Theologian Thursday: Polycarp (c. 70-155)

This is the first in a series I'm starting on martyrs of the church. I'm not sure how many I'll be doing; probably just continue for a few weeks until I get sick of it. If there's anyone you want me to profile, let me know in the comments or on Twitter or email (

Polycarp was a disciple of the apostle John, a bishop in Smyrna, and was the author of some of the oldest surviving writings of the early church.

Polycarp was martyred for refusing to "swear by the fortune of Caesar"--because he refused to pledge his allegiance to anyone but Christ. Before he was arrested, he had a vision that his pillow was burning, and so was convinced that he was to die by fire. The proconsul gave him many opportunities to change his mind and renounce Christianity, but he would not, and was sent to be burned alive.

The story goes that they set him on a pyre, but when it was lit the fire could not touch him, so he had to be killed by a sword.

What you should read:
(To read more about my Theologian Rating System, click HERE)
Gender Equality:
It's unclear exactly how favorably he viewed women, but I suspect that women were still quite involved in ministry and church life in this early time of Christianity. Additionally, in his letter to the Philippians, he seems to recognize quite a bit of female autonomy--that women learn "to walk in the faith that hath been given unto them."
Environmental Sensibility:
To be honest, I couldn't find anything regarding Polycarp's view of nature. Like others in his time, it doesn't seem to be an important issue.
Heretical Tendencies:
Polycarp worked hard to establish an orthodoxy in the burgeoning Christian community. He was an important influence to other great early theologians like Irenaeus and Tertullian, who set the standard for much of early Christian thought.
General Badassery:
Polycarp knew that his martyrdom was imminent, and yet he did not shy away from what he believed was right. He faced his arrest and trial with grace and courage. And even when the soldiers went to nail him to the stake in the pyre, he told them it was not necessary, that "he who gave me to abide the fire will also allow me, without the security of your nails, to remain on the pyre without moving." What a badass!

Here's a Polycarp quote for the road:
"He that hath love is far from all sin."