Polycarp of Smyrna: An Example of How to Live and How to Die

Note: This is posting #8 in a series on historical theology within the Christian church. To view other postings, please click here.

Polycarp did not fear death. He had entrusted his life to the Lord Jesus Christ, an Polycarp’s death was needed more than his life, he was willing to lose it for the sake of Christ. And so it stands, centuries….almost a millennium later, that Polycarp is still indeed an example to many for his faithfulness even unto death.

Remembered today for his death, it was his life that he should be remembered for most. From Smyrna, he was an uneducated man, as one can see from his writing. But, what Polycarp lacked in edcational knowledge, he made up for in Christian knowledge. Discipled by John, and thus part of the apostolic succession, Polycarp had a solid teacher and took advantage of that greatly.
Polycarp was in his old age before he was finally arrested. Why it took so long we do not know, other than to say it was God’s timing in order to work through Polycarp. And work he did, taking on the false teaching of the Gnostics, God used him to bring forth a number of converts. During this time, we have record of one letter that he wrote to the Philippians, which can be read here.
Finally, word reached Polycarp that he was to be arrested and put to death. Upon hearing this, he did not run, he did not hide. Instead, he waited for the soldiers’ arrival. As the soldiers were ready to nail him to the stake, Polycarp simply said, “Leave me as I am. For he who grants me to endure the fire will enable me also to remain on the pyre unmoved, without the security you desire from nails.” And with this he was burned for his Christian faith, praying the whole time.
Polycarp is an example both in life and death for Christians. He defended theology and in doing so saw many converted from the false teachings in which they were so entrenched. Unafraid of the human hand, he continued to share even up until his last moments.
Polycarp 2

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