Ignatius of Antioch
|Born||Province of Syria, Roman Empire|
|Died||Eusebius: c. AD 108 
Barnes: 140s AD|
Rome, Roman Empire
|Venerated in||Catholic Church|
Eastern Orthodox Church
Church of the East
|Canonized||Pre-congregation by John the Apostle (said in later writings)|
|Major shrine||Basilica of San Clemente, Rome, Italy|
|Feast||20 December (Eastern Orthodox Church)|
24 Koiak (martyrdom – Coptic Christianity)
7 Epip (commemoration - Coptic Christianity)
17 October (Catholic Church, Church of England and Syriac Christianity)
1 February (General Roman Calendar, 12th century–1969)
Monday after 4th Sunday of Advent (Armenian Apostolic Church)
|Attributes||surrounded by lions or in chains|
|Patronage||Church in eastern Mediterranean; Church in North Africa|
Ignatius of Antioch (//; Greek: Ἰγνάτιος Ἀντιοχείας, Ignátios Antiokheías; died c. 108/140 AD), also known as Ignatius Theophorus (Ἰγνάτιος ὁ Θεοφόρος, Ignátios ho Theophóros, lit. "the God-bearing"), was an early Christian writer and Patriarch of Antioch. While en route to Rome, where he met his martyrdom, Ignatius wrote a series of letters. This correspondence forms a central part of a later collection of works by the Apostolic Fathers. He is considered one of the three most important of these, together with Clement of Rome and Polycarp. His letters also serve as an example of early Christian theology, and address important topics including ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role of bishops.
|Part of a series of articles on|
|Ignatius of Antioch|
|Ignatius of Antioch|
|Epistles of Ignatius|
|Epistle to Polycarp|
|Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians|
Nothing is known of Ignatius' life apart from the words of his letters, except from dubious later traditions. It is said Ignatius converted to Christianity at a young age. Tradition identifies him and his friend Polycarp as disciples of John the Apostle. Later, Ignatius was chosen to serve as Bishop of Antioch; the fourth-century Church historian Eusebius writes that Ignatius succeeded Evodius. Theodoret of Cyrrhus claimed that St. Peter himself left directions that Ignatius be appointed to this episcopal see. 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.
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.
In the Eastern Orthodox Church it is observed on 20 December. The Synaxarium of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria places it on the 24th of the Coptic Month of Koiak (which is also the 24th 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
Ignatius was condemned to death for his faith, but instead of being executed in his home town of Antioch, the bishop was taken to Rome by a company of ten 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...— Ignatius to the Romans Chapter 5
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."
If Ignatius had been a Roman citizen, he could have appealed to the emperor, with the common result of execution by beheading rather than torture. However, Ignatius's letters state that he was put in chains during the journey, but it was against Roman law for a citizen to be put in bonds during an appeal to the emperor.: 175–176
Allen Brent argues that Ignatius was transferred to Rome for the emperor to provide a spectacle as a victim 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.": 15
Stevan Davies rejects this idea, reasoning 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.": 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. Transporting the bishop might have avoided further agitation by the Antiochene Christians.: 177–178
Christine Trevett calls Davies' suggestion "entirely hypothetical" and concludes that no fully satisfactory solution to the problem can be found: "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."
Route of travel to Rome
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.: 176 Scholars generally agree on the following reconstruction of Ignatius' route of travel:
- Ignatius first traveled from Antioch, in the province of Syria, to Asia Minor. It is uncertain whether he traveled by sea or by land.
- 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).
- Ignatius then traveled to Troas, where he boarded a ship bound for Neapolis in Macedonia (cf. Ign. Pol. 8).
- He then passed through the city of Philippi (cf. Pol. Phil. 9).
- After this, he took some land or sea route to Rome.
During the journey, the soldiers seem to have allowed the chained Ignatius to meet with entire congregations of Christians, at least at Philadelphia (cf. Ign. Phil. 7), and numerous Christian visitors and messengers were allowed to meet with him individually. These messengers allowed Ignatius to send six letters to nearby churches, and one to Polycarp, the bishop of Smyrna.: 176
These aspects of Ignatius' martyrdom are also unusual, in that a prisoner would normally be transported on the most direct route to his destination. Since travel by land in the Roman Empire was far more expensive than by sea, especially since Antioch was a major sea port. Davies argues that Ignatius' circuitous route 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.: 177
Date of martyrdom
Due to the sparse documentation, the date of Ignatius's death is uncertain. Tradition places his martyrdom in the reign of Trajan (emperor from 98-117 AD). The earliest source for this is the 4th century church historian Eusebius of Caesarea, who is regarded by some modern scholars as unreliable for chronological information on the early church. Eusebius may have had an ideological interest in dating church leaders as early as possible, and asserting a continuous succession between the original apostles of Jesus and the leaders of the church in his day.
