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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Ignatius Of Antioch

October 14, 2014 saints No Comments

By CAROLE BRESLIN

Who are the fathers of the Church? They were holy men of God; most were bishops, although some were priests and one man, St. Justin the Martyr, was a layman. They lived primarily in the first three centuries of Christianity, but one of the fathers died in 750, generally considered the end of the Church fathers’ era.
They are regarded as “fathers” because of their holiness, their orthodoxy, their development of the understanding of Church doctrine, and the approval of the Church. The list includes such well-known men as St. Augustine of Hippo, St. Athanasius, St. Polycarp, St. Clement, and St. Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast is celebrated on October 17.
As with most saints of his time, there is little known about Ignatius’ life. Nothing is recorded about his parents or his education. He lived at the close of the first century and died in the year 107. He followed St. Peter and became the second bishop of Antioch in Syria. He was a close friend of Polycarp and a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. Thus he had a close connection to the twelve apostles.
Some traditions say that he was one of the children that Jesus held: “And Jesus called a little child to him, set him in their midst, and said, ‘Amen I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven’” (Matt. 18:2-3).
Because St. Ignatius refused to worship the pagan idols as ordered by the Roman Emperor Trajan, he was sentenced to death, to be devoured by wild beasts. In receiving this sentence, he rejoiced that — by his martyrdom — he would finally become a disciple of Christ. To Ignatius, martyrdom was the ultimate witness of the Christian.
The sentence of martyrdom was to be carried out in Rome before the bloodthirsty crowd. Hence, he had to make a long trip to Rome — in chains. During the time of his journey to Rome, he wrote seven letters which have become a treasure of the Church.
The letters were written to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, Romans, Philadelphians, Smyrnaeans, and to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna. His letters provide much information on the Eucharist, the hierarchy of the Church, and the concept of the Mystical Body of Christ. They are spontaneous letters, seemingly written in haste as he is dragged to Rome between “beasts,” who persecute him for his Christianity. Filled with mixed metaphors, grammatical errors, and run-on sentences, they nevertheless contain valuable doctrine.
In St. Ignatius’ Letter to the Ephesians, he affirms the two natures of Christ, both divine and human. “There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord” (Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 7).
In his Letter to the Magnesians, he describes the need for obedience to the bishop and other Church authorities. This letter contains much information on the structure of the Church hierarchy as early as the first and second centuries.
“Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons, who are most dear to me, entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father from the beginning and is at last made manifest” (Letter to the Magnesians 2, 6:1).
In his Letter to the Trallians, he urges them to beware of false teaching. “I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that you use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. For those [that are given to this] mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure leading to his own death” (Letter to the Trallians, chapter 6).
In Ignatius’ Letter to the Romans, he begs them to accept his sentence and not hinder it as he is weak and needs their help. “I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God’s sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ” (Letter to the Romans).
He congratulates the Antiochians for holding true to the faith during persecution, writes that the Old Testament is good but that the New Testament is better, and urges the people to hold fast to unity against heresy and, best of all, praises the Holy Eucharist in his Letter to the Philadelphians. “Take heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth ] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever you do, you may do it according to [the will of] God” (Letter to the Philadelphians, chapter 6).
The joy that awaits us in the resurrection of the body is wonderfully described in his Letter to the Smyrnaeans. “For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit. And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He ate and drank with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 3).
Finally, in his Letter to Polycarp, he asks him to urge members of his flock to hold fast in the flesh and spirit for the sake of unity, not to neglect widows, to pray always and not to boast about their virtue. Perhaps more relevant for all ages was his plea for husbands and wives to be united in all things. “But it becomes both men and women who marry, to form their union with the approval of the bishop, that their marriage may be according to God, and not after their own lust. Let all things be done to the honour of God (1 Cor. 10:31)” (Letter to Polycarp, chapter 5).

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(Carole Breslin home-schooled her four daughters and served as treasurer of the Michigan Catholic Home Educators for eight years. For over ten years, she was national coordinator for the Marian Catechists, founded by Fr. John A. Hardon, SJ.)

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