Ignatius of Antioch in the Arena

Ignatius of Antioch in the Arena

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Ignatius is a Christian bishop from Antioch in Asia Minor. To be a bishop is a dangerous job because when persecutions come, they fall first on church leaders. His position in the church is all the reason needed for his arrest. Chained between Roman soldiers, he is hustled fifteen hundred miles along a land and sea route to Rome, where he is to be thrown to lions.

Fellow Christians hear of his plight, and congregations meet him along the way with prayers and offers of support. Churches that are farther away send messengers. Grateful for their concern, Ignatius writes them thank you letters while still on his journey to Rome. These letters will tell future generations much about the early church. As one of the last bishops alive who has met the apostles in person, Ignatius feels an obligation to preserve the church which was founded on their labors and on the blood of Christ. In his messages to the distant churches, he speaks much of unity and of supporting and obeying bishops. Writing to Smyrna, a city near his home, he becomes more personal, and his words explain his cheerful attitude toward his pending martyrdom. Nearness to the sword, he tells them, is nearness to God to be among the wild beasts is to be in the arms of God only let it be in the name of Jesus Christ. &ldquoI endure all things that I may suffer together with him, since he who became perfect man strengthens me.&rdquo

In his letter to Rome, the city which looms ahead of him as the place where he is to die, Ignatius urges believers not to interfere with his sentence or seek his release. If they show love to his body and he escapes his sentence, he will have to run his race again, he tells them. It is bad enough having to gear up for such a test once, let alone a second time. Rather, the joy he expects after this ordeal will make it all worth while. It inspires him to write, &ldquoAllow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose means it will be granted me to reach God. I am the wheat of God, and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.&rdquo

Chained between his guards, he continues his journey. When the weary travelers finally arrive in the cruel city, which is mistress of the Mediterranean world, the games are about to close for the night. He is hustled into the arena, where savage beasts are immediately released on him and he meets his death bravely.

Future generations will marvel not only at his fortitude and love for Christ, but at the modesty with which he assessed himself. To the Christians at Ephesus he had written, &ldquoI am only beginning to be a disciple, so I address you as my fellow students.&rdquo

Introduction to Ignatius of Antioch

The following is transcribed from Kirsopp Lake's The Apostolic Fathers (published London 1912), v. I, pp. 166-9.

The epistles or letters of Ignatius are among the most famous documents of early Christianity, and have curiously complicated literary history. Eusebius in Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 36 tells the story of Ignatius. He was the third bishop of Antioch in Syria, and was condemned to be sent to Rome to be killed by the beasts in the ampitheatre. His journey took him through various churches in Asia Minor and while he was in Smyrna he wrote letters to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome, and later on, when he reached Troas he wrote to the Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp the bishop of Smyrna. In his chronicon Eusebius fixes the date of his martyrdom in Rome in the tenth year of Trajan, i.e. 108 A.D.

Modern critics are by no means unanimous as to the correctness of this date, but, though each has his own special preferences, there is a general tendency to think that Ignatius was really a martyr in Rome in the time of Trajan (98-117 A.D.).

The immediate purpose of each of the letters, except that to the Romans, is to thank the recipients for the kindness which they had shown to Ignatius. The "Romans" has the object of preventing Christians at Rome from making any efforts to save Ignatius from the beasts in the arena, and so robbing him of the crown of martyrdom. But besides this immediate purpose the writer is influenced by three other motives, all or some of which can be traced in each letter.

(1) Ignatius is exceedingly anxious in each community to strengthen respect for the bishop and presbyters. He ascribes the fullest kind of divine authority to their organisation, and recognises as valid no church, institution, or worship without their sanction.

(2) He protests against the form of heresy called docetism ( dokein ), which regarded the sufferings, and in some case the life, of Jesus as merely an appearance. He also protests against any tendency to Judaistic practices, but it is disputed whether he means that this was an evil found in docetic circles, or that it was a danger threatening the church from other directions.

(3) He is also anxious to secure the future of his own church in Antioch by persuading other communities to send helpers.

Of the letters of Ignatius there are extant three recensions.

1. The long recension. - The most widely found contains not only the seven letters of which Eusebius speaks, but also six others. In this collection the chronological scheme (not however followed in the MSS.) is:-

(1) From Antioch. A letter from a certain Mary of Cassobola (a neighboring town) to Ignatius, and a letter from him in reply.

(2) From Smyrna. Letters to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome.

(3) From Troas. Letters to Philadelphia, Smyrna, and Polycarp.

(4) From Philippi. Letters to Tarsus, Antioch, and Hero (the successor of Ignatius as bishop of Antioch).

(5) From Italy. Letter to Philippi.

There is also an appendix in the Latin version of Grosseteste containing letters from and to S. John and the Virgin Mary.

2. The short recension. - It was early seen that the long recension contained several letters which were clearly not genuine, and that those which had the most claim to acceptance, as having been mentioned by Eusebius, were greatly corrupted by obvious interpolations. Fortunately the remnants of an early collection have been found which originally contained only the even Eusebian letters.

The text of this recension is nowhere extant in a pure form. All the known MSS. of Ignatius (with the possible exception of the Berlin papyrus) which contain the seven Eusebian letters belong in some degree to the "Long recension," but this degree fortunately varies. Two classes of MSS. must be distinguished. (1) MSS. containing the additional epistles of the "Long recension," but preserving the uninterpolated text of the Eusebian letters. It is obvious that the second class are genuine MSS. of the "Long recension," and that the former class are MSS. of the "Short recension," copied from originals containing only the Eusebian letters, to which teh copyist has supplied the additional material of the "Long recension" from some other material of the "Long recension" from some other original, but luckily without correcting the text of the seven letters from this second source. Having, therefore, the information of Eusebius to define the extent of the original collection of letters we can use this class of MSS. to determine its text.

3. The Syriac abridgment. - In 1845 Dr. Cureton discovered a Syriac text of a collection of three epistles, Ephesians, Romans, and Polycarp, and there was for a time a tendency to think that this might be the original text. Lightfoot however and others showed it to be merely an abridgment from a Syriac text of the short recension. It has therefore disappeared from the field of study except as evidence for the text of the short recension, in the same way as the 'long recension' is only valuable for the light which the interpolations throw on the doctrinal development of Christianity, and in a few places as a help to reconstructing the true text where the short recension has been corrupted.

Go to the Chronological List of all Early Christian Writings

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Bishop of Antioch

Between 105–106, the Roman Emperor Trajan (53–117 CE) waged a successful battle against the Dacians and Scythians. In gratitude to his gods for the success, Trajan stepped up a massive campaign against the Christian community in Asia Minor, in particular, those Christians who refused to sacrifice to the gods. While he was in Antioch, Trajan interviewed Bishop Ignatius who confessed his steadfast belief, and so Trajan condemned him to death.

Because Ignatius was an important figure in the region, Trajan assigned 10 soldiers to chain him up and escort him overland and by sea to Rome. Once in Rome, Ignatius would be torn apart by wild beasts, as part of a 123-day long festival. Ignatius's reaction was to cry with joy: "I thank you, O Lord, that You have vouchsafed to honor me with perfect love towards You, and have made me to be bound with iron chains, like Your Apostle Paul."

Ignatius of Antioch:

Ignatius of Antioch, known to his friends as Theophorus ("God-bearer"), is perhaps the most important character in early church history.

The apostle John himself appointed "Theophorus" as a bishop [the rough equivalent of a head pastor] in the late first century. His church was Antioch—the apostle Paul's home church.

