Fr. Bloomfield's Blog

I am a Roman Catholic Priest of the Archdiocese of Detroit, currently assigned to Divine Child Parish in Dearborn, Michigan. When I manage to keep the page updated, hopefully something interesting can be found here!

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Faith Seeking Understanding for August 6, 2006

Even though today is the Feast of the Transfiguration of the Lord, my bulletin article (continuing the Fathers of the Church) is here:

Following St. Clement of Rome, St. Polycarp is the next of the Apostolic Fathers; he was the bishop of Smyrna (now in Turkey) and a student of the Apostle John. When Polycarp was 87 years old (between 155 and 167 A.D.) he was burned at the stake. His feast day is celebrated on February 23rd.

Of Polycarp’s writings, only the Letter to the Philippians has survived. St. Ignatius of Antioch does mention Polycarp in his letters to the Magnesians and Ephesians, as well as addressing a letter to Polycarp himself; the Church in Smyrna also sent a letter to the Church at Philomelium describing his martyrdom.

Like St. Clement, Polycarp sent his letter to a Church originally strengthened by the Apostle St. Paul, demonstrating the unity of the early Church. In this case, however, the Philippians had requested an exhortation from Polycarp, as well as any letters he had from St. Ignatius. He first recalls the letter of St. Paul: “[Paul] when among you accurately and steadfastly taught the word of truth in the presence of those who were then alive. And when absent from you, he wrote you a letter, which, if you carefully study, you will find to be the means of building you up in that faith which has been given you, and which, being followed by hope, and preceded by love towards God, and Christ, and our neighbor, ‘is the mother of us all’” (ch. 3).

Next, he exhorts his readers to holiness of life, and stresses the true Faith against the errors of the Docetist heresy, which claimed that Christ’s incarnation was only an illusion or appearance (from the Greek dokesis). To resist such heresy, Polycarp recommends: “Forsaking the vanity of many, and their false doctrines, let us return to the word which has been handed down to us from the beginning; ‘watching unto prayer,’ and persevering in fasting; beseeching in our supplications the all-seeing God ‘not to lead us into temptation,’ as the Lord has said: ‘The spirit truly is willing, but the flesh is weak’” (ch. 7, emphasis added). Authentic tradition or “handing down” from the Apostles is the guarantee of the true Faith.

In his encouragement of praying for a particular priest who has separated himself from the Church, he does not suggest harsh means: “Be then moderate in regard to this matter, and ‘do not count such as enemies,’ but call them back as suffering and straying members, that you may save your whole body” (ch. 11).

He reminds his readers to pray: “Pray for all the saints. Pray also for kings, and potentates, and princes, and for those that persecute and hate you, and for the enemies of the cross, that your fruit may be manifest to all, and that you may be perfect in Him” (ch. 12). The letter finishes by saying that the copies of the letters of Ignatius which they requested are included.

The description of Polycarp’s martyrdom is of later origin, but testifies to the ancient esteem for the martyrs: “Looking to the grace of Christ, they despised all the torments of this world, redeeming themselves from eternal punishment by the suffering of a single hour. For this reason the fire of their savage executioners appeared cool to them. For they kept before their view escape from that fire which is eternal and never shall be quenched, and looked forward with the eyes of their heart to those good things which are laid up for such as endure; things ‘which ear hath not heard, nor eye seen, neither have entered into the heart of man,’ but were revealed by the Lord to them, inasmuch as they were no longer men, but had already become angels. And in like manner, those who were condemned to the wild beasts endured dreadful tortures, being stretched out upon beds full of spikes, and subjected to various other kinds of torments, in order that, if it were possible, the tyrant might, by their lingering tortures, lead them to a denial of Christ” (ch. 2).

When demanded by the Roman proconsul to deny Christ and avoid being killed, Polycarp replied with confidence: “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did my any injury: how then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” (ch. 9). Polycarp was sentenced to be burned alive; miraculously, the fire was not able to burn him, so the executioner pierced his heart with a dagger and his body was burned.

Next week, we encounter another great martyr for the Faith: St. Ignatius of Antioch. May God bless you!