St Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop, and an
Apostolic Father of the Church,
wrote a letter to the Smyrneans... (Rev 1:11)
St. Ignatius of Antioch (35-107
A.D.), an Apostolic Father of the Church, and the Bishop
of Antioch, wrote the following letter as he was being taken in chains to Rome
to be martyred. It is believed that in this letter, the words Catholic
Church, were used for the first time. See the New Catechism of the
Catholic Church (CCC) ref 830, note 307.
Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to the
Church of God the Father and the beloved Jesus Christ; a church mercifully
endowed with every gift; overflowing with faith and love; lacking in no gift;
radiant with God's splendor, and fruitful mother of saints. To the Church at
Smyrna in Asia I send best wishes for irreproachableness of sentiment and
loyalty to the word of God.
1. I extol Jesus Christ, the God who has granted you such wisdom. For I
have observed that you are thoroughly trained in unshaken faith, being nailed,
as it were, to the Cross of the Lord Jesus Christ both in body and in soul, and
that you are well established in love through the Blood of Christ and firmly
believe in Our Lord: He is really of the line of David according to the flesh,
and the Son of God by the will and power of God; was really born of a virgin,
and baptized by John in order to comply with every ordinance. Under Pontius
Pilate and the tetrarch Herod He was really nailed to the cross in the flesh for
our sake--of whose fruit we are, in virtue of His most blessed Passion. And
thus, through the Resurrection, He raised a banner for all times for His saints
and faithful followers, whether among the Jews or the Gentiles, that they might
be united in a single body, that is, His Church.
2. All these sufferings, assuredly, He underwent for our sake, that we
might be saved. And He suffered really, as He also really raised Himself from
the dead. It is not as some unbelievers say, who maintain that His suffering was
a make-believe. In reality, it is they that are make- believes: and, as their
notion, so their end: they will be bodiless and ghostlike shapes!
3. For myself, I know and believe that He was in the flesh even after the
Resurrection. And when He came to Peter and Peter's companions, He said to them:
"Here; feel me and see that I am not a bodiless ghost." Immediately they touched
Him and, through this contact with His Flesh and Spirit, believed. For the same
reason they despised death and, in fact, proved stronger than death. Again,
after the Resurrection, He ate and drank with them like a being of flesh and
blood, though spiritually one with the Father.
4. I am urging these things on you, beloved, although I know that you are
of the same mind. I am cautioning you betimes, however, against wild beasts in
human form, whom you ought not only not to receive, but, if possible, even avoid
meeting. Only pray for them, if somehow they may change their mind--a difficult
thing! But that is in the power of Jesus Christ, our true Life. Surely, if those
things were done by Our Lord as a mere make-believe, then I in my chains, too,
am a make-believe! Why, moreover, did I surrender myself to death, to fire, to
the sword, to wild beasts? Well, to be near the sword is to be near God; to be
in the claws of wild beasts is to be in the hands of God. Only let it be done in
the name of Jesus Christ! To suffer with Him I endure all things, if He, who
became perfect man, gives me the strength.
5. Some disown Him through ignorance, or, rather, were disowned by Him,
being advocates of death rather than the truth. They were not convinced by the
prophecies or by the Law of Moses; no, not even to this day by the Gospel or the
sufferings of our own people; for they entertain the same view of us. Really,
what good does anyone do me if he praises me, but blasphemes my Lord by not
admitting that He carried living flesh about Him? He who does not admit this,
has absolutely disowned Him, and what he carries about him is a corpse. Their
names--names of unbelievers they are!- -I do not think advisable to write down.
In fact, I even wish I did not remember them, until they change their mind
concerning the Passion, which is our resurrection.
6. Let no one be deceived! Even the heavenly powers and the angels in
their splendor and the principalities, both visible and invisible, must either
believe in the Blood of Christ, or else face damnation. Let him grasp it who
can. Let no rank puff up anyone; for faith and love are paramount--the greatest
blessings in the world. Observe those who hold erroneous opinions concerning the
grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how they run counter to the
mind of God! They concern themselves with neither works of charity, nor widows,
nor orphans, nor the distressed, nor those in prison or out of it, nor the
hungry or thirsty.
