College Notes
Church History
Lecture 6

Various Sects and Men - First Century

A. These existed from the 1st century through the 4th
B. There is no biblical account of them.
C. They fled to Pella before the fall of Jerusalem.
D. Believed...
    1. In both old and new testaments of the Bible.
    2. In one God and Christ was his son.
    3. In the Sabbath.
    4. Accepted the Gentiles into their fellowship

Richard Watson writes of these in the Biblical and Theological Dictionary:

    Nazarenes is "a name given to Christians in General, on account of Jesus Christ's being of the city of Nazareth; but was, in the second century, restrained to certain judaizing Christians, who blended Christianity and Judaism together. They held that Christ was born of a virgin, and was also in a certain manner united to the divine nature. They refused to abandon the ceremonies (not meaning rituals and sacrifices) prescribed by the law of Moses.

    They rejected those additions that were made to the mosaic institutions by the Pharisees and doctors of the law, and admitted the Scriptures both of the Old and New Testament.

    The fathers frequently mentioned the Gospel of the Nazarenes, which differs nothing from that of St. Matthew, but was afterward corrupted by the Ebionites.  These Nazarenes preserved this first Gospel in its primitive purity.  Some of them were still in being in the time of St. Jerome, who does not reproach them with any errors.  (p. 687-688)   

The Ecclesiastical History of the Second and Third Centuries, by John Bishop records:

     "There can indeed be little doubt that, after the promulgation of Adrian's edict, those Christians who had united the observance of the Mosaic ritual with the profession of the Gospel, fearful lest they should be confounded with the Jews, gradually abandoned the Jewish ceremonies -- so that, in the time of Tertullian, the number of Judaizing Christians had become extremely small.  We are now speaking of those whom Mosheim calls Nazarenes.  [A footnote says: that they, though retained the Mosaic rites, believed all the fundamental articles of the Christian faith.  The Ebionites on the contrary, who also maintained the necessity of observing the ceremonial, rejected many essential doctrines of Christianity."  (p. 474-475)

A. Time period: Late 1st century through 3rd century.
B. General information:
    1. Originally Jewish converts.
        a. Two possibilities for their name:
        b. Named after a man Ebion
        c. Name means "poor" - could be that they were called this because they were poor.
    2. Predominately Jewish and did not accept Gentiles
    3. Probably not part of true church. Could be termed heretics.
    4. Reject some NT teachings, i.e. Paul.
    5. Adhered to circumcision.
        a. These could be traces of those who rejected Paul
        b. Pos. these split off after the conference of Act 15
        c. These may have ended like so many of the groups that split off from us in this age; they have similarities but are not really of us
        d. They eventually were influenced by Gnostic beliefs
6. Believed God created the world, accepted docetism.
    7. Vegetarians
    8. Practiced celibacy--this led to them dying out.
    9. Observed the Sabbath until fourth century; after observed Sunday.
C. Strange Doctrine
    1. Christ = an angel, 96 ft. tall.
    2. Holy Spirit = a woman 96 ft. tall.

The Britannica 11th edition explains:

    "Irenaeus...sheds no light on the origin of the Ebionites, but says that while they admit the world to have been made by the true God (in contrast to the Demiurge of the Gnostics), they held Cerinthian views on the person of Christ, used only the Gospel of Matthew...and rejected Paul as an apostate from the Mosaic Law, ... the customs and ordinances to which, including circumcision, they steadily adhered...They kept both the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord's day...(and) at the end of the 2nd century and the beginning of the 3rd, (these people) exchanged their simple Judaistic creed for a strange blend of Essenism and Christianity...It was claimed that Christ, as an angel 96 miles high accompanied by the Holy Spirit, as a female angel of same stature, had given the revelation to Elchasai in the 3rd year of Trajan."  Edward Burton relates in Lectures upon the Ecclesiastical History of the First Three Centuries, "It may have been the success of

D. Mr. Dean Blackwell feels that the Ebionites fulfill the scripture in Revelation 2:2 which says: "...and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and has found them liars."
E. Later on, the Nazarenes lost the truth
    1. Asia Minor became the last Bastion of the truth
    2. This was due to John's preaching in this area

