From the book “THE HISTORY OF THE CHURCH” #7
TRAJAN TO MARCUS AURELIUS : THE
SUCCESSION OF BISHOPS: THEIR WRITINGS
Bishops of Rome and Alexandria in Trajan’s reign: the Jewish tragedy
1. About the twelfth year of Trajan's reign1 the Bishop of Alexandria mentioned a few pages back2 departed this life, and Primus, the fourth from the apostles, was chosen to hold office there. Meanwhile at Rome, when Evarestus had completed his eighth year, Alexander took up the bishopric as fifth successor to Peter and Paul.
2. While our Saviour's teaching and His Church were flourishing and progressing further every day, the Jewish tragedy was moving through a series of disasters towards its climax. When the emperor was about to enter his eighteenth year another rebellion broke out and destroyed vast numbers of Jews. In Alexandria and the rest of Egypt, and in Cyrene as well, as if inflamed by some terrible spirit of revolt they rushed into a faction fight against their Greek fellow-citizens, raised the temperature to fever heat, and in the following summer started a full-scale war, Lupus being at that time governor of all Egypt. From the first encounter they emerged victorious. But the Greeks fled to Alexandria, where they killed or captured the Jews in the city. But though deprived of their aid, the Jews of Cyrene went on plundering the territory of Egypt and ravaging the various districts, led by Lucuas.
1. A.D. 109.
Against them the emperor sent Marcius Turbo with land and sea forces, including a contingent of cavalry. He pursued the war against them relentlessly in a long series of battles, destroying many thousands of Jews, not only those from Cyrene but others who had come from Egypt to assist Lucuas their king.
The emperor, suspecting that the Jews in Mesopotamia also would attack the people there, instructed Lucius Quietus to clear them out of the province. Lucius deployed his forces and slaughtered great numbers of the people there - a success for which the emperor appointed him governor of Judaea. These events were recorded in similar terms by the Greek authors who wrote histories of the same period.1
Hadrian’s reign: defenders of the Faith, and Bishops of Rome and Alexandria
3. When Trajan had ruled for six months short of twenty years Aelius Hadrianus succeeded to the throne.2 To him Quadratus addressed and sent a pamphlet which he had composed in defence of our religion, because unscrupulous persons were trying to get our people into trouble. Many of the brethren still possess copies of this little work; indeed, I have one myself. In it can be found shining proofs of the author's intellectual grasp and apostolic correctness. He reveals his very early date by the wording of his composition.
Our Saviour's works were always there to see, for they were true - the people who had been cured and those raised from the dead, who had not merely been seen at the moment when they were cured or raised, but were always there to see, not only when the Saviour was among us, but for a long time after His departure; in fact some of them survived right up to my own time.3
1. e.g. Appian and Dio Cassius.
2. 8 August A.D. 117.
3. They might well survive till the nineties, when Quadratus was presumably a young man.
Aristides again, a loyal and devoted Christian, has like Quadratus left us a Defence of the Faith addressed to Hadrian. Many people still preserve copies of his work also.
4. In the third year of the same reign1 Alexander Bishop of Rome died, after completing the tenth year of his ministry: Xystus was his successor. In the diocese of Alexandria at about the same time Primus passed away in the twelfth year of his rule and was succeeded by Justus.
Bishops of Jerusalem up to Hadrians time
5. Of the dates of the bishcops at Jerusalem I have failed to find any written evidence - it is known that they were very short lived - but I have received documentary proof of this, that up to Hadrian's siege of the Jews there had been a series of fifteen bishops there. All are said to have been Hebrews in origin, who had received the knowledge of Christ with all sincerity, with the result that those in a position to decide such matters judged them worthy of the episcopal office. For at that time their whole church consisted of Hebrew believers who had continued from apostolic times down to the later siege in which the Jews, after revolting a second time from the Romans, were overwhelmed in a full-scale war.
As that meant the end of bishops of the Circumcision,2 this is the right moment to list their names from the first. The first, then, was James 'the Lord's brother'. Second came Symeon, third Justus, fourth Zacchaeus, fifth Tobias, sixth Benjamin, seventh John, eighth Matthias, ninth Philip, tenth Seneca, eleventh Justus, twelfth Levi, thirteenth Ephres, fourteenth Joseph, fifteenth and last Judas. That was the number of bishops in the city of Jerusalem from apostolic times to the date mentioned, all of them of the Circumcision.3
1. A.D. 119.
2. In A.D. 135 Hadrian banished all Jews from Jerusalem.
3. There must therefore have been thirteen bishops between A.D. 106 and in Hadrian's twelfth year, Xystus, Bishop of Rome for a decade, was succeeded by the seventh from the apostles, Telesphorus. A year and some months later the see of Alexandria came under the rule of Eumenes, the sixth to be appointed, his predecessor having been in office eleven years.
