Ignatius

d.98/117. Bishop of Antioch. He is known of almost exclusively through seven letters whose authenticity was established in the seventeenth century, largely by James Ussher,* and vindicated in the nineteenth, chiefly by J.B. Lightfoot.* While traveling under armed guard to be executed in Rome, preceded by other Syrian Christians, he was welcomed by Polycarp* and delegates from other churches at Smyrna, whence he wrote to the churches at Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Rome. Later from Troas he wrote to the Philadelphian and Smyrnaean congregations and to Polycarp. His death at Rome is asserted about 135 by Polycarp, who had earlier collected his letters for the Philippian church.

In six of his letters Ignatius attacks a heresy compounded of Docetic, Judaistic, and perhaps gnosticizing features, and advances the antidote of adhesion to the bishop, presbyters, and deacons. Probably still the only monarchical bishop in Syria, and the earliest witness to the threefold ministry, he magnifies the bishop's unifying authority as representing God (apostolic succession is unmentioned).

Ignatius displays prophetic qualities (he calls himself Theophoros, “God-bearer” or “God-borne,” perhaps his baptismal name), and is a colorful and vigorous writer, influenced by Judeo- Christian and Gnostic conceptions. The flattering letter to the Romans (silent on monepiscopacy) pleads with them to do nothing to thwart his passion for martyrdom, by which, in language indebted to Maccabean and imitatio Christi ideals, he will “attain to God,” become at last a disciple, and offer a ransom for the church.

Ignatius falls heir to apostolic tradition (explicitly Pauline rather than Johannine), but is led by personal and ecclesiastical circumstances into dramatic, even bizarre emphases. Against Docetism* he stresses Christ's true humanity and identifies it with the healing food of the Eucharist, a further focus of congregational unity.

J.B. Lightfoot, Apostolic Fathers, Part II (3 vols., 2nd ed., 1889); C.C. Richardson, The Christianity of Ignatius of Antioch (1935); study by J. Moffatt in Harvard Theological Review 29 (1936), pp. 1-38; F.A. Schilling, The Mysticism of St. Ignatius of Antioch (1932); H.W. Bartsch, Gnostisches Gut und Gemeindetradition bei Ignatius von Antiochien (1940); V. Corwin, St. Ignatius and Christianity in Antioch (1960); M.P. Brown, The Authentic Writings of Ignatius (1963); T. Camelot in Sources chrétiennes 10 (4th ed., 1969).