Thursday, October 17, 2013

St. Ignatius of Antioch

Today is the feast day of a great early church father - St. Ignatius of Antioch. Ignatius is a great source for what the early church looked like, for what the early Christians believed. He was a student of St. Polycarp who, in turn, was a student of the apostle St. John (yes that St. John!). In honor of this great feast day, let's listen to Ignatius.

First, to set the scene, Ignatius is the bishop of Antioch and is heading to Rome as a prisoner to be martyred by being mauled by lions. On the way from Antioch to Rome, Ignatius writes letters to the churches he is passing through. What he says is very interesting. Remember, this is only about 70 years or so after the Resurrection. Ignatius is a very early witness to what early Christianity looked like. Let's look at just two of Ignatius' most famous statements, both from his letter to the Smyrnaeans (with my comments and emphases):

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church . It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid. (Ignatius uses the title "Catholic Church," already in the first decades after Christ's death in such a way that he assumes everyone will know what he is talking about. This means the term had already been in wide use to distinguish Christ's legitimate Church from heretical sects.)

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God ... They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.  (Here we see evidence that the earliest Christians believed 1. that the Eucharist really is the flesh and blood of Jesus and 2. that those who don't profess this belief should not be allowed to receive communion in the Church).

Ask yourself, which church still talks like this. If the church your attending doesn't, you might ask yourself why not.
St. Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us!

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