The final siege of the Jews
6. When the Jewish revolt again grew to formidable dimensions, Ruftts governor of Judaea, on receiving military reinforcements from the emperor, took merciless advantage of their crazy folly and marched against them, destroying at one stroke unlimited numbers of men, women, and children alike, and - as the laws of war permitted - confiscating all their lands. The Jews at that time were under the command of a man called Bar Cochba, which means ‘a star’ - a bloodthirsty bandit who on the strength of his name,1 as if he had slaves to deal with, paraded himself as a luminary come down from heaven to shine upon their misery.
The climax of the war came in Hadrian's eighteenth year, in Betthera, an almost impregnable little town not very far from JerusJem.2 The blockade from without lasted so long that hunger and thirst brought the revolutionaries to complete destruction, and the instigator of their crazy folly paid the penalty he deserved. From that time on, the entire race has been forbidden to set foot anywhere in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem, under the terms and ordinances of a law of Hadrian which ensured that not even from a distance might Jews have a view of their ancestral soil. Aristo of Pella tells the whole story. When in this way the city was closed to the Jewish race and suffered the total destruction of its former inhabitants, it was colonized by an alien race, and the Roman city which subsequendy arose changed its name, so
1. Which implied Messiahship: see Num. xxiv. 17.
2. Probably Bittir, seven miles S.W. of Jerusalem.
that now, in honour of the emperor then reigning, Aelius Hadrianus, it is known as Aelia. Furthermore, as the church in the city was now composed of Gentiles, the first after the bishiops of the Circumcision to be put in charge of the Christians there was Mark.
Leaders at that time of Knowledge falsely so called
7. Like dazzling lights the churches were now shining all over the world, and to the limits of the human race faith in our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was at its peak, when the demon who hates the good, sworn enemy of truth and inveterate foe of man's salvation, turned all his weapons against the Church. In earlier days he had attacked her with persecutions from without; but now that he was debarred from this, he resorted to unscrupulous impostors as instruments of spiritual corruption and ministers of destruction, and employed new tactics, contriving by every possible means that impostors and cheats, by cloaking themselves with the same name as our religion, should at one and the same time bring to the abyss of destruction every believer they could entrap, and by their own actions and endeavours turn those ignorant of the Faith away from the path that leads to the message of salvation.
Thus it was that from Menander - who was mentioned above as successor to Simon - proceeded a power with the two mouths and twin heads of a snake, which set up the originators of two heresies, Saturninus, an Antiochene by birth, and Basilides of Alexandria, who - one in Syria and one in Egypt - established schools of detestable heresies. For the most part Saturninus taught the same false doctrines as Menander, as Irenaeus makes clear; but Basilides, under the pretence of deeper mysteries, extended his fantasies into the infinite, inventing monstrous fictions to support his impious heresy. Consequently, while a great number of churchmen were busy at that time fighting for the truth and eloquently championing the beliefs of the apostles and the Church, some also set down on paper for the benefit of later generations the means of defence against these very heresies.
I have in my hands, from the pen of a very well-known writer of the day, Agrippa Castor, a most effective refutation of Basilides, which unmasks the man's clever imposture. In laying bare his mysteries he says that Basilides compiled twenty-four books on the gospel and that he named as his prophets Barcabbas and Barcoph, inventing for himself several others, creatures of his imagination, and calling them by barbarous names to amaze those who gape at such things. He taught that there was no objection to eating meat offered to idols, or to cheerfully forswearing the Faith in times of persecution. Like Pythagoras he enjoined on his neophytes a five-year silence. Other facts of the same sort about Basilides are catalogued by Agrippa, who thus admirably exposed the erroneous character of this heresy.