A. Note handout
    1. Nazarenes and Ebionites in the East.
    2. Gnostics in the West.

Nazarenes Ebionites
Pella Jewish
OT and NT Rejected Paul
Resurrection Circumcision
One God / Christ son God / Docetism
Sabbath ---------
Possibly in church Probably not in church

A. Those who wrote before the Nicean Council were called Ante-Nicean
B. This was in 325 so, Ante-Nicean is before this
C. Apostolic Fathers: Three key writers.
    1. Justin Martyr - 100-167 A.D.
    2. Irenaeus - 130-200 A.D.
    3. Eusebius - 264-339 A.D. Cath. historian assoc. w/Constantine - also assisted w/ Council of Nicea
D. Roman Writers:
    1. Seutonius - biographer of the Caesars
    2. Dio - historian; covered Roman Empire
    3. Pliny - lawyer; acquitted Christians in Asia

V. DOMITIAN - 81-96 A.D.
A. General Information
    1. He was one of the sons of Vespasian
    2. Attempted to reform morals and religion in empire.
    3. Some Christian persecution.
    4. Atheism - refusal to worship Roman gods.
    5. References from mid 90's refer to some Christian influence.
    6. Banished John to isle of Patmos - late 1st century.
    7. Paranoid of assassination.
        a. Was assassinate in 90's A.D.
        b. Killed in own bedroom

The Encyclopedia Britannica on Domitian states:

    "Like Augustus, he attempted a reformation of morals and religion. As chief pontiff he inquired rigorously into the character of the vestal virgins, three of whom were buried alive; he enforced the laws against adultery, mutilation, and the grosser forms of immorality, and forbade the public acting of mimes...He passed many sumptuary laws, and issued an edict forbidding the over-cultivation of vines to the neglect of corn-growing...Domitian's military achievements were insignificant...The revolt of Antonius Saturninus, the commander of the Roman forces in Upper Germany (88 or 89) marks the turning-point in his reign...from that moment Domitian's character changed. He got rid of all whom he disliked on the charge of having taken part in the conspiracy, and no man of eminence was safe against him. He was in constant fear of assassination and distrusted all around him. During the last three years of his life his behavior was that of a madman. He sentenced to death his own cousin and nephew by marriage, Flavius Clemens, whose wife he banished for her supposed leaning towards... Christianity... (finally)... He was stabbed in his bedroom by a freedman of Clemens named Stephanus on the 18th of September 96."  (p. 4O5)

Tranquillas writes of him in The Lives of The Twelve Caesars:

    "Domitian, Vespasian's son was born in Rome and lived a scandalous youth. He constantly plotted against his brother for power and position. 'In the beginning of his reign he used to spend daily an hour by himself in private during which time he did nothing else but catch flies and stick them through the body with a sharp pin.'...He levied a poll tax on Jews which was strictly enforced. 'I remember when I was a youth when an old man, ninety years of age. had his person exposed to view in a very crowded court in order that, on inspection, the procurator might satisfy himself whether he was circumcised.' His egotism extended to regulating the height and weight of his statues." (pp. 479-5O5)

The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religion explains how during Domitian's reign the Christians came to be criminals:

    "Roman custom permitted a virtual... decision to be rendered against a whole group of persons who were believed to be banded together to commit crimes. No overt act needed thereafter to be proved against any individual member of the group in order to ensure his condemnation. The exact charges varied with local circumstances, but by the middle of the second century, the common charge came to be 'treason-atheism,' based on refusal to participate in the imperial cult." (pp. 91-96)

Benko adds in his book Early Church History:

    "That Christians may have been a special object of Domitian's persecution is also attested by Tertullian: 'Domitian, too, a man Nero's type in cruelty, tried his hand at persecution: but as he had something human in him he soon put an end to what he had begun, even restoring again those whom he had banished." (p. 67)

Domitian's persecution was shorter than some but it was effective. His is called the second persecution, and Fox writes about it in his Book of Martyrs:

