A. R. Bonar
The Last Days of Eminent Christians
In the writings of Eusebius we have an account of Polycarp’s martyrdom, contained in an epistle written by the Church of Smyrna
to that of Philadelphia, and it is a document of undoubted genuineness and deep interest.
The most admirable Polycarp, when he first heard that he was called for, was not at all concerned at it, but resolved to tarry in the City, nevertheless, he was at last persuaded, and departed into a little village not far distant from the City, and there tarried with a few about him, night and day praying for all men, and for the churches which were in all the world, according to his usual custom. And as he was praying he had a dream three days before he was taken: and behold the pillow under his head seemed to him on fire: whereupon. turning to these that were with him, he said prophetically, that he should he burned alive Now, when these who were to take him drew near, he departed into another village; and immediately they who sought him came thither And when they found him not, they seized upon two young men that were there, one of which, being tormented. confessed. For it was impossible he should he concealed, forasmuch as they who betrayed him were his own domestics. So the officer. Herod by name, hastened to bring him into the lists; as that Polycarp might receive his proper portion being made partaker of Christ. The sergeant, therefore, and horseman, taking the young lad along with them, departed about supper time. And being come to the place where he was, about the close of the evening, they found him lying down in a little upper room from whence he could easily have escaped into another place but would not saying, “The will of the Lord be done.” When he heard they had come into the house, he went down and spake to them. And, as they who were present wondered at his age and constancy, some of them began to say, “Was there need of all this care to take such an old man?” Then presently he ordered that a meal be prepared for them, that they might eat and drink; desiring that withal they would give him one hour’s liberty so that he could pray without disturbance. And when they had permitted him, he stood praying, being full of the grace of God, so that he ceased not for two hours, to the admiration of all who heard him;
insomuch many of the soldiers began to repent that they were come out against so godly an old man. As soon as he had finished praying. the guards set him upon an ass, and so brought him into the City, being the day of the great Sabbath. And Herod the chief officer, with
his father Nicetas, met him in a chariot and having taken him up to them, and set him in the chariot, began to persuade him saying, “What harm is there to say ‘Lord Caesar,’ and sacrifice, and so be safe?” Polycarp at first answered them not; whereupon they continued to urge him. He then said, “I shall not do what you persuade me to.” So, being without hope of prevailing with him, they began first to rail at him, and then with violence threw him out of the chariot, insomuch that he hurt his thigh with the fall. But he not turning back, went on readily with all diligence, as if he had received no harm at all, and so was brought to the lists where there was so great a tumult that nobody could be heard. As he was going into the lists, there came a voice as it were from heaven to him, “Be strong, Polycarp, and quit thyself like a man.” Now no one saw who it was that spake to him; but for the voice, many of our brethren who were present heard it. And as he was brought in, there was a great disturbance when they heard how that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp; who; confessing that he was, he persuaded him to deny the faith, saying, “Reverence thy old age,” with many other things of the like nature, as their custom is; concluding thus, “Swear by Caesar’s fortune; repent, and say, ‘Take away the wicked.’ ” Then Polycarp, looking with a stern countenance upon the whole multitude of wicked Gentiles that was gathered together in the lists, and shaking his hand at them, looking up to heaven, and groaning said, “Take away the wicked.” But the proconsul insisting and saying, “Swear, I will set thee at liberty; reproach Christ;” Polycarp answered, “Eighty and six years have I now served Christ, and He never has done me the least wrong; how, then, can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour?” And when the proconsul nevertheless insisted, saying, “Swear by the genius of Caesar;” he answered. “Seeing thou art so vainly urgent with me that I should swear, as thou callest it, by the genius of Caesar, seeming as if thou didst not know what I am, hear me freely professing it to thee, that I am a Christian. But if thou farther desirest an account of what Christianity is, appoint a day. and thou shalt hear it.” The proconsul replied, “Persuade the people.” Polycarp answered, “To you have I offered to give a reason of my faith; for so are we taught to pay all due honour to the powers and authorities which are ordained of God; but for the people. I esteem them not worthy that I should give any account of my faith to them.”