Irenaeus also writes that contemporary with these was Car-pocrates, father of another heresy known as that of the Gnostics.1 These claimed to transmit Simon's magic arts, not secretly like Basilides but quite openly, as if this was something marvellous, preening themselves as it were on the spells which they cast by sorcery, on dream-bringing familiar spirits, and on other goings-on of the same sort. In keeping with this they teach that all the vilest things must be done by those who intend to go through with their initiation into these ‘mysteries’ or rather abominations; for in no other way can they escape the 'cosmic rulers' than by rendering to them all the due performance of unspeakable rites.
Thus it came about that with the help of these ministers the demon that delights in evil enslaved their pitiable dupes and brought them to ruin, furnishing the unbelieving heathen with ample grounds for speaking ill of the divine message, since
1. There had been other gnostics many years earlier.
the talk to which they gave rise circulated widely and involved the whole Christian people in calumny. This was the main reason why that wicked and outrageous suspicion regarding us was current among the unbelievers of that time - the suspicion that we practised unlawful intercourse with mothers and sisters and took part in unhallowed feasts.1
But this propaganda brought Carpocrates no lasting success, for Truth asserted herself, and with the march of time shone with increasing light. For by her activity the machinations of her foes were promptly shown up and extinguished, though one after another new heresies were invented, the earlier ones constantly passing away and disappearing, in different ways at different times, into forms of every shape and character. But the splendour of the Catholic and only true Church, always remaining the same and unchanged, grew steadily in greatness and strength, shedding on every race of Greeks and non-Greeks alike the majestic, spotless, free, sober, pure light of her inspired citizenship and philosophy. Thus the passage of time extinguished the calumnies against the whole of our doctrine, and our teaching remained alone, everywhere victorious and acknowledged as supreme in dignity and sobriety, in divine and philosophic doctrines, so that no one today could dare to subject our Faith to vile abuse or to any such misrepresentation as in the past those who conspired against us were in the habit of using.
However, at the time of which I am speaking Truth again put forward many to do battle for her, and they, not only with spoken arguments but also with written demonstrations, took the field against the godless heresies. Among these Hegesippus was prominent.
8. I have already quoted him on numerous occasions, using information gained from him to establish
1. The reference is to cannibalism.
facts about the apostolic age. In five short books, written in the simplest style, he gave an authentic account of the apostolic preaching. His floruit is indicated by his remarks on those: who first set up idols:
In their honour they erected cenotaphs and temples, as they still do. One of these was Antinous, a slave of Hadrian Caesar's, in memory of whom the Antinoian Games are held. He was my own contemporary. Hadrian even built a city called after him, and appointed prophets.1
In his time also Justin, a genuine lover of the true philosophy, was still busy studying Greek learning. He too indicates this date, when in his Defence to Antoninus he writes:
I think it not out of place at this point to mention Antinous who died so recently. Everyone was frightened into worshipping him as a god, though everyone knew who he was and where he came from.
Again, speaking of the war which had just been fought against the Jews, Justin remarks:
In the recent Jewish war, Bar Cochba, leader of the Jewish insurrection, ordered the Christians alone to be sentenced to terrible punishments if they did not deny Jesus Christ and blaspheme Him.
In the same volume he also shows that his change from Greek philosophy to true religion was not made hastily but after mature reflection:
I myself found satisfaction in Plato's teaching, and used to hear the Christians abused, but when I found them fearless in the face of death and all that men think terrible, it dawned on me that they could not possibly be living in wickedness and self-indulgence. For how could a self-indulgent or licentious person who took pleasure in devouring human flesh greet death with a smile, as if he wanted to be deprived of the things he loved most? Would he not rather strive by all means to prolong his present existence indefinitely, and keep out
1. Antinous, a favourite slave who was drowned, was deified in A.D. of sight of the secular authorities, rather than give himself up to certain death?
Justin also notes that when Hadrian received from His Excellency the Governor Serennius Granianus an appeal on behalf of the Christians, maintaining that it was not right when no charge had been brought to gratify popular clamour by putting them to death without a trial, he sent a rescript to Minucius Fundanus, proconsul of Asia, forbidding him to try anyone unless properly charged and prosecuted in a reasonable manner. He appends a copy of the letter, retaining the original Latin and prefacing it with the following:
Though on the strength of a letter from the great and glorious Caesar Hadrian, your father, I might have petitioned you to carry out my request and order the trials to be held, I am basing this request not on the command of Hadrian but on my awareness that in my address I am requesting what is just. However I am appending a facsimile of Hadrian's letter, that you may know that on this point also I am speaking the truth. Here it is.