Ignatius of Antioch's martyrdom in Rome

But it's not done. Ignatius capped his testimony with a glorious martyrdom in Rome in A.D. 107 or 116. His boldness and bravery are legendary and have inspired Christians for 1900 years.

We can be excited that he left us seven letters on his way to being martyred.

They addressed to the churches in:

  1. Rome
  2. Ephesus
  3. Trallia
  4. Magnesia
  5. Philadelphia
  6. and Smyrna
  7. plus one to the bishop of Smyrna, his friend Polycarp [also appointed by John the apostle].

Polycarp was around 40 years old when he got Ignatius' letter. Forty-five years later, at the venerable age of eighty-six (or older!), he too would boldly give up his life for Christ. You have to wonder how much Ignatius' martyrdom inspired Polycarp a generation later.

My books and those Christian-history.org has published get great reviews. Synopses are at my Rebuilding the Foundations site. They are available wherever books are sold!

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Ignatius' bravery was phenomenal, even in an age noted for Christian boldness in persecution. He is famous for this incredible statement to the Christians in Rome, who loved him and did not want to see him put to death before their eyes.

I beg you not to have a love towards me that is unseasonable [badly timed]. Leave me to the beasts, that through them I may be accounted worthy of God. I am the wheat of God, and by the teeth of the beasts I shall be ground, so that I may be found the pure bread of God. Greatly provoke the wild beasts so that they may be my grave and leave nothing of my body, so that I won't be a burden on anyone. Then I will truly be a disciple of Jesus Christ. (Letter to the Romans਄)

No wonder Tertullian was able to say, "The blood of the martyrs is seed" (Apologyꁐ). Who would not be moved by this kind of faith?

The answer to that question is that many would be moved. Tertullian adds:

The more often you mow us down, the more of us there are. (Apologyꁐ)

Early Christianity was free.

Ignatius is not only noted for his bravery and steadfastness when he faced martyrdom. He's also known for creating the early church (and maybe even the Roman Catholic) hierarchy by emphasizing the authority of the bishop.

Okay, let's grant here that in this case I may be a little biased. I like Ignatius. When a guy gives his life for Christ, encourages everyone around him, and fights for "the faith once for all delivered to the saints," then I don't want anything bad said about him. I'm on his side.

However, biased or not, I believe that my point of view is accurate. The common view doesn't make any sense. Let me explain.

It's apparent from his letters that he was battling gnosticism in the church. It was really eating at him.

No wonder. Gnostics may have been as numerous as orthodox Christians in early Christianity. The gnostics may have gotten to some Roman cities before orthodox Christians.

But it wasn't gnosticism as competing churches that ate at him. It was gnosticism in the church.

Gnostic Bishops

There had to have been gnostic bishops. Even as late as A.D. 170, when the gnostics were driven completely out of the church, Montanus (a false prophet, but not a gnostic) had won over Eleuthurus, the bishop of Rome ("Introductory Note to Irenaeus Against Heresies." Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. I.). Only the intervention of Irenaeus, who had listened to Polycarp in his early years, brought Eleuthurus back to orthodoxy.

Tatian, a disciple of Justin Martyr and author of the first harmony of the Gospels (the Diatessaron), was won over to gnosticism around the same time. Irenaeus, too, after helping Eleuthurus, had to win back an unnamed friend from the errors of gnosticism (ibid.).

Some even think that Ignatius doesn't mention a bishop in his letter to Rome because the Roman bishop was already gnostic. I think my explanation is much more reasonable.

His answer was to charge the saints to stick close to their bishop.

Follow the Bishop

Generally, this was a great plan, especially in A.D. 110. The apostles had only recently died, so church leaders were often still those appointed by the apostles. If not, they were likely only a generation removed. As I said, Ignatius himself was appointed by the long-lived apostle John.

Churches were still small in his day, so even if—as in John's churches—they had a single bishop in charge, the bishop nonetheless had a group of elders around him to keep him in check.

One of the elders' (and the bishop's) main jobs was to preserve the traditions of the apostles unchanged to the next generation.

This was a favorite argument of those in early Christianity who wrote against heretics. The apostolic churches could produce a roll of their elders back to the apostles. This was strong evidence that they taught the apostles', and thus Christ's, doctrine.

So Ignatius charged the saints to stick close to the bishop and elders. Don't baptize without them don't eat the Lord's Supper without them and don't teach what they don't approve. It will keep you in the doctrine of Christ.

So How Does This Show Early Christianity Was Free?

A lot of people read his letters as evidence of controlling authority in early Christianity. Not me. If Ignatius had to beg Christians to only baptize, take communion, and teach under the bishop's authority, then isn't it obvious that they weren't doing that?

Otherwise, why would he ask?

There were no public schools in the 2nd century. Anyone could style themselves a philosopher and open a school in their house. I've been to Myanmar (Burma), and that's how Bible schools are done there even nowadays. It's not like Plato and Aristotle had degrees in philosophy from Harvard or Yale.

Gnostics spread their doctrine by hanging a shingle in front of their house in town. Suddenly, that shingle made them a teacher, and they had a school.

Ignatius told them, "Don't do it. Stick with the bishop."

Interestingly enough, despite his effusive praise for and constant reference to the bishops in his other letters, it's his letter to Rome that never mentions a bishop at all.

No Bishop in Rome?

According to the Roman Catholics, the bishop of Rome was the Pope even back then. Of course, history shows he wasn't, and I believe history makes it obvious that Rome didn't even have an individual bishop yet. They still had a group of elders who were all bishops.

That would be the reason Ignatius didn't mention a bishop in his letter to Rome. They didn't have one! They had a group of elders.

Rome is the only one of Paul or Peter's churches to which Ignatius wrote. The rest were to John's churches. Those all had a bishop for Ignatius to mention.

The point is, early Christianity was free. There was not a lot of control exercised.

The Letters: Ignatius of Antioch (PPS 49)

An otherwise unknown second-century Christian, Ignatius was taken from Antioch to Rome in an imperial triumph, to be executed in the arena. He saw this triumphal procession as Christ&rsquos, as he went to a conquering death. As Christ&rsquos death brought about reconciliation between Jew and Gentile, Ignatius hoped that his death, united with Christ&rsquos, would bring about reconciliation within and among the churches to which he wrote.

Two centuries later, when the Arian controversy further divided the Antiochene church, an unknown writer took on the persona of Ignatius to appeal for peace.

As today the church is more than ever divided, Fr Stewart presents a fresh English version of both Ignatius and his imitator, with the Greek of Ignatius, and concise introductions to the letters. The most recent research on Ignatius is accessibly presented, and the first English version of the imitation Ignatius is here made available to students, to clergy, and to the people of God.

About the Author: Alistair Stewart is an Anglican priest presently serving in the UK. He is the author of numerous articles, essays, and books on early Christian life and worship, including four previous works in the Popular Patristics Series.

Ignatian Christology: The Incarnation

In continuing the blog series on Ignatius of Antioch’s Christology, we have seen that Ignatius believed that Christ must be human to provide a sacrifice (himself) sufficient for salvation on behalf of the fallen human race. However, the created-human race offended an eternal, transcendent God and stands no chance to redeem themselves before God. So, in the mind of Ignatius, God must save man from God. Therefore, Christ must also be God. These two natures in the Son were not preexistent, only the Son’s deity, but find their cosmic union in the incarnation, or the birth of Christ, sometime around 4 B.C.

