Saint Ignatios of Antioch
However, little is known of his life, although his passio was recorded for his flock. He was probably of Syrian origin, and legend identified him with the child whom Christ set down among his disciples (Matthew 18:1-6). Some sources say that Ignatius may have been a persecutor of Christians, who then became a convert and disciple of Saint John the Evangelist or Saints Peter and Paul.
He called himself both a disciple and the “bearer of God” (theophoros), so sure was he of the presence of God in himself.
In any case he became the second or third bishop of the great Christian center of Antioch in Syria. Legend holds that he was appointed and consecrated by Saint Peter after Peter left the deathbed of Saint Evodius, the previous bishop. Ignatius governed for 40 years.
During Trajan’s persecutions, Ignatius was seized by a guard of ten soldiers, bound, and taken to Rome by them. The soldiers boarded a ship that traveled along the southern and western shores of Asia Minor instead of going straight to Italy. Ignatius was greeted by crowds of Christians wherever the ship touched port, but he was ill-treated by his captors. In one of his letters he says:
“From Syria to Rome I seem to be fighting with wild beasts, night and day, on land and sea, bound to ten leopards. I mean a bunch of soldiers whose treatment of me grows harsher the kinder I am to them.”
The many stopovers enabled Ignatius to reaffirm religious fervor in various ports along the way. They stopped for a time at Smyrna, where Ignatius was met by Saint Polycarp, then a young man. Here the first four letters were written: to the Ephesians, to the churches of Magnesia and Tralles– whose bishops had come to visit him–and to the Christians in Rome. The guards were anxious to leave Smyrna in order to reach Rome before the games were over; distinguished victims drew great crowds.
They sailed on to Troas, where they learned that peace had been restored to the church at Antioch. Then at Lystra, before crossing into Europe, he wrote three more, to the Christians at Philadelphia and Smyrna, and a farewell letter of advice to Bishop Saint Polycarp. (The letters can also be found in short and long versions on the New Advent site at http://www.knight.org/advent/fathers.)
As the ship approached Rome, Christians are said to have gathered to greet Ignatius, and although they wished to work for his release, he begged them not to interfere with his martyrdom. He wrote, “I pray that they will be prompt with me. I shall entice them to eat me speedily.”
Legend has it that he arrived in Rome on December 20, the last day of the public games, was rushed to the amphitheater (probably the Colosseum), and was killed by lions in the arena. As he was offered to the animals, he described himself as “wheat of Christ.”
The saint insisted that in spite of his sufferings, he remained a sinner, saved only because of the love of his Lord, who had been crucified for him.
His relics are kept at Saint Peter’s in Rome. Agathopus and a deacon named Philo, who were with him, and who also wrote down his dictation of the seven letters of instruction on the Church, marriage, the Trinity, the Incarnation, Redemption, and the Eucharist, provide a detailed description of the trip to Rome.
These letters of Ignatius are among the most valuable documents of the ancient Church because of the light they throw on Christian belief and practice less than a century after Christ’s Ascension. Ignatius continually urges his readers to maintain unity amongst themselves, meeting together in the Eucharist under the presidency of their bishop.
Through his letters we have access also to the mind and personality of a man who loved vivid images to express his beliefs. The Eucharist he described as ‘the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death.’ To him, Jesus on the Cross lured the devil, like a fish, with the bait of his own body.
The best-known letter is the one sent in advance to the Roman Christians. In it he implores them not to try to get him reprieved. It reveals a patient, gentle man, so passionately devoted to Christ that he could not ear to miss the chance of dying a violent death for his sake: ‘Let me follow the example of the suffering of my God’ (Attwater, Bentley, Delaney, White)
He is portrayed in art looking at a crucifix, with a lion at his side; or standing between two lions; or in chains; or holding a heart with IHS upon it; or with a heart with the IHS torn out by the lions according to White.
Depicted as a bishop holding a heart with IHS on it. Sometimes he is shown with the image of Christ on his breast because the image of Jesus was found on his heart after his martyrdom; holding a fiery globe; or in an arena with lions. One Greek icon of Saint Ignatius can be found at the Saint Isaac of Syria Skete site. Saint Ignatius is highly venerated in the Eastern Church (Roeder).