Clint Eastwood’s Dirty Harry character has always been one of my favorites because he is all courage and cool. He’s famous for many one-liners, but the most famous is, “Go ahead, make my day”–pure ice in a Depends moment. Long before Clint Eastwood, Christianity had its own Dirty Harry in the person of Polycarp.
Polycarp was born in 70 A.D. and spent the latter part of his life as the Bishop of Smyrna. He was one of the most famous Christians in the world at the time. He had been discipled by the Apostle John, making him only one step removed from Jesus–pretty good credentials.
In 156 A.D., during the reign of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius, Polycarp was called before the local sheriff in Smyrna, ordered to declare Caesar Lord and make a sacrifice to him or be put to death. Polycarp refused.
Polycarp was then taken into a stadium where the Roman governor of Smyrna waited along with the locals, and a number of Christians who had come to see what would happen to Polycarp. The governor demanded Polycarp denounce Jesus and swear by Caesar or be put to death. Polycarp replied, “Eighty and six years have I served Him, and He never did me wrong; and how can I now blaspheme my King that has saved me?”
The governor then said, “I have wild beasts at hand. I will cast you to these unless unless you change your mind.”
Polycarp replied, “Call them.”
The governor said “I will cause you to be consumed by fire.”
Polycarp replied, “Why do you delay. Bring what you wish.”
The governor then announced, “Polycarp confesses that he is a Christian.” Polycarp was then bound to a stake and the fire lit. As the fire roared around Polycarp the stadium of onlookers were amazed because a wall of fire surrounded Polycarp but became like a sail filled with wind blowing away from him so that he stood unharmed. Seeing his body could not be consumed by fire, the executioner was ordered to plunge his sword into Polycarp. When he did, so much blood gushed forth that the fire was extinguished. The multitude, who had seen many executions but had never seen anything like this, marveled.
We know of the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom from eye-witnesses who were in the stadium that day and contributed to a letter written to the church in Pontus recounting the event. Eusebius, known as the Father of Church History, notes in his Ecclesiastical History written in 325 A.D., that the account of Polycarp’s martyrdom was passed down in writing “still extant,” and he quotes directly from the document.
So there you have it, the original Dirty Harry. “Call them” and “Bring it on,” he said. Courage and cool for the ultimate cause of the kingdom of God. And people are still talking about him 1,853 years later. As much I like the Dirty Harry character, I bet no one remembers him 100 years from now. GS