The Curmudgeon of all Saints: Saint Polycarp

The Curmudgeon of all Saints:  Saint Polycarp
St. Polycarp, picture from EWTN

I wrote this two years ago on St. Polycarp's feast day.  Learning about the saints is learning the history of our faith and church.  When you're feeling a bit cranky, you can tell people you're just following in the footsteps of this early saint.

Polycarp (155? or 166?) is the curmudgeon of all the saints.  I say this with great confidence after reading this story and quote from him: Once on a visit to Rome, he had snubbed the heretic Marcion. "Don't you know who I am Polycarp?" he asked.  "Oh yes," said the saint, "I know the firstborn of Satan when I see him." OUCH!

Apparently, Polycarp could get away with such statements.  He was a second generation apostle who knew the original twelve.  In all likelihood he was appointed bishop of Smyrna by St. John.  He devoted his life to teaching sound doctrine and opposing heresay. Despite his longevity, his outspokenness was about to catch up with him.  By mid-century, governors began to require Christians to worship the emperor.  In Smyrna mobs packed the amphitheater to watch Christians forced to fight wild animals.  But the crowd wanted Polycarp. Polycarp was betrayed by a servant and taken to the amphitheater.  In a circular letter that the Smyrnean church distributed after his death, this account described what happened:

A great shout arose when the people heard that it was Polycarp who had been arrested.  As he was brought before him, the governor asked him:  "Are you Polycarp?"  And when he admitted he was, the governor tried to persuade him to recant, saying:  "Have respect for your age ...; swear by the Genius of the emperor.  Recant.  Say, 'Away with the atheists!'" Polycarp, with a sober countenance, looked at all the mob of lawless pagans who were in the arena, and shaking his fist at them, groaned, looked up to heaven, and said, "Away with these atheists!" The governor persisted and said:  "Swear and I will let you go.  Curse Christ!" But Polycarp answered:  "For eighty-six years I have been his servant and he had done me no wrong.  How can I blaspheme against my king and savior?"

Polycarp was sentenced to burn at the stake - a death he had dreamt about, but as he stood peacefully in the middle of the fire, it didn't touch him and the governor ordered him stabbed to death.  Can you even imagine?

While I read about Polycarp in Bert Ghezzi's Voices of the Saints, this little tidbit jumped off the page:  Polycarp is the patron saint of earache sufferers!

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  • Polycarp means in Greek "many fruit".

  • My son, who is now 20, chose this as his confirmation name. My fault for giving him the Saints book and telling him to choose! Of course, h thought it meant multiple fish. On confirmation day the Bishop came to a screeching halt in front of my long-haired scraggly child and singled him out (Among the many John's, Michael's and Patrick's). He recited a very erudite response as to why he chose Polycarp, and the bishop told him that he'd made a good, thoughtful choice! I've heard that the confirmation teachers are still talking about the Polycarp Boy at Hinsdale's St. Isaac Jogues. They don't get many.

  • In reply to SaraByron:

    An amusing anecdote.

  • In reply to SaraByron:

    Love it! Thank you for sharing!

  • Polycarp is someone I would like to have a beer (wine) with.

  • In reply to gwill:

    I'd like to be a fly on the wall for the conversation. ;-)

  • " likelyhood" ?!
    You must not have gone to Catholic school.

  • Thanks! I had forgotten about old "Many Fruits".

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