Even when Roman authorities tolerated Christians for long periods, the threat of persecution was always present. At the beginning of the second century, that threat again became reality at Antioch of Syria, the third largest city of the Roman Empire, situated on the Orontes River north of the Lebanon range. Acts 11:26 says the followers of Christ were first called Christians at this Antioch in Syria. (Another Antioch was in Pisidia, now Turkey.)
In later centuries when the Church became "established" and no longer suffered bloody persecution, the idea of martyrdom did not disappear, but it took other forms: writers of the Eastern Church often regarded the monastic life as an equivalent to martyrdom. The same approach is found also in the West: take, for instance, a Celtic text -- an Irish homily of the seventh century -- which likens the ascetic life to the way of the martyr:
"Now there are three kinds of martyrdom which are accounted as a Cross to a man: white martyrdom, green martyrdom, and red martyrdom. White martyrdom consists in a man's abandoning everything he loves for God's sake.... Green martyrdom consists in this, that by means of fasting and labor he frees himself from his evil desires, or suffers toil in penance and repentance. Red martyrdom consists in the endurance of a Cross of death for Christ's sake."
St. Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch in Syria (A.D. 67- 107), was destined for the red martyrdom. We meet him in these epistles already doomed to death, a convict in chains guarded by ten Roman soldiers, making his way by slow stages from Antioch to Rome. So bright was the testimony of his faith it was said he went from the East to the West like a fiery meteor streaking across the night sky.
During two pauses on the journey, he wrote these seven letters, full of vigorous warnings, solemn exaltations, and the passionate desire to be simultaneously alive, proclaiming Christ, and to die for Christ. He was cast to the lions and martyred in the Flavian amphitheater in Rome, about A.D. 107.
The collection of these Epistles of Ignatius, made by Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, is mentioned by Irenaeus, Origen, Eusebius, Jerome, Athanasius, Theodoret, and other ancients.
Archbishop Usher printed old Latin translations of them at Oxford in 1644. At Amsterdam, two years afterwards, Vossius printed six of them in their ancient and pure Greek. The seventh, greatly amended from the ancient Latin version, was printed at Paris by Ruinart in 1689, in the Acts and Martyrdom of Ignatius, from a Greek uninterpolated copy.
Considerable differences existed in these editions; the best for a long time extant containing fabrications, and the genuine being altered and corrupted. Archbishop Wake translated The Epistles of Ignatius into English from the text of Vossius after taking great pains to render his translation acceptable.
1. Commends them for sending Onesimus and other members of the church to him. 8. Exhorts them to unity, 13. by a due subjection to their bishop.
1. Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the church which is at Ephesus in Asia, and most deservedly happy, being blessed through the greatness and fullness of God the Father, and predestined before the world began to an enduring and unchangeable glory, united and chosen through his true passion, according to the will of the Father and Jesus Christ our God. I wish you all happiness by means of Jesus Christ and his undefiled grace.
See similar sentiments by Paul in Ephesians 3:13- 19. "Theophorus" was an honorific title, meaning "light of God." Ephesus is in present-day Turkey. It was once the home of the Virgin Mary and St. John.
2. I have heard of your name as one much
beloved in God, which you have very justly attained by a habit of
righteousness, according to the faith and love which is in Jesus
Christ our Savior.
3. How that being followers [imitators] of God and stirring up yourselves by the blood of Christ, you have perfectly accomplished the work that was con-natural to you.
Here "followers" does not simply mean one who follows, but imitators.
4. For when you heard that I was coming bound from Syria for the common name and hope, trusting through your prayers to fight with beasts at Rome so that by suffering I may become indeed the disciple of him who gave himself to God an offering and sacrifice for us, you hastened to see me. I received, therefore, in the name of God, your whole multitude in Onesimus.
Compare the phrase "an offering and sacrifice" with Paul's epistle: "And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an suffering and a sacrifice to God..." (Ephesians 5:2)
Onesimus was a slave of Philemon converted by Paul in Rome (Philemon 10-17) and later, with Tychicus, carried Paul's letters to Colosse and to Philemon (Colossians 4:7-9), where Paul calls him "a faithful and beloved brother." It is believed this is the same Onesimus mentioned here and in the next verse, forty years later, as the bishop of Ephesus.
