I debated doing a review for this juvenile historical-fiction biography about Polycarp, the bishop of the early church in Smyrna. It is one of the many minor books that I had acquired over the years and kept on my shelf but never read. I am reading my unread books in order to decide if I should keep or discard.
I decided to do a review after all. It is a typical story for young readers interested in people from the past or because their mom assigned it for reading. I gave it three stars because it was good, but I do not need to reread it, and in the end, I will donate it.
Polycarp (AD 69 - 155) was one of the church Fathers who learned under the Apostle John (the author of Revelation). He lived in the time of Ignatius and was a teacher of Irenaeus. What we know about Polycarp comes mostly from his student. In fact, this particular story of Polycarp is told through Irenaeus.
Many of the conflicts in the story incorporate living under the Roman Empire, dealing with heresies and false teachers, mediating disputes within the Church, and embracing martyrdom. Polycarp believed false doctrines to be a worse issue for the Christian Church than the threat from Rome, and he opposed false teachers with all his might. From the story, he said (though I cannot say it is an exact quote):
Rome is a tyranny and a scourge to men who love freedom, but a greater threat to the church than imperial persecutions has been the plague of false doctrine.
Martyrdom was a reality for Christians living in the Roman Empire. To escape an humiliating torturous public death, all they had to do was curse Christ and declare allegiance to Caesar. Many of them did at the last moment; but some did not. Polycarp desired to wear the crown of martyrdom, as he accepted his faith taught Christians to suffer persecution. He did not believe he was worthy of the crown of fire, but (he said),
I am also unworthy of all the grace and mercy God has ever shown me. He chooses broken vessels to show His glory, and He has appointed this road for me.
Polycarp was arrested and burned at the stake in Smyrna, in AD 155, at the age of 86.
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One other reason I read this is because after reading You Who, the author Rachel Jankovic suggested that Christians read biographies of other Christians in order to learn how to live. After all, they are part of our family and they can teach us who we are, and their stories encourage us how to live in faith. Someone like Polycarp, who lived during an extremely dangerous time for Christians, demonstrated how Christians are to stand and watch, wrestle and defend, and live and die faithfully.