For Ignatius, the incarnation combines both the humanity and deity of Christ and makes possible the redemption of humanity. It is hard to miss his theology on the incarnation in his letter to the Ephesians he writes, “There is only one physician, who is both flesh and spirit, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then beyond it, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Ign. Eph. 7.2). It is the one physician, namely Jesus Christ, who can make us whole, who is in both realities of existence that Ignatius explains through his antithetical statements. In the first antithesis, Schoedel argues that the “two dimensions” are the “kernel of the later two-nature christologies.”[1] Jesus is the “born and unborn” and “from Mary and from God,” which opposes early on the ideals of Arianism, that being, Christ as the first and greatest of all of God’s creation. Ignatius would not have it and would argue that in his “unborn-ness” he could not have been created, thereby concluding the Godhead of Christ. It is the “divine and human attributes [that] are predicated of one and the same subject, and such an attribution finds its legitimacy in the reality of the incarnation.”[2] Ignatius continues to describe the incarnation of Jesus Christ, who is “both from the seed of David and of the Holy Spirit,” as “God’s plan” (Ign. Eph. 18.2 see also Eph. 20.2) and means to “bring the newness of eternal life” to which had already “began to take effect” at the virgin birth (Ign. Eph. 19.3).

So for Ignatius, the cross point of Christ’s deity and Christ’s humanity is the virgin birth, with little emphasis on Mary (though she plays a significant role in God’s plan).[3] Ignatius is convinced that their “unshakable faith,” placed on the bloody cross of Christ must be grounded in the fact that “he is truly of the family of David with respect to human descent, Son of God with respect to the divine will and power, truly born of a virgin…” (Ign. Smyrn. 1.1). This was especially true for the Smyrnaeans since they were head-on with the Docetists who could not fathom the “Son of God” being born of a woman.[4] As mentioned above, the incarnation through Mary was God’s plan (Ign. Eph. 18.2). So, it is of value to note, in the following verses, Ignatius’s “three mysteries” that were realized only to God and kept from Satan. These mysteries are: “the virginity of Mary and her giving birth…also the death of the Lord” (Ign. Eph. 19.1). These three, having salvific renditions, for Ignatius, should not be separated, as the birth was meant for suffering and death. As Ignatius states, “He was born and was baptized in order that by his suffering he might cleanse the water” (Ign. Eph. 18.2). These three serve as a core of the gospel message, as he encourages, “three mysteries to be loudly proclaimed” (Ign. Eph. 19.1). Mainly because Ignatius argues that the destruction of evil powers began “when God appeared in human form” (e.g. the virgin birth) and resulted in “the abolition of death” (at the cross) (Ign. Eph. 19.3). Again, the focus on the virgin birth is not on Mary but on the human purity to cleanse sin and the divine power to save that is attributed to Christ in the incarnation and should be seen as the root of Christian orthodoxy as we know it today.

In conclusion, one can see the Christology that is developed by Ignatius is well established and articulated in great depth. For what took the church centuries to accumulate, Ignatius seems to have established the foundation of the later Christological agreements. The Jesus he loved and served up till his death was the anticipated Messiah foretold in the Old Testament. And this Messiah was to take away the sins of God’s people through a merciless and violent act of humanity. But to Ignatius, this is only possible if the Messiah is both God and man. To view Christ as one without the other holds serious repercussions regarding salvation and the truth of the Gospel. So, Christ must have two natures, as seen in Ignatius’s antitheses, which both collide at the incarnation of Christ found in the virgin birth.

[1] William R. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, Hermeneia (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1985), 60.

[2] Thomas G. Weinandy, “The Apostolic Christology of Ignatius of Antioch: The Road to Chalcedon,” in Trajectories Through the New Testament and the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Andrew Gregory and Christopher M. Tuckett (Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 2005), 82. It is also noted by the author that Christ being the subject of divinity and humanity was not originated by Ignatius, but that he must have adopted and expounded on this Christology (81).

[3] On the discussion of Mary in Ignatius’s letters, Foster notes, “references to Mary serve the related purposes of affirming the real humanity of Jesus” (Paul Foster, “The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch,” in The Writings of the Apostolic Fathers, edited by Paul Foster [New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2007], 100).

Ignatius of Antioch in the Arena - History

The 15 forged letters of Ignatius:

They claim to be written by Ignatius in 110 AD, but were forged by another in about 250 AD that deceptively claimed to be Ignatius.

  1. All scholars reject 8 of Ignatius' alleged writings as forgeries and say the 7 remaining letters are genuine and were written in 110AD.
  2. Some scholars reject them all as forgeries that were written about 250AD
  3. We take the firm view that all 15 Ignatian letters are forgeries. All of the letters that claim to be written by Ignatius are fakes.
  4. Almost nothing is known about the real Ignatius. See Schaff's comments below.

A. Fraudulent forgeries of Ignatius:

  1. The real Ignatius, lived about 110 AD. A total of 15 letters were allegedly written by Ignatius. We take the view that all 15 of Ignatius's letters are forgeries. The fact that neither Eusebius (300 AD) nor Jerome (495 AD) make reference to the first 8 Ignatian letters ( Tarsians, Antiochians, Hero, Philippians, Maria to Ignatius, Mary, 1st. St. John, 2nd St. John, Virgin Mary ) makes it likely that they were composed as late as 300-500 AD. It is this reason that all scholars reject these first 8 letters as forgeries. Some scholars, however accept that the "7 Ignatian letters" are genuine. These 7 Ignatian letters are: Polycarp , Ephesians , Magnesians , Philadelphians , Romans , Smyrnaeans , Trallians . We feel these scholars are in error and that even the 7 Ignatian letters are forgeries. (We have colour coded the quotes below.)
  2. We take the view that all of Ignatius' writings are forgeries and unreliable . There are fifteen books attributed to Ignatius. Eight are surely forgeries and spurious. Seven are considered by some as genuine, although many scholars also believe they are all forgeries . Again, we view all Ignatius' writings as forgeries. They purport to be written by Ignatius, who lived about 110 AD. We believe it is clear, however, that they are all no earlier than 220 AD, more likely 250 AD. Although they are forgeries, they do represent the views of the author in time of 250 AD . We see a clear change from the Bible pattern, from a plurality of Elders (also called bishops) , deacons and saints, to a single Bishop who ruled the congregations and under him were a plurality of elders, then deacons and saints. At this point in history, congregations were still autonomous and independent, but we also see the seeds of development for the Papal system, where one man rules over all churches world wide which first occurred in 606 AD.
  3. Within one of the "7 genuine Ignatius letters", is a powerful clue it is clearly a forgery from a later time. The very first historical reference to the "Catholic Church" is nestled warmly between very strong commands to obey the bishop as you would Jesus Christ and the only valid baptism or communion service is one by the bishop's authority. We feel that is it no co-incidence that the first historical reference to the church as the "Catholic Church" is contained within one of the "7 genuine Ignatius letters". Schaff comments: "been found in this letter to the Romans, especially as in this letter we first find the use of the phrase "Catholic Church " in patristic writings." (Philip Schaff: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, Introductory Note To The Epistle Of Ignatius To The Ephesians .) We feel it is proof enough to reject all as forgeries. "See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father . Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop . Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop , or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church . It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans , Chapter VIII.-Let Nothing Be Done Without the Bishop.)
  4. Having said this, the Ignatian letters do represent real history for the dates they were actually written. Forgeries yes, but even the forgeries prove that there was no one bishop over the church universal.
  5. The first 8 letters of Ignatius do provide insights into what a the 4th-5th century author wished Ignatius had said in support of the authors current setting. The 7 letters of Ignatius being written probably around 250 AD, likewise give an insight into what was going on in 250 AD.
  6. We therefore date the 8 letters of Ignatius at 300-500 AD and the 7 letters of Ignatius at about 250 AD.
  7. " It is now the universal opinion of critics, that the first eight of these professedly Ignatian letters are spurious . They bear in themselves indubitable proofs of being the production of a later age than that in which Ignatius lived. Neither Eusebius nor Jerome makes the least reference to them and they are now by common consent set aside as forgeries, which were at various dates, and to serve special purposes, put forth under the name of the celebrated Bishop of Antioch." (Philip Schaff, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Introductory Note To The Epistle Of Ignatius To The Ephesians )
  8. " The whole story of Ignatius is more legendary than real, and his writings are subject to grave suspicion of fraudulent interpolation . We have three different versions of the Ignatian Epistles, but only one of them can be genuine either the smaller Greek version, or the lately discovered Syriac. In the latter, which contains only three epistles, most of the passages on the episcopate are wanting, indeed yet the leading features of the institution appear even here" (History of the Christian Church, Philip Shaff, Vol 2, ch 4)
  9. " Already, in the infancy of the episcopate, began the second stage of development, that of express emphasis upon its importance . Ignatius of Antioch was the first to represent this stage. Again and again, in his epistles, he urges obedience to the bishop, warns against doing any thing without the bishop, represents the bishop as standing to the congregation as the vicegerent of Christ. At the same time, he regarded each bishop as limited to his own congregation, and recognized no essential distinctions within the episcopal body. Ignatius, however, appears to have been an exception to his age, in the degree of emphasis which he put upon the episcopal dignity. He stands so nearly alone in this respect, that some have been disposed to question the genuineness of the epistles attributed to him. Baur declares it impossible that any writer of so early an age could have uttered such high episcopal notions as appear in the so-called Ignatian Epistles ." (Henry C. Sheldon, History of the Christian Church, Vol 1, p 147)

