The Encyclical Epistle of the Church at Smyrna, Concerning the
Martyrdom of St. Polycarp
The Church of God which sojourns at Smyrna, to the Church of God sojourning
in Philomelium, and to all the congregations of the Holy and Catholic Church in
every place: Mercy, peace, and love from God the Father, and our Lord Jesus
Christ, be multiplied.
CHAPTER I -- SUBJECT OF WHICH WE WRITE.
We have written to you, brethren, as to what relates to the martyrs, and
especially to the blessed Polycarp, who put an end to the persecution, having,
as it were, set a seal upon it by his martyrdom. For almost all the events that
happened previously [to this one], took place that the Lord might show us from
above a martyrdom becoming the Gospel. For he waited to be delivered up, even as
the Lord had done, that we also might become his followers, while we look not
merely at what concerns ourselves but have regard also to our neighbours. For it
is the part of a true and well-founded love, not only to wish one's self to be
saved, but also all the brethren.
CHAPTER II -- THE WONDERFUL CONSTANCY OF THE MARTYRS.
All the martyrdoms, then, were blessed and noble which took place according
to the will of God. For it becomes us who profess greater piety than others, to
ascribe the authority over all things to God. And truly, who can fail to admire
their nobleness of mind, and their patience, with that love towards their Lord
which they displayed?--who, when they were so torn with scourges, that the frame
of their bodies, even to the very inward veins and arteries, was laid open,
still patiently endured, while even those that stood by pitied and bewailed
them. But they reached such a pitch of magnanimity, that not one of them let a
sigh or a groan escape them; thus proving to us all that those holy martyrs of
Christ, at the very time when they suffered such torments, were absent from the
body, or rather, that the Lord then stood by them, and communed with them. And,
looking to the grace of Christ, they despised all the torments of this world,
redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by [the suffering of] a single
hour. For this reason the fire of their savage executioners appeared cool to
them. For they kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and
never shall be quenched, and looked forward with the eyes of their heart to
those good things which are laid up for such as endure; things "which ear
hath not heard, nor eye seen, neither have entered into the heart of man,"
but were revealed by the Lord to them, inasmuch as they were no longer men, but
had already become angels. And, in like manner, those who were condemned to the
wild beasts endured dreadful tortures, being stretched out upon beds full of
spikes, and subjected to various other kinds of torments, in order that, if it
were possible, the tyrant might, by their lingering tortures, lead them to a
denial [of Christ].
CHAPTER III -- THE CONSTANCY OF GERMANICUS. THE DEATH OF POLYCARP IS
For the devil did indeed invent many things against them; but thanks be to
God, he could not prevail over all. For the most noble Germanicus strengthened
the timidity of others by his own patience, and fought heroically with the wild
beasts. For, when the proconsul sought to persuade him, and urged him to take
pity upon his age, he attracted the wild beast towards himself, and provoked it,
being desirous to escape all the more quickly from an unrighteous and impious
world. But upon this the whole multitude, marvelling at the nobility of mind
displayed by the devout and godly race of Christians, cried out, "Away with
the Atheists; let Polycarp be sought out !"
CHAPTER IV -- QUINTUS THE APOSTATE.
Now one named Quintus, a Phrygian, who was but lately come from Phrygia, when
he saw the wild beasts, became afraid. This was the man who forced himself and
some others to come forward voluntarily [for trial]. Him the proconsul, after
many entreaties, persuaded to swear and to offer sacrifice. Wherefore, brethren,
we do not commend those who give themselves up [to suffering], seeing the Gospel
does not teach so to do.
CHAPTER V, --THE DEPARTURE AND VISION OF POLYCARP.
But the most admirable Polycarp, when he first heard [that he was sought
for], was in no measure disturbed, but resolved to continue in the city.
However, in deference to the wish of many, he was persuaded to leave it. He
departed, therefore, to a country house not far distant from the city. There he
stayed with a few [friends], engaged in nothing else night and day than praying
for all men, and for the Churches throughout the world, according to his usual
custom. And while he was praying, a vision presented itself to him three days
before he was taken; and, behold, the pillow under his head seemed to him on
fire. Upon this, turning to those that were with him, he said to them
prophetically," I must be burnt alive."
CHAPTER VI -- POLYCARP IS BETRAYED BY A SERVANT.
And when those who sought for him were at hand, he departed to another
dwelling, whither his pursuers immediately came after him. And when they found
him not, they seized upon two youths [that were there], one of whom, being
subjected to torture, confessed. It was thus impossible that he should continue
hid, since those that betrayed him were of his own household. The Irenarch then
(whose office is the same as that of the Cleronomus), by name Herod, hastened to
bring him into the stadium. [This all happened] that he might fulfil his special
lot, being made a partaker of Christ, and that they who betrayed him might
undergo the punishment of Judas himself.
