Guest / Limited Access /

One of the most stirring martyrdoms recorded in church history is Polycarp's. When the venerable bishop of Smyrna (modern-day Izmir, in Turkey) heard the Romans were planning to arrest him, he heeded his friends' advice and withdrew to a small estate outside of town. But while in prayer there, he had a vision. "I must be burned alive," he told his friends. When the soldiers arrived, his friends once more urged him to run, but Polycarp answered, "God's will be done."

After being escorted to the proconsul, Polycarp carried on a witty dialogue with his questioner, who flew into a rage and threatened Polycarp with death by fire. "The fire you threaten burns but an hour and is quenched after a little," Polycarp answered; "for you do not know the fire of coming judgment, and everlasting punishment, that is laid up for the impious. But why do you delay? Come, do what you will."

At the execution scene the soldiers began to secure him to the stake, but Polycarp stopped them: "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." He prayed and the fire was lit. The second-century chronicler of this martyrdom said it was "not as burning flesh but as bread baking or as gold and silver refined in a furnace." The martyrdom, he added, was remembered by "everyone"—"he is even spoken of by the heathen in every place."

Calm demeanor. Courageous words. A death noted by unbelievers. One can't help admiring this type of martyrdom and feeling ennobled and encouraged by it. Unfortunately, not all martyr stories are so inspiring.

There were about 300,000 baptized believers in Japan at the end of the 1500s, thanks to the efforts of Catholic missionaries. ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

From Issue:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedChristian Mother on Pakistan's Death Row Gets Last Chance to Escape Blasphemy Execution
Christian Mother on Pakistan's Death Row Gets Last Chance to Escape Blasphemy Execution
Asia Bibi, the 'world's most emblematic defender of human rights,' goes before Islamabad's Supreme Court.
TrendingMelinda Gates: ‘I’m Living Out My Faith in Action’
Melinda Gates: ‘I’m Living Out My Faith in Action’
One of the wealthiest and most controversial women in the world believes that all lives have equal value. She’s willing to spend $3.6 billion a year to prove her point.
Editor's PickWhy True Crime Is Making a Comeback
Why True Crime Is Making a Comeback
We have all been Jinxed and Serialed.
Comments
Christianity Today
Is Persecution Good for the Church?
hide thisMay 19 May 19

In the Magazine

May 19, 1997

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.