Friday, December 17, 2010

St. Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr

Technically, today is the feast of his translation, the return of his relics, what was left of his body after the lions in the Roman circus finished with him, to Antioch for burial. The relics were moved twice after that and now rest in a church in Rome. But the important thing for the Church is that we, as Anglicans, should realize the importance of this great saint not merely for the Catholic Church but for all those who call themselves Christians.

Ignatius who also called himself Theophorus (God bearer)was born in Syria around anno Domini 50 and died in the Roman circus sometime between 98 and 117. He was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist along with his friend and fellow martyr, Polycarp and succeeded St. Evodius as the bishop of Antioch. According to some early authorities he was appointed by St. Peter himself. In the ninth year of his reign, the emperor of Trajan ordered Christians to worship the gods with pagans with the penalty being death for those who refused. Ignatius was at the forefront of the effort to keep the Church together and strong in the face of organized persecution paying special attention to the weakest among the faithful. When his efforts came to the attention of the authorities, he was arrested and brought before the emperor who at that time was in Syria. He was condemned and sent to Rome to be fed to wild beasts in the circus.

During the course of that trip to Rome he wrote at least six letters to various churches and one to his fellow bishop Polycarp which have managed to survive down to this present day. These letters are very important for the Catholic and Anglican understanding of the Church. Indeed, it is one of these letters that the very word "catholic" (according to the whole) is used for the first time. Ignatius also first uses the word "Eucharist" for the service of Holy Communion as well as setting out the tripartite division of the Christian ministry as bishop, priests and deacons. And this relates directly to The Preface in our Anglican Ordinal which states that these orders have existed "from the Apostles' time." It from Ignatius, the disciple of St. John, that we first learn this.

There is also an Anglican involvement in these texts. The seven authentic letters in time were joined by six entirely fraudulent ones. Even the authentic letter became larded with material by latter writers who were attempting to use the saints name and reputation to forward their views on later theological issue. In the thirteenth century the scholarly bishop of Lincoln, Robert Grossteste, carefully edited the later material out in the most careful Latin translation of these works. In the seventeenth century Archbishop Ussher, the primate of Ireland discovered Grossteste's manuscript and published it in 1644.

Ignatius' writings like all of the apostolic fathers should be known to every Anglican in the Continuum. They, after the very apostles and evangelists themselves, are the real basis of the Anglican tradition.


Death Bredon said...

Great Post! Thanks!

Fr Scott Moncrieff said...

Good point

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