Polycarp vs. Andrew the Fisherman

Today in saintly action, Polycarp faces Andrew the Fisherman, as a second century martyred bishop takes on a martyred apostle. Something fishy is definitely going on here...

Yesterday, Albert Schweitzer defeated Henry Mühlenberg 75% to 25%. Which, although it's tough news for Henry, means we're all collectively spared from trying to figure out how to type an umlaut. Which may remind longtime Lent Madness participants of Franz Jägerstätter, who nearly won the Golden Halo in 2017 before he and his two umlauts succumbed to Florence Nightingale.

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Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna and a leading figure in Roman Asia in the middle of the second century.

For better or worse, Polycarp is remembered as a champion of orthodoxy. He took the arch-heretics Marcion and Valentinus to task. His letter to the Philippians explores how right belief and right action are closely intertwined. Throughout the letter he demonstrates familiarity with the Greek translation of the Jewish scriptures and some of Paul’s letters (which he appears to treat like scripture at times). He is both learned and pastoral.

His death is described at length in the early Christian text, The Martyrdom of Polycarp. In 155, during a local episode of persecution, Polycarp, now age 86, was arrested and brought to trial. In a trance, God had already revealed to Polycarp his arrest and the type of death he was to die. In fact, throughout the text, Polycarp is a bit of a charismatic, experiencing visions and hearing God’s encouragement throughout the ordeal.

After refusing to give an offering to Caesar and verbally sparring with the local magistrate, Polycarp was sentenced to death by burning. As they prepared the pyre, Polycarp refused to be bound, telling the soldiers that God would enable him to stand firm in the flames. When the pyre was lit, the flames circled around him but did not touch him. At the same time, we are told that bystanders smelled a sweet fragrance, like bread baking. The text also describes a “fragrant aroma” like “incense or some other precious spice.”

When it became clear that Polycarp would not die by fire, the executioner was ordered to stab him to finish the deed. As he was pierced, a dove emerged from his side along with so much blood that the fire around him was extinguished. His death was so noble and inspiring that the magistrate worried that Polycarp would now be worshiped alongside Christ so he had his body cremated and reduced to ashes.

In the end, Polycarp is a faithful witness who bridges an important gap between the apostolic age and what would later become orthodox Christianity. He learned from the Apostle John, corresponded with Christian contemporaries like Ignatius of Antioch, and inspired later Christian leaders, including the theologian Irenaeus and the church historian Eusebius. His writings, and the story of his martyrdom, can be found in the collection of writings called The Apostolic Fathers.

Collect for Polycarp
O God, the maker of heaven and earth, you gave your venerable servant, the holy and gentle Polycarp, the boldness to confess Jesus Christ as King and Savior and the steadfastness to die for his faith: Give us grace, following his example, to share the cup of Christ and to 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. (LFF 2022)

David Creech

Andrew the Fisherman

St. Andrew is a saint whom we encounter first in the pages of Scripture. He and his brother Simon are casting their nets into the Sea of Galilee when Jesus strolls by and asks them to join with him. Immediately, he drops his net and follows. From then on, Andrew becomes a disciple of Jesus.

In John’s gospel, the encounter is presented slightly differently – John records Andrew as being a disciple of John the Baptist first, before John kindly redirects his focus to Jesus, exclaiming “Behold the Lamb of God!” as Jesus walks past one day. Upon hearing this, Andrew and his brother up and start trailing after Jesus, evidently without even a word of introduction. After a few moments, Jesus realizes he’s acquired literal followers and asks them what they’re doing. Andrew responds by asking “Rabbi, where are you staying?” Jesus invites him to come and see, and again, from then on, he is a steadfast companion.

Following Christ’s resurrection, tradition varies widely about what became of him. Eusebius quotes Origen, who tells us that Andrew went to Scythia to preach, and then all around northern Greece and what is now southern Russia. The Chronicle of Nestor records that he continued on, making it as far as Kiev/Kyiv, and then to Novogorod, He then went to Thrace to preach, founded the city of Constantinople on his way, and finally ended up in Achaea, in Patras, where he was put to death by the Roman Empire. Andrew protested his death, not because he feared death, but because he felt himself unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, and so he was crucified by being bound –not nailed –-to the cross, though the exact X shape that has come to be known as the saltire was only described in the Middle Ages.

Because of his extensive travels, St. Andrew is the patron saint of Ukraine, Russia, Romania, Scotland, and Constantinople, as well as fishermen and singers.

