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Epistle to the Ephesians
Ignatius writes a letter exhorting the Church at Ephesus.
Epistle to the Magnesians
Ignatius writes a letter exhorting the Church at Magnesia to beware Judaizing.
Epistle to Polycarp
Ignatius writes a letter to Polycarp of Smyrna with various instructions.
Epistle to the Philadelphians
Ignatius writes a letter to the Church at Philadelphia, exhorting them to maintain union with the bishop and to avoid schism and Jewish heresy.
Epistle to the Romans
On his way to Rome to be killed, Ignatius explains his views on martyrdom.
Epistle to the Smyrnaeans
Ignatius writes a letter to the Church at Smyrna, asking them to avoid the heresy of Docetism.
Epistle to the Trallians
Ignatius writes a letter to the Church at Tralles, asking them to honor Church authority and beware of heresy.
St. Ignatius, otherwise known as Theophorus, which in Greek means “God-Bearer,” led the Christian Church during a critical period of her history. Orthodox tradition has maintains that he was the little child Christ held on His lap when he spoke the words, “Let the children come unto me.” What is known for certain is that he grew up to be a disciple of St. John, and St. Peter personally ordained him a Bishop.
Eusebius of Caesarea, whose Ecclesiastical History is the chief primary source for the history of the church up to 324, reported that Ignatius’ arrest and his condemnation to the wild beasts in the Roman arena occurred during the reign of the Roman emperor Trajan (98–117). Eusebius, on unknown grounds, dates the event to 107 or 108. Ignatius’ letters contain the only reliable information about him, but only one of them—that to the church in Rome—is dated (August 24), and even then no year is given. Ignatius, surnamed Theophoros, was bishop of Antioch at the time of his arrest. Whether he was a native of the city is uncertain; his Greek prose, however, does have an Oriental flavor characteristic of that part of the Hellenistic world. His thought is strongly influenced by the letters of St. Paul.
The letters of Ignatius abound in warnings against false doctrines and false teachers and in admonitions to preserve peace and concord by willing subordination in all religious matters to the clergy and, above all, to the bishop. Nevertheless, he frequently assures his readers that their own church gives no cause for concern and that his words are prompted merely by pastoral solicitude. Only in his letter to the church of Philadelphia does he intimate that at least some of the community tended to segregate, and, in a passage in the letter to the Smyrnaeans, he seems to imply that there had been dissenters.
Smyrna is the only place along his journey where Ignatius stayed for a sufficiently long time to have firsthand knowledge of the state of their church; he knew of the others from informants, who gave him little grounds for worry. Ignatius’ anxiety, perhaps, had its roots in his experiences as a bishop at Antioch. If the peace that returned to Antioch after he left is to be understood as the restoration of concord within the Christian community, then the church of Antioch might have been divided on the very same issues about which Ignatius writes to the other churches.
Ignatius apparently fought two groups of heretics: (1) Judaizers, who did not accept the authority of the New Testament and clung to such Jewish practices as observing the Sabbath, and (2) Docetists (from the Greek dokein, “to seem”), who held that Christ had suffered and died only in appearance. Ignatius untiringly affirmed that the New Testament was the fulfillment of the Old Testament and insisted upon the reality of Christ’s human nature. For him, Christ’s Passion, death, and Resurrection were a vital guarantee of “life everlasting” in the risen Christ. Ignatius believed that, had Christ died only in appearance, his own suffering and his readiness to sacrifice his life for Christ would have no meaning.
Such sentiments are a strong argument against the proposition that Ignatius had come under the influence of some early form of Gnosticism—a dualistic religion that stressed salvation by esoteric knowledge, or gnōsis, rather than by faith. Some of Ignatius’ formulations possibly echo Gnostic language, and he seems to have made an impression on certain Gnostic sects. Nevertheless, there is no trace in his letters of the basic Gnostic equation of good and evil with spirit and matter. He does not even take up St. Paul’s antinomy of flesh and spirit. For him, the spirit is above the flesh rather than against it; even what the “spiritual man” does “according to the flesh” is spiritual.