    "The tyrants and organs of Satan were not content with death only, to bereave the life from the body. The kinds of death were divers, and no less horrible than divers. Whatsoever the cruelness of man's invention could devise for the punishment of man's body, was practiced against the Christians--stripes and scourgings, drawings, tearings, stonings, plates of iron laid unto them burning hot, deep dungeons, racks, strangling in prisons, the teeth of wild beasts, gridirons, gibbets and gallows, tossing upon the horns of bulls. Moreover, when they were thus killed, their bodies were laid in heaps, and dogs there left to keep them, that no man might come to bury them, neither would any prayer obtain them to be interred." (p. 18)

A. It was Domitian that banished John to Patmos
B. Tradition says he was set in boiling oil but was unharmed
C. One account shows him drinking poison before Domitian to prove God's power.

The first appearance of the story of John and the boiling oil is found in Tertullian's writings: Prescriptions Against Heretics: From Early Latin Theology Greenslade. He writes, speaking of Rome:

    "How fortunate is that church upon which the apostles poured their whole teaching together with their blood, where Peter suffered like his Lord, where Paul was crowned with John's death, where the apostle John, after he had been immersed in boiling oil without harm, was banished to an island." (p. 57)

In The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Robers and Donaldson have collected writings that include the Acts of The Holy Apostle and Evangelist John the Theologian where there is an account of John facing Domitian:

    "And the fame of the teaching of John was spread abroad in Rome; and it came to the ears of Domitian that there was a certain Hebrew in Ephesus, John by name, who spread a report about the seat of empire of the Romans, saying that it would quickly be rooted out, and that the kingdom of the Romans would be given over to another..."

    "...and the king said to him: Art thou John, who said that my kingdom would speedily be uprooted, and that another king, Jesus, was going to reign instead of me? And John answered and said to him: Thou also shalt reign for many years given thee by God, and after thee very many others; and when the times of the things upon earth have been fulfilled, out of heaven shall come a King, eternal, true, Judge of living and dead, to whom every nation and tribe shall conform, through whom every earthly power and dominion shall be brought to nothing, and every mouth speaking great things shall be shut..."

    "At this Domitian said to him: What is the proof of these things? I am not persuaded by words only...and immediately John asked for a deadly poison. And the king having ordered poison to be given to him, they brought it on the instant. John therefore having taken it, put it into a large cup, and filled it with water, and mixed it, and cried out with a loud voice, and said: In thy name, Jesus Christ, Son of God, I drink the cup which Thou wilt sweeten; and the poison in it do thou mingle with Thy Holy Spirit..."

    "And when John stood, cheerful, and talked with them safe, Domitian was enraged against those who had given the poison, as having spared John."

    John said "...let a trial be made, and thou shalt learn the power of the poison. Make some condemned criminal be brought from the prison. And when he had come, John put water into the cup, and swirled it round, and gave it with all the dregs to the condemned criminal.  And he having taken it and drunk, immediately fell down and died." (Later after Domitian ordered the dead body thrown away), "...John going up to the dead body, ...and having taken him by the hand, he raised him up alive."

    "And when all were glorifying God, and wondering at the faith of John, Domitian said to him: I have put forth a decree of the senate that all such persons should be summarily dealt with, without trial; but since I find from thee that they are innocent, and that their religion is rather beneficial, I banish thee to an island, that I may not seem myself to do away with my own decrees." (pp. 56O-562)


The New Testament Era by Reicke records:

    "Since pre-Christian and apostolic times.  The Jewish people was represented in all important regions of the Roman and Parthian empires...Including proselytes it numbered several millions and made up between six and nine percent of the total population of the Roman Empire." (p. 284)

VIII. TRAJAN - 98-117 A.D.
A. General Information
    1. Dealt strictly.

Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition states:

"Trajan...Roman emperor, was born at Italica, in Spain, on the 18th of September 52 (or 53). The family to which he belonged was probably Italian and not Iberian by blood. His father began as a common legionary soldier, and fought his way up to the consulship and the governorship of Asia. The younger Trajan was rigorously trained by him, and imbued with the same principles and tastes. He was a soldier born and bred...  His training was almost exclusively military, but his experience as an officer gave him an acquaintance with almost every important province of the empire, which was of priceless value to him when he came to the throne...

