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You are asked to read two texts: The account of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written as a letter sent from the church in Sm


You are asked to read two texts: The account of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written as a letter sent from the church in Sm

You are asked to read two texts:

  1. The account of the Martyrdom of Polycarp, written as a letter sent from the church in Smyrna to the church in Philomelium. In this letter members of the community in Smyrna describe the persecution and death of several local Christians and mainly of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, who died around 155 C.E.
  2. An excerpt from an article by Leonard L. Thompson, “The Martyrdom of Polycarp: Death in the Roman Games,” published in 2002.

After you have read both texts, please choose one of the following options for the assignment:

  1. Creative option

The letter describing the death of Polycarp is written from a Christian point of view, but as Leonard Thompson argues in his article, a Roman person sitting among the crowds in the arena would have seen the events differently. Using the information and analysis in Thompson’s article, write a short first-person account of the events surrounding Polycarp’s death from the point of view of a Roman who came to watch the games in the stadium of Smyrna that day. In a separate paragraph at the end, explain how what you learned from Thompson’s article informed the account you wrote.

  1. Analytical option

In his article, Leonard Thompson claims that the Roman games during which Polycarp was executed were a “political theatre.” What does he mean by that? Using specific examples from Thompson’s article, explain how the Roman games were used to foster certain political and social values and how this is reflected in the story of the death of Polycarp.Please write clearly and concisely and be sure to cite any text you use. DO NOT use any other sources except for the lectures and readings assigned for this course.Word count: up to 750==========please complete it in first year college writing skills   


The Martyrdom of Polycarp

Translated by Kirsopp Lake

The Martyrdom of Polycarp is a letter sent from the church in Smyrna (modern-day Izmir in

Turkey) to the church in Philomelium (modern-day Akeshir in Turkey). In this letter the

community in Smyrna describes the persecution and death of several local Christians and

mainly of Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, who died around 155 CE.

1 The Church of God which dwells in Smyrna, to the Church of God which dwells in

Philomelium, and to all the dwellers of the Holy Catholic Church in every place. Mercy, peace

and love of God the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ, be multiplied.


We write to you, brethren, the story of the martyrs and of the blessed Polycarp, who put an end

to the persecution by his martyrdom as though adding the seal. For one might almost say that

all that had gone before happened in order that the Lord might show to us from above a

martyrdom in accordance with the Gospel. For he waited to be betrayed as also the Lord had

done, that we too might become his imitators, not thinking of ourselves alone, but also of our

neighbors. For it is the mark of true and steadfast love not to wish that oneself may be saved

alone, but all the brethren also.

The sufferings of the Martyrs

Blessed then and noble are all the martyrdoms which took place according to the will of God,

for we must be very careful to assign the power over all to God. For who would not admire

their nobility and patience and love of their Master? For some were torn by scourging until the

mechanism of their flesh was seen even to the lower veins and arteries, and they endured so

that even the bystanders pitied them and mourned. And some even reached such a pitch of

nobility that none of them groaned or wailed, showing to all of us that at that hour of their

torture the noble martyrs of Christ were absent from the flesh, or rather that the Lord was

standing by and talking with them. And paying heed to the grace of Christ they despised

worldly tortures, by a single hour purchasing everlasting life. And the fire of their cruel

torturers had no heat for them, for they set before their eyes an escape from the fire which is

everlasting and is never quenched, and with the eyes of their heart they looked up to the good

things which are preserved for those who have endured, “which neither ear hath heard nor

hath eye seen, nor hath it entered into the heart of man,” but it was shown by the Lord to them

who were no longer men but already angels.


And in the same way also those who were condemned to the beasts endured terrible torment,

being stretched on sharp shells and pounded with other kinds of various torments, that if it

were possible the tyrant might bring them to a denial of their faith by continuous torture. For

the devil used many wiles against them.

