Ignatius of Antioch, St.

views updated


Bishop, primitive Church theologian, and martyr; b. Syria; d. Rome c. 110. Ignatius is known primarily through seven epistles he wrote in the course of his journey from Antioch to Rome as a prisoner condemned to death for his faith during the reign of Trajan (98117). Apparently of Syrian origin and a convert from paganism, he was one of the earliest bishops of Antioch, possibly the third (Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 3.22). Ignatius was received with great honor at Smyrna by Bishop (St.) polycarp, and visited by representatives of nearby churches. From Smyrna he wrote letters to the churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. When taken to Troas, he wrote to the churches at Philadelphia and Smyrna, and to Polycarp. His journey then proceeded through Macedonia and Illyria to Dyrrachium, where he took a ship to Italy. His martyrdom in Rome is attested to by Polycarp, whose epistle to the Philippians appears to consist of two sections: chapters 13 and 14 are a note that accompanied a collection of the Ignatian epistles sent to Philippi soon after the visit of Ignatius; chapters 1 to 12 were written c. 130 or 140 when Ignatius' martyrdom had become a memory that was already cherished throughout the Church.

Referring to himself as Theophorus, the God-bearer (Rom. praef.; Trall. praef. ), Ignatius addressed the various churches to thank them for the sympathy they had expressed regarding his fate; he then exhorted them to fidelity to God and obedience to their superiors, warning them against heretical doctrines, and providing them with the solid truths of the Christian faith. He pleaded with the Romans not to use political influence to prevent his martyrdom since he considered himself the "wheat of God; and I must be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, to become the pure bread of Christ" (Rom. 1.2; 2.1; 4.1).

Ignatius recognized the continuity of revelation between the Old and the New Testament, seeing God's providence as fulfilled in Jesus Christ "our only teacher, of Whom the prophets were disciples in the Spirit" (Mag. 9.12). He asserted unequivocally both the divinity and the humanity of Christ, the Savior: "the one and only physician, Who is both flesh and spiritual, born and unborn, God in man, true life in death, both of Mary and of God, first subject to suffering and then incapable of it, Jesus Christ our Lord" (Eph. 7.2). Against the heresy of docetism, he insisted on the reality of Christ's human sufferings, and His Real Presence in the Eucharist, and His Resurrection in the flesh: "He is really of the line of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God by the will and power of God; was truly born of a Virgin; and baptized by John to comply with all justice" (Smyr. 1.1). The Docetists, he charged, "refrain from the Eucharist and prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Who suffered for our sins; and that the Father in his goodness raised up" (Smyr. 7.1).

Concerning the Church, Ignatius insisted upon its sacramental character and unity under the governance of the bishop. "Take care to use one Eucharist: for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of His blood, and one altar, as there is one bishop, assisted by the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants" (Phil. 4). Insisting on the bishop's function, Ignatius described the bishop and priests as representing Christ and the Apostles; and warned that nothing should be done concerning the Church without the bishop; Eucharist, Baptism, the celebration of the agape were valid only when done with his approval. "Wherever the bishop is, there let the people be, for there is the Catholic church" (Smyr. 8.12). Despite his possible youth, the bishop "presides in the place of God; the presbyters function as the council of the apostles, and the deacons are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ" (Mag. 6.1).

In regard to the daily life of the Christian, the Ignatian epistles display a different concern from that of the Epistles of St. Paul. Addressing an audience almost completely devoid of the Judaic preoccupation with justification by the Law, Ignatius dealt with the Hellenistic experience of the omnipresence of death and destruction, and the longing for an imperishable life. In opposition to the superstitions and false beliefs of his pagan fellow citizens, he focused attention on the "newness of eternal life in Christ," and urged on his Christian converts a complete transformation of mentality brought about by regeneration in Christ through Baptism.