To this the writer appends the actual Latin rescript: I have rendered it into Greek as well as I can.
Hadrian’s letter forbidding persecution without trial
9. To Minucius Fundanus. I have received a letter written to me by His Excellency Serennius Granianus, your predecessor. It is not my intention to leave the matter uninvestigated, for fear of causing the men embarrassment and abetting the informers in their mischief-making. If then the provincials can so clearly establish their case against the Christians that they can sustain it in a court of law, let them resort to this procedure only, and not rely on petitions or mere clamour. Much the most satisfactory course, if anyone should wish to prosecute, is for you to decide the matter. So if someone prosecutes them and proves them guilty of any illegality, you must pronounce sentence according to the seriousness of the offence. But if anyone starts such proceedings in the hope of financial reward, then for goodness sake arrest him for his shabby trick, and see that he gets his deserts.
Such were the terms of Hadrian's rescript.
Bishops of Rome and Alexandria in Antoninus’s reign: the heresiarchs
10. When Hadrian, after twenty-one years, paid the debt of nature, Antoninus called Pius succeeded to the Roman Empire.1 In his first year, Telesphorus departed this life in the eleventh year of his ministry, and Hyginus took over the office of Bishop of Rome. Irenaeus notes that Telesphorus died nobly as a martyr. In the same chapter he states that while Hyginus was bishop, Valentinus, who introduced a heresy of his own, and Cerdo, who was responsible for the Marcionite error, were both prominent in Rome. He writes:
11. Valentinus arrived in Rome in the time of Hyginus, reached his heyday under Pius, and remained till Anicetus. Cerdo, who preceded Marcion, also joined the Roman church and declared his faith publicly, in the time of Hyginus, the ninth bishop;2 then he went on in this way - at one time he taught in secret, at another he again declared his faith publicly, at another he was convicted of mischievous teaching and expelled from the Christian community.
This comes from Book III of Heresies Answered.
In Book I we find this additional information about Cerdo:
One Cerdo, whose notions stemmed from the followers of Simon, had settled in Rome in the time of Hyginus, who held the ninth place in the episcopal succession from the apostles. He taught that the God proclaimed by the Law and the Prophets was not the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ; for the one was known, the other unknown; the one was righteous, the other gracious. He was succeeded by Marcion of Pontus, who inflated his teaching, blaspheming unblushingly.
1. 10 July A.D. 138.
2. The eighth, unless Irenaeus counts Peter.
In another passage Irenaeus most effectively exposes the limitless depths of Valentinus's most erroneous system, and brings his wickedness, hidden out of sight like a reptile lurking in a hole, to the light of day. He further tells us about a contemporary of theirs, Marcus by name, a past-master in magical trickery, and writes of their senseless ceremonies and misbegotten mysteries, explaining them thus:
Some of them fit out a bridal chamber, and celebrate a mystery with invocations on those being initiated, declaring that what they are doing is a spiritual marriage on the pattern of the unions above; others take the candidates to water and baptize them, reciting this formula: 'Into the name of the unknown Father of the universe, into Truth the Mother of all things, into Him who came down into Jesus.' Others recite Hebrew words, in order to cause still more astonishment to those being initiated.
After four years as Bishop of Rome Hyginus died, and Pius was chosen for the office. At Alexandria Mark was appointed pastor when Eumenes had completed thirteen years in all; ten years later, when Mark rested from his ministry, Celadion took over the ministry of the church at Alexandria. In Rome Pius passed away in the fifteenth year of his episcopate and Anicetus took charge of the community there. In his time Hegesippus settled in Rome, as he tells us himself, staying there till the episcopate of Eleutherus.
In their time Justin was at his most active; wearing the garb of a philosopher he proclaimed the divine message, and contended by means of his writings on behalf of the Faith. In a pamphlet which he wrote against Marcion he mentions that at the time when he was composing it the man was alive and in the public eye:
There was one Marcion of Pontus, who is still busy teaching his adherents to believe in some other god greater than the Creator. All over the world, with the help of the demons, he has induced many to speak blasphemously, denying that the Maker of this universe is the Father of Christ, and declaring that the universe was made by another, greater than He. All who base their belief on such doctrines are, as I said, called Christians, just as philosophers, even if they have no common principles, yet have one thing in common - the name 'philosopher'.