CHAPTER VII -- POLYCARP IS FOUND BY HIS PURSUERS.
His pursuers then, along with horsemen, and taking the youth with them, went
forth at supper-time on the day of the preparation? with their usual weapons, as
if going out against a robber. And being come about evening [to the place where
he was], they found him lying down in the upper room of a certain little house,
from which he might have escaped into another place; but he refused, saying,
"The will of God be done." So when he heard that they were come, he
went down and spake with them. And as those that were present marvelled at his
age and constancy, some of them said. "Was so much effort made to capture
such a venerable man? Immediately then, in that very hour, he ordered that
something to eat and drink should be set before them, as much indeed as they
cared for, while he besought them to allow him an hour to pray without
disturbance. And on their giving him leave, he stood and prayed, being full of
the grace of God, so that he could not cease for two full hours, to the
astonishment of them that heard him, insomuch that many began to repent that
they had come forth against so godly and venerable an old man.
CHAPTER VIII -- POLYCARP IS BROUGHT INTO THE CITY.
Now, as soon as he had ceased praying, having made mention of all that had at
any time come in contact with him, both small and great, illustrious and
obscure, as well as the whole Catholic Church throughout the world, the time of
his departure having arrived, they set him upon an ass, and conducted him into
the city, the day being that of the great Sabbath. And the Irenarch Herod,
accompanied by his father Nicetes (both riding in a chariot), met him, and
taking him up into the chariot, they seated themselves beside him, and
endeavoured to persuade him, saying, "What harm is there in saying, Lord
Caesar, and in sacrificing, with the other ceremonies observed on such
occasions, and so make sure of safety?" But he at first gave them no
answer; and when they continued to urge him, he said, "I shall not do as
you advise me." So they, having no hope of persuading him, began to speak
bitter words unto him, and cast him with violence out of the chariot, insomuch
that, in getting down from the carriage, he dislocated his leg [by the fall].
But without being disturbed, and as if suffering nothing, he went eagerly
forward with all haste, and was conducted to the stadium, where the tumult was
so great, that there was no possibility of being heard.
CHAPTER IX -- POLYCARP REFUSES TO REVILE CHRIST.
Now, as Polycarp was entering into the stadium, there came to him a voice
from heaven, saying, "Be strong, and show thyself a man, O Polycarp !"
No one saw who it was that spoke to him; but those of our brethren who were
present heard the voice. And as he was brought forward, the tumult became great
when they heard that Polycarp was taken. And when he came near, the proconsul
asked him whether he was Polycarp. On his confessing that he was, [the
proconsul] sought to persuade him to deny [Christ], saying, "Have respect
to thy old age," and other similar things, according to their custom, [such
as]," Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, Away with the
Atheists." But Polycarp, gazing with a stern countenance on all the
multitude of the wicked heathen then in the stadium, and waving his hand towards
them, while with groans he looked up to heaven, said, "Away with the
Atheists." Then, the proconsul urging him, and saying, "Swear, and I
will set thee at liberty, reproach Christ;" Polycarp declared, "Eighty
and six years have I served Him, and He never did me any injury: how then can I
blaspheme my King and my Saviour?"
CHAPTER X -- POLYCARP CONFESSES HIMSELF A CHRISTIAN.
And when the proconsul yet again pressed him, and said, "Swear by the
fortune of Caesar," he answered, "Since thou art vainly urgent that,
as thou sayest, I should swear by the fortune of Caesar, and pretendest not to
know who and what I am, hear me declare with boldness, I am a Christian. And if
you wish to learn what the doctrines of Christianity are, appoint me a day, and
thou shalt hear them." The proconsul replied, "Persuade the
people." But Polycarp said, "To thee I have thought it right to offer
an account [of my faith]; for we are taught to give all due honour (which
entails no injury upon ourselves) to the powers and authorities which are
ordained of God. But as for these, I do not deem them worthy of receiving any
account from me."
CHAPTER XI -- NO THREATS HAVE ANY EFFECT ON POLYCARP.
The proconsul then said to him, "I have wild beasts at hand; to these
will I cast thee, except thou repent." But he answered, "Call them
then, for we are not accustomed to repent of what is good in order to adopt that
which is evil; and it is well for me to be changed from what is evil to what is
righteous." But again the proconsul said to him, "I will cause thee to
be consumed by fire, seeing thou despisest the wild beasts, if thou wilt not
repent." But Polycarp said, "Thou threatenest me with fire which
burneth for an hour, and after a little is extinguished, but art ignorant of the
fire of the coming judgment and of eternal punishment, reserved for the ungodly.