5. Who by inexpressible love is ours, but
according to the flesh in your bishop, whom I implore you by
Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all strive to be like to
him. And you, who are so worthy of him, are blessed by God who
granted to you to possess such an excellent bishop.
6. For what concerns my fellow servant Burrhus, your most blessed deacon in things pertaining to God, I entreat you that he may stay for a time longer, both for yours and your bishop's honor.
7. And Crocus, also worthy both of our God and you, whom I have received as the exemplar of your love, has in all things refreshed me; and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ shall also refresh him, together with Onesimus, and Burrhus, and Euclus, and Fronto, in whom I have, as to your charity, seen all of you. And may I always have the joy of you, if I shall be worthy of it.
8. It is therefore fitting that you should by all means glorify Jesus Christ who has glorified you; that by a uniform obedience you may be joined together perfectly in the same mind and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same things concerning everything.
Compare with: "Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and [that] there be no divisions among you; but [that] ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment." (1 Corinthians 1:10)
9. That by being subject to your bishop and
the presbytery, you may be wholly and thoroughly sanctified.
10. These things I prescribe to you, not as if I were somebody extraordinary; for though I am bound because of his name, I am not yet perfect in Christ Jesus. But now I begin to learn, and I speak to you as fellow disciples together with me.
11. For I ought to have been stirred up by you in faith, in admonition, in patience, in long-suffering; but because charity does not permit me to be silent towards you, I have first taken upon me to exhort you, that you would all run together according to the will of God.
For the Christian life as a race, compare with: "Know ye not that they which run in a race run all, but one receiveth the prize? So run, that ye may obtain." (1 Corinthians 9:24); "I have fought a good fight, I have finished [my] course, I have kept the faith." (2 Timothy 4:7); "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset [us], and let us run with patience the race that is set before us." (Hebrews 12:)
12. For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable
life, is sent by the will of the Father; just as the bishops,
appointed to the utmost bounds of the earth, are by the will of
13. Therefore it will suit you to run together according to the will of your bishop, as you already do.
Here, as in verse 9, and indeed throughout all his writings, Ignatius urges disciplined obedience to the hierarchy of the Church. And here, as in verse 11, he urges that all Christians run the spiritual race together.
14. For your famous presbytery, worthy of
God, is adjusted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to
15. Therefore in your concord and charitable agreement, Jesus Christ is sung, and every single person among you makes up the chorus:
16. That so being all consonant in love, and taking up the song of God, you may in a perfect unity with one voice sing to the Father by Jesus Christ, with the result that he may both hear you and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of his Son.
17. The reason it is profitable for you to live in an unblamable unity is so you may always share fellowship with God.
1. The benefit of subjection. 4. The bishop is not to be respected the less because he is not bold in exacting it. 8. He warns them against heretics, bidding them to stay close to Jesus, whose divine and human nature is declared; he commends them for their care to keep themselves from false teachers and shows them the way to God.
1. For if I in this little time have had
such a familiarity with your bishop, I mean not a carnal, but
spiritual acquaintance with him; how much more must I think you
happy who are so joined to him, as the church is to Jesus Christ,
and Jesus Christ to the Father so that all things may agree in
the same unity?
2. Let no man deceive himself: if a man be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. For if the prayers of one or two be of such force as we are told, how much more powerful shall that of the bishop and the whole church be?
Following his constant theme that spirituality is found in full participation with the Church, by the "bread of God" Ignatius refers to participation in the Eucharist (Luke 22:19, 20; 1 Corinthians 11:23-25)
About his emphasis on communal prayer, compare with: "Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven. For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." (Matthew 18:19, 20)
It is interesting to note that Ignatius was one of the earliest witnesses to the existence of the Gospel According to Matthew, believed written A.D. 50-75 (it could have been as early as A.D. 50 but more likely after the fall of Jerusalem in A.D. 70) during a period of years while Matthew resided in Antioch, where the church was a strong, mixed community of Jewish and Gentile Christians.