The Christian, then, imitates God (Trall. 1.2; Pol. 1.3) and Christ in His Passion (Rom. 6.3); death in and with Christ will be the consummation of the union with God that he strives for in the practice of virtue, particularly in charity (agape ), whereby he gives himself totally to the community (Eph. 10.13; 14.12; Smyr. 6.27). This becomes concrete in the care for the "widow and the orphan, the oppressed, the prisoner, as well as the freeman, the hungry and the thirsty" (Smyr. 6.2).

Concerning marriage, Christians have a right to enter the married state with the sanction of the bishop that it may be according to the Lord, and not for passion. Wives who love the Lord will be content with their husbands in body and in spirit; and husbands are to love their wives as Christ loves the Church. At the same time "if any man can remain continent to the honor of the flesh of the Lord, let him do so without boasting" (Pol. 5.12).

Writing to the Romans, Ignatius acknowledged that their Church "presides in the land of the Romans" and is worthy of God; of honor, blessing, praise, success, and holiness; and of presiding in love. He likewise acknowledged that he could not command them as did "Peter and Paul who were apostles." Despite considerable discussion and controversy over the significance of this deference and extensive praise, the letter cannot be used as witness to the primacy of the Roman See as such, since Ignatius' purpose was instead to persuade the Romans to do nothing to interfere with his martyrdom.

His literary style, while highly personal, reflects the Asianism then characteristic of the Hellenistic education he received. His doctrine is strongly Pauline, particulary in Christology and moral direction, but he exhibited also a close familiarity with the Johannine theology.

The manuscript tradition of these letters presented a long and a short recension, the former containing six spurious letters added by an interpolator in the fourth century. The authenticity of the original short recension is now fully vindicated.

Feast: Oct. 17 (formerly Feb. 1); Dec. 20 (Greek Church).

Bibliography: Cartes, tr. m. estradÉ (Montserrat 1988). k. bihlmeyer, ed., Die Apostolischen Väter, v.1 (2d ed. Tübingen 1956). m. p. brown, The Authentic Writings of Ignatius: A Study of Linguistic Criteria (Durham, N.C. 1963). k. lake, ed., The Apostolic Fathers, 2 v. (Loeb Classical Library ; LondonNew YorkCambridge, Mass. 191213) v.1. t. lechner, Ignatius adversus Valentinianos?: chronologische und theologiegeschichtliche Studien zu den Briefen des Ignatius von Antiochien (Leiden 1999). j. riuscamps, The Four Authentic Letters of Ignatius, the Martyr (Rome 1980). w. r. schoedel, A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch, ed. h. koester (Philadelphia 1985). c. uhrig, Sorge für die Einheit, über die nichts geht: zum episkopalen Selbstverständnis des lgnatius von Antiochien (Altenberge 1998), bibliography. l. wehr, Arznei der Unsterblichkeit: die Eucharistie bei Ignatius von Antiochien und im Johannesevangelium (Münster 1987), Eucharistic theology. c. t. brown, The Gospel and Ignatius of Antioch (New York 2000). j. kleist, ed. and tr., Ancient Christian Writers 1 (1946) 52146. j. quasten, Patrology, 3 v. (Westminster, Md. 195053) 1:6376. j. lebreton, Recherches de science religieuse 15 (1925) 97126, Trinity. j. joussard, ibid. 39 (195152) 361367, martyr. j. h. crehan, Studia patristica v.1 (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 63; 1957) 2332. l. cristiani, Revue d'ascétique et de mystique 25 (1949) 109116, mysticism. v. corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch (New Haven 1960). h. riesenfeld, Studia patristica, v.4 (Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur 70; 1961) 312322, theology. p. meinhold, Historisches Jahrbuch der GörresGesellschaft 77 (1958) 5062, ethics. k. p. wesche, "The Criterion of Orthodoxy and the Marks of Catholicity," Pro Ecclesia 3 (winter 1994): 89109. a. brent, "History and Eschatological Mysticism in Ignatius of Antioch," Ephemerides Theologicae Lovanienses 65 no. 4 (1989): 309329.

[f. x. murphy]