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Oct 17 – St Ignatius of Antioch (c.37-107) bishop and martyr

17 October, 2012

On his way to Rome, Ignatius's only fear was that the Romans might find a way to stop his martyrdom.

iggiIgnatius of Antioch, also called “Theophoros”, meaning “God-bearer”, was an early martyr, who is known from the seven letters he wrote to various churches in Asia Minor on his way to martyrdom in Rome. The text of these letters has come down to us. He is especially noted for his strong theology of the humanity of Jesus and his presence in the Eucharist. He also promoted the role of the bishop as a figure of unity in the Church. Patrick Duffy tells what is known about him.

Bishop of Antioch
The city of Antioch on the Orontes was founded in 300 BC by Seleucus I, king of Syria, and named for his father Antiochus Soter, a Macedonian general. It was one of the largest in the Roman Empire. It was a key location during the early years of Christianity, and it was there that “the disciples were first called ‘Christians’ (Acts 11:26). Ignatius was the second or third bishop there. During the reign of the Emperor Trajan (98-117), when he was already an old man, he was brought to Rome under military guard.

Letters
On the way Ignatius stopped at Smyrna, where he was able to meet St Polycarp, then a young man. From Smyrna, he wrote four letters: to the churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles and Rome. At Troas, he wrote his remaining letters to Polycarp and to the churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna.

In the Letters, Ignatius stresses:

  1. The humanity, the flesh and blood character, of Jesus as redeemer: “truly nailed up in the flesh for our sakes under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch” (Smyrnaens 1:2);
  2. The reality of his presence in the Eucharist: “Take note of those who hold strange opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God. . . . They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1);
  3. The bishop as the focal point of the unity of the Church: “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” (Smyrnaeans 8:2).

His longing for martyrdom
On his way to Rome, Ignatius’s only fear was that the Romans might find a way to stop his martyrdom. He leaves them in no doubt as to what he wanted:

Let me be given to the wild beasts, for through them I can attain unto God. I am God’s wheat, and I am ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread [of Christ.  Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my sepulchre and may leave no part of my body behind, so that I may not, when I am fallen asleep, be burdensome to any one. Then shall I be truly a disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not so much as see my body. Ask the Lord for me, that through these instruments I may be found a sacrifice to God (Romans 4:1-2).

Igi of AntDeath and influence
Not long after his arrival in Rome he won his long-coveted crown of martyrdom when he was thrown to the wild animals in the Colosseum. His name is included in the Roman Canon (First Eucharistic Prayer).