Skip to comments.St. Ignatius of Antioch and the Early Church
Posted on 10/16/2009 3:59:34 PM PDT by NYer
Sometime around the year 107 A.D., a short, sharp persecution of the Church of Christ resulted in the arrest of the bishop of Antioch in Syria. His name was Ignatius. According to one of the harsh penal practices of the Roman Empire of the day, the good bishop was condemned to be delivered up to wild beasts in the arena in the capital city. The insatiable public appetite for bloody spectacles meant a chronically short supply of victims; prisoners were thus sent off to Rome to help fill the need.
So the second bishop of Antioch was sent to Rome as a
condemned prisoner. According to Church historian Eusebius (ca. 260-ca. 340), Ignatius had been bishop in Antioch for nearly forty years at the time of his arrest. This means that he had been bishop there while some of the original apostles were almost certainly still alive and preaching.
St. Ignatius of Antioch was conducted first by land from Syria across Asia Minor (modern Turkey). He was escorted by a detachment of Roman soldiers. In a letter he sent ahead to the Church of Christ in Rome, this bishop described his ardent wish to imitate the passion of Christ through his own coming martyrdom in the Roman Colosseum. He warned the Christians in Rome not to try to save him. He also spoke of his conflicts with his military escort and of their casual cruelties, describing his guards as "ten leopards". The discipline of the march cannot have been unrelieved, however, since Ignatius was permitted to receive delegations of visitors from local Churches in the cities of Asia Minor through which the escorts and Ignatius passed along the way (To the Romans, 5:1).
In Smyrna (modern Izmir), St. Ignatius met, not only with the bishop of that city, St. Polycarp, but also with delegations from the neighboring cities of Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles. Each delegation was headed by a local bishop. Ignatius wrote thank-you letters to the Christians in each of these cities who had visited the notable but shackled bishop-prisoner. Chiefly through these letters, St. Ignatius of Antioch is known to us today.
Establishing these letters, written in Greek, as authentic and genuinely from the first decade of the second century was one of the triumphs of nineteenth-century British scholarship. Without them, this bishop of Antioch might have remained no more than a name, as obscure as many another early Christian bishop.
Escorted on to the Greek city of Troas on the Aegean Sea, Ignatius wrote yet another letter to the Church at Smyrna, through which he had passed. He also wrote personally to Bishop Polycarp of that city. Finally, from Troas he wrote still another letter to the Philadelphians; the local Church of Philadelphia had despatched two deacons who overtook his party at Troas.
Shortly after writing these seven letters to Churches in Asia Minor, St. Ignatius of Antioch was taken aboard ship. The remainder of his journey to Italy was by sea. Tradition holds that he won his longed-for martyrdom in the Roman amphitheater during the reign of Emperor Trajan (98-117).
But the letters he left behind afford us a precious and remarkable picture of what that Church was like not even two full generations after issuing from the side of Jesus Christ on the Cross.
The adult life of St. Ignatius of Antioch as a second-generation Church leader almost exactly spanned the period of transition between the end of the first Christian generation and the beginning of the third. Thus, his witness about the nature of the Church of his day is of the most profound and fundamental importance.
What was the Church like around the year 107 A.D.? The Church had already spread far and wide since the days of the apostles. St. Ignatius was conducted over a good part of what, today, is Turkey, encountering local Churches in most major towns. At the head of each of these Churches was a principal leader, a bishop. The geographical spread of individual local Churches, each headed by a bishop, is obvious from the fact that Ignatius was met by delegations headed by bishops from each sizeable town along the route.
That St. Ignatius was met by these "official" delegations indicates that local Churches were in close touch with one another. They did not see themselves as independent, self-selected, self-governing congregations of like-minded people; they saw themselves as linked together in the one body of Christ according to an already firmly established, well-understood system, even though they happened to be geographically separated.
The solidarity with which they all turned out to honor a prisoner being led to martyrdom, who also happened to be the bishop of Antioch, tells us something about their respect for the incumbent of that office. Antioch was to become one of the great patriarchal bishoprics of the Church of antiquity, along with Alexandria and Rome--and, later, Constantinople.
Just a reminder to all that is from the Church at Antioch, that the Maronite Catholic Church was born. It predates the Latin Church and is one of the 22 churches that make up the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church.
Interesting. I spent 8 years in Catholic elementary school (and paid attention msot of the time) and never heard this story.
I'll contrast that with 12 years in Catholic school. The closest we came to hearing anything of this nature was when a priest was invited to celebrate the Armenian liturgy of a fellow student. It came as quite a surprise, Sister prepared us by explaining that the host would be a bread cube dipped in wine.
