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St. Ignatius of Antioch.

Despite the notion that he was the baby cradled by Jesus at Mark 9:35, Ignatius was Syrian-born around AD 35, soon after the Crucifixion. His Letter To The Romans may suggest that like Paul he was a persecutor before his own conversion. Origen says he followed Peter as second Bishop of Antioch; Eusebius puts him third, after Euodius, remarking, "He was becoming famous at this time" (AD 69).

Ignatius stresses that he was also called Theophoros, meaning (it depends on the Greek accent) either "Bearer of God" or "Borne by God".

The former, also an epithet of the Apostles, is more likely. It may imply missionary fieldwork. Though not mentioned in Acts, he was coeval with the Apostles--"As early as the letters of Ignatius, we are completely in the atmosphere of the Church Militant" (Northrop Frye, The Great Code: The Bible And Literature).

One distinguished victim of Trajan's persecution (AD 98-117) was Symeon, Bishop of Jerusalem, son of Cleophas, the reputed cousin of Christ.

Ignatius, like Paul, was transported to Rome, instead of summary execution, perhaps implying Roman citizenship; he certainly had no desire to avoid martyrdom by direct appeal to the Emperor. He describes (Romans 5) his captors as "ten leopards," first classical mention of this beast, probably referring to the special force used against outlaws but frequently mentioned in martyrologies, a tribute to the reluctant Roman respect for Christians.

Ignatius begged the Church at Rome not to intervene: "Let me suffer fire and cross and wild beasts, rackings of bones and limbs, the crushing of my entire body," adding in words that much affected Irenaeus and Eusebius, "I am God's wheat, ground by the teeth of the beasts, that I may be found pure bread." He perished in the Colosseum, becoming as Eusebius puts it "food for wild animals because of his testimony to Christ," fixing the year as 108. Feast days: 17 October (West), 20 December (East). Later eulogists include John Chrysostom, who devoted an entire speech to his martyrdom, and the Byzantine Patriarch, Photius.

En route to Rome, Ignatius composed Paulinian Letters to the Churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Philadelphia, Rome, Smyrna, and Tralles, also a personal one to Polycarp. Significantly for an Antiochene, he accords prominence to the Church at Rome. His overriding concerns are unity and giving all bishops (his word for which, "Episkopos", first occurs in Paul) the respect and authority necessary for this end. Such Pauline prescriptions prefigure the tight Church organization that would be one factor in its victory over paganism. Ignatius stressed the unified nature of Christ, in Trinitarian terms. He deplores the heresy of Docetism--hinted at in 1 John 4:1-3 & 2 John 7--gnostically developed into claims that Christ's earthly appearance was an illusion and his death a sham. He also (says Photius) combatted the Nicolaites, heretics who advocated pagan practices dangerous enough to warrant two attacks in Revelations (2:6 & 2:14-15).

Along with Acts 20:7, Ignatius (Magnesians 9) is the earliest evidence for Sabbath observances, and is credited by Byzantine Church historians with inventing the Antiphon--in Ephesians 4 and Romans 2, he alludes to religious song. Hence, this early Father and martyr played a part in the history of music--an agreeable final note for one who (as Eusebius proclaimed) "to this day is universally remembered."

Further reading: Ignatius' Letters are most convenient in Kirsopp Lake's Loeb edition. Two accessible books, both titled Ignatius of Antioch, are those of R.M.Grant (1966) and W.Schoedel (1985). A quick "Googling" discloses his rich Internet presence, some 23,000 sites, including the complete text of his entry in The Catholic Encyclopedia.

Barry Baldwin is Emeritus Professor of Classics at the University of Calgary.
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Title Annotation:Fathers Of The Church
Author:Baldwin, Barry
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Apr 1, 2004
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