« VorigeDoorgaan »
EXTRACT FROM THE EPISTLE OF THE CHURCH OF SMYRNA ON THE
MARTYRDOM OF POLYCARP. 165 “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 the last persuaded, at the desire of many, to go out of it. He departed, therefore, into a little village not far distant from the city, and there tarried with a few about him; doing nothing, night nor day, but 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 saw a vision 16 three days before he was taken; and, behold, the pillow under his head seemed to him on fire. Whereupon, turning to those who were with him, he said prophetically, that he should be burnt alive.
« Now when those 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 be concealed, forasmuch as they who betrayed him were his own domestics. So the officer, who is also called Cleronomus, (Herod by name,) hastened to bring him into the lists; that so Polycarp might receive his proper portion, being made partaker of Christ, and they that betrayed him, undergo the punishment of Judas.
“The serjeants, therefore, and horsemen, taking the young lad along with them, departed about supper-time, (being Friday,) with their usual arms, as it were against a thief or a robber. 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 he would not, saying, “The will of the Lord be done.
Wherefore, when he heard that they had come to the house, he went down and spake to them. And as they that 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 the same hour there should be somewhat got ready for them, that they might eat and drink their fill; desiring them withal, that they would give him one hour's liberty the while to 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 whole hours, to the admiration of all that heard him; insomuch that many of the soldiers began to repent that they were come out against so godly an old man.
186 The Epistle is addressed “From the holy Catholic Church, in every place.” Church of God which is at Smyrna to The translation is Archbishop Wake's. the Church of God which is at Philadel- 186 'Ey óztatis véyove. Eusebius reprephia, and to all other assemblies of the sents it as a dream.
“ As soon as he had done his prayer—in which he remembered all men, whether little or great, honourable or obscure, that had at any time been acquainted with him; and, with them, the whole Catholic Church over all the world—the time being come that he was to depart, 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, they began to persuade him, saying, “What harm is there in it, to say, Lord Cæsar, and sacrifice, (with the rest that is usual on such occasions,) and so be safe ?' But Polycarp, at first, answered them not: whereupon they continuing to urge him, he said, 'I shall not do what you persuade me to.' So being out of all 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 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 Cæsar'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, looked
up to heaven, and groaning, said, “Take away the wicked.' But the proconsul insisting and saying, 'Swear; and I set thee at liberty: reproach Christ;' Polycarp replied, ' Eighty and six years have I now served Christ, and He has never done me the least wrong; how then can I blaspheme my King and my Saviour ?'
“And when the proconsul nevertheless still insisted, saying, • Swear by the genius of Cæsar,' he answered, “Seeing thou art so vainly urgent with me that I should swear, as thou callest it, by the genius of Cæsar, seeming as if thou didst not know what I am ; hear me freely professing 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 thee have I offered to give a reason of my faith: for so are we taught to pay all due honour, (such only excepted as would be hurtful to ourselves,) to the powers and authority 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 those 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. But for me, it will be good, to be changed from evil to good.' The proconsul added,
Seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, I will cause thee to be devoured by fire, unless thou shalt repent.' Polycarp answered, • Thou threatenest me with fire which burns for an hour, and so is extinguished; but knowest not the fire of the 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 he did not only not let it fall with confusion at what was spoken to him; but on the contrary, the proconsul was struck with astonishment, and sent his crier into the middle of the lists, to proclaim three several 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 at Smyrna, being full of fury, cried out with a loud voice, This is the doctor of Asia,167 the father of Christians, and the overthrower of our gods; he that has taught so many not to sacrifice, nor pay any worship to the gods.' And saying this, they cried out, and desired Philip the Asiarch,18 that he would let loose a lion against Polycarp. But 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 for the vision to be fulfilled, which was made manifest unto him by his pillow, when, seeing it on fire as he was praying, he turned about, and said prophetically to the faithful that were with him, “I must be burnt alive.'
This, therefore, was done with greater speed than it was spoke; 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, which aforetime he was not wont to do; forasmuch as always every one of the Christians that was about him contended who should soonest touch his flesh. For he was truly adorned by his good conversation with all kind of piety, even before his martyrdom. This being done, they presently put about him such things as were necessary to prepare the fire. But when they would have also 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.'
167 The reading of the Greek manuscript 168 Not the Roman governor, but one is, και της ασεβείας διδάσκαλος, but Eusebius, who was elected annually by the provinRufinus, and the old Latin translator cials from themselves, to preside over the read, Aries, which has been accordingly public spectacles, and other solemnities. adopted by Archbishop Wake.
See Usher, in loco.
“Wherefore they did not nail him, but only tied him to it. But he, having put his hands behind him, and being bound as a ram chosen out of a great flock for an offering, and prepared to be a burnt-sacrifice acceptable unto God, 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 fat 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 for all things else, I praise thee, I bless thee, I glorify thee, by the eternal and heavenly High Priest, Jesus Christ, thy beloved Son; with whom, to thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory, both now and to all succeeding ages. Amen.'
He had no sooner pronounced aloud Amen, and finished his prayer, but they who were appointed to be his executioners lighted the fire. And when the flame began to blaze to a very great height, behold, a wonderful miracle appeared, 16 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 as 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 to go near to him, and stick his dagger in him; which being accordingly done, there came forth so great a quantity of blood,170
169 From the narrative itself, there is 170 Εξήλθε περιστερά και πλήθος, αίματος, good reason to think, that the friends of The translator has omitted the word the martyr mistook for a miracle what Figastegà, which, indeed, can hardly be was the effect of accident. The same the genuine reading; for a circumstance may be observed of the voice which en- so remarkable must have been noticed couraged him. For the proper estimate by Eusebius and Rufinus. Perhaps we of accounts of miracles given by unin- should read εξήλθε περί στέρνα και .. spired writers, see p. 174.
extinguished the fire, and raised an admiration in all the people, to consider what a difference there was between the infidels and the elect; one of which this great martyr, Polycarp, most certainly was; being in our times a truly apostolical and prophetical teacher, and bishop of the Catholic church which is at Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth, either has been already fulfilled, or, in its due time, will be accomplished.
“But when the emulous, and envious, and wicked adversary of the race of the just, saw the greatness of his martyrdom; and considered how irreprehensible his conversation had been from the beginning, and how he was now crowned with the crown of immortality, having without all controversy received his reward; he 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 be made partakers of his holy flesh. And to that end, he suggested it to Nicetas, the father of Herod, and brother of Alcé, 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 ever 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 do 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 affection towards their Master, and their King. Of whom may we also be made companions and fellow-disciples.” 171
with his Church.
It is impossible to look back on the scenes which we have been continuance reviewing, - the efforts of the primitive Church, to preserve the
sacred record of the Gospel; to perpetuate its evidence; to dispense its truths; to convey its promised grace; and, lastly, to preserve itself as the temple of Divine manifestation, and the holy of holies, where the blessed gift has been deposited—it is impossible to look
back on all this, without acknowledging the continued fulfilment of Matt. xviii. the Saviour's promise, that he would be with his Church always,
even unto the end of the world.
171 This, then, is the indignant avowal tales quærant honores; sed Illum a nobis