February 24, 2008

"Atheists" and Polycarp

February 23 is the Feast (remembrance) of Polycarp. I was thinking of posting about him but didn't, but I just read a wonderful article at Christian History & Biography that had a word in it I decided to post about. Rather than me telling you all about him, go to the link and read the wonderful eye-witness account of who he was and why Rome burned him to death in 156.

Actually, they tried burning him alive, but when Polycarp's 86 year old body would not die, they had him pierced and his blood extinguished the fire. The eyewitness account says the captain of the Jews took his dead body and burned it. The Christians later took his bones, "more costly and more valuable than gold", and laid them to rest in a place that could be visited, and remember "the athletes who have gone before". So this is the first recording of collected relics.

During his trial, the proconsul tried getting him to say phrases that would be a denial of his faith, but Polycarp wouldn't "blaspheme the King who saved me". But it's interesting that one of the phrases they wanted him to repeat was "Away with the Atheists", which he did repeat. We, and apparently Polycarp would agree with that phrase. But here's the thing ... in those days of Rome they had many gods and the first use of the word 'atheist' was used describing Christians.

Christians were called Atheists because they only believed in one God.

The blood of the martyrs proved to be the seed of the faith - the church.
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