Who was Ignatius of Antioch?
Ignatius of Antioch was a Christian writer and a bishop of Antioch. He was also known as Ignatius Theophorus and Ignatius Nurono. He is counted amongst the Apostolic Fathers and is one of the “three chiefs” along with Pope Clement I and Polycarp. On his way to Rome, where he was to be executed brutally for not renouncing his faith in Christianity, he wrote a series of letters. Despite the fact that he was sentenced unfairly, he remained calm and composed throughout the journey. The letters he wrote on his last journey are considered to be treasures of Christianity today. His letters collectively serve as a clear example of Christian theology. Some of the topics that were addressed by these letters were ecclesiology, the sacraments and the role of bishops. He was a beloved disciple of John and was consecrated as a bishop by the first pope, Apostle Peter. It is a well-known fact that Ignatius had all the qualities required for being the ideal pastor. He was a perfect example of how a true soldier of Jesus Christ should be.
Ignatius of Antioch was born in 35 AD, nearly five years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Syria, which was then under the Roman Empire. It is believed that Ignatius converted to Christianity at a very young age. He and his friend Polycarp were the disciples of John the Apostle.
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Ignatius of Antioch’s feast day is celebrated in Antioch on 17th October. This is the very same day that is celebrated in the Catholic Church, particularly in western Christianity. However, between the 12th century and 1969, 1st February was put as the day of the feast in the Roman calendar. This day is celebrated on 20th December in Eastern Orthodox Church.
Ignatius of Antioch was consecrated as a bishop in AD 69 by the first pope – Apostle Peter. Bishop Ignatius was revered across the church as he was someone who was deeply committed to Christianity and always made it a point to defend Orthodoxy which he believed was the right Christian teaching. He preached orthopraxy, the right practice, to his disciples.
Last Journey to Rome
In AD 107, when the brutal Emperor Trajan was ruling over Rome, Ignatius was unfairly sentenced to death since he refused to renounce Christianity and held firm to his faith. He also refused to follow Roman gods. As a result, he was ordered to be executed in Rome, and he was to be escorted by ten soldiers all the way to Rome from Antioch.
From Antioch, Ignatius of Antioch went to Smyrna but bypassed Magnesia, Tralles, and Ephesus. He then traveled to Troas from where he went by the sea route to Neapolis in Macedonia. From there, he went to Rome after passing through the city of Philippi.
On the way to Rome, Ignatius and the soldiers stopped at various places in Asia Minor where he met many leaders of the local churches. It was during this trip that he penned the seven famous letters.
Letters of Ignatius
Out of the seven letters Ignatius of Antioch wrote on the way from Antioch to Rome, six letters were addressed to churches in Asia Minor. All these letters basically asked Christians to remain loyal to God. He also warned them against any heretical doctrines. In his letters, he only elucidated what he believed to be the truths about Christianity.
The seventh letter was sent to his friend Polycarp, a bishop of Smyrna. He also died a martyr after being burned at the stake.
Death & Legacy
Upon reaching Rome, Ignatius of Antioch was thrown into the Circus Maximus to be devoured by hungry lions. He died a martyr’s death which was watched by thousands of Romans.
Ignatius’ remains were carried back by his companions to Antioch after he was martyred. The remains were moved to Tychaeum by Emperor Theodosius.
Tychaeum, which was also called Temple of Tyche, was converted into a church and dedicated to Ignatius. In AD 637, the remains were again transferred to the Basilica di San Clemente in Rome.
Ignatius was the first person to use the term ‘Catholic’ to describe the entire church.