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Wednesday, November 21, 2018



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St. Ignatius’ letters help us to understand how the early church functioned

St. Ignatius’ letters help us to understand how the early church functioned

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Syria, was a second generation Christian. He is also known as Ignatius Theophorus (Greek for God-bearer). He was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. However, we know nothing of his early life.

St. Ignatius (C. 35-107 AD) wrote seven letters on his way to Rome. These letters are the earliest Church writings in existence.

En route to Rome, where he met his martyrdom at the hands of the lions in the Colosseum, Ignatius wrote a series of letters. His letters also serve as an example of early Christian Theology. His topics include the church, the sacraments, and the role of bishops. He was the first to use the phrase "catholic church" in writing, which is still used to this day.

The conditions under which Ignatius wrote the letters did not give him much time for careful reflection. They are the letters of a prisoner on his way to martyrdom. According to the oral tradition, the Emperor Trajan ruled that Ignatius should die for his Christian beliefs. Ignatius was bound and brought to Rome to meet his death in the Colosseum.

I would like to share with my readers one of Ignatius’ seven letters that are still with us – his letter to Bishop Polycarp of Smyrna. Because of its length, I will carry it over to next week.

“Greetings. Ignatius, also called “Theophorus,” sends warmest greetings to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, or rather, to him who has as his own bishop God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

“I am so well pleased that your mind is fixed in God, firmly built, as it were, upon an immovable rock. I am truly grateful for the privilege of having seen your saintly face.

“I entreat you, by the grace with which you are clothed, press forward on your course, and exhort all that they may be saved. Do justice to your office, both in the flesh and spirit. Be concerned about unity, the greatest blessing. Bear with all, just as the Lord does with you. Have patience with all in love, as indeed you do. To prayer, give yourself unceasingly; beg for an increase in understanding. Be watchful, possessing a sleepless spirit. Speak to everyone separately in imitation of God’s way. Bear with the infirmities of all, like a master athlete. The greater the toil, the greater the reward.

“If you love the good disciples, you are due no thanks. Rather, in gentleness seek to subdue the more troublesome. No one heals every kind of wound with the same remedy. Lessen the violent attacks of the disease by gentle applications. Be in all things wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove.

“You are composed of both flesh and spirit so that you may deal tenderly with those evils that present themselves visibly before you. With respect to those things not seen, pray that God reveals them to you, that you may be wanting in nothing, but may abound in every gift.

“The times call for you, as pilots do for the winds, and as one tossed with a tempest looks for the haven, so that both you and those under your care may attain to God. Be sober as God’s athlete: the prizes set before you are immortality and eternal life.

“Do not let those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines, fill you with apprehension. Stand firm, like an anvil under the hammer. It is the part of a noble athlete to take blows, and yet to win the fight. We ought to bear all things for the sake of God that he also may bear with us. Increase your zeal. Read the signs of the times. Look for him who is above all time, eternal and invisible, yet who became visible for our sakes; impalpable and impassible, yet who became subject to suffering on our account and for our sake endured everything.”