ being King for ever, to
whom be glory, honor, majesty, and an everlasting throne, from generation to
generation. Amen.
We wish you, brethren, all happiness, while you walk according to the doctrine of the
Gospel of Jesus Christ; with whom be glory to God the Father and the Holy Spirit, for
the salvation of His holy elect, after whose example the blessed Polycarp suffered,
following in whose steps may we too be found in the kingdom of Jesus Christ! These
things Caius transcribed from the copy of Irenaeus (who was a disciple of Polycarp),
having himself been intimate with Irenaeus. And I Socrates transcribed them at
Corinth from the copy of Caius. Grace be with you all. And I again, Pionius, wrote
them from the previously written copy, having carefully searched into them, and the
blessed Polycarp having manifested them to me through a revelation, even as I shall
show in what follows. I have collected these things, when they had almost faded
away through the lapse of time, that the Lord Jesus Christ may also gather me along
with His elect into His heavenly kingdom, to whom, with the Father and the Holy
Spirit, be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
[1] ANF 1.39.
Lives of the Saints