The proconsul continued, and said unto him, “I have wild beasts ready; to these I will cast thee except thou repent.” He answered, “Call for them, then, for we Christians are fixed in our minds not to change from good to evil.” The proconsul answered, “Seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, I will cause thee to be devoured by fire,
unless thou repent.” Polycarp added, “Thou threatenest me with fire, which burns for an hour, and so is extinguished, but knowest not the fire of future judgment, and of that eternal punishment which is reserved for the ungodly. But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt!” Having said this, and many other things of the like nature, he was filled with confidence and joy, insomuch that his very countenance was full of grace, so that the proconsul was struck with astonishment, and sent his crier into the middle of the lists to proclaim three times, “Polycarp has confessed himself to be a Christian;” which being done by the crier the whole multitude, both of the Gentiles and of the Jews, which dwelt in Smyrna, being full of fury, cried out with a loud voice, “This is the doctor of Asia, the father of the Christians, and the overthrower of our gods; he that has taught many not to sacrifice, nor to pay any worship to the gods.” And, saying this they cried out and desired Philip the Asiarch that he would let loose a lion against Polycarp. Philip replied that it was not lawful for him to do so, because that kind of spectacle was already over. Then it pleased them to cry out with one consent that Polycarp should be burnt alive. For so it was necessary that the vision should be fulfilled which was made manifest unto him when he said to the faithful that were with him, “I must be burnt alive.” This was done with greater speed than it was spoken, the whole multitude instantly gathering together wood and fagots out of the shops and baths; the Jews especially, according to their custom, with all readiness assisting them in it. When the fuel was ready. Polycarp, laying aside all his upper garments, and undoing his girdle, tried also to pull off his clothes underneath, and every one of the Christians that was about him contended who should soonest touch his flesh; he was duly adorned by his good conversation, with all kind of piety, even before his martyrdom. This being done, when they would have nailed him to the stake, he said, “Let me alone as I am; for He who has given me strength to endure the fire, will also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to stand without moving in the pile.” Wherefore they did not nail him. but only tied him to it; but he having put his hands behind him, looked up to heaven, and said. “O Lord God Almighty, the Father of Thy well-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 especially of the whole race of just men who live in Thy presence; I give Thee hearty thanks that Thou hast vouchsafed to bring me to this day and to 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, in the incorruption of the Holy Ghost, among which may I be accepted this day before Thee, as a fit and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou the true God, with whom is no falsehood, hast
both before ordained and manifested unto me, and also hast now fulfilled it. For this and all things else, I praise Thee, I bless Thee, by the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee and the Holy Spirit, be glory both now and to all succeeding ages. Amen.”
He had no sooner pronounced a loud Amen, and finished his prayer, but they who were his executioners lighted the fire. And when the flame began to blaze to a very great height, behold, a wonderful miracle appeared to us, who had the happiness to see it, and who were reserved by heaven to report to others what had happened;
for the flame, making a kind of arch, like the sail of a ship filled with the wind, encompassed as in a circle the body of the holy martyr, who stood in the midst of it, not as if his flesh were burnt, but bread that is baked, or as gold or silver glowing in the furnace; moreover, so sweet a smell came from it, as if frankincense or some rich spices had been smoking there. At length when those wicked men saw that his body could not be consumed by the fire, they commanded the executioner (or one of the javelin-men, who were stationed in readiness to kill the beasts at these spectacles, if they became unmanageable) to go near to him, and stick his dagger in him; which being accordingly done, there came forth so great a quantity of blood as even extinguished the fire, and raised an admiration in all the people. But the wicked adversary of the race of the just took all possible care that not the least remainder of his body should be taken away by us, although many desired to do it; and to that end, he suggested it to Nicetas,the father of Herod, and the brother of Daice, to go to the governor and hinder him from giving us his body to be buried; “Lest,” says he, “forsaking Him that was crucified, they should begin to worship this Polycarp.” And this he said at the suggestion and instance of the Jews, who also watched us that we should not take him out of the fire, not considering that neither is it possible for us to forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of all such as shall be saved throughout the whole world, “the righteous for the ungodly,” nor worship any other besides Him; for Him indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore, but for the martyrs, we worthily love them, as the disciples and followers of our Lord, and upon the account of their exceeding great attachment towards their Master and their King: of whom may we also be made companions and fellow disciples! The centurion, therefore, seeing the contention of the Jews, put his body into the midst of the fire, and so consumed it. After which, we taking up his bones, more precious than jewels, deposited them where it was fitting.