Martyrdom Research Papers
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Mention the word martyrdom in the year 2012 and one typically thinks of suicide bombers and threats to national security. Nightly news footage delivers images of individuals intent on taking a stand for their beliefs, religious or political, by offering up their lives, and sometimes the lives of others. While “offering one’s life” to a cause is a common thread in martyrdom, the concept has a long and varied history. Indeed the traditional understanding of martyrdom has come to mean the suffering and death of someone as a result of his attachment to a certain belief or faith. But clearly we must look at the original meaning of the word martyrdom as it comes from the word “martyr”.
In its original Greek form the word martyr meant “witness”. It was a term used within the context of Christianity to describe those who suffered hardship for their public proclamation of belief in Jesus Christ, but then exclusively for those who had died for their faith in the Messiah. The one who died as a “martyr” achieved “martyrdom”, the value attributed to him for such an act. While the term is most commonly used in the context of early Christians, over the centuries it has come to apply to anyone who dies in defense of their belief. As such the term martyrdom applies as readily to the Muslim who dies in defense of Islamic tradition, or the Indian Sikh who dies for his cause for fairness. Martyrdom is clearly a phenomenon embedded in the universal question of “what is really worth dying for“. And this is a question answered only in a moment, by an individual, as he takes his final stand.
The Martyrdom of Polycarp is an epistle written by the Christians of Smyrna to the Christians of Philomelium explaining the events surrounding the martyrdom of Polycarp c. 155-167 A.D. One of the reasons suggested as the purpose of the document is to provide information to the Christians of Philomelium that could be of assistance in joining with the Christians of Smyrna in selecting a successor to Polycarp. The document itself, however, does not give any specific reason behind the writing other than to describe the martyrdom and the miraculous events that took place. Polycarp was held in very high regard at the time because he had been a disciple of some of the Apostles. His death as a martyr as important news for the Christian community, and would account for the wide dissemination of the epistle.
The Martyrdom of Polycarp is significant in Christian history because of the following:
- It is the earliest full description of a specific martyrdom
- Helped to shape the position of the early Christians with regard to martyrdom.
- The document describes the actions of Quintus who convinced others to voluntarily surrender to the Romans for trial and martyrdom.
Polycarp left the city at the urging of his disciples, but was betrayed by a servant. After his arrest, Polycarp would not revile Christ, and was sentenced to execution by burning. The fire, however, did not harm Polycarp, which was described as a miraculous event. The Romans eventually stab Polycarp to death. The document suggests that martyrdom should not be courted, but should be accepted if it is the inevitable consequence of faith in Christ.