St Ignatius of Antioch, whose feast we celebrate today, has always been one of my favourite saints. He is one of the five so-called Apostolic Fathers, and was martyred at Rome very early in the second century A.D. According to legend, he was one of the children Jesus took in his arms and blessed. More certainly, he wrote seven letters which are important for the history of Christian theology and was, incidentally, the first to use the Greek word katholikos (καθολικός), meaning ‘universal’/’complete’/’whole’ to describe the Church, writing:
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.
(Letter to the Smyrnaeans 8)
His understanding of the bishop’s role is an important element in his ecclesiology. I like, too, his writing on the Eucharist. It always seems to me that Igantius did his theology on his knees, and it is fitting that when he came to die, he saw himself as so much grain, ready to be transformed into that which he most loved:
I am God’s wheat, and I am to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, so that I may become the pure bread of Christ. (Letter to the Romans)
If you would like to read Ignatius yourself, here are some suggestions you can search out online:
- The Letter to the Ephesians,
- The Letter to the Magnesians,
- The Letter to the Trallians,
- The Letter to the Romans,
- The Letter to the Philadelphians,
- The Letter to the Smyrnaeans,
- The Letter to Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna.
The Wikipedia article on him is also better than most.