Although it is not widely known in our Western world, the Catholic Church is actually a communion of Churches. According to the Constitution on the Church of the Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, the Catholic Church is understood to be "a corporate body of Churches," united with the Pope of Rome, who serves as the guardian of unity (LG, no. 23). At present there are 22 Churches that comprise the Catholic Church. The new Code of Canon Law, promulgated by Pope John Paul II, uses the phrase "autonomous ritual Churches" to describe these various Churches (canon 112). Each Church has its own hierarchy, spirituality, and theological perspective. Because of the particularities of history, there is only one Western Catholic Church, while there are 21 Eastern Catholic Churches. The Western Church, known officially as the Latin Church, is the largest of the Catholic Churches. It is immediately subject to the Roman Pontiff as Patriarch of the West. The Eastern Catholic Churches are each led by a Patriarch, Major Archbishop, or Metropolitan, who governs their Church together with a synod of bishops. Through the Congregation for Oriental Churches, the Roman Pontiff works to assure the health and well-being of the Eastern Catholic Churches.
While this diversity within the one Catholic Church can appear confusing at first, it in no way compromises the Church's unity. In a certain sense, it is a reflection of the mystery of the Trinity. Just as God is three Persons, yet one God, so the Church is 22 Churches, yet one Church.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church summarizes this nicely:
"From the beginning, this one Church has been marked by a great diversity which comes from both the variety of God's gifts and the diversity of those who receive them... Holding a rightful place in the communion of the Church there are also particular Churches that retain their own traditions. The great richness of such diversity is not opposed to the Church's unity" (CCC no. 814).
Although there are 22 Churches, there are only eight "Rites" that are used among them. A Rite is a "liturgical, theological, spiritual and disciplinary patrimony," (Code of Canons of the Eastern Churches, canon 28). "Rite" best refers to the liturgical and disciplinary traditions used in celebrating the sacraments. Many Eastern Catholic Churches use the same Rite, although they are distinct autonomous Churches. For example, the Ukrainian Catholic Church and the Melkite Catholic Church are distinct Churches with their own hierarchies. Yet they both use the Byzantine Rite.
To learn more about the "two lungs" of the Catholic Church, visit this link:
The Vatican II Council declared that "all should realize it is of supreme importance to understand, venerate, preserve, and foster the exceedingly rich liturgical and spiritual heritage of the Eastern churches, in order faithfully to preserve the fullness of Christian tradition" (Unitatis Redintegrato, 15).
A Roman rite Catholic may attend any Eastern Catholic Liturgy and fulfill his or her obligations at any Eastern Catholic Parish. A Roman rite Catholic may join any Eastern Catholic Parish and receive any sacrament from an Eastern Catholic priest, since all belong to the Catholic Church as a whole. I am a Roman Catholic practicing my faith at a Maronite Catholic Church. Like the Chaldeans, the Maronites retain Aramaic for the Consecration. It is as close as one comes to being at the Last Supper.
Please freepmail me if you would like more information on the Eastern Catholic Churches.
it is exactly this type of history that ISNT BEING TAUGHT ANYWHERE, and oddly enough, when you read it, you see NOTHING OF ANY TYPE OF ‘REFORMATION’ THEOLOGY....
am i the only one who sees this?
these and other types of catholic threads inherently bring out the little protestants from whatever version of their local “Church of Jesus, The Bible Alone and ME”, claiming they have all they need in that bible and well, frankly, why that silly pesky church history that shows NADA, ZIP, ZILCH of any of their theology, cant be trusted, etc...
how these modern protestants with their modern bibles can claim a better knowledge of scripture and the church as opposed to the church fathers and CATHOLIC SUCCESSORS TO THE APOSTLES, APPOINTED BY THE APOSTLES THEMSELVES,who actually walked and talked with the apostles.....
is it just me?
NYer. St. Ignatious of Antiochs writings were one of the final nails in the coffin for me to convert. When I saw what was written by him about the Eucharist, the Church being Catholic, the orderly organization already established, and the way he spoke to the faithful as if this were so the norm that to assume otherwise would be a leap of faith was instrumental in bringing me home.
Thanks for posting!
No, and that is why I’m a Catholic today!
Bump for later Saturday reading!
Maybe my favorite saint...definitely my favorite quotable saint.
I want to have “I am God’s good wheat, I shall be ground to a fine loaf for him” put on a T-shirt
It's like they say; if it doesn't talk like a duck, or if it doesn't walk like a duck and if it doesn't even look like a duck, well then, it's not a duck...
And Paul even warns us about 'early' religious people:
2Co 2:17 For we are not as many, which corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ.
Sure, you're group was around in that era...
Any one can make the claim they are the real, first church...But if your's is the real religion of the bible, it out to some how resemble it, don't ya think???