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Ignatius of Antioch

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Icon of Ignatius being eaten by lions

St. Ignatius of Antioch (died somewhere between AD 98 - AD 107 as a martyr in Rome) was the third Bishop or Patriarch of Antioch, after Saint Peter and Evodius, who died around AD 68. Eusebius, (Historia Eccl., II.iii.22) records that Ignatius succeeded Euodius. Making his apostolic succession even more immediate, Theodoret (Dial. Immutab., I, iv, 33a) reported that Peter himself appointed Ignatius to the see of Antioch.

Ignatius, who also called himself Theophorus ("vessel of God"), was most likely a disciple of both Apostles Peter and John. Seven of his letters, used by Eusebius, have survived to this day; he is generally considered to be one of the Apostolic Fathers (the earliest authoritative group of the Church Fathers) and a saint by both the Catholic, who celebrate his feast day on February 1, and the Orthodox churches, who celebrate his feast day on December 20. Ignatius based his authority on living his life in imitation of Christ.

Ignatius was arrested by the Roman authorities and transported to Rome under trying conditions:

"From Syria even to Rome I fight with wild beasts, by land and sea, by night and by day, being bound amidst ten leopards, even a company of soldiers, who only grow worse when they are kindly treated." — Ignatius to the Romans,5.

His fate: to die a martyr in the arena. The Roman authorities hoped to make an example of him and thus discourage Christianity from spreading. Instead, he met with and encouraged Christians who flocked to meet him all along his route, and he wrote letters to the churches at Ephesus, Magnesia on the Maeander, Tralles, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and at Rome, as well as a letter to Polycarp, who was Bishop of Smyrna and, according to Christian tradition, a disciple of John the Evangelist.

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 (Paris), 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 Ignatius' martyrdom in the Flavian Amphitheatre, 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 Christian church dedicated to Ignatius. In 637 the relics were translated to St Clement's, Rome.

The letters of Ignatius (if they are authentic, most modern scholars believe those found in the Apostolic Fathers are) have proved to be important testimony to the development of Christian 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 first known Christian writer to put great stress on loyality to a single bishop in each city, who is assisted by both presbyters (priests) and deacons. Earlier writings only mention either bishops or presbyters, and give the impression that there was usually more than one bishop per congregation.

"Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself" [IEph6:1] "your godly bishop" "the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ" "Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him], either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters." "Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father [according to the flesh], and as the Apostles were to Christ and to the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and of spirit." [IMag2:1,6:1,7:1,13:2] "In like manner let all men respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles. Apart from these there is not even the name of a church." [ITr3:1] "follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God's commandment" "He that honoureth the bishop is honoured of God; he that doeth aught without the knowledge of the bishop rendereth service to the devil" [ISmy8:1,9:1], Lightfoot translation

Ignatius also stresses the value of the Eucharist, calling it "a medicine to immortality". 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, but an examination of his theology of soteriology shows that he regarded salvation as being from the power and fear of death. So, for him, to try to escape his martyrdom would be to fear death and place himself back under its power. Ignatius is also the first known Christian writer to advocate replacing the Sabbath with the Lord's Day:

"If then those who had walked in ancient practices attained unto newness of hope, no longer observing Sabbaths but fashioning their lives after the Lord's day, on which our life also arose through Him and through His death which some men deny -- a mystery whereby we attained unto belief, and for this cause we endure patiently, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ our only teacher" — Ignatius to the Magnesians 9.1, Lightfoot translation

By the 5th century, the collection had been enlarged by spurious letters, and the original letters had been improved 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.

External links

de:Ignatius von Antiochien it:Sant'Ignazio di Antiochia nl:Ignatius van Antiochië (heilige) no:Ignatius av Antiokia sk:Ignatios z Antiochie fi:Ignatios

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