B. Roman Catholics and Orthodox love to quote Ignatius because he is the first writer who documents the unbiblical concept of one bishop over a body of elders (presbyters). Yet even Ignatius has no hint of diocesan bishops, where one bishop is over many local churches.

30-606 AD: The gradual historical Development of the Papal and Patriarchal Systems of Centralized Church Government away from the organization found in the Bible.
Outline: True Bible organization is very different from the Roman Catholic and Orthodox church organizations.

  1. Now of course, Roman Catholics and Orthodox simply cannot accept that all of Ignatius writings are forgeries. He is their "organizational and hierarchical savior"! They desperately need Ignatius. The Bible doesn't help them. No other post-apostolic writer before 200 AD helps them.
  2. Remember, even Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars agree with us: " In the New Testament, the terms bishop and presbyter are used interchangeably . This is evident from the following passage from Titus 1:5-7." (THE WAY: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton, 1997, p 156)
  3. " There is one writer from the second century, however, who did not employ bishop and presbyter as interchangeable terms : St. Ignatios of Antioch. In his Letters, St. Ignatios makes it clear that in a given local Church, there is one bishop, a council of presbyters, and the deacons: "All of you follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles respect the deacons as the ordinance of God" (Smyrnaeans 8). It is commonly asserted by Protestant scholars that St. Ignatios' view of Church government was unusual in the early Church-even revolutionary. Indeed, the authenticity of the Ignatian Letters was hotly contested by many Protestants, based upon their a priori conviction that the episcopal form of Church government was impossible in the first decade of the second century? Today, however, there is little doubt among scholars as to the genuineness of the seven Letters in the current collection. It cannot be denied that St. Ignatios' clearly defined use of bishop and presbyter is highly unusual for this point in Church history. Nor can it be denied that he places a much greater emphasis on the role of bishop than do the other authors we are considering. " (THE WAY: What Every Protestant Should Know About the Orthodox Church, Clark Carlton, 1997, p 158)
  4. Even if the "7 accepted letters" Ignatius are genuine, even the Roman Catholic and Orthodox scholars agree that he is all by himself on a separate branch.
  5. In fact, if it could be proven that any of Ignatius' letters are genuine, we could still dismiss Ignatius as "unorthodox" when compared to the record of scripture and the historical data. Perhaps the church in Antioch truly was the original festering pot of the false doctrine of apostate church government we see today in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.

C. The value of the 15 forged Ignatius letters:

  1. The Ignatius forgeries clearly mark that period of history, when a single bishop ruled over a local church and was to view his authority as that of Jesus Christ. Members were to told to be "subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ . also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ" . And "bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles". In this way a single bishop is notably above the elders, just as Christ is above his apostles. This is actually quite blasphemous and nothing like this is found within the New Testament. Only a man of depraved mind with an evil thirst for power would ever equate the authority of a bishop with Jesus Christ.
  2. We also have bishops who were very young: " not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth ". This clearly violates the qualifications set forth in 1 Tim 3 and Tit 1, where bishops are called Elders, meaning an elder man.
  3. The power of the bishop is also absolute. These kind of statements actually paved the way for papal infallibility. It also took the commands to baptize and server the communion out of the hands of the common Christian and gave it as the sole authority to the bishop. This again is foreign to the New Testament where there was no "clergy/laity distinction": "It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize, or to offer, or to present sacrifice, or to celebrate a love-feast " and " he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil "
  4. It is clear from the forged Ignatius writings, however, that Patriarchs or even diocese (a mother church ruling over a number of other local churches in a geographic area), did not exist at that time. At this point of history, Ignatius provides valuable insight to the stage between local bishops ruling over a single congregation and the age of the Patriarchs that existed in 325 AD.

D. Philip Schaff rejects all of Ignatius' letters as spurious:

Philip Schaff acknowledges that there has been a broad and long standing view that all the Ignatian letters are forgeries, and leaves the matter for the reader to decide for himself. Schaff does clearly reject all the letters as forgeries, as can be seen in his comments:

  1. "The whole story of Ignatius is more legendary than real, and his writings are subject to grave suspicion of fraudulent interpolation ." (History of the Christian Church, Philip Shaff, Vol 2, ch 4)
  2. "But I am content to leave the whole matter, without comment, to the minds of Christians of whatever school and to their independent conclusions." Introductory Note To The Epistle Of Ignatius To The Ephesians .
  3. "The reader may judge, by comparison for himself, which of these is to be accepted as genuine" Introductory Note To The Epistle Of Ignatius To The Ephesians .

"been found in this letter to the Romans, especially as in this letter we first find the use of the phrase "Catholic Church" in patristic writings. He defines it as to be found "where Jesus Christ is," words which certainly do not limit it to communion with a professed successor of St. Peter."

The epistles ascribed to Ignatius have given rise to more controversy than any other documents connected with the primitive Church. As is evident to every reader on the very first glance at these writings, they contain numerous statements which bear on points of ecclesiastical order that have long divided the Christian world and a strong temptation has thus been felt to allow some amount of prepossession to enter into the discussion of their authenticity or spuriousness. At the same time, this question has furnished a noble field for the display of learning and acuteness, and has, in the various forms under which it has been debated, given rise to not a few works of the very highest ability and scholarship. We shall present such an outline of the controversy as may enable the reader to understand its position at the present day.

There are, in all, fifteen Epistles which bear the name of Ignatius. These are the following: One to the Virgin Mary, two to the Apostle John, one to Mary of Cassobelae, one to the Tarsians, one to the Antiochians, one to Hero, a deacon of Antioch, one to the Philippians one to the Ephesians, one to the Magnesians, one to the Trallians, one to the Romans, one to the Philadelphians, one to the Smyrnaeans, and one to Polycarp. The first three exist only in Latin: all the rest are extant also in Greek.