    When the revolution of 96 came, and Nerva replaced the murdered Domitian, one of the most important posts in the empire, that of consular legate of Upper Germany, was conferred upon Trajan... Nerva saw that if he could not find an Augustus to control the army, the army would find another Domitian to trample the senate under foot...and on the 27th of October in the year 97 he ascended the Capitol and proclaimed that he adopted Trajan as his son. The senate confirmed the choice and acknowledged the emperor's adopted son as his successor...

    The secret of Trajan's power lay in his close personal relations with the officers and men of the army and in the soldierly qualities which commanded their esteem... He possessed courage, justice and frankness. Having a good title to military distinction himself, he could afford, as the unwarlike emperors could not, to be generous to his officers.

    The common soldiers, on the other hand, were fascinated by his personal prowess and his camaraderie. His features were firm and clearly cut; his figure was tall and soldierly.  His hair was already grey before he came to the throne, though he was not more than forty-five years old...  Probably he lost nothing of his popularity with the army by occasional indulgence in sensual pleasures.  Yet every man felt and knew that no detail of military duty, however minute, escaped the emperor's eye, and that any relaxation of discipline would be punished rigorously, yet with unwavering justice...

    In disciplinary matters no emperor since Augustus had been able to keep so strong a control over the troops. Pliny rightly praises Trajan as the lawgiver and the founder of discipline, and Vegetius classes Augustus, Trajan and Hadrian together as restorers of the morale of the army. (pp. 156-157)

2. During Trajan's time there were many rumors about Christians at his time that caused public hatred

Tacitus' account is reproduced in Liberty magazine 5/6,'83:

    "He refers to the new religion as 'evil...hideous and shameful,' (and) noted for its 'hatred against mankind." (p. 7)

The article shows the public's beliefs about Christians:

    "Minucius Felix describes what the public suspected went on in private Christian meetings: 'An infant covered with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: This infant is slain by the young pupil, who has been urged on as if to harmless blows on the surface of the meal, with dark and secret wounds. Thirstily--O Horror!--they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs." (p. 7)

Public opinion changed slowly as Christianity grew, but for some time leaders were unsure of how to deal with Christians:

    "Many wanted Christianity stopped, yet it spread. Personal contact and example rather than elaborate missionary machinery illustrated the faith to the world. Justin Martyr says, 'Many changed their violent and tyrannical disposition, being overcome either by the constancy which they witnessed in the lives of their Christian neighbors, or by the extraordinary forbearance they have observed in their Christian fellow travelers when defrauded, and by the honesty of those believers with whom they have transacted business." (p. 8)

    3. Letters from Pliny about Christians in the early 2nd century written at this time show this period of uncertainty.
        a. In the letter to Trajan Pliny asks how to deal with the Christians

"...the method I have observe towards those who have been denounce to me as Christians, is this: (He says) I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed I repeated the question twice again, adding a threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed; for I was persuaded, that whatever the nature of their creed, a contumacious and inflexible obstinacy certainly deserved chastisement...I judged it so much the more necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, called deaconesses. But I could discover nothing but depraved and excessive superstition. I therefore thought it proper to adjourn all further proceedings in this affair, in order to consult you."

        b. Trajan's reply is to not hunt Christians down

A History of the Christian Church fourth edition explains:

    "There is no question in the emperor's mind that the Christians represent an unauthorized, and in principle dangerous, association.  Nevertheless, he obviously does not believe that they constitute much of a problem in practice. He directs, therefore, that when caught they are to be punished (though if they recant their faith, they can be pardoned), but that they are not to be sought out actively...Trajan's successor, the emperor Hadrian, seems to have taken much the same attitude." (p. 51)

    4. 2nd Jewish wars occurred during Trajan's reign
    5. These uprisings in Judaism - affecting Christians.
        a. Romans destroyed Judea
        b. Christians forced out completely

A. blamed for earthquake at that time
B. sentenced to lions den at Rome

The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition explains:

    "No one connected with the history of the early Christian Church is more famous than Ignatius, and yet among the leading churchmen of the time there is scarcely one about whose career we know so little." Eusebius states that he "was the second successor of Peter in the bishopric of Antioch."

