Of Antioch Ignatius

Of Antioch Ignatius books and biography

Ignatius of Antioch


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Icon of Ignatius being eaten by lions
Icon of Ignatius being eaten by lions

Saint Ignatius of Antioch (born around AD 35 and martyred between AD 98 - AD 117) was the third Bishop or Patriarch of Antioch, after Saint Peter and Evodius, who died around AD 68. Eusebius, (Historia Ecclesiastica, II.iii.22) records that Ignatius succeeded Evodius. Making his apostolic succession even more immediate, Theodoret (Dial. Immutab., I, iv, 33a) reported that Peter himself appointed Ignatius to the see of Antioch.

Ignatius, who also called himself Theophorus ("bearer of God"), was most likely a disciple of the Apostle John [1].

Ignatius is generally considered to be one of the Apostolic Fathers (the earliest authoritative group of the Church Fathers) and a saint by both the Roman Catholics, who celebrate his feast day on October 17, and the Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches, who celebrate his feast day on December 20. Ignatius based his authority on living his life in imitation of Christ.

Ignatius was arrested by the Roman authorities and transported to Rome under trying conditions:

Ignatius of Antioch
From Syria even to Rome I fight with wild beasts, by land and sea, by night and by day, being bound amidst ten leopards, even a company of soldiers, who only grow worse when they are kindly treated. —Ignatius to the Romans, 5.
Ignatius of Antioch

He died as a martyr in the arena. The Roman authorities hoped to make an example of him and thus discourage Christianity from spreading. Instead, he met with and encouraged Christians who flocked to meet him all along his route, and he wrote six letters to the churches in the region and one to a fellow bishop.

The seven authentic letters are:

  • To the Ephesians
  • To the Magnesians
  • To the Trallians
  • To the Romans
  • To the Philadephians
  • To the Smyrnaeans
  • To Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna

By the 5th century, this authentic collection had been enlarged by spurious letters, and the original letters had been changed with interpolations, created to posthumously enlist Ignatius as an unwitting witness in theological disputes of that age, while the purported eye-witness account of his martyrdom is also thought to be a forgery from around the same time.

A detailed but spurious account of Ignatius' arrest and his travails and martyrdom is the material of the Martyrium Ignatii which is presented as being an eyewitness account for the church of Antioch, and as if written by Ignatius' companions, Philo of Cilicia, deacon at Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus, a Syrian. Though Bishop Ussher regarded it as genuine, if there is any genuine nucleus of the Martyrium, it has been so greatly expanded with interpolations that no part of it is without questions. 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.

After Ignatius' martyrdom in the Flavian Amphitheatre, his remains were honorably carried back to Antioch by his companions, and were first interred outside the city gates, then removed by the Emperor Theodosius II to the Tychaeum, or Temple of Tyche which was converted into a Christian church dedicated to Ignatius. In 637 the relics were translated to the Church of St Clement's in Rome.

The letters of Ignatius have proved to be important testimony to the development of Christian theology, since the number of extant writings from this period of church history is very small. They 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 is the first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyalty to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters, and give the impression that there was usually more than one bishop per congregation.

Ignatius stressed the value of the Eucharist, calling it "a medicine to immortality". 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.

Ignatius is claimed to be the first known Christian writer to advocate replacing the Sabbath with the Lord's Day:

Ignatius of Antioch
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 and through His death which some men deny — a mystery whereby we attained unto belief, and for this cause we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher — Ignatius to the Magnesians 9:1, Lightfoot translation.
Ignatius of Antioch

He is also responsible for the first known use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning "universal," to describe the church, writing:

Ignatius of Antioch
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 8, J.R. Willis translation.
Ignatius of Antioch

It is from the word katholikos that the word "catholic" comes. When Ignatius wrote the Letter to the Smyrnaeans in roughly 110 A.D. and used the word "catholic," he used it as if it were a word already in use to describe the Church. This has led many scholars to conclude that the appelation "Catholic Church" with its ecclesial connotation may have been in use as early as the last quarter of the first century.

Ignatius of Antioch is credited by some Catholic apologists for being one of the first Church Fathers to extol the value of the Eucharist and its Real Presence.


  • Holy Letters and Syllables, the function and character of Scripture Authority in the writings of St Ignatius (Contains biography Ignatius as well. Doctoral thesis University of the Orange Free State 1997, Dutch, pdf)
  1. ^ The Martyrdom of Ignatius

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