But thanks be to God, for he had no power over any. For the most noble Germanicus

encouraged their fears by the endurance which was in him, and he fought gloriously with the

wild beasts. For when the Pro-Consul wished to persuade him and bade him have pity on his

youth, he violently dragged the beast towards himself, wishing to be released more quickly

from their unrighteous and lawless life. So after this all the crowd, wondering at the nobility of

the God-loving and God-fearing people of the Christians, cried out: “Away with the Atheists; let

Polycarp be searched for.”

Polycarp’s retreat to the country

But the most wonderful Polycarp, when he first heard it, was not disturbed, but wished to

remain in the city; but the majority persuaded him to go away quietly, and he went out quietly

to a farm, not far distant from the city, and stayed with a few friends, doing nothing but pray

night and day for all, and for the Churches throughout the world, as was his custom. And while

he was praying he fell into a trance three days before he was arrested, and saw the pillow under

his head burning with fire, and he turned and said to those who were with him: “I must be

burnt alive.”

His betrayal

And when the searching for him persisted he went to another farm; and those who were

searching for him came up at once, and when they did not find him, they arrested young slaves,

and one of them confessed under torture. For it was indeed impossible for him to remain hid,

since those who betrayed him were of his own house, and the police captain who had been

allotted the very name, being called Herod, hastened to bring him to the arena that he might

fulfil his appointed lot by becoming a partaker of Christ, while they who betrayed him should

undergo the same punishment as Judas.

The arrival of the police — Their reception by Polycarp — His prayer

Taking the slave then police and cavalry went out on Friday about supper-time, with their usual

arms, as if they were advancing against a robber. And late in the evening they came up together

against him and found him lying in an upper room. And he might have departed to another

place, but would not, saying, “the will of God be done.” So when he heard that they had arrived

he went down and talked with them, while those who were present wondered at his age and

courage, and whether there was so much haste for the arrest of an old man of such a kind.

Therefore he ordered food and drink to be set before them at that hour, whatever they should

wish, and he asked them to give him an hour to pray without hindrance. To this they assented,

and he stood and prayed — thus filled with the grace of God — so that for two hours he could


not be silent, and those who listened were astounded, and many repented that they had come

against such a venerable old man.

His arrival in Smyrna — And in the arena

Now when he had at last finished his prayer, after remembering all who had ever even come his

way, both small and great, high and low, and the whole Catholic Church throughout the world,

the hour came for departure, and they set him on an ass, and led him into the city, on a “great

Sabbath day.” And the police captain Herod and his father Niketas met him and removed him

into their carriage, and sat by his side trying to persuade him and saying: “But what harm is it to

say, `Lord Caesar,’ and to offer sacrifice, and so forth, and to be saved?” But he at first did not

answer them, but when they continued he said: “I am not going to do what you counsel me.”

And they gave up the attempt to persuade him, and began to speak fiercely to him, and turned

him out in such a hurry that in getting down from the carriage he scraped his shin; and without

turning round, as though he had suffered nothing, he walked on promptly and quickly, and

was taken to the arena, while the uproar in the arena was so great that no one could even be


Polycarp’s examination

Now when Polycarp entered into the arena there came a voice from heaven: “Be strong,

Polycarp, and be a man.” And no one saw the speaker, but our friends who were there heard the

voice. And next he was brought forward, and there was a great uproar of those who heard that

Polycarp had been arrested. Therefore when he was brought forward the Pro-Consul asked him

if he were Polycarp, and when he admitted it he tried to persuade him to deny his faith, saying:

“Respect your age,” and so forth, as they are accustomed to say: “Swear by the genius of Caesar,

repent, say: `Away with the Atheists'”; but Polycarp, with a stern countenance looked on all the

crowd of lawless heathen in the arena, and waving his hand at them, he groaned and looked up

to heaven and said: “Away with the Atheists.” But when the Pro-Consul pressed him and said:

“Take the oath and I let you go, revile Christ,” Polycarp said: “For eighty and six years have I

been his servant, and he has done me no wrong, and how can I blaspheme my King who saved


