Today in Christian History

February 23

February 23, 155 (traditional date): Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna, is martyred. Reportedly a disciple of the Apostle John, at age 86 he was taken to be burned at the stake. "You try to frighten me with fire that burns for an hour and forget the fire of hell that never burns out," he said. The flames, legend says, would not touch him, and when he was run through with a sword, his blood put the fire out (see issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church).

February 23, 303: Diocletian begins his "Great Persecution," issuing edicts that call for church buildings to be destroyed, sacred writings burned, Christians to lose civil rights, and clergy to be imprisoned and forced to sacrifice. The following year he went even further, ordering all people to sacrifice on pain of death (see issue 27: Persecution in the Early Church).

February 23, 1455 (traditional date): Johannes Gutenberg publishes the Bible, the first book ever printed on a press with movable type. (see issue 16: William Tyndale)

February 23, 1685: George Frederick Handel, composer of the oratorio "Messiah," is born. He died in 1741, having spent the last six years of his life in total blindness.

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September 29, 1413: Archbishop Arundel condemned Sir John Oldcastle, a follower of John Wycliffe, of heresy. He was given 40 days to recant, during which he escaped and hid in Wales. He remained hidden for a year, until the offer of a large reward prompted someone to betray him. He was then captured and roasted to death.

September 29, 1978: Three weeks after being elected, Pope John Paul I dies while reading a devotional in bed.

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