February 23, 1998
Monday, February 23:
Feast of Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr
First Reading: James 3: 13-18
Psalms: Psalm 19: 8-10, 15
Gospel Reading: Mark 9: 14-29
Saint Polycarp, Bishop and Martyr
Consecrated bishop of Smyrna by Saint John the Apostle, the holy Saint Polycarp staunchly defended the faith in the face of heresy, particularly Valentinianism and Marcionism. Born around 69 A.D. he dedicated his life to upholding the new Christian faith and preaching everywhere he went. Towards the end of his life when he was in his eighties, he traveled to Rome during the papacy of Pope Anicetus, the eleventh in the line of Peter. There Pope and bishop discussed a mutual date for Easter but could not come to an agreement and parted ways deciding each should celebrate it the way they had been doing it. Before he left Rome Polycarp was captured by the Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius and thrown into prison. Refusing to sacrifice to the gods, acknowledge the divinity of Aurelius and reject his faith, Polycarp was ordered to be burned at the stake. But as they flames seared up and around him, they miraculously did not touch him. Furious, the Emperor ordered the soldiers to spear him to death. There in Rome on February 23, he gave up the ghost. Historians gage his death anywhere between 155 and 165, because of his association with Anicetus who was pontiff during those years. Many regard Polycarp as the chief link between the apostolic age, when he knew some of the apostles such as John, to the age of the great Christian Writers in Roman Asia which evolved late in the second century. They consider his Martyrium Polycarpi the first and oldest authentic example of the Acts of the Martyrs.