“I am a Christian”

But when he persisted again, and said: “Swear by the genius of Caesar,” he answered him: “If

you vainly suppose that I will swear by the genius of Caesar, as you say, and pretend that you

are ignorant who I am, listen plainly: I am a Christian. And if you wish to learn the doctrine of

Christianity fix a day and listen.” The Pro-Consul said: “Persuade the people.” And Polycarp

said: “You I should have held worthy of discussion, for we have been taught to render honor, as

is appropriate, if it does not hurt us, to princes and authorities appointed by God. But as for

those, I do not count them worthy that a defense should be made to them.”

The Pro-consul’s threats


And the Pro-Consul said: “I have wild beasts. I will deliver you to them, unless you repent.”

And he said: “Call for them, for repentance from better to worse is not allowed to us; but it is

good to change from evil to righteousness.” And he said again to him: “I will cause you to be

consumed by fire, if you despise the beasts, unless you repent.” But Polycarp said: “You

threaten me with the fire that burns for a time, and is quickly quenched, for you do not know

the fire which awaits the wicked in the judgment to come and in everlasting punishment. But

why are you waiting? Come, do what you will.”

The anger of the Jews

And with these and many other words he was filled with courage and joy, and his face was full

of grace so that it not only did not fall with trouble at the things said to him, but that the Pro-

Consul, on the other hand, was astounded and sent his herald into the midst of the arena to

announce three times: “Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian.” When this had been said

by the herald, all the multitude of heathens and Jews living in Smyrna cried out with

uncontrollable wrath and a loud shout: “This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the Christians,

the destroyer of our Gods, who teaches many neither to offer sacrifice nor to worship.” And

when they said this, they cried out and asked Philip the governor of Asia to let loose a lion on

Polycarp. But he said he could not legally do this, since he had closed the Sports. Then they

found it good to cry out with one mind that he should burn Polycarp alive, for the vision which

had appeared to him on his pillow must be fulfilled, when he saw it burning, while he was

praying, and he turned and said prophetically to those of the faithful who were with him, “I

must be burnt alive.”

The preparations for burning him

These things then happened with so great speed, quicker than it takes to tell, and the crowd

came together immediately, and prepared wood and twigs from the workshops and baths and

the Jews were extremely zealous, as is their custom, in assisting at this. Now when the fire was

ready he put off all his clothes, and loosened his girdle and tried also to take off his shoes,

though he did not do this before, because each of the faithful was always zealous, which of

them might the more quickly touch his flesh. For he had been treated with all respect because of

his noble life, even before his martyrdom. Immediately therefore, he was fastened to the

instruments which had been prepared for the fire, but when they were going to nail him as well

he said: “Leave me, for He who gives me power to endure the fire, will grant me to remain in

the flames unmoved even without the security you will give by the nails.”

His last prayers

So they did not nail him, but bound him, and he put his hands behind him and was bound, as a

noble ram out of a great flock, for an oblation, a whole burnt offering made ready and

acceptable to God; and he looked up to heaven and said: “O Lord God Almighty, Father of thy

beloved and blessed Child, Jesus Christ, through Whom we have received full knowledge of

thee, the God of Angels and powers, and of all creation, and of the whole family of the


righteous, who live before thee! 2 I bless thee, that Thou hast granted me this day and hour, that

I may share, among the number of the martyrs, in the cup of thy Christ, for the Resurrection to

everlasting life, both of soul and body in the immortality of the Holy Spirit. And may I, today,

be received among them before Thee, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, as Thou, the God who

lies not and is truth, hast prepared beforehand, and shown forth, and fulfilled. For this reason I

also praise Thee for all things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee through the everlasting and heavenly

high Priest, Jesus Christ, thy beloved Child, through whom be glory to Thee with him and the

Holy Spirit, both now and for the ages that are to come, Amen.”