But why tarriest thou? Bring forth what thou wilt."
CHAPTER XII -- POLYCARP IS SENTENCED TO BE BURNED.
While he spoke these and many other like things, he was filled with
confidence and joy, and his countenance was full of grace, so that not merely
did it not fall as if troubled by the things said to him, but, on the contrary,
the proconsul was astonished, and sent his herald to proclaim in the midst of
the stadium thrice, "Polycarp has confessed that he is a Christian."
This proclamation having been made by the herald, the whole multitude both of
the heathen and Jews, who dwelt at Smyrna, cried out with uncontrollable fury,
and in a loud voice, "This is the teacher of Asia, the father of the
Christians, and the overthrower of our gods, he who has been teaching many not
to sacrifice, or to worship the gods." Speaking thus, they cried out, and
besought Philip the Asiarch to let loose a lion upon Polycarp. But Philip
answered that it was not lawful for him to do so, seeing the shows of wild
beasts were already finished. Then it seemed good to them to cry out with one
consent, that Polycarp should be burnt alive. For thus it behooved the vision
which was revealed to him in regard to his pillow to be fulfilled, 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."
CHAPTER XIII -- THE FUNERAL PILE IS ERECTED,
This, then, was carried into effect with greater speed than it was spoken,
the multitudes immediately gathering together wood and fagots out of the shops
and baths; the Jews especially, according to custom, eagerly assisting them in
it. And when the funeral pile was ready, Polycarp, laying aside all his
garments, and loosing his girdle, sought also to take off his sandals,--a thing
he was not accustomed to do, inasmuch as every one of the faithful was always
eager who should first touch his skin. For, on account of his holy life, he was,
even before his martyrdom, adorned with every kind of good. Immediately then
they surrounded him with those substances which had been prepared for the
funeral pile. But when they were about also to fix him with nails, he said,
"Leave me as I am; for He that giveth me strength to endure the fire, will
also enable me, without your securing me by nails, to remain without moving in
CHAPTER XIV -- THE PRAYER OF POLYCARP.
They did not nail him then, but simply bound him. And he, placing his hands
behind him, and being bound like a distinguished ram [taken] out of a great
flock for sacrifice, and prepared to be an acceptable burnt-offering unto God,
looked up to heaven, and said, "O Lord God Almighty, the Father of thy
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 of the whole race
of the righteous who live before thee, I give Thee thanks that Thou hast counted
me, worthy of this day and 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, through the incorruption [imparted] by the Holy Ghost. Among
whom may I be accepted this day before Thee as a fat and acceptable sacrifice,
according as Thou, the ever-truthful God, hast fore-ordained, hast revealed
beforehand to me, and now hast fulfilled. Wherefore also I praise Thee for all
things, I bless Thee, I glorify Thee, along with the everlasting and heavenly
Jesus Christ, Thy beloved Son, with whom, to Thee, and the Holy Ghost, be glory
both now and to all coming ages. Amen."
CHAPTER XV -- POLYCARP IS NOT INJURED BY THE FIRE.
When he had pronounced this amen, and so finished his prayer, those who were
appointed for the purpose kindled the fire. And as the flame blazed forth in
great fury, we, to whom it was given to witness it, beheld a great miracle, and
have been preserved that we might report to others what then took place. For the
fire, shaping itself into the form of an arch, like the sail of a ship when
filled with the wind, encompassed as by a circle the body of the martyr. And he
appeared within not like flesh which is burnt, but as bread that is baked, or as
gold and silver glowing in a furnace. Moreover, we perceived such a sweet odour
[coming from the pile], as if frankincense or some such precious spices had been
CHAPTER XVI -- POLYCARP IS PIERCED BY A DAGGER.
At length, when those wicked men perceived that his body could not be
consumed by the fire, they commanded an executioner to go near and pierce him
through with a dagger. And on his doing this, there came forth a dove, and a
great quantity of blood, so that the fire was extinguished; and all the people
wondered that there should be such a difference between the unbelievers and the
elect, of whom this most admirable Polycarp was one, having in our own times
been an apostolic and prophetic teacher, and bishop of the Catholic Church which
is in Smyrna. For every word that went out of his mouth either has been or shall
yet be accomplished.
CHAPTER XVII -- THE CHRISTIANS ARE REFUSED POLYCARP'S BODY.