7. From Eucharist and prayer they hold aloof, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus
Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father in His
loving-kindness raised from the dead. And so, those who question the gift of God
perish in their contentiousness. It would be better for them to have love, so as
to share in the resurrection. It is proper, therefore, to avoid associating with
such people and not to speak about them either in private or in public, but to
study the Prophets attentively and, especially, the Gospel, in which the Passion
is revealed to us and the Resurrection shown in its fulfillment. Shun division
as the beginning of evil.
8. You must all follow the lead of the bishop, as Jesus Christ followed
that of the Father; follow the presbytery as you would the Apostles; reverence
the deacons as you would God's commandment. Let no one do anything touching the
Church, apart from the bishop. Let that celebration of the Eucharist be
considered valid which is held under the bishop or anyone to whom he has
committed it. Where the bishop appears, there let the people be, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic
Church. It is not permitted without authorization from the bishop
either to baptize or to hold an agape; but whatever he approves is also pleasing
to God. Thus everything you do will be proof against danger and valid.
9. It is consonant with reason, therefore, that we should come to our
senses, while we still have time to change our ways and turn to God. It is well
to revere God and bishop. He who honors a bishop is honored by God. He who does
anything without the knowledge of the bishop worships the devil. May all things,
then, be yours in abundance through grace, for you deserve it. You have brought
relief to me in every respect, and may Jesus Christ do so to you! Whether I was
absent or present, you have shown me love. Your reward is God, to whom you will
come if you endure all things for His sake.
10. As to Philo and Rheus Agathopus, who accompanied me in the name of
God, it was good of you to give them a warm reception as to servants of Christ
God. For their part, they thank the Lord on your behalf, because you offered
them losers. A ransom for you are my life and my chains, which you did not
despise and of which you were not ashamed. Neither will Jesus Christ, our
consummate hope, be ashamed of you.
11. Your prayer made its way to the Church at Antioch in Syria. Coming
from there in chains radiant with divine splendor, I send greetings to all. Not
that I deserve to belong to that community, being the least of its members; but
by the will (of God) I was granted this favor--no, not because of any conscious
deed, but because of the grace of God. Would that this grace were given me in
perfection, that through your prayer I may make my way to God! Now, that your
own work may be made perfect both on earth and in heaven, it is proper, for the
honor of God, that your Church should send a God- empowered delegate to go to
Syria and congratulate the people on enjoying peace, having recovered their
normal greatness, and having their full status restored to them. It therefore
appears to me to be a God-inspired undertaking to send one of your number with a
letter for the purpose of joining in the celebration of their God-given
tranquility, and because they have, thanks to your prayer, at last made port. Be
perfect, therefore, and devise a perfect method. You need only be willing to do
well, and God is ready to assist you.
12. In their affection the brethren at Troas wish to be remembered to
you. It is from here that I send this letter through the kindness of Burrus,
whom you conjointly with your brethren, the Ephesians, commissioned to accompany
me. He has given me every possible comfort. And would that all might imitate
him, for he is a pattern of what a minister of God should be. God's grace will
reward him in every way. Greetings to the bishop, that man of God, to the
God-minded presbytery, to the deacons my fellow servants, to the whole
community, individually and collectively, in the name of Jesus Christ, in His
Flesh and Blood, in His Passion and Resurrection, both corporal and spiritual,
in unity with God and with you. Grace be to you and mercy and peace and patient
13. Greetings to the families of my brethren, including their wives and
children, and to the virgins who are enrolled among the widows. Farewell in the
power of the Father! Philo, who is with me, wishes to be remembered to you.
Offer my respects to the household of Tavia, and I pray that she may be firmly
rooted in faith and love, both carnal and spiritual. Give my regards to Alce,
that most dear friend of mine, and to the incomparable Daphnus, and to Eutecnus,
and to all the rest by name. Farewell in the grace of God!