3. He therefore that does not come together in the same place with it, is proud and has already condemned [judged, or separated] himself. For it is written, God resists the proud. Let us take heed therefore, that we do not set ourselves against the bishop, but that we may be subject to God.
The phrase "already condemned himself" means already judged, or separated himself from the sacramental life of the Church. On pride, he is either quoting James 4:6 or the Septuagint version of Proverbs 3:34, which in fact James is quoting. Compare with: "But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." (James 4:6); the reference is to Proverbs 3:34, which the King James Version translates: "Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly," while the Septuagint reads: "The Lord resists the proud; but he gives grace to the humble."
4. The more anyone sees his bishop silent,
the more let him revere him. For whomever the master of the house
sends to be over his own household, we ought to receive him in
the same way as we would do to him that sent him. It is therefore
evident that we ought to look upon the bishop even as we would do
upon the Lord himself.
5. And indeed Onesimus himself greatly commends your good order in God: that you all live according to the truth, and that no heresy dwells among you. For neither do you pay heed to anyone more than to Jesus Christ speaking to you in truth.
6. For there are some who carry about the name of Christ in deceitfulness, but do things unworthy of God; these you must flee, as you would do so many wild beasts. For they are ravening dogs who bite secretly: against whom you must guard yourselves, as men hardly to be cured.
7. There is one physician, both of the body and the spirit, made and not made: true life in death, God incarnate, both of Mary and of God; first passible, then impassible; I mean Jesus Christ our Lord.
Ignatius fervently holds to orthodoxy on the Church, the Trinity, and the Two Natures in Christ.
8. For this reason let no man deceive you, as indeed you are not deceived, being wholly the servants of God. For because there is no contention nor strife among you to trouble you, you live according to God's will. My soul be for yours, and I myself the expiatory offering for your church of Ephesus, so famous throughout the world.
Compare with: "Yet now, if thou wilt forgive their sin --; and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written." (Exodus 32:32); "For I could wish that myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh." (Romans 9:3)
What Moses and Paul were willing to do for the Jews, Ignatius is willing to do for the Church. So great is his love for Christians, the phrase "my soul be for yours" is repeated throughout his letters.
9. They that are of the flesh cannot do the works of the Spirit; neither they that are of the Spirit the works of the flesh. Just as he that has faith cannot be an infidel, nor he that is an infidel have faith. But even those things which you do according to the flesh are spiritual, because you do all things in Jesus Christ.
For references on the conflict of flesh (in its ethical sense) and spirit, compare with: "For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded [is] death; but to be spiritually minded [is] life and peace. Because the carnal mind [is] enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ [be] in you, the body [is] dead because of sin; but the Spirit [is] life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God." (Romans 8:3-14)
"For all that [is] in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." (1 John 2:16); see also 2 Peter 2:10.
10. Nevertheless I have heard of some who have come your way who had perverse doctrine, whom you did not permit to sow among you, but stopped up your ears so that you might not receive those things that were sown by them, thus being worthy stones of the temple of the Father, prepared for his building and drawn up on high by the Cross of Christ, as by an engine.
For "being worthy stones of the temple of the Father" compare with: "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner [stone]; In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit." (Ephesians 2:20-22); "Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 2:5)
For "as by an engine," see Romans 1:16, where "power" is the Greek word "dunamis," meaning energy of physical force in motion, energetic, forceful, etc. It is from this Greek word we get the words dynamic, dynamite, and dynamo, hence an engine.
11. Using the Holy Spirit as the rope, your
faith being your support, and your charity the way that leads to
12. You are therefore, with all your companions in the same journey, full of God; you are his spiritual temples, full of Christ, full of holiness, and adorned in all things with the commands of Christ.
13. In whom also I rejoice that I have been thought worthy by this present epistle to converse and rejoice together with you that, with respect to the other life, you love nothing but God only.
1. He exhorts them to prayer, and to be unblamable. 5. To be careful of salvation, 11. frequent in public devotion, 13. and to live in charity.
