St Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop,
and an Apostolic Father of the Church, wrote a letter to the Smyrneans...
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 tranquillity,
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 endurance forever.
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!