    "Ignatius constantly contends for the recognition of the authority of the ministers of the church. 'Do nothing without the bishop and the presbyters'...'It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or hold a love-feast.'  ...Differences of theological opinion were arising. Churches had a tendency to split up into sections. The age of the apostles had passed away and their successors did not inherit their authority. The unity of the churches was in danger. Ignatius was resisting this fatal tendency which threatened ruin to the faith. The only remedy for it in those days was to exalt the authority of the ministry and make it the center of church life." (p. 293-294)

Britannica also relates his attitude toward eventual death. In his epistle to the Romans Ignatius writes:

    "I bid all men know that of my own free will I die for God, unless ye should hinder me...Let me be given to the wild beasts, for through them I can attain unto God. I am God's wheat, and I am ground by the wild beasts that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.  Entice the wild beasts that they may become my sepulcher...; come fire and cross and grapplings with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, hacking of limbs, crushings of my whole body; only be it mine to attain unto Jesus Christ" Rom.4-5 Enc. B. 11 (p. 294)

X. POLYCARP - 69-156
A. General Information
    1. Born shortly before the fall of Jerusalem.
    2. Probably member of the church.
    3. Disciple of Apostle John in Smyrna.
        a. Trained by John to carry on the work
        b. prepared by John after his release from exile at Patmos
        c. All the information we have of him is from catholic sources and has their slant

According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, 11th edition: Polycarp was

    ". . . bishop of Smyrna and one of the Apostolic fathers, (he) derives much of his importance from the fact that he links together the apostolic age and that of nascent (early) Catholicism." (p. 20)

        d. Polycarp born to members of the church
        e. He was a second generation Christian
    4. Thought of as a Catholic by Roman Catholic church.
    5. Leader of the church in Asia Minor.
        a. The Church is now split east and west
        b. He was called the bishop
        c. This is not a bad term we don't use it because of its association with Catholic
        d. "Christian" can mean any group at this time
        e. Catholic church is not a solidified body yet

The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition relates the Catholic writer, Irenaeus' account of Polycarp:

    "I saw thee when I was still a boy in Lower Asia in company with Polycarp . . .  I can even now point out the place where the blessed Polycarp used to sit when he discoursed, and describe his goings out and his comings in, his manner of life and his personal appearance and the discourses which he delivered to the people, how he used to speak of his intercourse with John and with the rest of those who had seen the Lord, and how he would relate their words. And everything that he had heard from them about the Lord, about his miracles and about his teaching, Polycarp used to tell us as one who had received it from those who had seen the Word of Life with their own eyes, and all this in perfect harmony with the Scriptures." (p. 21)

Burnett Streeter records the ordination of Polycarp in his work The Primitive Church:

    "The passage to be cited is also relevant as evidence, it not of the primitive method of appointing a bishop, yet of that practiced in Asia, perhaps already in the second century.  'And on the Sabbath, when prayer had been made long time on bended knee (Polycarp), as was his custom, got up to read; and every eye was fixed upon him. Now the lesson was the Epistles of Paul to Timothy and to Titus, in which he says what manner of man a bishop ought to be. And he was so well fitted for the office that the hearers said one to another that he lacked none of those qualities which Paul requires in one who has the care of a church. When, then (after the reading, and the instruction of the bishops and the discourses of the presbyters), the deacons were sent to the laity to enquire whom they would have , they said with one accord, 'Let Polycarp be our pastor and teacher'. The whole priesthood then having assented, they appointed him, notwithstanding his earnest entreaties and his desire to decline.