But when the adversary of the race of the righteous, the envious, malicious,
and wicked one, perceived the impressive nature of his martyrdom, and
[considered] the blameless life he had led from the beginning, and how he was
now crowned with the wreath of immortality, having beyond dispute received his
reward, he did his utmost that not the least memorial of him should be taken
away by us, although many desired to do this, and to become possessors of his
holy flesh. For this end he suggested it to Nicetes, the father of Herod and
brother of Alce, to go and entreat the governor not to give up his body to be
buried, "lest," said he, "forsaking Him that was crucified, they
begin to worship this one." This he said at the suggestion and urgent
persuasion of the Jews, who also watched us, as we sought to take him out of the
fire, being ignorant of this, that it is neither possible for us ever to forsake
Christ, who suffered for the salvation of such as shall be saved throughout the
whole world (the blameless one for sinners), nor to worship any other. For Him
indeed, as being the Son of God, we adore; but the martyrs, as disciples and
followers of the Lord, we worthily love on account of their extraordinary
affection towards their own King and Master, of whom may we also be made
companions and fellow-disciples!
CHAPTER XVIII -- THE BODY OF POLYCARP IS BURNED.
The centurion then, seeing the strife excited by the Jews, placed the body in
the midst of the fire, and consumed it. Accordingly, we afterwards took up his
bones, as being more precious than the most exquisite jewels, and more purified
than gold, and deposited them in a fitting place, whither, being gathered
together, as opportunity is allowed us, with joy and rejoicing, the Lord shall
grant us to celebrate the anniversary of his martyrdom, both in memory of those
who have already finished their course, and for the exercising and preparation
of those yet to walk in their steps.
CHAPTER XIX -- PRAISE OF THE MARTYR POLYCARP.
This, then, is the account of the blessed Polycarp, who, being the twelfth
that was martyred in Smyrna (reckoning those also of Philadelphia), yet occupies
a place of his own in the memory of all men, insomuch that he is everywhere
spoken of by the heathen themselves. He was not merely an illustrious teacher,
but also a pre-eminent martyr, whose martyrdom all desire to imitate, as having
been altogether consistent with the Gospel of Christ. For, having through
patience overcome the unjust governor, and thus acquired the crown of
immortality, he now, with the apostles and all the righteous[in heaven],
rejoicingly glorifies God, even the Father, and blesses our Lord Jesus Christ,
the Saviour of our souls, the Governor of our bodies, and the Shepherd of the
Catholic Church throughout the world.
CHAPTER XX -- THIS EPISTLE IS TO BE TRANSMITTED TO THE BRETHREN.
Since, then, ye requested that we would at large make you acquainted with
what really took place, we have for the present sent you this summary account
through our brother Marcus. When, therefore, ye have yourselves read this
Epistle, be pleased to send it to the brethren at a greater distance, that they
also may glorify the Lord, who makes such choice of His own servants. To Him who
is able to bring us all by His grace and goodness into his everlasting kingdom,
through His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ, to Him be glory, and honour, and
power, and majesty, for ever. Amen. Salute all the saints. They that are with us
salute you, and Evarestus, who wrote this Epistle, with all his house.
CHAPTER XXI -- THE DATE OF THE MARTYRDOM.
Now, the blessed Polycarp suffered martyrdom on the second day of the month
Xanthicus just begun, the seventh day before the Kalends of May, on the great
Sabbath, at the eighth hour. He was taken by Herod, Philip the Trallian being
high priest, Statius Quadratus being proconsul, but Jesus Christ being King for
ever, to whom be glory, honour, majesty, and an everlasting throne, from
generation to generation. Amen.
CHAPTER XXII -- SALUTATION.
We wish you, brethren, all happiness, while you walk according to the
doctrine of the Gospel of Jesus Christ; with whom be glory to God the Father and
the Holy Spirit, for the salvation of His holy elect, after whose example the
blessed Polycarp suffered, following in whose steins may we too be found in the
kingdom of Jesus Christ!
These things Caius transcribed from the copy of Irenaeus (who was a disciple
of Polycarp), having himself been intimate with Irenaeus. And I Socrates
transcribed them at Corinth from the copy of Caius. Grace be with you all.
And I again, Pionius, wrote them from the previously written copy, having
carefully searched into them, and the blessed Polycarp having manifested them to
me through a revelation, even as I shall show in what follows. I have collected
these things, when they had almost faded away through the lapse of time, that
the Lord Jesus Christ may also gather me along with His elect into His heavenly
kingdom, to whom, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, be glory for ever and
Translated by the Rev. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Excerpted from
Volume I of The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Rev. Alexander Roberts and James
Donaldson, editors); American Edition copyright © 1885. Electronic version
copyright © 1997 by New Advent, Inc.