Saint of the Day – 17 October – St Ignatius of Antioch (c 35 – c 108) Father of the Church – Bishop of Antioch and Martyr, Theologian, Teacher, Writer, also known as Ignatius Theophorus “the God-bearing”. He was martyred by being thrown to wild animals c 108 at Rome, Italy. His relics are at Saint Peter’s Basilica, Rome with his major Shrine being at the Basilica of San Clemente in Rome. Patronages -• against throat diseases• Church in eastern Mediterranean• Church in North Africa. Canonised pre-congregation by John The Apostle (mentioned in later writings of the Church.) En route to Rome, where he met his martyrdom, Ignatius wrote a series of letters. (Read them here: https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?id=3836).
This correspondence now forms a central part of the later collection known as the Apostolic Fathers. His letters also serve as an example of early Christian theology. Important topics they address include ecclesiology, the sacraments and the role of bishops. In speaking of the authority of the church, he was the first to use the phrase “catholic church” in writing. He wrote in this regard: See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is administered either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude of the people also be; even as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. —Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch 8
His sentiments before his approaching martyrdom are summed in his word in the Communion antiphon, “I am the wheat of Christ, ground by the teeth of beasts to become pure bread.”
The sixth letter was to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was later martyred for the faith. The final letter begs the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his martyrdom. “The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”
Ignatius bravely met the lions in the Circus Maximus.
In the Martyrology we read: “At Rome, the holy bishop and martyr Ignatius. He was the second successor to the apostle Peter in the see of Antioch. In the persecution of Trajan he was condemned to the wild beasts and sent in chains to Rome. There, by the emperor’s order, he was subjected to most cruel tortures in the presence of the Senate and then thrown to the lions. Torn to pieces by their teeth, he became a victim for Christ.”
The bishop and martyr Ignatius occupies a foremost place among the heroes of Christian antiquity. His final journey from Antioch to Rome was like a nuptial procession and a Way of the Cross. For the letters he wrote along the way resemble seven stations of the Cross; they may also be called seven nuptial hymns overflowing with the saint’s intense love for Christ Jesus and his longing to be united with Him. These letters are seven most precious jewels in the heirloom bequeathed to us by the Church of sub-apostolic times.
The year of St Ignatius’ death is unknown but scholars place it at c 108; perhaps it occurred during the victory festivities in which the Emperor Trajan sacrificed the lives of 10,000 gladiators and 11,000 wild beasts for the amusement of the bloodthirsty populace. The scene of his glorious triumph and martyrdom was most likely the Circus Maximus; that mammoth structure, glittering with gold and marble, had then been just completed.
“From Syria to Rome I must do battle with beasts on land and sea. For day and night I am chained to ten leopards, that is, the soldiers who guard me and grow more ferocious the better they are treated. Their mistreatment is good instruction for me, yet am I still far from justified. Oh, that I may meet the wild beasts now kept in readiness for me. I shall implore them to give me death promptly and to hasten my departure. I shall invite them to devour me so that they will not leave my body unharmed as already has happened to other witnesses. If they refuse to pounce upon me, I shall impel them to eat me. My little children, forgive me these words. Surely I know what is good for me. From things visible I no longer desire anything; I want to find Jesus. Fire and cross, wild beasts, broken bones, lacerated members, a body wholly crushed, and Satan’s every torment, let them all overwhelm me, if only I reach Christ.”
The saint, now condemned to fight the wild beasts, burned with desire for martyrdom. On hearing the roar of the lions he cried out: “I am a kernel of wheat for Christ. I must be ground by the teeth of beasts to be found bread (of Christ) wholly pure”.
St Ignatius is also the first Father of the Church who wrote about Mary. He defended the veracity of the humanity of Christ against the docetists by affirming that Jesus pertained to the line of David because he was born of Mary. Jesus was conceived by Mary – He came from her – and this conception was virginal and pertains to the most hidden mysteries in the silence of God.
The Final Prayer of St Ignatius of Antioch
I am the wheat of God,
and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts,
that I may be found the pure bread of God.
I long after the Lord,
the Son of the true God and Father, Jesus Christ.
Him I seek, who died for us and rose again.
I am eager to die for the sake of Christ.
My love has been crucified,
and there is no fire in me that loves anything.
But there is living water springing up in me,
and it says to me inwardly:
“Come to the Father.”