HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: Polycarp: The Crown of Fire
Author: William Chad Newsom
Cover Illustrator: Fred Apps
Publisher: Christian Focus, 2005
Related website: www.christianfocus.com (publisher)
Language level: 1
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Ages 9-12
Rating: 5 stars (EXCELLENT)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Newsom, William Chad. Polycarp: The Crown of Fire (published in 2005 by Christian Focus Publications, Geanies House, Fearn, Tain, Ross-shire, IV20 1TW, Scotland, UK). Set during the time when the catacombs of Rome were the dark, shadowy refuge of Christians and the roar of the Amphitheater meant death for believers, this book is a fictionalized biography of Polycarp of Smyrna (69–155), one of the earliest and now somewhat forgotten post-apostolic leaders in the early church. It begins with a visit by Hippolytus of Rome (170–235) to the aged Irenaeus of Lyons (2nd-3rd C. A.D., c. 202), who was said to have been a disciple of Polycarp. Irenaeus tells Hippolytus about the life of Polycarp, including his relationship to Ignatius of Antioch (35/50-98/117), his friendship with Papias of Hierapolis (early 2nd C. A.D.), and his dealings with the heretic Marcion of Sinope (c. 85-c. 160), as well as his mentoring of Irenaeus. There is a section at the end which explains what facts we do know about the historical characters and how they are woven into the story.
Author William Chad Newsom starts with what little actual historical information we have about Polycarp, taken mainly from the writings of Eusebius and other later post-apostolic church writers, along with a few legendary anecdotes that may or may not be true, and uses this material to fashion a thrilling account of the history of the church in very late first and early second centuries. Newsom tries to stay as close to the facts as possible, but obviously he had to imagine a lot of events and conversations. I assume that, in addition to the historic persons mentioned in the story, the character of Captain John Strouthion is entirely fictitious. In his old age, Polycarp was given the choice by the Roman Proconsul Statius Quadratus of denying Christ or suffering death. Polycarp replied, “Eighty and six years have I served him, and He never did me an injury, or proved Himself faithless. How then can I blaspheme my King and my Savior?” But the Proconsul kept pressing him. What did Polycarp do? What happened to him?
By the time of Polycarp, various errors had already begun to spring up in the church. Though he never married, Polycarp is consistently identified as “the bishop of Smyrna.” In addition, a discussion of the debate between Polycarp and Anicetus over when to celebrate “Easter” occurs. There are also a few references to drinking wine. However, besides its being an exciting account in its own right, Polycarp: The Crown of Fire serves two important functions for Christians. It not only reminds us of the spiritual strength of those giants of the past on whose shoulders we now stand and to whom we are indebted for so much but also illustrates for us the kind of faith and courage which it is so important for us to develop in case we are ever called on to suffer persecution for the name of Jesus. The book is one of the “Torch Bearers” Series from Christian Focus; others include Jim Elliot: He Is No Fool; William Tyndale: The Smuggler’s Flame; Margaret Wilson: Danger on the Hill; and Jim Chalmers: The Rainmaker’s Friend.