Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, Martyr, c.155
Hear my teaching, O my people; incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable; I will pour forth mysteries from of old,
Such as we have heard and known, which our forebears have told us. We will not hide from their children, but will recount to generations to come, the praises of the Lord and his power and the wonderful works he has done.
He laid a solemn charge on Jacob and made it a law in Israel, which he commanded them to teach their children, That the generations to come might know, and the children yet unborn, that they in turn might tell it to their children; So that they might put their trust in God and not forget the deeds of God, but keep his commandments, and not be like their forebears,
a stubborn and rebellious generation,
a generation whose heart was not steadfast, and whose spirit was not faithful to God.
The people of Ephraim, armed with the bow, turned back in the day of battle; they did not keep the covenant of God and refused to walk in his law; they forgot what he had done and the wonders he had shown them. For he did marvellous things in the sight of their forebears, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through; he made the waters stand still in a heap.
He led them with a cloud by day and all the night through with a blaze of fire.
He split the hard rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as from the great deep.
He brought streams out of the rock and made water gush out like rivers.
Yet for all this they sinned more against him and defied the Most High in the wilderness. They tested God in their hearts and demanded food for their craving. They spoke against God and said, ‘Can God prepare a table in the wilderness?
‘He struck the rock indeed, so that the waters gushed out and the streams overflowed, but can he give bread or provide meat for his people?’
When the Lord heard this, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob and his anger went out against Israel, for they had no faith in God and put no trust in his saving help.
So he commanded the clouds above and opened the doors of heaven. He rained down upon them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven. So mortals ate the bread of angels; he sent them food in plenty.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens and led out the south wind by his might.
He rained flesh upon them as thick as dust and winged fowl like the sand of the sea.
He let it fall in the midst of their camp and round about their tents.
So they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they desired. But they did not stop their craving; their food was still in their mouths, when the anger of God rose against them, and slew their strongest men and felled the flower of Israel.
But for all this, they sinned yet more and put no faith in his wonderful works. So he brought their days to an end like a breath and their years in sudden terror. Whenever he slew them, they would seek him; they would repent and earnestly search for God. They remembered that God was their rock and the Most High God their redeemer.
Yet they did but flatter him with their mouth and dissembled with their tongue. Their heart was not steadfast towards him, neither were they faithful to his covenant. But he was so merciful that he forgave their misdeeds and did not destroy them; ♦
many a time he turned back his wrath and did not suffer his whole displeasure to be roused. For he remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes by and does not return.
All this I laid to heart, examining it all, how the righteous and the wise and their deeds are in the hand of God; whether it is love or hate one does not know. Everything that confronts them is vanity, since the same fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to those who sacrifice and those who do not sacrifice. As are the good, so are the sinners; those who swear are like those who shun an oath. This is an evil in all that happens under the sun, that the same fate comes to everyone. Moreover, the hearts of all are full of evil; madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead. But whoever is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun.
Go, eat your bread with enjoyment, and drink your wine with a merry heart; for God has long ago approved what you do. Let your garments always be white; do not let oil be lacking on your head. Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun. Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.
Again I saw that under the sun the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, nor bread to the wise, nor riches to the intelligent, nor favour to the skilful; but time and chance happen to them all. For no one can anticipate the time of disaster. Like fish taken in a cruel net, and like birds caught in a snare, so mortals are snared at a time of calamity, when it suddenly falls upon them.
I have also seen this example of wisdom under the sun, and it seemed important to me. There was a little city with few people in it. A great king came against it and besieged it, building great siege-works against it. Now there was found in it a poor, wise man, and he by his wisdom delivered the city. Yet no one remembered that poor man. So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than might; yet the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are not heeded.’
The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouting of a ruler among fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war, but one bungler destroys much good.
Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the tomb. So she ran and went to Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved, and said to them, ‘They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him.’ Then Peter and the other disciple set out and went towards the tomb. The two were running together, but the other disciple outran Peter and reached the tomb first. He bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in. Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb. He saw the linen wrappings lying there, and the cloth that had been on Jesus’ head, not lying with the linen wrappings but rolled up in a place by itself. Then the other disciple, who reached the tomb first, also went in, and he saw and believed; for as yet they did not understand the scripture, that he must rise from the dead. Then the disciples returned to their homes.
Almighty God, who gave to your servant Polycarp boldness to confess the name of our Saviour Jesus Christ before the rulers of this world and courage to die for his faith: grant that we also may be ready to give an answer for the faith that is in us and to suffer gladly for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.