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Saint Ignatius of Antioch

Saint Ignatius's (greek: Ἰγνάτιος Ἀντιοχείας) life is almost entirely known only through the letters he wrote. Tradition holds that he with his friend and fellow Bishop were disciples of John the Apostle and the fourth century historian Eusebius wrote that Saint Ignatius succeeded bishop Evodius. Theodoret of Cyrrhus wrote that Saint Peter the Apostle had left directions that Saint Ignatius was to be appointed to the episcopal see of Antioch.

We know that at the time of his arrest by Roman authorities, Saint Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch. He and a group of fellow Christians were arrested in the Antioch church (during the reign of Emperor Trajan) and sent in chains back to Rome. Based upon his writings, historians have largely put together the following itinerary of the trip to Rome:

  1. From Antioch to Asia Minor

  2. Then to Smyrna via a route that probably passed through Philadelphia

  3. From there to Troas where he boarded a ship bound for Neapolis

  4. The city of Philippi

  5. Finally to Rome

Throughout this journey he was allowed to meet with Christians in each towns and frequently met various messengers. At Smyrna he met with his dear friend Saint Polycarp. Throughout the journey he wrote several letters or epistles to the churches and their communities thanking them and offering guidelines for the Christian life. He also wrote ahead to the City of Rome, urging Christians there not to intercede in his martyrdom. In future articles we will delve into his epistles and writings, but for this article we'll provide a brief overview.

Through his writings we can see that Saint Ignatius was fighting with two groups of heretics - the Judaizers who did not accept the authority of Christ and the docetists who held that Christ died and suffered only in appearance. There are seven epistles generally considered as fully authentic and mentioned by Eusebius:

  1. The Epistle to the Ephesians

  2. The Epistle to the Magnesians

  3. The Epistle to the Trallians

  4. The Epistle to the Romans

  5. The Epistle to the Philadelphians

  6. The Epistle to the Smyrnaeans

  7. The Epistle to Polycarp

Here are a few quotes:

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. — Letter to the Ephesians

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. — Letter to the Magnesians

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. — Letter to the Smyrnaeans

Famously in the year 107 when he wrote his letter to the Smyrnaeans, he used the word katholikos or καθολικός (According to the whole, Universal, Complete), a word that Catholic is derived from. In his epistle, he writes as if the word had already been in heavy use among Christians to describe the church:

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. — Letter to the Smyrnaeans

Saint Ignatius in his writings wrote that he was to be killed by beasts in Rome and tradition holds that his did indeed come to pass. Saint Jerome writes that it was lions that killed him and Saint Chrysostom writes that the death by lions came in the Colosseum as part of the games. His relics were carried back to Antioch according to a medieval Christian text named "Martyrium Ignatii", transferred to the temple of Tyche by Emperor Theodosius II and finally to the Basilica di San Celemente in Rome in 637. He wrote of his coming martyrdom:

“I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God.”

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