According to the horrid custom of the times the executioners were about to fasten his hands to the stake by spikes, when he begged that he might be bound.
Continuing Early Christian Martyrs,
with a selection by Homersham Cox. This selection is presented in 3 easy five minute installments.
Previously in Early Christian Martyrs.
Place: Rome and Smyrna, Turkey
Yielding to the urgent entreaties of those around him Polycarp quitted the city; but he was pursued and brought back. The proconsul, who had reluctantly allowed him to be arrested, was anxious to save him.
When he was led forward, a great tumult arose among those that heard he was taken. At length, as he advanced, the proconsul asked him whether he was Polycarp, and, he answering that he was, he urged him to deny Christ, saying, ‘Have a regard for your age,’ and adding similar expressions such as are usual for them to employ.
“‘Swear,’ he said, ‘by the genius of Caesar. Repent. Say, “Away with those that deny the gods.”‘
But Polycarp, with a countenance grave and serious, and contemplating the whole multitude that were collected in the stadium, beckoned with his hand to them, and with a sigh looked up to heaven and said, ‘Away with the atheists.’
The governor continued to urge him again, saying: ‘Swear, and I will dismiss you. Revile Christ.’
“Revile Christ!’ Polycarp replied. ‘Eighty — and — six years have I served him and he never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King who has saved me?'”
The governor continued to urge him, and in vain threatened him with the wild beasts. At length a herald was ordered to proclaim in the midst of the stadium that “Polycarp confesses he is a Christian.” Thereupon the multitude cried out, “This is that teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians, the destroyer of our gods,” and demanded that he should be burned alive; and the governor gave sentence accordingly.
According to the horrid custom of the times the executioners were about to fasten his hands to the stake by spikes, when he begged that he might be bound merely, saying that He who gave him strength to bear the flames would also give him strength to remain unmoved on the pyre.
This last request was granted; and being bound to the stake, he uttered this beautiful prayer:
Father of thy well — beloved and blessed Son, Jesus Christ, through whom we have received the knowledge of thee, the God of angels and powers and all creation, and of all the family of the righteous that live before thee, I bless thee that thou hast thought me worthy of the present day and hour, to have a share in the number of the martyrs and in the cross of Christ unto the resurrection of eternal life, both of the soul and body, in the incorruptible felicity of the Holy Spirit, among whom may I be received in thy sight this day as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as thou, the faithful and true God, hast prepared, hast revealed, and fulfilled. Wherefore, on this account and for all things, I praise thee, I bless thee, I glorify thee through the eternal High Priest, Jesus Christ, thy well — beloved Son, through whom glory be to thee with him in the Holy Ghost, both now and evermore. Amen.”
The flames did not immediately seize upon his body; so one of the executioners — in mercy perhaps — plunged a sword into his body, and so ended his sufferings. The centurion then placed the body in the midst of the fire and burned it, “according to the custom of the Gentiles.”
Thus at last, taking up his bones, valued more than precious stones, more tried than gold, we deposited them where they should be. There also, as far as we can, the Lord will grant us to celebrate the natal day of his martyrdom in joy and gladness, both in commemoration of those who finished their contest before, and to prepare those that shall be hereafter.”
There is something wonderfully touching in this reference to the “natal day of his martyrdom.” Those who wrote it thought that the day on which Polycarp was pierced by the sword was not the day of his death, but the birthday of a new and happier life.
* * * * *
Justin, who from the manner of his death is often called Justin Martyr, was a native of Samaria. He was of Roman parentage, and was born early in the second century, and therefore must have been contemporary with many persons who had seen some of the apostles.
Justin, who was addicted to philosophical pursuits, has given in one of his works a very curious account of his studies and search after religious truth. First, he thought to find it in the Stoic philosophy:
I surrendered myself to a certain Stoic, and, having spent a considerable time with him, when I had not acquired any further knowledge of God — — for he did not know it himself, and said such instruction was unnecessary — — I left him and betook myself to another, who was called a Peripatetic, and, as he fancied, shrewd. And this man, after having entertained me for a few days, requested me to settle the fee, in order that our intercourse might not be unprofitable. Him, too, for this reason I abandoned, believing him to be no philosopher at all.”
Disgusted with the mercenary spirit of the Peripatetic, the inquirer next determined to make a trial of Pythagorean philosophy. But the celebrated Pythagorean teacher whom he consulted wished him to learn music, astronomy, and geometry. Those kinds of knowledge, however, were not what Justin wanted, and besides he thought that they would take up too much time. So he next resolved to make a trial of Platonism; and this time he was more successful.
“In my helpless condition it occurred to me to have a meeting with the Platonists, for their fame was great. I thereupon spent as much of my time as possible with one who had lately settled in our city — — a sagacious man holding a high position among the Platonists — — and I progressed and made the greatest improvements daily. And the perception of immaterial things quite overpowered me, and the contemplation of ideas furnished my mind with wings, so that in a little while I supposed that I had become wise; and such was my folly that I expected forthwith to look upon God, for this is the end of Plato’s philosophy.”
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