Collect for Andrew the Fisherman
Almighty God, who gave such grace to your apostle Andrew that he readily obeyed the call of your Son Jesus Christ, and brought his brother with him: Give us, who are called by your Holy Word, grace to follow him without delay, and to bring those near to us into his gracious presence; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen. (BCP)

Megan Castellan


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102 comments on “Polycarp vs. Andrew the Fisherman”

  1. This was a really unfair matchup. Maybe you should have matched him up against Mühlenberg and Andrew against Schweitzer. Andrew got my vote for several reasons, but I think the next time I adopt an enormous tomcat, I'm going to name him Polycarp.

  2. Rooting for the underdog here.... Polycarp is really important to the nature of the faith we have today.

  3. One thing I love about Lent Madness is reading the stories of saints I didn't know much or anything about. So I voted for Polycarp this morning. 🙂

  4. Perhaps this has been mentioned already but Polycarp is attributed with initiating the 'sign of the cross' which he made at his execution to declare his Christian faith to the crowd etc as verbally he would not be heard over the
    surrounding noise.

  5. Far be it from me to turn down an apostle, someone who knew Jesus in the flesh, but I am going with Polycarp. I know little about that transitional era between the apostolic period and the beginnings of the institutional church. So Polycarp as an essential link and "faithful witness" seems like the obvious choice for me today. The apostles were not divinities. When Judas fell away, they cast lots for a replacement. But Polycarp like John the Baptist seems like a fully formed agent of religious truth in his own right. The fantastical death narrative is for children; it's Polycarp's learned familiarity with the nascent canon of thought and writing that fascinates me. As a vital link in Christian tradition, he has my vote.

  6. As one who loves to travel around the world, I voted for Andrew. Besides, I found the account of his death much more believable.

  7. I expected the vote to be much closer, though I did vote for Andrew (I can't seem to deny the Apostles) I thought Polycarp would be a very worthy alternative.

  8. Both of these stories are complicated and hard to imagine someone writing this down. I voted for Polycarpus because the story seemed simpler to have been recorded.

    1. After the round of 32 is completed. We have to have 16 total first competitions/votes before that round starts. Then the Elate Eight, and the semifinals, and then the Golden Halo vote.

  9. Not an easy decision today, there is much to admire in Polycarp, but I voted for Andrew because I admire him for accepting his brother's greater role and inner circle status.

  10. Toughest choice yet. Both men are martyrs which is the ultimate test of their faith. Both are very brave. Polycarp's deliverance from the pyre is a miracle but Andrew was a dear friend of Jesus.

  11. I almost voted for Polycarp, who I knew about since childhood. I spent a few years in an area where it was the main character’s name on a weekday morning cartoon show (before school hours) titled “Polycarp & Pals.” Ah, nostalgia! However, due my Scottish ancestry I decided to vote for Andrew.

  12. A hard decision today to separate two wonderful Christian men.
    One the first missionary and the second a pillar of orthodoxy who was so important in development of the early Church.

  13. This was another hard choice, but I went with Andrew because he was actually with Jesus. On the other hand I am sure Jesus was with Polycarp in his time of need.

  14. My Dad was Regional Director? of Brotherhood of St. Andrew in the 60's and 70's, so of course I had to vote for him! His favorite job ever!

  15. Polycarp’s feast day is this Friday 23rd, also my daughter‘s birthday which pushes me to vote for him. I also always feel sorry for Andrew and Simon’s dad - his workforce just walked off….. did they ever go back and explain?

  16. Despite my Scottish family background, I have always been intrigued with Polycarp ever since I met a new friend in Tanzania with the name. I hadn’t heard of Polycarp before and chuckled at the name…until I looked him up and thought what an honour to be named after such a worthy Saint. Polycarp gets my vote. Sorry to my Scots family…

  17. Can any scholar tell me why Jesus did not include Andrew along with his brother at the Transfiguration? It seems that for arguably the very first apostle, St. Andrew got the short stick after that.

  18. My vote was not recorded today either, though the fact that I am not a robot was.


    Ingrid Fotino

  19. Attacking "arch-heretics"? What was he, Batman? I prefer Andrew, the gentle fisherman who followed Jesus, and became the patron of my Scottish ancestors.

  20. You had me at "...how right belief and right action are closely intertwined."! So many 'believers' don't understand that 'talking the talk' doesn't negate one's actions when it comes to being true disciples of Christ. Don't tell me what you believe...show me by your interaction with the alien, the sick, the widows and orphans, the hungry and the broken.

  21. My vote was recorded today! Finally! Was the difference that I used my laptop today? Why aren't votes from tablets and smart phones recorded?

  22. I first had decided on voting for Andrew, plus am part Scottish on my father's side but finally opted for Polycarp. I came across a short YouTube biographical video on Polycarp entitled "Way of the Fathers", host Mike Aquilina which was very detailed and my mind changed.