He adds a further note:
I have also written a book in answer to all the heresies that have appeared: if you would care to read it, I will present it to you.
Justin’s Defence: Antoninus’s letter to the Council of Asia
Justin, in addition to his admirable work against the Greeks, addressed other compositions containing A Defence of our Faith to the Emperor Antoninus, surnamed Pius, and to the Roman Senate: he had made his home in the capital. In the Defence he explains who he was and where he came from:
12. To the Emperor Titus Aelius Hadrianus Antoninus Pius Caesar Augustus, to Verissimus his son the philosopher,1 to Lucius,2 son by nature of the philosopher Caesar and by adoption of Pius, a passionate seeker after knowledge, and to the holy Senate and the entire People of Rome, on behalf of the men of every nation who are unjustly hated and abused, I, Justin, son of Priscus and grandson of Bacchius, of Flavia Neapolis3 in Palestine, being one of their number, have composed this address and petition.
Petitioned also by Christians in Asia who were labouring under injuries of every kind at the hands of the local population, the same emperor4 was pleased to address this decree to the Council of Asia:
13. The Emperor Caesar Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus Armenius, Pontifex Maximus, holding Tribunician Power the
1. Later the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.
2. Later joint ruler with Marcus Aurelius.
3. The New City of Havius (i.e. Vespasian), now Nablus.
4. Eusebius, confused by the multiple names of the Antonines, seems not to have realized that Antoninus Pius was not called Marcus Aurelius.
fifteenth time, Consul the third, to the Council of Asia, greeting. I know that the gods also take care that such persons should not go undetected: they are far more likely to punish those who will not worship them than you are. You get them into serious trouble by your accusations of atheism, and thereby strengthen their existing determination: and if accused they would choose apparent death rather than life, for the sake of their own god. And so they are the real winners, when they part with their lives rather than agree to carry out your commands. As regards the earthquakes which have been and still are occurring, it will not be out of place to draw your attention to the fact that whenever they happen your courage fails you, providing a painful contrast between our morale and theirs. They gain increased confidence in their god; whereas you, the whole of the time that you appear to be ignorant, neglect the other gods and the worship of the Immortal.1 But when the Christians worship Him you bully them and persecute them to death. On behalf of these people many of the provincial governors at an earlier date wrote to our most divine father,2 who sent them a reply forbidding them to take any action against these people unless it was clear that they were scheming against the Roman government. I too have received information about them from many quarters: I have replied in accordance with my father's wishes. But if anyone persists in starting legal proceedings against one of these people, simply because he is one of them, the accused shall be acquitted of the charge even if it is plain that he is one, and the accuser shall be liable to penalty. Published at Ephesus in the Council of Asia.3
That this is how things happened we also gather from Melito, the eminent Bishop of Sardis at that time. So much is clear from what he says in the Defence of our Doctrine which he sent to the Emperor Verus.
1. The Greek is hardly intelligible.
2. The previous emperor.
3. This rescript, or the Latin of which it is a clumsy translation, is thought by many scholars to be a forgery, but is in the main defended by Harnack. It is always possible for genuine documents to be corrupted, like many passages in A. V., by the innocent incorporation of marginal glosses.
The story of Polycarp, the pupil of the apostles
14. At this period, while Anicetus was head of the Roman church, Polycarp, who was still living, came to Rome and discussed with Anicetus some difficulty about the date of Easter. This we gather from Irenaeus, who tells us another story about Polycarp which must be included in the account of him that I am giving. Here it is:
FROM BOOK III OF HERESIES ANSWERED, BY IRENAEUS:
Polycarp was not only instructed by apostles and conversant with many who had seen the Lord, but was appointed by apostles to serve in Asia as Bishop of Smyrna. I myself saw him in my early years, for he lived a long time and was very old indeed when he laid down his life by a glorious and most splendid martyrdom. At all times he taught the things which he had learnt from the apostles, which the Church transmits, which alone are true. These facts are attested by all the churches of Asia and by the successors of Polycarp to this day - and he was a much more trustworthy and dependable witness to the truth than Valentinus and Marcion and all other wrong-headed persons. In the time of Anicetus he stayed for a while in Rome, where he won over many from the camp of these heretics to the Church of God, proclaiming that the one and only truth he had received from the apostles was the truth transmitted by the Church. And there are people who heard him describe how John, the Lord's disciple, when at Ephesus went to take a bath, but seeing Cerinthus inside rushed out of the building without taking a bath, crying: “Let us get out of here, for fear the place falls in, now that Cerinthus, the enemy of truth, is inside!” Polycarp himself on one occasion came face to face with Marcion, and when Marcion said “Don't you recognize me?” he replied: “I do indeed: I recognize the firstborn of Satan!” So careful were the apostles and their disciples to avoid even exchanging words with any falsifier of the truth, in obedience to the Pauline injunction: “If a man remains heretical after more than one warning, have no more to do with him, recognizing that a person of that type is a perverted sinner, self-condemned.”1
