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‘Carping Again

Happy St. Polycarp day! He’s one of the Apostolic Fathers — a disciple of St. John the Apostle and the master of St. Irenaeus of Lyons. We possess a letter from St. Ignatius of Antioch to Polycarp, plus a letter from Polycarp to the Philippians, plus an account of Polycarp’s martyrdom written shortly after the event. We also know a bit about his life from the reminiscences of Irenaeus and the snippets preserved in Eusebius. The story of his martyrdom is a powerful witness to the “eucharistic” sense of the early martyrs. Polycarp’s last prayer reads like an anaphora from the liturgy and even ends with a doxology. When the flames consume his body, he gives off not the stench of burning flesh, but the aroma of baking bread. Polycarp gave himself completely, as Christ gives Himself completely in the Eucharist — and as we are trying to give ourselves this Lent. I have an MP3 of my KVSS interview on Polycarp on my audio page.

3 thoughts on “‘Carping Again

  1. My favorite treatment of St. Polycarp is in Amy Welborn’s Book of Saints. Just before his execution in the stadium at Smyrna, the Roman proconsul tells him that all he must say is “Away with the atheists” and he will be spared. Polycarp gestures to the frenzied crowd and says, “Away with the atheists.” He is then immolated. My kids love the story for its depiction of the old saint’s intestinal fortitude.

  2. I love it for its depiction of his sense of humor. Boy, I hope I can still deliver a line like that at his age.

  3. Yep. They laugh at it too.

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