Martyrdom of Polycarp as Encouragment for Self-Denial

2.3 For even when they were so torn by whips that the internal structure of their flesh was visible as far as the inner veins and arteries, they endured so patiently that even the bystanders had pity and wept. But they themselves reached such a level of bravery that not one of them uttered a cry or a groan, thus showing to us all that the very hour when they were being tortured the martyrs of Christ were absent from the flesh, or rather that the Lord was standing by and conversing with them. And turning their thoughts to the grace of Christ they despised the tortures of this world, purchasing at the cost of one hour an exemption from eternal punishment. And the fire of their inhuman torturers felt cold to them, for they set before their eyes the escape from that eternal fire which is never extinguished, while with the eyes of their heart they gazed upon the good things that are reserved for those who endure patiently, things that neither ear has heard nor eye has seen, nor has it entered into the human heart, but that were shown to them by the Lord, for they were no longer humans, but already angels. (Trans. Michael Holmes in his Apostolic Fathers: Greek Texts and English Translations)

In my bi-weekly Ancient Greek Reading Group we have begun to read the Martyrdom of Polycarp after finishing Book IX of the Odyssey.  Having recently read J. Warren Smith’s article Martyrdom: Self-Denial or Self-Exaltation? Motives for Self-Sacrifice From Homer to Polycarp: A Theological Reflection(Modern Theology 22, April 2006), I’m reading this text with fresh eyes. The section of text there is incredibly gory – ” μεχρι των εσω φλεβων και αρτηριων την της σαρκος οικονομιαν θεωρεισθαι” – and for good purpose. The author of this text is trying to get people to stop throwing themselves to the Romans as cowardly Quintus had done (who ultimately rejected Christ at the last hour) and to suffer martyrdom, if it be necessary, “according to the Gospel”, that is, as Jesus Christ and Polycarp both did – by allowing the Romans to come and get you.

I also learned a couple new Greek words in this section. The first is εξαγοραζομενος – which  means “paying off” or “purchashing”, but you “buy” X in the genitive with “Y” in the accusative. Very interesting.

The other word is one I already knew, but with a different meaning. In 2.4 we see κηρυκας not as “heralds”, but rather “Trumpet shells.” These shells were placed under those being tortured to make things less comfortable.

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