1. Titus iii. 10.
There is also a most forceful epistle written by Polycarp to the Philippians, from which both the character of his faith and his preaching of the truth can be learnt by all who wish to do so and care about their own salvation.
Such is Irenaeus's account. Polycarp in his letter to the Philippians, referred to above and still extant, has supported his views with several quotations from the First Epistle of Peter.
Martyrdom of Polycarp and others at Smyrna
Antoninus Pius, after a reign of twenty-two years, was succeeded1 by his son Marcus Aurelius Verus (or Antoninus) in association with his brother Lucius.
15. In this period2 Asia was thrown into confusion by the most savage persecutions, and Polycarp found fulfilment in martyrdom. As a written account of his end has come down to us, I am in duty bound to enshrine it in my pages. I refer to the letter, sent on behalf of the church over which he himself had presided, to inform the Christian communities everywhere of what happened to him. It begins thus:
The church of God at Smyrna to the church of God at Philomelium3 and to all communities of the Holy Catholic Church everywhere - may mercy, peace, and love from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be yours in abundance. We are writing, brethren, to tell you the story of those who have suffered martyrdom, especially blessed Polycarp, who as though he had set his seal on it by his martyrdom, brought the persecution to an end.
[CATHOLIC MEANS “UNIVERSAL” - AT THIS TIME PERIOD ALL THE CHRISTIAN CHURCHES STILL VIEWED THEMSELVES AS ONE PEOPLE OF GOD; BUT HERESIES WERE CREEPING INTO “CHURCHES” - POLYCARP FROM ASIA DID GO TO DEBATE WITH THE BISHOP OF ROME CONCERNING THEW TIME FOR OBSERVING THE LORD’S DEATH. COLYCARP SAID HE WAS TAUGHT BY JOHN THE APOSTLE, TO OBSERVED THE PASSOVER DATE - THE 14 OF THE FIRST HEBREW MONTH. THE BISHOP OF ROME HAD ALREADY MOVED THE CHURCH THERE INTO OBSERVING EASTER FOR THE LORD’S DEATH. NEITHER OF THEM PERSUADED THE OTHER AS TO WHO WAS CORRECT - Keith Hunt]
After this, before giving an account of Polycarp's death, they relate what happened to the other martyrs, vividly describing the heroism with which they faced their torments, to the amazement of the spectators on every side. Sometimes
1. 7 March A.D. 161
2. Five years earlier, most scholars think.
3. In Phrygia.
they were torn with scourges to the innermost veins and arteries, so that even the secret hidden parts of the body, the entrails and internal organs, were laid bare; sometimes they were forced to lie on pointed seashells and sharp spikes. After going through every kind of punishment and torture, they were finally flung to the beasts as food.
Special mention is made of the noble Germanicus, who by divine grace overcame his natural physical fear of death. The proconsul tried to dissuade him, stressing his youth and begging him as one still in the very prime of life to spare himself; but without a moment's hesitation he drew the savage beast towards him, well nigh forcing and goading it on, the more quickly to escape from their wicked, lawless life. After his glorious death the whole crowd were so astounded by the heroism of God's beloved martyr, and the courage of Christian people everywhere, that a shout went up from all sides: 'Away with the godless! Fetch Polycarp!' The uproar that followed these shouts was so tremendous that a man named Quintus, newly arrived from Phrygia, on seeing the beasts and the threatened torments to follow broke down completely and ended by throwing away his salvation. It is plain from the text of the letter I have quoted that along with others this man dashed towards the tribunal with too much haste and without due thought, but when seized he gave everyone clear proof that it is fatal to risk such ventures in a reckless and thoughtless spirit. So ends the story of these men.