While many scholars accept this traditional dating, others have argued for a somewhat later date. Richard Pervo dated Ignatius' death to 135–140 AD. 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, who only became active in the 130s. Étienne Decrept has argued from the testimony of John Malalas and the Acts of Drosis that Ignatius was martyred under the reign of Trajan during Apollo's festival in July 116 AD, and in response to the earthquake at Antioch in late 115 AD.
Death and aftermath
Ignatius wrote that he would be thrown to the beasts, and in the fourth century Eusebius reports a tradition confirming this, while the account of Jerome is the first to explicitly mention "lions." John Chrysostom is the first to place of Ignatius' martyrdom at the Colosseum. Modern scholars are uncertain whether any of these authors had sources other than Ignatius' own writings.
According to a medieval Christian text titled Martyrium Ignatii, Ignatius' remains were carried back to Antioch by his companions after his martyrdom. 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, and converted it into a church dedicated to Ignatius. In 637, when Antioch was captured by the Rashidun Caliphate, the relics were transferred to the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome.
The Martyrium Ignatii
The Martyrium Ignatii is account of the saint's martyrdom. It is presented as an eye-witness account for the church of Antioch, attributed to Ignatius' companions, Philo of Cilicia, deacon at Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus, a Syrian.
Its most reliable manuscript is the 10th-century collection Codex Colbertinus (Paris), in which it is the final item. The Martyrium presents the confrontation of Bishop Ignatius with Emperor Trajan at Antioch, a familiar trope of Acta of the martyrs, and many details of the long journey to Rome. The Synaxarium of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria says that he was thrown to the wild beasts that devoured him.
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.
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.: 120–121 
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.: 121 The Long Recension is the product of a fourth-century Arian Christian, who interpolated the Middle Recension epistles in order posthumously to 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).
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.: 121
Though the Catholic Church has always supported the authenticity of the letters,[better source needed] some Protestants have tended to deny the authenticity of all the epistles because they seem to attest to a monarchical episcopate in the second century. John Calvin called the epistles "rubbish published under Ignatius' name.": 119
In 1886, Presbyterian minister and church historian William Dool Killen published a long essay attacking the authenticity of the epistles attributed to Ignatius. 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.: 137 Killen contrasted this episcopal polity with the presbyterian polity in the writings of Polycarp.: 127
Some doubts about the letters' authenticity continued into the 20th century. In the 1970s and 1980s, the scholars Robert Joly, Reinhard Hübner, Markus Vinzent, and Thomas Lechner argued forcefully that the epistles of the Middle Recension were forgeries from the reign of Marcus Aurelius (161–180 AD). 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). In 2009, Otto Zwierlein support the thesis of a forgery written around 170 AD.
These publications stirred up heated scholarly controversy,: 122 but by 2017, most patristic scholars accepted the authenticity of the seven original epistles.: 121ff  However, J. Lookadoo said in 2020 that "the debate has received renewed energy since the late 1990s and shows few signs of slowing."
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), while the letter to the Romans is found in the Codex Colbertinus.
Style and structure
Ignatius's letters bear signs of being written in great haste, such as run-on sentences and an unsystematic succession of thought. Ignatius modelled them after the biblical epistles of Paul, Peter, and John, quoting or paraphrasing these apostles' works freely. For example, in his letter to the Ephesians he quoted 1 Corinthians 1:18:
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.— Letter to the Ephesians 18, Roberts and Donaldson translation
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.— Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 7, shorter version, Roberts-Donaldson translation
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.— Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 7, longer version
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 face martyrdom bravely.
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?— Ignatius to the Magnesians 8:1, 9:1–2, Lightfoot translation.
If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death—whom some deny, by which mystery we have obtained faith, and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master—how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead.— Letter to the Magnesians 9, Roberts and Donaldson translation, p. 189.
This passage has provoked textual debate since the only Greek manuscript extant read Κατα κυριακήν ζωήν ζωντες which could be translated "living according to the Lord's life." Most scholars, however, have followed the Latin text (secundum dominicam) omitting ζωήν and translating "living according to Lord's Day".
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 (elders)[note 1] 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.— Letter to the Magnesians 2, 6:1
He is also responsible for the first known use of the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), or catholic, meaning "universal", "complete", "general", and/or "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.— Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8, J.R. Willis translation.
Anglican bishop and theologian Joseph Lightfoot states the word "catholic (καθόλου)" simply means "universal" (cf "Roman Catholic" in the anachronistic modern sense of the particular religion), having a wide range of applications in the English language (thus requiring context to properly translate this word each time it is used, rather than to merely leave it transliterated), and can be found not only before and after Ignatius amongst ecclesiastical and classical writers, but centuries before the Christian era. Ignatius of Antioch is also attributed the earliest recorded use of the term "Christianity" (Greek: Χριστιανισμός) c. 100 AD.