1. Pray also without ceasing for other men,
for there is hope of repentance in them, that they may attain to
God. Let them therefore at least be instructed by your works, if
they will be no other way.
2. Be mild at their anger, humble at their boasting; to their blasphemies return your prayers; to their error, your firmness in the faith. When they are cruel, you be gentle, not endeavoring to imitate their ways.
3. (Let us be their brethren in all kindness and moderation, but let us be followers of the Lord. For who was ever more unjustly used? More destitute? More despised?)
4. So that no herb of the devil may be found in you, but in Christ Jesus you may remain in all holiness and sobriety, both of body and spirit.
For "herb of the devil," compare with: "...lest there should be among you a root that beareth gall and wormwood." (Deuteronomy 29:18); "...lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble [you], and thereby many be defiled." (Hebrews 12:15)
5. The last times are come upon us [remains, or it remains]: let us therefore be very reverent and fear the long- suffering of God, so that it will not be to our condemnation.
References to the "last days (of time)" are in Isaiah 2:2; Daniel 2:28, 12:9; Micah 4:1; Acts 2:17, 2 Timothy 3:1,2; Peter 3:3. The phrase here "come upon us" can be translated "remains" or "it remains."
6. For let us either fear the wrath that is to come, or let us love the grace we at present enjoy so that, by one or the other, we may be found in Christ Jesus to true life.
It is unclear whether Ignatius refers to the wrath of coming persecutions by men, or the coming wrath of God against sinners.
7. Other than him, let nothing be worthy of
you; for whom also I bear about these bonds, those spiritual
jewels, in which I hope to God that I might arise through your
8. Of which I entreat you to make me always partaker, that through the power of Jesus Christ I may be found in the group of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always agreed with the Apostles.
9. [New paragraph in the oldest extant manuscripts] I know both who I am, and to whom I write: I, a person condemned; you, such as have obtained mercy; I, exposed to danger; you, made firm against danger.
10. You are the passage-way of those that are killed for God; the companions of Paul in the mysteries of the Gospel; the holy, the martyr, the deservedly most happy Paul, at whose feet may I be found when I shall have attained to God; who throughout all his epistle, makes mention of you in Christ Jesus.
11. Take care therefore to come more fully together to praise and glorify God. For when you meet fully together in the same place, the powers of the devil are destroyed, and his mischief is dissolved by the unity of their faith.
12. And nothing indeed is better than peace, by which all war both spiritual and earthly is abolished.
For "war both spiritual and earthly," some copies read "of things in heaven and of things on earth."
13. Nothing of this is hidden from you if
you have perfect faith and charity in Christ Jesus, which are the
beginning and end of life.
14. For the beginning is faith, the end is charity. These two joined together are of God, and all other things which concern a holy life are the consequences of these.
15. No man professing a true faith sins, neither does he who has charity hate anyone.
16. The tree is revealed by its fruit; so they who profess themselves to be Christians are known by what they do.
Compare with: "Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance." (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:8); "A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither [can] a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.... Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them." (Matthew 7:18, 20); "Herein is my Father glorified, that ye bear much fruit; so shall ye be my disciples." (John 15:8)
17. For Christianity is not the work of an
outward profession, but shows itself in the power of faith, if a
man be found faithful to the end.
18. It is better for a man to hold his peace, and be; than to say he is a Christian and not to be.
19. It is good for him to teach, providing he does as he says.
20. There is therefore one master who spoke, and it was done; and even those things which he did without speaking are worthy of the Father.
21. He who possesses the word of Jesus is truly able to hear his very silence, that he may be perfect, and both do according to what he speaks, and be known by those things of which he is silent.
22. There is nothing hid from God, for even our secrets are close to him.
23. Let us therefore do all things appropriate to those who have God dwelling in them, so that we may be his temples and he may be our God, which he is. By those things for which we justly love him, he will reveal himself before our faces.
1. On being custodians of the Gospel. 9. The virginity of Mary, the Incarnation, and the death of Christ were hid from the Devil. 11. How the birth of Christ was revealed. 16. Exhortations to unity.