It is now the universal opinion of critics, that the first eight of these professedly Ignatian letters are spurious. They bear in themselves indubitable proofs of being the production of a later age than that in which Ignatius lived. Neither Eusebius nor Jerome makes the least reference to them and they are now by common consent set aside as forgeries, which were at various dates, and to serve special purposes, put forth under the name of the celebrated Bishop of Antioch.

But after the question has been thus simplified, it still remains sufficiently complex. Of the seven Epistles which are acknowledged by Eusebius (Hist. Eccl., iii. 36), we possess two Greek recensions, a shorter and a longer. It is plain that one or other of these exhibits a corrupt text, and scholars have for the most part agreed to accept the shorter form as representing the genuine letters of Ignatius. This was the opinion generally acquiesced in, from the time when critical editions of these Epistles began to be issued, down to our own day. Criticism, indeed, fluctuated a good deal as to which Epistles should be accepted and which rejected. Archp. Usher (1644), Isaac Vossius (1646), J. B. Cotelerius (1672), Dr. T. Smith (I709), and others, edited the writings ascribed to Ignatius in forms differing very considerably as to the order in which they were arranged, and the degree of authority assigned them, until at length, from about the beginning of the eighteenth century, the seven Greek Epistles, of which a translation is here given, came to be generally accepted in their shorter form as the genuine writings of Ignatius.

Before this date, however, there had not been wanting some who refused to acknowledge the authenticity of these Epistles in either of the recensions in which they were then known to exist. By far the most learned and elaborate work maintaining this position was that of Daillé (or Dallaeus), published in 1666. This drew forth in reply the celebrated Vindiciae of Bishop Pearson, which appeared in 1672. It was generally supposed that this latter work had established on an immoveable foundation the genuineness of the shorter form of the Ignatian Epistles and, as we have stated above, this was the conclusion almost universally accepted down to our own day. The only considerable exception to this concurrence was presented by Whiston, who laboured to maintain in his Primitive Christianity Revived (1711) the superior claims of the longer recension of the Epistles, apparently influenced in doing so by the support which he thought they furnished to the kind of Arianism which he had adopted.

But although the shorter form of the Ignatian letters had been generally accepted in preference to the longer, there was still a pretty prevalent opinion among scholars, that even it could not be regarded as absolutely free from interpolations, or as of undoubted authenticity . Thus said Lardner, in his Credibility of the Gospel History (1743): "have carefully compared the two editions, and am very well satisfied, upon that comparison, that the larger are an interpolation of the smaller, and not the smaller an epitome or abridgment of the larger. But whether the smaller themselves are the genuine writings of Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, is a question that has been much disputed, and has employed the pens of the ablest critics . And whatever positiveness some may have shown on either side, I must own I have found it a very difficult question."

This expression of uncertainty was repeated in substance by Jortin (1751), Mosheim (1755), Griesbach (1768), Rosenmüller (1795), Neander (1826), and many others some going so far as to deny that we have any authentic remains of Ignatius at all, while others, though admitting the seven shorter letters as being probably his, yet strongly suspected that they were not free from interpolation . Upon the whole, however, the shorter recension was, until recently, accepted without much opposition, and chiefly in dependence on the work of Bishop Pearson above mentioned, as exhibiting the genuine form of the Epistles of Ignatius.

But a totally different aspect was given to the question by the discovery of a Syriac version of three of these Epistles among the mss. procured from the monastery of St. Mary Deipara, in the desert of Nitria, in Egypt. In the years 1838, 1839, and again in 1842, Archdeacon Tattam visited that monastery, and succeeded in obtaining for the English Government a vast number of ancient Syriac manuscripts. On these being deposited in the British Museum, the late Dr. Cureton, who then had charge of the Syriac department, discovered among them, first, the Epistle to Polycarp, and then again, the same Epistle, with those to the Ephesians and to the Romans, in two other volumes of manuscripts.

As the result of this discovery, Cureton published in 1845 a work, entitled, The Ancient Syriac Version of the Epistles of St. Ignatius to Polycarp, the Ephesian, and the Romans, etc., in which he argued that these Epistles represented more accurately than any formerly published what Ignatius had actually written. This, of course, opened up the controversy afresh. While some accepted the views of Cureton. others very strenuously opposed them . Among the former was the late Chev. Bunsen among the latter, an anonymous writer in the English Review, and Dr. Hefele, in his third edition of the Apostolic Fathers. In reply to those who had controverted his arguments, Cureton published his Vindiciae Ignatianae in 1846, and his Corpus Ignatianum in 1849. He begins his introduction to the last-named work with the following sentences: "Exactly three centuries and a half intervened between the time when three Epistles in Latin, attributed to St. Ignatius, first issued from the press, and the publication in 1845 of three letters in Syriac bearing the name of the same apostolic writer. Very few years passed before the former were almost universally regarded as false and spurious and it seems not improbable that scarcely a longer period will elapse before the latter be almost as generally acknowledged and received as the only true and genuine letters of the venerable Bishop of Antioch that have either come down to our times, or were ever known in the earliest ages of the Christian Church."

Had the somewhat sanguine hope thus expressed been realized, it would have been unnecessary for us to present to the English reader more than a translation of these three Syriac Epistles. But the Ignatian controversy is not yet settled . There are still those who hold that the balance of argument is in favour of the shorter Greek, as against these Syriac Epistles. They regard the latter as an epitome of the former, and think the harshness which, according to them, exists in the sequence of thoughts and sentences, clearly shows that this is the case. We have therefore given all the forms of the Ignatian letters which have the least claim on our attention. The reader may judge, by comparison for himself, which of these is to be accepted as genuine, supposing him disposed to admit the claims of any one of them. We content ourselves with laying the materials for judgment before him, and with referring to the above-named works in which we find the whole subject discussed . As to the personal history of Ignatius, almost nothing is known. The principal source of information regarding him is found in the account of his martyrdom, to which the reader is referred. Polycarp alludes to him in his Epistle to the Philippians (chap. ix.), and also to his letters (chap. xiii.). Irenaeus quotes a passage from his Epistle to the Romans (Adv. Haer., v.28 Epist. ad Rom., chap. iv.), without, however, naming him. Origen twice refers to him, first in the preface to his Comm. on the Song of Solomon, where he quotes a passage from the Epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, and again in his sixth homily on St. Luke, where he quotes from the Epistle to the Ephesians, both times naming the author. It is unnecessary to give later references.

Supposing the letters of Ignatius and the account of his martyrdom to be authentic , we learn from them that he voluntarily presented himself before Trajan at Antioch, the seat of his bishopric, when that prince was on his first expedition against the Parthians and Armenians (a.d. 107) and on professing himself a Christian, was condemned to the wild beasts. After a long and dangerous voyage he came to Smyrna, of which Polycarp was bishop, and thence wrote his four Epistles to the Ephesians, the Magnesians, the Trallians, and the Romans. From Smyrna he came to Troas, and tarrying there a few days, he wrote to the Philadelphians, the Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp. He then came on to Neapolis, and passed through the whole of Macedonia. Finding a ship at Dyrrachium in Epirus about to sail into Italy, he embarked, and crossing the Adriatic, was brought to Rome, where he perished on the 20th of December 107, or, as some think, who deny a twofold expedition of Trajan against the Parthians, on the same day of the year a.d. 116.

