Lent Madness: Polycarp vs. Cyprian

Lent Madness 2011 kicks off with an intriguing matchup between two saints from the early centuries of the Christian era. At first glance they share much in common: both were bishops and both were martyred. But it’s important to dig a bit deeper before making your choice.

Polycarp was the Bishop of Smyrna (in present-day Turkey) in the mid-second century. While not much is known of his life, he was reportedly brought to the faith by the apostle John. Indeed Smyrna is mentioned at the beginning of the Book of Revelation as “one of the seven churches of Asia” that was undergoing persecution.

A gentle man, Polycarp was arrested and convicted of being a Christian at an advanced age. When the authorities urged him to save his life by cursing Christ, he replied: “Eighty-six years I have served him, and he never did me any wrong. How can I blaspheme my King who saved me?” With that response, Polycarp was sentenced to be burned.

As he waited for the fire to be lit, he prayed what is really a beautiful prayer: “Lord God Almighty, Father of your blessed and beloved child Jesus Christ, through whom we have received knowledge of  you, God of angels and hosts and all creation, and of the whole race of the upright who live in your presence:  I bless you that you have thought me worthy of this day and hour, to be numbered among the martyrs and share in the cup of Christ, for resurrection to eternal life, for soul and body in the incorruptibility of the Holy Spirit.  Among them may I be accepted before you today, as a rich and acceptable sacrifice, just as you, the faithful and true God, have prepared and foreshown and brought about. For this reason and for all things I praise you, I bless you, I glorify you, through the eternal heavenly high priest Jesus Christ, your beloved child, through whom be glory to you, with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for the ages to come. Amen.”

Collect for Polycarp
O God, the maker of heaven and earth, who gave to your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Saviour, and steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and rise to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Cyprian was born around 200 in North Africa to pagan parents. A trial lawyer and master of rhetoric, he was converted to Christianity in 246. Evidently on the ecclesiastical fast track, he was elected Bishop of Carthage in 248.  The next year a wave of intense perecution forced Cyprian into hiding.

As the persecution ended, the question of the day became how to deal with the lapsed and those who had denied Christ under duress. Cyprian argued for mercy and readmittance to the communion of faith after an appropriate period of penance. This ended up being a middle ground — some called for permanent excommunication while others wanted immediate entrance back into the church.

During the reign of the Emperor Valerian, a plague broke out among the populace. Convinced that it was a direct result of Christianity, another period of persecution ensued. This time Cyprian decided not to flee and remained in Carthage. He was arrested, tried, convicted, and beheaded in 258.

Collect for Cyprian
Almighty God, who gave to your servant Cyprian boldness to confess the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world, and courage to die for this faith: Grant that we may always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us, and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.



6 Comments on “Lent Madness: Polycarp vs. Cyprian”

  1. Voted for Cyprian because he probably made his parents nuts by becoming a Christian and, well, I admire that. Also because he rated less virtual ink here and I suspect everyone else will vote for Polycarp. Yes, Lent Madness has begun! Lord, have mercy.

  2. commcanon says:

    I have joined the masses but not because Polycarp got more ink. Writing well under pressure is a virtue I admire…though I hope to never be under THAT much pressure. Also, when we used to visit my grandmother, Gladys, in the inland confines of Central Florida, we would always spend one blessed day at New Smynra Beach. It was a crappy beach but my mom liked it because she could drive the old Country Squire wagon right on the sand. It was a pleasant interlude from early bird dinners at various cafeteria establishments in and around the delightful town of Eustis.

  3. Father Tim says:

    I love hearing the REASONS why people vote for particular saints. And what a great visual image of an old wood-paneled station wagon on New Smyrna Beach!

  4. Bob Chapman says:

    Clearly Cyprian is just like an Anglican. He took the middle road, trying to accommodate both sides. Even the LORD, as shown in the Revelation to John the Divine, spews forth those that are neither cold nor hot.

    Meanwhile Polycarp, converted by John the Divine, knew how to take a stand. Even the fire that was supposed to kill Polycarp respected such a stand, forming a wall around him.

    So, in the spirit of those that stand firm in faith, I made my unwavering choice based upon the scant historical references available to us. Never to worry, as God is with us.

  5. Gretchen R Chateau says:

    I voted for Cyprian. Everybody’s always cracking on the lawyers. Cyprian rules. A blessed Lent to all!


  6. Deb Morgan says:

    Gotta go with the fishy guy. He should be canonized just for living with that ridiculous name.

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