I’ve been sharing what I’m reading throughout the year for the 2017 Catholic Reading Challenge, and I’m chipping away at my list. There’s only three months left! This was a shorter one, but a powerful one…
Category: Writings of an Early Church Father
Before reading St. Polycarp of Smyrna’s epistle and the account of his martyrdom, I had been semi-familiar with his story and when he lived. But I gained some important insights on his impact as a Father of the Church after doing this reading. The book I have linked to above includes both his epistle and the account of his martyrdom by Evarestus (along with several other early Christian writings). It also provides brief biographical information on the saint, which we have due to various other early Church writings.
Polycarp’s Connection to Christ
The first thing that I found fascinating was his direct connection to the original 12 Apostles, specifically the Apostle John. We know from Irenaeus’ writings that Polycarp (who wasn’t martyred until the age of 86) was a disciple of the Apostle John and handed down the teachings of the Apostles to several generations throughout his long life. In fact, St. John the Apostle himself appointed Polycarp to his position as Bishop of Smyrna. Think about that: Jesus –> John –> Polycarp — he’s one person removed from direct communication and relationship with Christ on earth!
Polycarp’s Pastoral Words
His epistle reminds me of many of the letters of the New Testament with its pastoral style and apostolic exhortations. He clearly lived his life ready to give it up for Christ, and he encouraged his flock of believers in the same mindset. After all, early Christians basically lived their daily lives with the realization that they would most likely die at any time for their faith. Polycarp’s epistle describes St. Ignatius and other Christian prisoners on their way to be martyred in Rome: “For those chains they were wearing were the badges of saints; the diadems of men truely chosen by God and our Lord.”
Here was my favorite passage from his epistle:
“Faith is the mother of us all; with Hope following in her train, and Love of God and Christ and neighbor leading the way. Let a man’s mind be wholly bent on these, and he has fulfilled all the demands of holiness; for to possess Love is to be beyond the reach of sin.”
Polycarp’s Final Testimony
My greatest inspiration came from St. Polycarp’s words of testimony at the moment that he is faced with the choice between saving his earthly life and remaining true to Christ. The Governor of Rome is calling to him: “Revile your Christ.” And Polycarp’s reply is this: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?”
When I picture this old man, this beloved Church Father, speaking these words, my eyes well with tears and my heart is filled with reassurance of the truth of my own faith. One of the reasons I wanted this category in the Reading Challenge is that I believe we need to know and treasure the great inheritance we have received from these early Church Fathers. When we are tempted to take our Catholic faith for granted, we should remember that the Church has prevailed for 2000 years largely because of the willingness of early Christians to die for her.
What Writings of an Early Church Father did you read for the #2017catholicreadingchallenge? If you are posting your pick on social media, remember to use the hashtag!
Copyright 2017 Jessica Ptomey