Facing The Lions

You were an old man when you were taken
up in a raid near Smyrna and burned at
the stake, when there was a threat, I suppose,
that like Ignatious before you you would be
facing the lions.  And you were no doubt
brave, by all accounts, when it came your
time to die as a martyr to the faith you had
held all your life.  Indeed, you would likely
be happy to know that the accounts of your
bravery that Sabbath of your death have
lived on and that you are still remembered
fondly to this day as someone who had given
the ultimate level of sacrifice for your faith.

But was it braver for you to face the lions at
least metaphorically speaking on the day of
your death, or to face the doctrinal corruption
of that bishop of Rome who could have chosen
to defend a festival of the firstfruits that Jesus
kept in his brief ascension to the Father before
returning to comfort the disciples, but instead
sought to justify keeping a heathen festival started
by the Babylonians to increase membership in
the fallen church instead?  Would it have made you
feel more heroic as you stood in defense of apostolic
custom in celebrating the Passover if you knew that
this stance would make you a hero for those who
kept the Sabbath as they did even to this day?


As a writer, I have long been interested in the career of Polycarp [1] of Smyrna.  This interest springs from many sources.  For one, Polycarp is widely considered within my religious tradition to have been one of the few examples of a godly church leader in the post-apostolic period to preserve the godly example and practices of the Apostles, most notable in his debate in the quartodeciman controversy with Anicetus of Rome.  That said, the reader of the Apostolic Fathers as a body of literature will find reasons to doubt whether Polycarp was as much a friend of biblical belief as his reputation has allowed.  Of course, it is possible that the anti-Sabbitarian writings in Ignatius were fraudulent, but it is possible that even in the early second century keeping the biblical Sabbath was viewed as judaizing within many Christian circles, a lamentable tendency that continues to this day.  And given that, Polycarp’s role in preserving Ignatius’ writings comes off as less than entirely heroic.   Be that as it may, Polycarp remains an interesting figure even as his complexity increases.

And it is that complexity that I wish to capture in this particular poem.  While this poem only slightly references Ignatius (who, of course, has seven epistles of his own to make him a somewhat well-known figure among the Apostolic Fathers), I did wish to contrast the bravery shown by Polycarp in the two massive conflicts of the end of his life.  Appropriately enough, both of these conflicts dealt with Rome and to his role as an essentially antagonistic figure to Roman religious and political interests.  In his fight with Anicetus, Polycarp gained a reputation as someone who stood up for apostolic tradition against a rapidly Hellenizing and apostasizing tendency that would become dominant with Rome as it became less and less Christian in the attempt to gain members through syncretism.  Likewise, in his martyrdom, Polycarp served as an aged victim to the superstition of the heathen local population that blamed Christians for whatever political and natural disasters came upon the heathen population.  Incidentally enough, this was the same charge that philosophers faced from the superstitious mobs, making an unlikely case where philosophers and Christians could ally against the superstition of the heathen masses, an alliance that only seems to have worked in elite circles.

What made Rome the ultimate enemy of Polycarp?  In the hostility to Christianity that would lead to the martyrdom of Polycarp and many others, what made Rome the enemy of Christians is that Roman government was tolerant of polytheism and had a messianic view of the state that was hostile to anyone who denied those messianic claims, including venerable old believers like Polycarp who had lived mostly in peace during his long lifetime.  The hostility of the Roman church under Anicetus was due to the rising trends of syncretism by which popular heathen thoughts and practices were given a Christian veneer and made mandatory festivals for Christians, a tendency that would give the world most of its contemporary “Christian” holidays from Christmas to Easter even to Valentine’s Day and Lent and All Soul’s Day among other examples.  Ultimately, the same lion (namely Satan) was behind both tendencies, either the messianic state or the phony Christian Church seeking to appeal to heathens through the adoption of heathen traditions, a tendency that appears to this day in the behavior of the Catholic Church and in many Hellenistic churches that crave relevance in contemporary society above all else.  In such an age where these tendencies take power in church and state all good people are either exiles and refugees on the one hand trying to lay low or are martyrs for the faith once delivered on the other hand, unless they choose to apostasize themselves.

[1] See, for example:








About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in Christianity, Church of God and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Facing The Lions

  1. Pingback: An Introduction To The Apostolic Fathers Series | Edge Induced Cohesion

  2. Pingback: Interview Questions For A Martyr | Edge Induced Cohesion

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