ST. IGNATIUS OF ANTIOCH, EARLY CHRISTIAN MARTYR
Wherever the bishop appears let the congregation be present;
just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.
Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans VIII
St. Ignatius of Antioch was Bishop of Syria about 70-107 AD, and is one of the Apostolic Fathers of the Catholic Church. The Apostolic Fathers were the next generation of Church leaders who received the Faith directly from the Apostles. According to the Syrian theologian Theodoret of Cyrrhus, St. Peter, on his trip to Antioch to meet St. Paul (Galatians 2:11), designated Ignatius to follow as Bishop. He followed St. Peter and Evodius as the third Bishop of the See of Antioch. St. Ignatius was the first to use the term "Catholic Church" in his Letter to the Smrynaeans (8:2).
Antioch was a seaport in Syria on the Mediterranean Sea, just north of the country of Lebanon. Antioch was important to early Christianity, especially after the Resurrection of Our Lord, and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. Followers of Jesus were first called Christians in Antioch (Acts 11:26). Paul began three missionary journeys from Antioch. It is believed that Matthew wrote his Gospel there. Antioch was one of 5 Patriarchates of early Christianity under Constantine after the Edict of Milan in 313 AD, along with Jerusalem, Byzantium (renamed Constantinople), Alexandria, and Rome. St. John Chrysostom (349-407), the Bishop of Constantinople, was born in Antioch. The Eastern Catholic Maronite Church of Lebanon and the Melkite Byzantine Church of Syria originated in Antioch.
Ignatius of Antioch would not worship the Emperor Trajan, and thus was placed in chains and ordered to Rome to be thrown to the lions in the Roman Coliseum. On the way to Rome, he wrote 7 letters to the local Churches on the way to Rome. He wrote 4 letters from the town of Smyrna to the Churches in Ephesus, Tralles, Magnesia, and Rome. He wrote to the Church of Philadelphia and Smyrna from the town of Troas, as well as to Polycarp, then the young Bishop of Smyrna. The occasion of his trip to Rome proved to be a unifying event for the early Christian Church. He established the hierarchy of bishop, priest, and deacon for the early Churches, the pattern which still exists today.
His letters are treasures of the Christian faith. He recalled the words of Jesus following the Resurrection to Peter and the Apostles, and was one of the early references, along with Revelation 1:10, to the celebration of the Lord's Day rather than the Sabbath (Magnesians IX). His Letter to the Trallians (IX) offered an early Creed of Jesus Christ - that the Word truly became flesh, which clearly refuted the heresy of Docetism. In his Letter to the Smyrnaeans (7:2), he was the first to distinguish between the writings of the prophets and the Gospel: "Rather pay attention to the prophets and above all to the Gospel. There we get a clear picture of the Passion and see that the Resurrection has really happened."
His Letter to the Romans is perhaps one of most moving letters written by a Christian martyr. Of note, in his Letter to the Romans, he refers to their leaders, the Apostles Peter and Paul (IV, 3). It was his exceptional courage and his love of Jesus that has made him an outstanding model and given him a permanent place in the History of early Christianity. Considered the Father of the Syriac Churches, several Eastern Catholic and Orthodox Churches today are named in honor of St. Ignatius of Antioch.
The following quotations are from the translation by Kirsopp Lake, The Apostolic Fathers I, Harvard University Press, 1912.
For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary
by the dispensation of God, as well as of the seed of David as of the Holy Spirit:
he was born, and was baptized,
that by himself submitting he might purify the water.
Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians XVIII
And the virginity of Mary, and her giving birth,
were hidden from the prince of this world,
as was the death of the Lord.
Three mysteries of a cry which were wrought in the stillness of God.
Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Ephesians XIX
Be deaf therefore, when any one speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the family of David, and of Mary;
who was truly born, both ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified,
and died in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.
He was also truly raised from the dead, when his Father raised him up,
as in the same manner his Father shall raise up in Christ Jesus us who believe in Him,
without whom we have no true life.
Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Trallians IX
I exhort you: Be zealous to do all things in harmony with God,
with the bishop presiding in the place of God
and the presbyters in the place of the Council of the Apostles,
and the deacons, who are most dear to me,
entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ,
who was from eternity with the Father and was made manifest at the end of time.
Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians VI
Let us Live with Christ
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 -
Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Magnesians IX
For I heard some men saying,
"if I find it not in the charters in the Gospel I do not believe,"
and when I said to them that it is in the Scripture,
they answered me, "that is exactly the question."
But to me the charters are Jesus Christ,
the inviolable charter is his cross, and death, and resurrection,
and the faith which is through him.
Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Philadelphians VIII
For I know and believe that he was in the flesh even after the Resurrection.
And when he came to those with Peter he said to them:
"Take, handle me and see that I am not a phantom without a body."
And they immediately touched him and believed, being mingled both with his flesh and spirit.
Therefore they despised even death, and were proved to be above death.
And after his Resurrection he ate and drank with them as a being of flesh,
although he was united in spirit to the Father.
Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Smyrnaeans III
"I am writing to all the churches and am insisting to everyone that I die for God
of my own free will - unless you hinder me.
I implore you: do not be unseasonably kind to me.
Let me be food for the wild beasts, through whom I can reach God.
I am God's wheat, and I am being ground by the teeth of the wild beasts,
that I may be found pure bread of Christ."
Letter of Ignatius of Antioch to the Romans IV
Eastern Catholic Churches
Historical Foundations of Christianity