Today we are celebrating the Feast of the Chair of Peter, which stresses the importance of the Bishopric of Rome in maintaining the unity of the Church. The Pope is the Bishop of Rome, the successor of St Peter.
Tomorrow we celebrate another feast which is very important to our self-understanding as Catholics – the feast of the martyrdom of St. Polycarp. He was martyred in Smyrna in modern Turkey around the year 155AD. He was 86 when he was asked to renounce his Christian faith, and the Bishop of the area. On his refusal he was burnt to death. His feast day has been kept ever since.
Polycarp is important for all sorts of reasons. One the chief being an exemplification of the process whereby we can be confident that we believe in the ‘Catholic faith that comes to us from the Apostles’. Polycarp himself had been taught in his youth by St John the Evangelist. In his turn he influenced St. Irenaeus of Lyon who wrote some of the first systematic theology of the Church about matters such as the Eucharist and the importance of the See of Rome.
Ask Catholics we accord a special place to tradition which is not the dead faith of the living but rather the living faith of the dead. We believe nearly 2,000 years later what Polycarp believed and what he himself had received from the Lord’s Beloved Disciple.