Parallels with Peregrinus Proteus
Several scholars have noted that there are striking similarities between Ignatius and the Christian-turned-Cynic philosopher Peregrinus Proteus, who is satirized by Lucian in The Passing of Peregrinus:
- Both Ignatius and Peregrinus show a morbid eagerness to die.
- Both 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 send letters to several Greek cities shortly before their deaths as "testaments, counsels, and laws", appointing "couriers" and "ambassadors" for the purpose.
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.: 73 If the dependence of Lucian on the Ignatian epistles is accepted, then this places an upper limit on the date of the epistles during 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 attributed to the saint, but this speculative theory has failed to make a significant impact on the academic community.
- Epistle to the Tarsians
- Epistle to the Antiochians
- Epistle to Hero, a Deacon of Antioch
- Epistle to the Philippians
- The Epistle of Maria the Proselyte to Ignatius
- Epistle to Mary at Neapolis, Zarbus
- First Epistle to St. John
- Second Epistle to St. John
- The Epistle of Ignatius to the Virgin Mary
- Apostolic succession
- Christianity in the 1st century
- Christianity in the 2nd century
- Early centers of Christianity
- List of Patriarchs of Antioch
- Saint Ignatius of Antioch, patron saint archive
- Apostolic Fathers
- Ignatius of Loyola
- Although the English word "priest" is derived from "πρεσβύτερος presbyteros" (literally meaning "old man" or "elder"), there is no clear evidence that this Greek word's original, intended usage among Biblical and early Patristic writers was of a sacramental priesthood, or even as being synonymous with the position of "pastor," as it has been used in Catholicism. Hence the comparatively very different usage of the term by, for example, the Christian denomination of Presbyterianism (which defines a presbyter as one of several senior leading members of a local church body).
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- Brent, Allen (2006). Ignatius of Antioch and the Second Sophistic: a study of an early Christian transformation of Pagan culture. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. ISBN 3-16-148794-X.
- De Ste. Croix, G.E.M. (November 1963). "Why Were the Early Christians Persecuted?". Past and Present. 26: 6–38. doi:10.1093/past/26.1.6.
- Ignatius of Antioch (2003). "The Letters of Ignatius". The Apostolic Fathers. Bart D. Ehrman, trans. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.
- Frend, W.H. (1965). Martyrdom and Persecution in the Early Church: A Study of a Conflict from the Maccabees to Donatus. Oxford: Blackwell.
- Ignatius of Antioch (1912–1913). "The Epistles of St. Ignatius". The Apostolic Fathers. Kirsopp Lake, trans. London: Heinemann.
- Ignatius of Antioch (1946). The Epistles of St. Clement of Rome and St. Ignatius of Antioch. James E. Kleist, trans. Westminster, MD: Newman Bookshop.
- Lane Fox, Robin (2006). Pagans and Christians. London: Penguin. ISBN 0-14-102295-7.
- Löhr, Hermut (2010). "The Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch". The Apostolic Fathers. An Introduction. Wilhelm Pratscher, ed. Waco (TX): Baylor University Press. pp. 91–115. ISBN 978-1-60258-308-5.
- Thurston, Herbert; Attwater, Donald, eds. (1956). Butler's Lives of the Saints. Westminster, MD: Christian Classics.
- Vall, Gregory (2013). Learning Christ: Ignatius of Antioch and the Mystery of Redemption. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. ISBN 978-0-8132-2158-8.
- Works by or about Ignatius of Antioch at Internet Archive
- Works by Ignatius of Antioch at LibriVox (public domain audiobooks)
- Early Christian writings: On-line texts of St. Ignatius' letters (archived) (non-archived link)
- The Ecclesiology of St. Ignatius of Antioch by Fr. John S. Romanides
- Saint Ignatius
- Opera Omnia by J.-P. Migne, Patrologia Graeca with analytical indexes
- Catholic Encyclopedia: Spurious Epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch
- Ignatius writings in the Ante-Nicene Fathers
- Greek text of Ignatius writings
- 2012 Translation & Audio Version (Authentic Seven Letters and Martyrdom of Ignatius)
- Saint Ignatius of Antioch at the Christian Iconography web site
- Here Followeth the Life of St. Ignatius, Bishop from Caxton's translation of the Golden Legend
- Colonnade Statue in St Peter's Square
- Ignatius of Antioch (1919) . The Epistles of St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch. Translations of Christian Literature. Translated by James Herbert Srawley (3rd ed.). Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.
- Ignatius of Antioch (1919). Crafer, Thomas Wildred (ed.). The Epistles of St. Ignatius (Epistles in Greek). Issue 10 of Texts for Students. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge.