The letters St. Ignatius wrote in 110 a.d. tell us what the Church was like in the generation following the Apostles.


Monday, 10/ 17/11

Those are very fine readings today; but it is the Feast of St. Ignatius of Antioch, and we should show appreciation for his life and death. Ignatius followed St. Peter as bishop of Antioch where our believers were first called “Christians.” As a prominent man in that major city of the Roman Empire, Ignatius was asked to take part in public ceremonies, and that led to a difficulty. As part of the public display, participants were called on to bow to the gods of Rome. It was a formality similar to modern politicians joining in the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag.

Ignatius felt his faith would not allow him to bow to false gods. Now, in Roman law this refusal was an act of treason; but the Roman governor in Antioch hated moving against an honorable old man like Ignatius, so he referred the matter to Emperor Trajan.

After conferring with his court, Trajan announced a policy that would hold for centuries. It stated that Christians should not be ought out and forced to bow to the gods, but if they publicly refuse to make that bow they would need to be treated as being guilty of treason. Meaning, they would be brought to Rome, then fed to the lions. That’s what happened.

Ignatius was entrusted to a platoon of rough soldiers returning to Rome on leave. They had him chained to the masts of one after another of the boats in which they found passage. That gave the Christians in every port to visit with him while the soldiers were busy doing what they did in the ports. When they stopped at the last port short of Rome, Ignatius wrote letters back to the people in six of those ports. Those letters let us see how the church took shape after the death of the Apostles. I liked the advice he gave to pastors. In relation to their bishop they should be like the strings to a harp, making nice music.  

In the letter that Ignatius sent ahead to the Christians in Rome he asked the Christians not to try to save him from the lions. He said he wanted the teeth of the lions to grind him like wheat, making him fit to become part of the host which is Christ.

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