As you know, we are studying Church History. Before we move on to the ‘please, dear emperor, accept us’ I thought we’d take a break and study —
Ignatius of Antioch
This week, we are getting into the early 2nd century where we will encounter the need for Christians to establish themselves as a state religion in the Roman Empire. Contrary to what you’ve may have heard, Rome did not really care about your personal religion. What they respected was ‘hollowed antiquity.’ This is why the Jews could get away with not worshipping Jove or the other gods and goddess. Because they could show by their Scriptures just how ancient they were.
In come the Christians whom the Jews said weren’t really Jews. That means the Christians were new — or, in the eyes of the Romans, atheists. They were suspect. So, for the next few centuries, we will encounter intellectuals who sought to present the Christian faith as ancient and politically supportive of the Empire while maintaining certain independent positions previously afforded only to the Jews.
Before that, we must encounter Ignatius of Antioch. His letters survive in (generally) two forms — the longer and the shorter. Many scholars see the shorter versions of the epistles as the more authentic (some settle for what they call a middle recension) so we will only quote from them.
Ignatius is best remembered, perhaps, for inventing two words — apostolic and catholic.
Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the holy Church which is at Tralles, in Asia, beloved of God, the Father of Jesus Christ, elect, and worthy of God, possessing peace through the flesh, and blood, and passion of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, through our rising again to Him, which also I salute in its fulness, and in the apostolical character, and wish abundance of happiness.
Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.
As regards to this, we might better read it church universal, or, universal church. Why is this designation important? I would point to one reason — Ignatius understood ecumenical missions better than most today. He was a bishop of a long-standing Asian (note, this is according to Roman geography) church going to Rome to be executed. Later, the Asian Churches and Rome would have severe disagreements — and these disagreements are still manifest today in the Great Schism. For Ignatius, however, the Church is founded on Christ, so regardless of other differences, if Christ is present (and no doubt, present in the Eucharist), then it is the Church.
Other things to note from Ignatius — he has established a hierarchy that is far more reaching than the Roman one we saw in Clement. While the Church is founded on Christ, the Bishop/Elder/Overseer is who brings Christ to the Table.
See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God
One final thing Ignatius provides for us is an early view on the nature of the bread and the wine,
Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels, and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation. “He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.” Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is3 faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.
The discussion this week will focus on Ignatius. Some of the questions to consider as you read Ignatius are
- Who is Jesus Christ to Ignatius?
- Why did he feel the need to be martyred and not otherwise rescued (or his freedom purchased)
- What does ‘catholic’ mean?
- Can we find his view of the Eucharist anywhere today?
- Can we find his view of the Church Government anywhere today?
- And of course, does this matter to our faith, in this modern world, right here, right now while the world is waking up from history?
 Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus (ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe; vol. 1; Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 166.
 Ignatius of Antioch, “The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnæans,” in The Ante-Nicene Fathers: The Apostolic Fathers with Justin Martyr and Irenaeus, 190.
 ibid, 189.
 ibid, 188–89.
- Ignatius of Antioch (late 1st century – c. 115) on the reality of Christ’s human nature vis-à-vis Docetism (deovivendiperchristum.wordpress.com)
- Trinitarian and Cultic Imagination: Ignatian Christology (Part II) (swilhite.wordpress.com)
- St. Ignatius of Antioch: . . . if anyone follow a schismatic . . . (orthodoxchurchquotes.com)
- Jesus as a Divine Human: Ignatian Christology (Part III) (swilhite.wordpress.com)
- Ignatian Christology (Part I) (swilhite.wordpress.com)
- How early are the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity? (winteryknight.wordpress.com)