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Ignatius of Antioch (also known as Theophorus) (ca. 35 or 50-between 98 and 117) was among the Apostolic Fathers, was the third Bishop and Patriarch of Antioch, and was possibly a student of John the Apostle. En route to his martyrdom in Romemarker, Ignatius wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of very early Christian theology. Important topics addressed in these letters include ecclesiology, the sacraments, and the role of bishops.

Ignatius' feast day is observed on 20 December in Byzantine Christianity. In Western and Syriac Christianity his feast is celebrated on 17 October. He is celebrated on 1 February by those following the General Roman Calendar of 1962.

Early life

St. Ignatius was Bishop of Antioch after Saint Peter and St. Evodius (who died around AD 67). Eusebius records that St. Ignatius succeeded St. 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.

Besides his Latin name, Ignatius, he also called himself Theophorus ("God Bearer"), and tradition says he was one of the children Jesus took in His arms and blessed. St. Ignatius may have been a disciple of the Apostle John.

St. Ignatius is one of the Apostolic Fathers (the earliest authoritative group of the Church Fathers). He based his authority on being a bishop of the Church, living his life in the imitation of Christ.

Martyrdom

Epistles attributed to St. Ignatius report his arrest by the authorities and travel to Romemarker:

Along the route he wrote six letters to the churches in the region and one to a fellow bishop.

He was sentenced to die in the Colosseummarker, to be eaten by lions.

In his Chronicle, Eusebius gives the date of his death as AA 2124 (2124 years after Adam), which would amount to the 11th year of Trajan, i.e. 108 AD.His body lies entombed under St. Peter's Basilicamarker in Rome.

Letters

The seven letters considered to be authentic are:



By the 5th century, this authentic collection had been enlarged by spurious letters, and some of 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 (Parismarker), 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 St. Ignatius' martyrdom in the Flavian Amphitheatremarker, 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 church dedicated to Ignatius. In 637 the relics were translated to the Church of St Clement in Rome.

The letters of St. Ignatius have proved to be important testimony to the development of catholic 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 earliest known catholic writer to emphasize loyalty to a single bishop in each city (or diocese) who is assisted by both presbyters (priests, a.k.a. elders) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters, and give the impression that there was usually more than one bishop per congregation. For instance, while the offices of bishop, presbyter (priest) and deacon appear apostolic in origin, the titles of "bishop" and "presbyter" could be used interchangeably.

St. Ignatius 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 bravely face martyrdom.

St. Ignatius is claimed to be the first known Christian writer to argue in favor of Christianity's replacement of the Sabbath with the Lord's Day:

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

It is from the word katholikos that the word "catholic" comes. When Ignatius wrote the Letter to the Smyrnaeans in about the year 107 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 appellation "catholic Church" with its ecclesial connotation may have been in use as early as the last quarter of the first century.

On the Eucharist, Ignatius wrote in his letter to the Smyrnaeans:

Saint Ignatius's most famous quotation, however, comes from his letter to the Romans:



Letters of Pseudo-Ignatius

Epistles attributed to Saint Ignatius but of spurious origin include:
  • 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
  • Reply of the Blessed Virgin to this Letter


References

  1. See "Ignatius" in The Westminster Dictionary of Church History, ed. Jerald Brauer (Philadelphia:Westminster, 1971) and also David Hugh Farmer, "Ignatius of Antioch" in The Oxford Dictionary of the Saints (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987).
  2. Calendarium Romanum (Vatican City, 1969).
  3. Historia Ecclesiastica, II.iii.22.
  4. The Martyrdom of Ignatius
  5. From the Latin translation of Jerome, Chronicle, p. 276.
  6. newadvent.org: Spurious Epistles of St. Ignatius of Antioch




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