Ignatius of Antioch

October 17

Ignatius of Antioch lived approximately from 35 to 110. He was known as a bishop and martyr. Probably born in Syria, Ignatius is virtually unknown apart from his letters and journey to martyrdom in Rome under a guard of ten soldiers. Received with honor at Smyrna by Polycarp, he visited neighboring communities and wrote letters of encouragement to churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. In the last he entreated that the Romans do nothing to interfere with his martyrdom. Taken to Troas, he wrote letters to the churches of Philadelphia and Smyrna and to Polycarp. From there he was escorted through Macedonia and Illyria to Dyrrhachium, where he boarded a ship to Italy.


The authenticity of Ignatius’s letters remained heatedly debated from the late fifteenth until the nineteenth century because of interpolations and spurious letters bearing his name. The debate was put to rest with the publication of J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer’s critical edition of The Apostolic Fathers in 1885. The genuine letters reveal a man passionately committed to Christ and intent on martyrdom, “ground by the teeth of wild beasts that I may be found pure bread of Christ” (Rom. 4:1). In the letters to churches he proposed as a solution to threats of division that they “do nothing without the bishop.” The strength of insistence, however, indicates that the churches of Asia Minor did not accord their bishops such authority. Still more, the church at Antioch did not recognize Ignatius in that way. What lay behind the tension is a bit uncertain, but one facet was docetism, the belief that Jesus only appeared to be human. Ignatius emphatically underlined that Jesus was both truly human and truly divine. In connection with that affirmation, he also made much of Holy Communion as the symbol par excellence of the Incarnation and “the medicine of immortality.”


If Ignatius had taken the Spiritual Types Test, he probably would have been a Lover. Ignatius is remembered on October 17.


[Excerpted with permission from the entry on Ignatius of Antioch by E. Glenn Hinson, from The Upper Room Dictionary of Christian Spiritual Formation, edited by Keith Beasley-Topliffe. Copyright © 2003 by Upper Room Books®. All rights reserved.]


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Today's Reflection

Ignatius of Antioch