    Accordingly the deacons led him up for ordination by the hands of the bishops according to custom. And being placed in his chair by them, he moistened and anointed first with tears of piety and humility the place where in the spirit he saw standing the feet of Christ, who was present with him for the anointing to the priestly office. For where the ministers are--the priests and Levites-- there in the midst is also the High-priest arrayed in the great flowing robe. Then the company present urged him, since this was the custom, to address them. For they said that this work of teaching was the most important part of the communion (LIFE OF POLYCARP, pp. 22-23)" (pp. 111-112)

    6. Read through Rev. chapters 2 & 3.
    7. Led church at least 50 years into 2nd century.
    8. Constantly fought heresies.
    9. Death, c. 156 A.D.
        a. He was about 86 years old
        b. God seems to have a pattern of using men who become quite old.

The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition states that:

    "Though Polycarp must have been bishop of Smyrna for nearly half a century we know next to nothing about his career. We get only an occasional glimpse of his activity, and the period between 115 and 155 is practically a blank. The only points of sure information which we possess relate to (1) his relations with Ignatius, (2) his protests against heresy, (3) his visit to Rome in the time of Anicetus, (and), (4) his martyrdom...

    All through his life Polycarp appears to have been an uncompromising opponent of heresy. We find him in his epistle (ch. vii) uttering a strong protest against certain false teachers (probably the followers of Cerinthus)...  Polycarp lived to see the rise of the Marcionite and Valentinian sects and vigorously opposed them. Irenaeus tells us that on one occasion Marcion endeavoured to establish relations with him and accosted him with the words, 'Recognize us.' But Polycarp displayed the same uncompromising attitude which his master John had shown towards Cerinthus and answered, 'I recognize you as the first-born of Satan.'

    The steady progress of the heretical movement in spite of all opposition was a cause of deep sorrow to Polycarp, so that in the last years of his life the words were constantly on his lips, 'Oh good God, to what times hast thou spared me, that I must suffer such things!'" (pp. 21-22)

B. Events occurring at this time
    1. Doctrine of Easter beginning to be observed.
    2. Maryology develops at this time
    3. Christ's resurrection on Sunday develops during his work
    4. Dichotomy between church's at Rome and churches in the East - 150 A.D.
    5. Confrontation between Polycarp and Anicetus
        a. Passover vs. Easter
            1) Polycarp weak; gave in to certain things
            2) parted friends
                a). He was probably a Barnabas type
                b). He was more a peace maker in the Church
            3) maintained that Easter was pagan

The Encyclopedia Britannica 11th edition states:

    "It is one of the most interesting and important events in the church history of the second century that Polycarp, shortly before his death, when he was considerably over eighty years old, undertook a journey to Rome in order to visit the bishop Anicetus.

    Irenaeus, to whom we are indebted for this information, gives as the reason for the journey the fact the differences existed between Asia and Rome 'with regard to certain things' and especially about the time of the Easter festival. He might easily have told us what these 'certain things' were and given us fuller details of the negotiations between the two great bishops, for in all probability he was himself in Rome at the time. But unfortunately all he says is that with regard to the certain things the two bishops speedily came to an understanding, while as to the time of Easter, each adhered to his own custom, without breaking off communion with the other.

    We learn further that Anicetus as a mark of special honour allowed Polycarp to celebrate the Eucharist in the church, and that many Marcionnites and Valentinians were converted by him during his stay in Rome." (p. 22)

    6. Lived a few years after confrontation.
    7. Arrested in Smyrna.
    8. Told to renounce his religion.
    9. Suffered martyr's death.

