Friday, October 24, 2008

Ground Like Wheat: St. Ignatius of Antioch

I am writing to all the Churches and I enjoin all, that I am dying willingly for God's sake, if only you do not prevent it. I beg you, do not do me an untimely kindness. Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, which are my way of reaching to God. 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.

That was St. Ignatius in his letter to the Romans. Ignatius, also known as Theophorus, was actually a successor of Peter, just to the See of Antioch rather than Rome. Hs feast day was last Friday. Interesting thing about that nickname, Theophorus. It means "God-Bearer." I've seen some folks theorize that this is a corruption and that it should really be "God-Borne" because Ignatius was the kid that Christ took up and showed the Apostles when discussing having the faith of a child. I have no idea if that's true, but it makes for a good story.

On better authority, we have it that Ignatius was a disciple of St. John. Such a direct link to The Twelve makes his work invaluable. There are seven letters that we know are genuine. He wrote them after being captured by the Roman authorities and carted off for execution, as he mentions in the snippet I posted above.

Lots of Protestants are pretty amazed when they read his epistles. You see a lot of Catholic stuff in them. Yes, shocking I know.

For example, Ignatius is the first guy that we see calling the Church "catholic."

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

Notice also that Ignatius has a very firm idea of an ecclesiastical hierarchy here. Unity with the bishop was a big deal for him, especially what with his being a bishop and all. Granted, he doesn't speak of communion with Rome or anything, but he is very blunt that the Church in Rome "presides" and "teaches" all the other churches.

Ignatius also had a real problem with a bunch of gnostics we know as the Docetists. The Docetists didn't believe in the reality of the Eucharist. They didn't reject the Real Presence because of the sorts of modern Protestant arguments that we typically hear. Basically, they didn't think that Christ had a physical body. Naturally, if He didn't have an actual body, the Eucharist couldn't be His body either. Ignatius was very frank about such people.

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes.

Letter to the Smyrnaeans

Lots of great goodies from Ignatius all over the place. Ultimately, I direct all readers back to the first bit, though, which illustrates the wonderful attitude of the martyr. Maybe some influential people in Rome could have saved him. He didn't want that. He wanted Christ. Accomplishing that meant giving to Christ the most valuable gift Ignatius had, namely, his own life. Not just for Christ, though, but also for all those others who may have feared martyrdom without such an example.

Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat falling into the ground die, Itself remaineth alone. But if it die it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it and he that hateth his life in this world keepeth it unto life eternal. If any man minister to me, let him follow me: and where I am, there also shall my minister be.

John 12:24-26

Where does following Christ lead? To suffering, and sometimes, even to death.

St. Ignatius, pray for us, that we be willing to follow where Christ led.

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