1. Be not deceived, my brethren: those that corrupt families by adultery will not inherit the kingdom of God.
See 1 Corinthians 6:9, 10. Here Ignatius, like Paul, refers to actual, not figurative adultery, as in the following verse.
2. If therefore they who do this according to the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall he die, who by his wicked doctrine corrupts the faith of God for which Christ was crucified?
Compare with: "Neither let us commit fornication, as some of them committed, and fell in one day three and twenty thousand." (1 Corinthians 10:8); the reference is to Numbers 25:1-9, but the number there is twenty and four thousand. A Christian's disloyalty to Christ is a spiritual equivalent to physical adultery or fornication.
3. He who is thus defiled will depart into
unquenchable fire, and so also will he that hearkens to him.
4. For this reason the Lord allowed the ointment to be poured on his head, so that he might breathe the breath of immortality to his church.
5. Do not therefore be anointed with the evil scent of the doctrine of the prince of this world; do not let him take you captive from the life that is set before you.
6. And why are we not all wise, seeing we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ? Why do we permit ourselves to perish foolishly, not knowing the gift the Lord has truly sent to us?
7. Let my life be sacrificed for the doctrine of the cross, which is indeed a scandal to the unbelievers, but to us is salvation and life eternal.
Compare with: "For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.... But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18, 23, 24)
8. Where is the wise man? Where is the disputer? Where is the boasting of those who are called wise?
Compare with: "Where [is] the wise? where [is] the scribe? where [is] the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Corinthians 1:20)
9. For our God Jesus Christ was, according
to the dispensation of God, conceived by the Holy Spirit in the
womb of Mary, who was of the lineage of David; he was born and
baptized, that through his passion he might purify water for the
washing away of sin.
10. Now the Virginity of Mary, and he who was born of her, was kept in secret from the prince of this world, as was also the death of our Lord: three of the mysteries the most spoken of throughout the world, yet done in secret by God.
The designation "prince of this world" refers to Satan (see John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11). "Done in secret" can be translated "in silence, or quietness;" compare with: "Now to him that is of power to stablish you according to my gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began. But now is made manifest, and by the scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith." (Romans 16:25)
11. How then was our Savior revealed to the
world? A star shone in heaven, beyond all the other stars, and
its light was inexpressible, and its novelty struck terror into
men's minds. All the rest of the stars, together with the sun and
moon, were the chorus to this star, but that one sent out its
light exceedingly above them all.
12. And men began to be troubled to think how this novel star came so unlike to all the others.
For the story of the wise men and the star, see Matthew 2:2-10. See also the Protevangelion of James 15:7.
13. From this all the power of magic became
dissolved, and every bond of wickedness was destroyed; men's
ignorance was taken away, and the old kingdom abolished; God
himself was appearing in the form of a man for the renewal of
14. From that time began what God had prepared; from then on things were disturbed because he designed to abolish death.
15. But if Jesus Christ will give me grace through your prayers, and it be his will, I purpose soon to write a second epistle to you to disclose more fully the dispensation of which I have now begun to speak concerning Jesus Christ, who is the new man, both in his faith and charity, in his suffering, and in his resurrection.
16. Especially if the Lord will make known to me that you all by name come together in common in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David according to the flesh, the Son of man and Son of God, by obeying your bishop and the presbytery with an entire mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality and our antidote so that we should not die, but live forever in Christ Jesus.
17. My soul be for yours and for theirs whom you have sent to the glory of God, even to Smyrna, from where also I write to you, giving thanks to the Lord and loving Polycarp even as I do you. Remember me as Jesus Christ remembers you.
Polycarp was the bishop of Smyrna, a city north of Ephesus. Polycarp had received his bishopric at the hands of St. John, and was a young man, perhaps no more than thirty-five when Ignatius passed through Smyrna.
18. Pray for the church in Syria, from
where I am carried bound to Rome, being the least of all the
faithful which are there, as I have been thought worthy to be
found to the glory of God.
19. Farewell in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ, our common hope. Amen.
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