Philip Schaff: Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, Introductory Note to the Syriac Version of the Ignatian Epistles:


Nothing is known of Ignatius' life apart from what may be inferred internally from his letters, except from later (sometimes spurious) traditions. It is said Ignatius converted to Christianity [10] at a young age. Tradition identifies Ignatius, along with his friend Polycarp, as disciples of John the Apostle. [11] Later in his life, Ignatius was chosen to serve as Bishop of Antioch the fourth-century Church historian Eusebius writes that Ignatius succeeded Evodius. [12] Theodoret of Cyrrhus claimed that St. Peter himself left directions that Ignatius be appointed to the episcopal see of Antioch. [13] Ignatius called himself Theophorus (God Bearer). A tradition arose that he was one of the children whom Jesus Christ took in his arms and blessed. [14]

Ignatius' feast day was kept in his own Antioch on 17 October, the day on which he is now celebrated in the Catholic Church and generally in western Christianity, although from the 12th century until 1969 it was put at 1 February in the General Roman Calendar. [15] [16]

In the Eastern Orthodox Church it is observed on 20 December. [17] The Synaxarium of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria places it on the 24th of the Coptic Month of Koiak (which is also the 24 day of the fourth month of Tahisas in the Synaxarium of The Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church), corresponding in three years out of every four to 20 December in the Julian Calendar, which currently falls on 2 January of the Gregorian Calendar.

Circumstances of martyrdom Edit

Instead of being executed in his home town of Antioch, Ignatius was escorted to Rome by a company of ten Roman soldiers:

From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts, both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers.

Scholars consider Ignatius' transport to Rome unusual, since those persecuted as Christians would be expected to be punished locally. Stevan Davies has pointed out that "no other examples exist from the Flavian age of any prisoners except citizens or prisoners of war being brought to Rome for execution." [19]

If Ignatius were a Roman citizen, he could have appealed to the emperor, but then he would usually have been beheaded rather than tortured. [20] Furthermore, the epistles of Ignatius state that he was put in chains during the journey to Rome, but it was illegal under Roman law for a citizen to be put in bonds during an appeal to the emperor. [19] : 175–176

Allen Brent argues that Ignatius was transferred to Rome at the request of the emperor in order to provide entertainment to the masses by being killed in the Colosseum. Brent insists, contrary to some, that "it was normal practice to transport condemned criminals from the provinces in order to offer spectator sport in the Colosseum at Rome." [21] : 15

Stevan Davies rejects the idea that Ignatius was transported to Rome for the games at the Colosseum. He reasons that "if Ignatius was in some way a donation by the Imperial Governor of Syria to the games at Rome, a single prisoner seems a rather miserly gift." [19] : 176 Instead, Davies proposes that Ignatius may have been indicted by a legate, or representative, of the governor of Syria while the governor was away temporarily, and sent to Rome for trial and execution. Under Roman law, only the governor of a province or the emperor himself could impose capital punishment, so the legate would have faced the choice of imprisoning Ignatius in Antioch or sending him to Rome. Davies postulates that the legate may have decided to send Ignatius to Rome so as to minimize any further dissension among the Antiochene Christians. [19] : 177–178

Christine Trevett has called Davies' suggestion "entirely hypothetical" and concludes that no fully satisfactory solution to the problem can be found, writing, "I tend to take the bishop at his word when he says he is a condemned man. But the question remains, why is he going to Rome? The truth is that we do not know." [22]

Route of travel to Rome Edit

During the journey to Rome, Ignatius and his entourage of soldiers made a number of lengthy stops in Asia Minor, deviating from the most direct land route from Antioch to Rome. [19] : 176 Scholars generally agree on the following reconstruction of Ignatius' route of travel:

  1. Ignatius first traveled from Antioch, in the province of Syria, to Asia Minor. It is uncertain whether he traveled by sea or by land.
  2. He was then taken to Smyrna, via a route that bypassed the cities of Magnesia, Tralles, and Ephesus, but likely passed through Philadelphia (cf. Ign. Phil. 7).
  3. Ignatius then traveled to Troas, where he boarded a ship bound for Neapolis in Macedonia (cf. Ign. Pol. 8).
  4. He then passed through the city of Philippi (cf. Pol. Phil. 9).
  5. After this, he took some land or sea route to Rome. [23]

During the journey, the soldiers seem to have allowed Ignatius to meet with entire congregations of Christians while in chains, at least while he was in Philadelphia (cf. Ign. Phil. 7), and numerous Christian visitors and messengers were allowed to meet with him on a one-on-one basis. These messengers allowed Ignatius to send six letters to nearby churches, and one to Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna. [19] : 176

These aspects of Ignatius' martyrdom are also regarded by scholars as unusual. It is generally expected that a prisoner would be transported on the most direct, cost-effective route to their destination. Since travel by land in the Roman Empire was between five and fifty-two times more expensive than travel by sea, [24] and Antioch was a major port city, the most efficient route would likely have been entirely by sea. Steven Davies argues that Ignatius' circuitous route to Rome can only be explained by positing that he was not the main purpose of the soldiers' trip, and that the various stops in Asia Minor were for other state business. He suggests that such a scenario would also explain the relative freedom that Ignatius was given to meet with other Christians during the journey. [19] : 177

Date of martyrdom Edit

Due to the sparse and fragmentary nature of the documentation of Ignatius' life and martyrdom, the date of his death is subject to a significant amount of uncertainty. Tradition places the martyrdom of Ignatius in the reign of Trajan, who was emperor of Rome from 98 to 117 AD. But the earliest source for this Trajanic date is the 4th century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, who is regarded by some modern scholars as an unreliable source for chronological information regarding the early church. Eusebius had an ideological interest in dating church leaders as early as possible, and ensuring that there were no gaps in succession between the original apostles of Jesus and the leaders of the church in his day. [3]

While many scholars accept the traditional dating of Ignatius' martyrdom under Trajan, others have argued for a somewhat later date. Richard Pervo dated Ignatius' death to 135-140 AD. [3] British classicist Timothy Barnes has argued for a date in the 140s AD, on the grounds that Ignatius seems to have quoted a work of the Gnostic Ptolemy in one of his epistles, who only became active in the 130s. [4]

Death and aftermath Edit

Ignatius himself wrote that he would be thrown to the beasts, and in the fourth century Eusebius reports tradition that this came to pass, [25] which is then repeated by Jerome who is the first to explicitly mention "lions." [20] John Chrysostom is the first to allude to the Colosseum as the place of Ignatius' martyrdom. [26] Contemporary scholars are uncertain that any of these authors had sources other than Ignatius' own writings. [20] [25]

According to a medieval Christian text titled Martyrium Ignatii, Ignatius' remains were carried back to Antioch by his companions after his martyrdom. [27] The sixth-century writings of Evagrius Scholasticus state that the reputed remains of Ignatius were moved by the Emperor Theodosius II to the Tychaeum, or Temple of Tyche, which had been converted into a church dedicated to Ignatius. [28] In 637 the relics were transferred to the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome. [ citation needed ]

The Martyrium Ignatii Edit

There is a purported eye-witness account of his martyrdom, named the Martyrium Ignatii. [27] It is presented as being an eye-witness account for the church of Antioch, attributed to Ignatius' companions, Philo of Cilicia, deacon at Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus, a Syrian. [23]

Its most reliable manuscript is the 10th-century Codex Colbertinus (Paris), in which the Martyrium closes the collection. The Martyrium presents the confrontation of the bishop Ignatius with Trajan at Antioch, a familiar trope of Acta of the martyrs, and many details of the long, partly overland voyage to Rome. The Synaxarium of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria says that he was thrown to the wild beasts that devoured him and rent him to pieces. [29]

The following seven epistles preserved under the name of Ignatius are generally considered authentic, since they were mentioned by the historian Eusebius in the first half of the fourth century.

