Persecution in the Second Century (Part 3) — Polycarp

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The History of Christianity #27

Our Scripture passage today is 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 which reads: “For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory; While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”

Our quote today is from St. Cyprian, Bishop of Carthage. He said: “None of us offers resistance when he is seized, or avenges himself for your unjust violence, although our people are numerous and plentiful…it is not lawful for us to hate, and so we please God more when we render no requital for injury…we repay your hatred with kindness.”

Today, we are discussing “Persecution in the Second Century” (Part 3) from Dr. Justo L. Gonzalez’s fine book, The Story of Christianity (Volume 1).

Today’s subject is The Martyrdom of Polycarp

Although very little is known of Ignatius’s martyrdom, there is much more information regarding that of his younger friend, Polycarp, when his time came almost half a century later. It was the year 155, and the policy that Trajan had outlined for Pliny was still in effect. Christians were not sought out; but, if they were accused and they refused to worship the gods, they had to be punished.

We know of events in Smyrna through the work of a writer who claims to have witnessed them. It all began when a group of Christians was brought before the authorities, and they refused to worship the gods. Under the cruelest of tortures they remained firm, we are told, because “resting in Christ they scorned the pains of the world.” When Germanicus, an elderly Christian, was brought to trial, he was told that he should take into account his old age and recant, rather than submit to torture and death. To this he responded that he had no desire to continue living in a world where the injustices that he had just seen took place. And, to show how deeply he meant his words, he called on the beasts to come to him and kill him. This act of courage further aroused the anger of the mob, which began to shout: “Death to the atheists!” (referring to those who had no visible gods) and “Bring Polycarp!”