The fire is lighted

Now when he had uttered his Amen and finished his prayer, the men in charge of the fire lit it,

and a great flame blazed up and we, to whom it was given to see, saw a marvel. And we have

been preserved to report to others what happened. For the fire made the likeness of a room, like

the sail of a vessel filled with wind, and surrounded the body of the martyr as with a wall, and

he was within it not as burning flesh, but as bread that is being baked, or as gold and silver

being refined in a furnace. And we perceived such a fragrant smell as the scent of incense or

other costly spices.

Polycarp’s death

At length the lawless men, seeing that his body could not be consumed by the fire, commanded

an executioner to go up and stab him with a dagger, and when he did this, there came out a

dove, and much blood, so that the fire was quenched and all the crowd marveled that there was

such a difference between the unbelievers and the chosen. And of the chosen was he indeed

one, the wonderful martyr, Polycarp, who in our days was an apostolic and prophetic teacher,

bishop of the Catholic Church in Smyrna. For every word which he uttered from his mouth

both was fulfilled and will be fulfilled.

The treatment of the corpse

But the jealous and envious evil one who resists the family of the righteous [=Satan], when he

saw the greatness of his martyrdom, and his blameless career from the beginning, and that he

was crowned with the crown of immortality, and had carried off the unspeakable prize, took

care that not even his poor body should be taken away by us, though many desired to do so,

and to have fellowship with his holy flesh. Therefore he put forward Niketas, the father of

Herod, to ask the Governor not to give his body, “Lest,” he said, “they leave the crucified one

and begin to worship this man.” And they said this because of the suggestions and pressure of

the Jews, who also watched when we were going to take it from the fire, for they do not know

that we shall not ever be able either to abandon Christ, who suffered for the salvation of those

who are being saved in the whole world, the innocent for sinners, or to worship any other. For

him we worship as the Son of God, but the martyrs we love as disciples and imitators of the

Lord; and rightly, because of their unsurpassable affection toward their own King and Teacher.

God grant that we too may be their companions and fellow-disciples.


The Christians take the ashes

When therefore the centurion saw the contentiousness caused by the Jews, he put the body in

the midst, as was their custom, and burnt it. Thus we, at last, took up his bones, more precious

than precious stones, and finer than gold, and put them where it was appropriate. There the

Lord will permit us to come together according to our power in gladness and joy, and celebrate

the birthday of his martyrdom, both in memory of those who have already contested, and for

the practice and training of those whose fate it shall be


Such was the lot of the blessed Polycarp, who though he was, together with those from

Philadelphia, the twelfth martyr in Smyrna, is alone especially remembered by all, so that he is

spoken of in every place, even by the heathens. He was not only a famous teacher, but also a

notable martyr, whose martyrdom all desire to imitate, for it followed the Gospel of Christ. By

his endurance he overcame the unrighteous ruler, and thus gained the crown of immortality,

and he is glorifying God and the Almighty Father, rejoicing with the Apostles and all the

righteous, and he is blessing our Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior of our souls, and Governor of our

bodies, and the Shepherd of the Catholic Church throughout the world.


You, indeed, asked that the events should be explained to you at length, but we have for the

present explained them in summary by our brother Marcion; therefore when you have heard

these things, send the letter to the brethren further on, that they also may glorify the Lord, who

takes his chosen ones from his own servants. And to him who is able to bring us all in his grace

and bounty, to his heavenly kingdom, by his only begotten Child, Jesus Christ, be glory, honor,

might, and majesty forever. Greet all the saints. Those who are with us, and Evarestus, who

wrote the letter, with his whole house, greet you.

The date

Now the blessed Polycarp was martyred on the second day of the first half of the month of

Xanthicus, the seventh day before the kalends of March, a great sabbath, at the eighth hour.

And he was arrested by Herod, when Philip of Tralles was High Priest, when Statius Quadratus

was Pro-Consul, but Jesus Christ was reigning forever, to whom be glory, honor, majesty and

an eternal throne, from generation to generation, Amen.

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