Seven original epistles:

  • The Epistle to the Ephesians,
  • The Epistle to the Magnesians,
  • The Epistle to the Trallians,
  • The Epistle to the Romans,
  • The Epistle to the Philadelphians,
  • The Epistle to the Smyrnaeans,
  • The Epistle to Polycarp, a bishop of Smyrna.

Recensions Edit

The text of these epistles is known in three different recensions, or editions: the Short Recension, found in a Syriac manuscript the Middle Recension, found only in Greek manuscripts and the Long Recension, found in Greek and Latin manuscripts. [4] : 120–121 [30]

For some time, it was believed that the Long Recension was the only extant version of the Ignatian epistles, but around 1628 a Latin translation of the Middle Recension was discovered by Archbishop James Ussher, who published it in 1646. For around a quarter of a century after this, it was debated which recension represented the original text of the epistles. But ever since John Pearson's strong defense of the authenticity of the Middle Recension in the late 17th century, there has been a scholarly consensus that the Middle Recension is the original version of the text. [4] : 121 The Long Recension is the product of a fourth-century Arian Christian, who interpolated the Middle Recension epistles in order to posthumously enlist Ignatius as an unwitting witness in theological disputes of that age. This individual also forged the six spurious epistles attributed to Ignatius (see § Pseudo-Ignatius below). [31]

Manuscripts representing the Short Recension of the Ignatian epistles were discovered and published by William Cureton in the mid-19th century. For a brief period, there was a scholarly debate on the question of whether the Short Recension was earlier and more original than the Middle Recension. But by the end of the 19th century, Theodor Zahn and J. B. Lightfoot had established a scholarly consensus that the Short Recension is merely a summary of the text of the Middle Recension, and was therefore composed later. [4] : 121

Authenticity Edit

Ever since the Protestant Reformation in the 16th century, the authenticity of all the Ignatian epistles has come under intense scrutiny. John Calvin called the epistles "rubbish published under Ignatius’ name." [4] : 119 Some Protestants have tended to want to deny the authenticity of all the epistles attributed to Ignatius because they seem to attest to the existence of a monarchical episcopate in the second century. The Roman Catholic Church has long held up the authenticity of the letters from past to present. [32]

In 1886, Presbyterian minister and church historian William Dool Killen published an essay extensively arguing that none of the epistles attributed to Ignatius is authentic. Instead, he argued that Callixtus, bishop of Rome, forged the letters around AD 220 to garner support for a monarchical episcopate, modeling the renowned Saint Ignatius after his own life to give precedent for his own authority. [33] : 137 Killen contrasted this episcopal polity with the presbyterian polity in the writings of Polycarp. [33] : 127

Some doubts about the authenticity of the original letters continued into the 20th century. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the scholars Robert Joly, Reinhard Hübner, Markus Vinzent, and Thomas Lenchner argued forcefully that the epistles of the Middle Recension were forgeries written during the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161-180 AD). Around the same time, the scholar Joseph Ruis-Camps published a study arguing that the Middle Recension letters were pseudepigraphically composed based on an original, smaller, authentic corpus of four letters (Romans, Magnesians, Trallians, and Ephesians). These publications stirred up tremendous, heated controversy in the scholarly community at the time, [4] : 122 but today most religious scholars accept the authenticity of the seven original epistles. [4] : 121ff [34] [35] [36]

The original texts of six of the seven original letters are found in the Codex Mediceo Laurentianus written in Greek in the 11th century (which also contains the pseudepigraphical letters of the Long Recension, except that to the Philippians), [37] while the letter to the Romans is found in the Codex Colbertinus. [11]

Style and structure Edit

Ignatius's letters bear signs of being written in great haste and without a proper plan, such as run-on sentences and an unsystematic succession of thought. Ignatius modelled his writings after those allegedly written by Paul, Peter, and John, and even quoted or paraphrased biblical entries by these apostles' works freely, such as when he quoted 1 Corinthians 1:18, in his letter to the Ephesians:

Let my spirit be counted as nothing for the sake of the cross, which is a stumbling-block to those that do not believe, but to us salvation and life eternal.

Christology Edit

Ignatius is known to have taught the deity of Christ:

There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit both made and not made God existing in flesh true life in death both of Mary and of God first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.

The same section in text of the Long Recension says the following:

But our Physician is the Only true God, the unbegotten and unapproachable, the Lord of all, the Father and Begetter of the only-begotten Son. We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For "the Word was made flesh." Being incorporeal, He was in the body, being impassible, He was in a passible body, being immortal, He was in a mortal body, being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.

He stressed the value of the Eucharist, calling it a "medicine of immortality" (Ignatius to the Ephesians 20:2). The very strong desire for bloody martyrdom in the arena, which Ignatius expresses rather graphically in places, may seem quite odd to the modern reader. An examination of his theology of soteriology shows that he regarded salvation as one being free from the powerful fear of death and thus to bravely face martyrdom. [39]

Ignatius is claimed to be the first known Christian writer to argue in favor of Christianity's replacement of the Sabbath with the Lord's Day:

Be not seduced by strange doctrines nor by antiquated fables, which are profitless. For if even unto this day we live after the manner of Judaism, we avow that we have not received grace. . If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord's day, on which our life also arose through Him . how shall we be able to live apart from Him?

Let us therefore no longer keep the Sabbath after the Jewish manner, and rejoice in days of idleness. . But let every one of you keep the Sabbath after a spiritual manner, rejoicing in meditation on the law, not in relaxation of the body . and not eating things prepared the day before, nor using lukewarm drinks, and walking within a prescribed space. . And after the observance of the Sabbath, let every friend of Christ keep the Lord's day as a festival, the resurrection-day, the queen and chief of all the days [of the week]. Looking forward to this, the prophet declared, "To the end, for the eighth day," on which our life both sprang up again, and the victory over death was obtained in Christ.

Ecclesiology Edit

Ignatius is the earliest known Christian writer to emphasize loyalty to a single bishop in each city (or diocese) who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters.

For instance, his writings on bishops, presbyters and deacons:

Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest.

He is also responsible for the first known use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), or Catholic, meaning "universal", "complete" and "whole" to describe the Church, writing:

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.

Joseph Lightfoot states the word "catholic (καθόλου)" simply means "universal" and can be found not only before and after Ignatius amongst ecclesiastical and classical writers, but centuries before the Christian era. [40] It is from the word katholikos ("according to the whole") that the word catholic comes. When Ignatius wrote the Letter to the Smyrnaeans in about the year 107 and used the word catholic, he used it as if it were a word already in use to describe the Church. [ citation needed ] This has led many scholars [ citation needed ] to conclude that the appellation Catholic Church with its ecclesial connotation may have been in use as early as the last quarter of the first century. On the Eucharist, he wrote in his letter to the Smyrnaeans:

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.

In his letter addressed to the Christians of Rome, he entreats to do nothing to prevent his martyrdom. [13]

Several scholars have noted that there are striking similarities between Ignatius and the Christian-turned-Cynic philosopher Peregrinus Proteus, [21] [41] as described in Lucian's famous satire The Passing of Peregrinus:

  • Both Ignatius and Peregrinus show a morbid eagerness to die.
  • Both characters are, or have been, Christians.
  • Both are imprisoned by Roman authorities.
  • Upon the arrest of both prisoners, Christians from all over Asia Minor come to visit them and bring them gifts (cf. Peregr. 12-13).
  • Both prisoners sent letters to several Greek cities shortly before their deaths as "testaments, counsels, and laws", appointing "couriers" and "ambassadors" for the purpose. [41]

It is generally believed that these parallels are the result of Lucian intentionally copying traits from Ignatius and applying them to his satire of Peregrinus. [21] : 73 If the dependence of Lucian on the Ignatian epistles is accepted, then this places an upper limit on the date of the epistles: around the 160s AD, just before The Passing of Peregrinus was written.