The History of the Church by Eusebius describes this:

    "Three nights before his arrest, while at prayer he saw in a trance the pillow under his head burst into flames and burn to a cinder. He awoke at once and interpreted the vision to those present, opening the book of things to come and leaving his friends in no doubt that for Christ's sake he was to depart this life by fire. As the efforts of his pursuers went on relentlessly, the love and devotion of the brethren compelled him to move on to yet another farm. There he was soon overtaken: two of the farm servants were seized, and under torture one of them revealed Polycarp's quarters.  Late in the evening they arrived and found him in bed upstairs. He might easily have moved to another house but he had refused, saying: 'God's will be done.' Indeed, when he heard that they had come, the account informs us, he came down and talked to them in the most cheerful and gentle manner, so that, never having seen him before, they could hardly believe their eyes when confronted with his advanced years and dignified confident bearing". Why they wondered, was there such anxiety to arrest an old man of this kind?  He meanwhile ordered the table to be laid for them immediately, and invited them to eat as much as they liked, asking in return a single hour in which he could pray unmolested.  Leave being given, he stood up and prayed, full of the grace of the Lord, to the amazement of those who were present and heard him pray, many of them indeed distressed now by the coming destruction of an old man so dignified and so godlike.

    At last he ended his prayer...  The hour for departure had come, so they set him on an ass and brought him to the city.  The day was a Great Sabbath [Either Purim or the Passover Saturday]. He was met by Herod the chief of police and his father Nicetes, who after transferring him to their carriage sat beside him and tried persuasion. 'What harm is there in saying "Lord Caesar" and sacrificing? You will be safe then.' At first he made no answer, but when they persisted he replied: 'I have no intention of taking your advice.'  Persuasion having failed they turned to threats, and put him down so hurriedly that in leaving the carriage he scraped his shin. But without even looking round, as if nothing happened, he set off happily and at a swinging pace for the stadium. There the noise was so deafening that many could not hear at all, but as Polycarp came into the arena a voice from heaven came to him: 'Be strong, Polycarp, and play the man.' No one saw the speaker, but many of our people heard the voice.

    His introduction was followed by a tremendous roar as the news went round: 'Polycarp has been arrested!' At length, when he stepped forward, he was asked by the proconsul if he really was Polycarp. When he said yes, the proconsul urged him to deny the charge. 'Respect your years!' he exclaimed, adding similar appeals regularly make on such occasions: 'Swear by Caesar's fortune; change your attitude; say: "Away with the godless!"' But Polycarp, with his face set, looked at all the crowd in the stadium and waved his hand towards them, sighed, looked up to heaven, and cried: 'Away with the godless!' The governor pressed him further: 'Swear, and I will set you free: execrate Christ.' 'For eighty-six years,' replied Polycarp, 'I have been His servant, and He has never done me wrong: how can I blaspheme my King who saved me?' When the other persisted:  'Swear by Caesar's fortune,' Polycarp retorted: 'If you imagine that I will swear by Caesar's fortune, as you put it, pretending not to know who I am, I will tell you plainly, I am a Christian. If you wish to study the Christian doctrine, choose a day and you shall hear it.' The proconsul replied, 'Convince the people.' 'With you,' rejoined Polycarp, 'I think it proper to discuss these things; for we have been taught to render as their due to rulers and powers ordained by God such honour as casts no stain on us: to the people I do not feel it my duty to make any defense.' 'I have wild beasts,' said the proconsul. 'I shall throw you to them, if you don't change your attitude.' 'Call them,' replied the old man. 'We cannot change our attitude if it means a change from better to worse.  But it is a splendid thing to change from cruelty to justice.'  'If you make light of the beasts,' retorted the governor, 'I'll have you destroyed by fire, unless you change your attitude.'  Polycarp answered: 'The fire you threaten burns for a time and is soon extinguished: there is a fire you know nothing about -- the fire of the judgment to come and of eternal punishment, the fire reserved for the ungodly. but why do you hesitate?  Do what you want.'

