17 October 2007

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Pastor and Martyr

Today the Lutheran Service Book calendar commemorates Ignatius of Antioch, as does the Roman calendar. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church gives Ignatius’ dates as c. 35-c. 107. According to Origen, Ignatius was the second Bishop of Antioch, succeeding St. Peter, but according to Eusebius, Ignatius was the third Bishop of Antioch, succeeding Peter’s successor, Euodius, c. 69.

St. Ignatius is best known for his seven letters written to various churches and for his journey to Rome to be executed for confessing Christ Jesus. In his letters he gives wonderful testimony to the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ and to the blessings of harmony and unity in the Church. In fact, in the mind of St. Ignatius, these two things – living in the grace of Christ and living united and harmoniously in the Church – go hand in glove. Here are some selected snippets as we remember St. Ignatius this day:

Glorifying Christ by being united

“It is proper, therefore, in every way to glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, so that you, joined together in a united obedience and subject to the bishop and the presbytery, may be sanctified in every respect” (To the Ephesians, 2).

“For Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the mind of the Father, just as the bishops appointed throughout the world are the mind of Christ” (To the Ephesians, 3).

“Thus it is proper for you to act together in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as you are in fact doing. For your presbytery, which is worthy of its name and worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop as strings to a lyre. Therefore in your unanimity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung. You must join this chorus, every one of you, so that by being harmonious in unanimity and taking your pitch from God you may sing in unison with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, in order that he may both hear you and, on the basis of what you do well, acknowledge that you are members of his Son. It is, therefore advantageous for you to be in perfect unity, in order that you may always have a share in God” (To the Ephesians, 4).

“I was doing my part, therefore, as a man set on unity. But God does not dwell where there is division and anger. The Lord, however, forgives all who repent, if in repenting they return to the unity of God and the council of the bishop. I believe in the grace of Jesus Christ, who will free you from every bond. Moreover, I urge you to do nothing in a spirit of contentiousness, but in accordance with the teaching of Christ” (To the Philadelphians, 7-8).

Necessity of being in the House of God

“Let no one be misled: if anyone is not within the sanctuary, he lacks the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two has such power, how much more that of the bishop together with the whole church! Therefore whoever does not meet with the congregation thereby demonstrates his arrogance and has separated himself…” (To the Ephesians, 5).

“Therefore make every effort to come together more frequently to give thanks and glory to God. For when you meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are overthrown and his destructiveness is nullified by the unanimity of your faith” (To the Ephesians, 13).

“Continue to gather together, each and every one of you, collectively and individually by name, in grace, in one faith and one Jesus Christ, who physically was a descendant of David, who is Son of man and Son of God, in order that you may obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undisturbed mind, breaking one bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote we take in order not to die but to live forever in Jesus Christ” (To the Ephesians, 20).

The Gospel of Life

“Be deaf, therefore, whenever anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the family of David, who was the son of Mary; who really was born, who both ate and drank; who really was persecuted under Pontius Pilate, who really was crucified and died while those in heaven and on earth and under the earth looked on; who, moreover, really was raised from the dead when his Father raised him up—his Father, that is—in the same way will likewise also raise us up in Christ Jesus who believe in him, apart from whom we have no true life” (To the Trallians, 9).

Hunger and Thirst for Christ and His Meal

“I take no pleasure in corruptible food or the pleasures of this life. I want the bread of God, which is the flesh of Christ who is of the seed of David; and for drink I want his blood, which is incorruptible love” (To the Romans, 7).

“Take care, therefore, to participate in one Eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup which leads to unity through his blood; there is one altar, just as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons, my fellow servants), in order that whatever you do, you do in accordance with God” (To the Philadelphians, 4).

(All quotes taken from The Apostolic Fathers, Second Edition, translated by J. B. Lightfoot and J. R. Harmer, Baker, 1989.)

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