Today is the feast of my favorite author among the Fathers of the Church, St. Ignatius of Antioch (ca. 30-108 CE).
His writings witness to an impassioned orthodoxy enwrapped in a love for Christ that still bears the evangelical sparkle of an eyewitness to the Christ-event.
Ignatius was the second Bishop of Antioch, Syria, disciple of the ‘beloved disciple,’ St. John. Tradition says that he was made bishop in Antioch by the apostle Peter. He was deeply beloved by the Christians in that city, and was given the name Theophorus, from Greek Θεοφόρος, ‘God-bearer.’
In 107, during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, Ignatius was sentenced to death and taken under guard to Rome where he was fed to wild beasts in the Colosseum. His long journey toward martyrdom took him through Asia Minor and Greece, and on the way he penned seven seven letters of encouragement, instruction and inspiration – six letters to city-churches, and one to St. Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. These letters are an inestimable treasure for the Church. I have re-read them countless times, and they are always fresh in a manner analogous to Scripture.
I will give you just a sample of his writing. This excerpt reflects Ignatius’ grave concern that Gnostic Christian groups had greatly devalued the authoritative role of the Bishop-presbyter in conserving the unity of faith and charity, and by so doing threatened the God-willed unity of the catholic Church.
“It is right for you to give glory in every way to Jesus Christ who has given glory to you; you must be made holy in all things by being united in perfect obedience, in submission to the bishop and the presbyters…
Since love will not allow me to be silent about you, I am taking the opportunity to urge you to be united in conformity with the mind of God. For Jesus Christ, our life, without whom we cannot live, is the mind of the Father, just as the bishops, appointed over the whole earth, are in conformity with the mind of Jesus Christ.
It is fitting, therefore, that you should be in agreement with the mind of the bishop as in fact you are. Your excellent presbyters, who are a credit to God, are as suited to the bishop as strings to a harp. So in your harmony of mind and heart the song you sing is Jesus Christ. Every one of you should form a choir, so that, in harmony of sound through harmony of hearts, and in unity taking the note from God, you may sing with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father. If you do this, he will listen to you and see from your good works that you are members of his Son. It is then an advantage to you to live in perfect unity, so that at all times you may share in God.”