In 1892, Daniel Völter sought to explain the parallels by proposing that the Ignatian epistles were in fact written by Peregrinus, and later edited to conceal their provenance, but this speculative theory has failed to make a significant impact on the academic community. [42]

Epistles attributed to Saint Ignatius but of spurious origin (their author is often called Pseudo-Ignatius in English) include: [43]

Ignatius of Antioch in the Arena - History

Posted on 10/17/2001 11:13:22 AM PDT by Lady In Blue

St. Ignatius of Antioch
(A.D. 110)

St. Ignatius was the third bishop of Antioch, succeeding St. Evodius, who was the immediate successor of St. Peter. St. Ignatius is given the title of Apostolic Father of the Church since he was a disciple of the Apostle John. Ignatius was bishop of Antioch during the reign of the Roman emperor Trajen (98-117), an unyielding persecutor of the Christian Church. Behind the Apostles, St. Ignatius is perhaps the most famous name associated with the early Church. However, little is known about his life or his career as bishop. What we do know of him stems from his writings, in particular the seven epistles Ignatius wrote on his way to his death. At around the year 110 A.D., Trajen sentenced Ignatius to death by exposure to the wild beasts in the arena. During his journey from Antioch to Rome for his martyrdom, Ignatius wrote seven letters addressed to the Christians in the communities of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna, all of which were along the journey's path. These seven letters tell little of his life, but do reveal his love of the Church, his desire for Church unity, his hatred of schism and heresy, and his desire for martyrdom for the sake of Christ. In his letter to the Romans, Ignatius writes: "I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God's sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God's wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beast, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ." (Ch. 4)
St. Ignatius was the first to use the term "Catholic Church". For Ignatius, a Church without the episcopacy was impossible. His letters present a clear view of the hierarchical and monarchical structure of the Church: "Where the bishop is, there let the people be, as were Jesus is, there is the Catholic Church." The letters of Ignatius are filled with warnings against false doctrines and false teachers. In particular, he wrote out against the Docetists, who denied the humanity of Christ and ascribed to Him a phantom body. Ignatius passionately affirmed both the humanity and divinity of Christ and proclaimed that if Christ died only in appearance, then his suffering and his willingness to give up his own life for the glory of Christ would have no meaning. Flowing from this passion for unity and Truth in proclaiming the humanity and divinity of Christ, Ignatius commented extensively on the True Presence of Christ in the Eucharist offered to all through His suffering, death and resurrection. In his Eucharistic teachings, Ignatius emphasizes the need for unity in the belief in the True Presence of Christ, reveals that the early church believed the Eucharistic celebration was a true sacrifice, and that a valid Eucharist if conferred by a priest under the authority of the bishop. Through these important writings, St. Ignatius left a powerful proclamation and extensive history of early Church dogma and history. Learn more about the life of St. Ignatius
Eucharistic Teachings of St. Ignatius of Antioch

Letter to the Smyrnaeans

The Eucharist is the true participation in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. Here he directly challenges the Docetists who found no reason to celebrate the Eucharist since they denied the humanity of Christ:

Let no one be deceived! Even the heavenly powers and the angels in their splendor and the principalities, both visible and invisible, must either believe in the Blood of Christ, or else face damnation. Let him grasp it who can. Let no rank puff up anyone for faith and love are paramount--the greatest blessings in the world. Observe those who hold erroneous opinions concerning the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how they run counter to the mind of God! They concern themselves with neither works of charity, nor widows, nor orphans, nor the distressed, nor those in prison or out of it, nor the hungry or thirsty.

From Eucharist and prayer they hold aloof, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His loving-kindness raised from the dead. And so, those who question the gift of God perish in their contentiousness. It would be better for them to have love, so as to share in the resurrection. It is proper, therefore, to avoid associating with such people and not to speak about them either in private or in public, but to study the Prophets attentively and, especially, the Gospel, in which the Passion is revealed to us and the Resurrection shown in its fulfillment. Shun division as the beginning of evil.

You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed that of the Father follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles reverence the deacons as you would God's commandment. Let no one do
anything touching the Church, apart from the bishop. Let that celebration of the Eucharist be considered valid which is held under the bishop or anyone to whom he has committed it. Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not permitted without authorization from the bishop either to baptize or to hold an agape but whatever he approves is also pleasing to God. Thus everything you do will be proof against danger and valid. (paragraphs 6-8)

Letter to the Ephesians

The Eucharist should be central to our lives and our worship:

Make an effort, then, to meet more frequently to celebrate God's Eucharist and to offer praise. For, when you meet frequently in the same place, the forces of Satan are overthrown, and his baneful influence is neutralized by the unanimity of your faith. Peace is a precious thing: it puts an end to every war waged by heavenly or earthly enemies. (paragraph 13)

Here St. Ignatius focuses on 1 Corinthians 10:17:

If Jesus Christ, yielding to your prayer, grants me the favor and it is His will, I shall, in the subsequent letter which I intend to write to you, still further explain the dispensation which I have here only touched upon, regarding the New Man Jesus Christ--a dispensation founded on faith in Him and love for Him, on His Passion and Resurrection. I will do so especially if the Lord should reveal to me that you--the entire community of you!--are in the habit, through grace derived from the Name, of meeting in common, animated by one faith and in union with Jesus Christ--who in the flesh was of the line of David, the Son of Man and the Son of God--of meeting, I say, to show obedience with undivided mind to the bishop and the presbytery, and to break the same Bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death, and everlasting life in Jesus Christ. (paragraph 20)

Comments from the Catechism of the Catholic Church:
Paragraph 1404-1405
The Church knows that the Lord comes even now in his Eucharist and that he is there in our midst. However, his presence is veiled. Therefore we celebrate the Eucharist "awaiting the blessed hope and the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ," (Roman Missal 126, embolism after the Our Father: expectantes beatam spem et adventum Salvatoris nostri Jesu Christi cf. Titus 2:13) asking "to share in your glory when every tear will be wiped away. On that day we shall see you, our God, as you are. We shall become like you and praise you for ever through Christ our Lord." (EP III 116: prayer for the dead)

There is no surer pledge or dearer sign of this great hope in the new heavens and new earth "in which righteousness dwells," (2 Pet 3:13) than the Eucharist. Every time this mystery is celebrated, "the work of our redemption is carried on" and we "break the one bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live for ever in Jesus Christ." (LG 3 St. Ignatius of Antioch, Ad Eph. 20, 2: SCh 10, 76)

The Prince of this world is resolved to abduct me, and to corrupt my Godward aspirations. Let none of you, therefore, who will then be present, assist him. Rather, side with me, that is, with God. Do not have Jesus Christ on your lips, and the world in your hearts. Give envy no place among you. And should I upon my arrival plead for your intervention, do not listen to me. Rather, give heed to what I write to you. I am writing while still alive, but my yearning is for death. My Love has been crucified, and I am not on fire with the love of earthly things. But there is in me a Living Water, which is eloquent and within me says: "Come to the Father." I have no taste for corruptible food or for the delights of this life. Bread of God is what I desire that is, the Flesh of Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David and for my drink I desire His Blood, that is, incorruptible love. (paragraph 7)

View the entire Letter to the Romans

Letter to the Philadelphians

The unity of the Church is found in the Eucharist. St. Ignatius equates the Eucharistic celebration to a sacrifice complete with altar:

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