As for the wonderful Polycarp, when he first heard the news he remained unperturbed, preserving a firm and un-shakeable demeanour, and wished to stay on in the city; but when his friends begged and besought him to make good his escape he was persuaded to go as far as a farm only a little distance away. There he remained with a few companions, devoting himself night and day to constant prayer to the Lord, pleading and imploring as he had always done that God would grant peace to the churches throughout the world.
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.
From that point the letter tells us the rest of the story as follows:
At last he ended his prayer, after mentioning all with whom at amy time he had been associated, whether small or great, famous or unknown, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world. 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.1 He was met
1. Either Purim or the Passover Saturday.
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 had 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 made 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,1 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 defence.” “I’ll 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
I. Does this imply infant baptism?
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 judgement 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 it was inevitable that the vision which appeared to him about the pillow should be fulfilled: he had seen it burning as he prayed, and turning to the faithful with him had said prophetically: “I must be burnt alive.”
The rest followed in less time than it takes to describe: the crowds rushed to collect logs and faggots 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 tried to remove his shoes, though not used to doing this, because each of the faithful strove at all times to be the first to touch his person. 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 marvellous 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 confector1 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 been crowned with the crown of imperishability and had carried off a prize beyond gainsaying, in jealousy and envy he saw to it that not even his poor body should
1. An official whose duty was to dispatch the victim.
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 worshipping 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. When, 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.
And such was the conclusion granted to the story of that wonderful and apostolic man.1 The record was set down by the brethren of the church at Smyrna in the letter which I have reproduced.
The document which tells us about Polycarp contains accounts of other martyrdoms which also took place at Smyrna at about the same period as his. Among them Metrodorus, who in Marcion's heretical sect passed for a presbyter, was consigned to the flames and put to death. One of the best-known and most celebrated martyrs of that time was
1. i.e. pupil of an apostle (John).
Pionius.1 His repeated declarations of belief his outspokeness, his defences of the Faith before the people and authorities, his public lectures, as well as his friendly aid those who had yielded to temptation in the persecution, and the encouraging words that he addressed in prison to if brother-Christians who visited him; the tortures that he later suffered, the agonies that these involved, the nailings, his endurance on the pyre, and to crown all his marvellous deeds his death - all these are described very fully in the Martyrdom of Pionius, which is included in my collection of Early Martyrdoms and which I can recommend to those interested.
Extant also are memoirs of others who were martyred in Pergamum, a city in Asia, Carpus and Papylus and a woman, Agathonice, who after many noble declarations of their belief found glorious fulfilment.
TO BE CONTINUED
HERE WE SEE A LITTLE OF THE LIFE OF THE MIGHTY POLYCARP, TAUGHT BY THE APOSTLE JOHN, THE WAYS AND TRUTHS OF JESUS THE CHRIST, THE MESSIAH.
POLYCRATES WAS THE STUDENT OF POLYCARP, AND HE ALSO CONTINUED IN THE TRUTHS TAUGHT BY THE APOSTLE JOHN. POLY CRATES ALSO WENT TO ROME TO DEBATE THE PASSOVER/EASTER DOCTRINE WITH THE BISHOP OF ROME.
THOUGH AT THIS TIME ALL THE CHURCHES OF GOD WERE RECOGNIZING EACH OTHER WITH CHRIST JESUS, WE SEE THE DIVIDING LINE WAS TAKING PLACE IN TEACHING AND PRACTICES - WITHIN ANOTHER 100 YEARS THE DIVISION WOULD FIRMLY SET IN. WHEN CONSTANTINE BECAME EMPEROR OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE AND OFFICIALLY MADE ROMAN CHRISTIANITY THE RELIGION OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE, IT WAS THE START OF THE FINAL BREAK FOR THE CHRISTIANITY OF ROME, WITH THE CHRISTIANITY OF ASIA MINOR - THE CHRISTIANITY TAUGHT BY THE APOSTLE JOHN, WHICH HAD ALSO REACHED THE BRITISH ISLES NOT LONG AFTER JESUS HAD ASCENDED BACK TO HEAVEN; WHICH ALSO CAME INTO CONFLICT WITH ROME, WHEN THE ROMAN POPE AROUND 500 A.D. SENT BISHOPS TO BRING ROMAN CATHOLIC CHRISTIANITY TO THAT FAR AWAY REGION OF EUROPE. THAT IS ALSO COVERED IN OTHER STUDIES ON THIS WEBSITE.