    As he said this and much besides, he was filled with courage and joy, and his features were full of grace, so that not only did he not wilt in alarm at the things said to him, but on the contrary the proconsul was amazed, and sent the crier to stand in the middle of the arena and announce three times: 'Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.' At this announcement the whole mass of Smyrnaeans, Gentiles and Jews alike, boiled with anger and shouted at the tops of their voices: 'This fellow is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the destroyer of our gods, who teaches numbers of people not to sacrifice or even worship.' So saying, they loudly demanded that the Asiarch Philip should set a lion on Polycarp. He objected that this would be illegal, as he had closed the sports. Then a shout went up from every throat that Polycarp must be burnt alive. For...the vision which appeared to him about the pillow should be fulfilled:

    The rest followed in less time than it takes to describe: the crowds rushed to collect logs and fagots from workshop and public baths, the Jews as usual joining in with more enthusiasm than anyone. When the pyre was ready, he took off all his outer garments, loosened his belt, and even ...his shoes. Even before his hair turned grey he had been honoured in every way because of his virtuous life. There was no hesitation now. The instruments prepared for the pyre were put round him, but when they were going to nail him too, he cried: 'Leave me as I am: He who enables me to endure the fire will enable me, even if you don't secure me with nails, to remain on the pyre without shrinking.' So they bound him without nailing him. He put his hands behind him and was bound like a noble ram presented from a great flock as a whole burnt offering acceptable to God Almighty.  Then he prayed: 'O Father of Thy beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to know Thee, the God of angels and powers and all creation, and of the whole family of the righteous who live in Thy presence, I bless Thee for counting me worthy of this day and hour, that in the number of the martyrs I may partake of Christ's cup, to the resurrection of eternal life of both soul and body in the imperishability that is the gift of the Holy Ghost. Among them may I be received into Thy presence today, a rich and acceptable sacrifice as Thou has prepared it beforehand, foreshadowing it and fulfilling it, Thou God of truth that canst not lie. Therefore for every cause I praise Thee, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, through the eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ Thy beloved Son, through whom and with whom in the Holy Ghost glory be to Thee, both now and in the ages to come. Amen.'

    When he had offered up the Amen and completed his prayer, the men in charge lit the fire, and a great flame shot up. Then we saw a marvelous sight, we who were privileged to see it and were spared to tell the others what happened. The fire took the shape of a vaulted room like a ship's sail filled with wind, and made a wall round the martyr's body, which was in the middle not like burning flesh but like gold and silver refined in a furnace. Indeed, we were conscious of a wonderful fragrance, like a breath of frankincense or some other costly spice. At last, seeing that the body could not be consumed by the fire, the lawless people summoned a confector [An official whose duty was to dispatch the victim] to come forward and drive home his sword. When he did so there came out a stream of blood that quenched the fire, so that the whole crowd was astonished at the difference between the unbelievers and the elect. To the elect belonged this man, the most wonderful apostolic and prophetic teacher of our time, bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word that he uttered was and shall be fulfilled

    But when the evil one, the enemy of the household of the righteous, saw the greatness of Polycarp's martyrdom and the blamelessness of his entire life, and how he had carried off a prize beyond gainsaying, in jealousy and envy he saw to it that not even his poor body should be taken away by us, though many longed to do this and to have communion with his holy flesh. So Nicetes, Herod's father and Alce's brother, was induced to request the governor not to give up the body 'lest they should abandon the Crucified and start worshiping this fellow.' These suggestions were made under persistent pressure from the Jews, who watched us when we were going to take him out of the fire, not realizing that we can never forsake Christ, who suffered for the salvation of those who are being saved in the entire world, or worship anyone else. For to Him, as the Son of God, we offer adoration; but to the martyrs, as disciples and imitators of the Lord, we give the love that they deserve for their unsurpassable devotion to their own King and Teacher: may it be our privilege to be their fellow-members and fellow-disciples

    When the centurion saw that the Jews were determined to make trouble, he brought him into their midst in the usual way and burnt him. So later on we took up his bones, more precious than stones of great price, more splendid than gold, and laid them where it seemed right. Then, if it proves possible, we assemble there, the Lord will allow us to celebrate with joy and gladness the birthday of his martyrdom, both to the memory of those who have contended in the past, and for the training and preparation of those whose time is yet to come.

    Such was the story of blessed Polycarp. Counting those from Philadelphia, he was the twelfth to endure martyrdom at Smyrna, but he alone is specially remembered by all, so that even the heathen everywhere speak of him."  (pp. 17O-174)

Index | Lecture 5 | Lecture 7