I’m especially partial to today’s saint, Ignatius of Antioch. I’m sure part of it is because it’s my birthday, so I’ve always claimed him as one of “my” saints. But even more, St. Ignatius, who is recalled in the Roman Canon (Eucharistic Prayer 1), is a vitally important witness to the faith of the Apostles, which of course is the faith of the Church.
St. Ignatius (c. 50-107 A.D.) was the third Bishop of Antioch (St. Peter himself was the first, by the way). Antioch is the place where Our Lord’s followers were called Christians for the first time (Acts 11:26). St. Ignatius heard the preaching of St. John the Evangelist, and he also knew St. Polycarp, another significant apostolic Father and eventually the Bishop of Smyrna.
What makes St. Ignatius such a significant figure in Church history is that when he was to be martyred in 107 A.D. during the reign of the Emperor Trajan, he was brought to Rome for his execution. During this journey he wrote seven letters to different Churches that are extant and indeed have been precious gems of the apostolic faith for Christians of every generation.
In honor of St. Ignatius, I will now give a “top ten” list of some of my favorite quotes from this great bishop and martyr.
(1) (early use of the Greek word katholikos, meaning universal, to describe the Church) “Where there is Jesus Christ, there is the Catholic Church” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8:2, quoted in Catechism, no. 830).
(2) (early witness to the transition from the Sabbath to the Lord’s Day) “Those who lived according to the old order of things have come to a new hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath, but the Lord’s Day, in which our life is blessed by him and by his death” (Letter to the Magnesians, 9:1, quoted in Catechism, no. 2175). (As a ridiculous aside, there is no truth to the assertion that St. Ignatius’ teaching was referred to as “milk of Magnesians.”)
(3) (the next three are great quotes bearing witness to the early Church’s belief in the Eucharist) “I have no taste for the food that perishes nor for the pleasures of this life. I want the Bread of God which is the Flesh of Christ, who was the seed of David; and for drink I desire His Blood which is love that cannot be destroyed” (Letter to the Romans, 7).
(4) “Consider how contrary to the mind of God are the heterodox in regard to the grace of God which has come to us. They have no regard for charity, none for the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, none for the man in prison, the hungry or the thirsty. They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not admit that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, the flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His graciousness, raised from the dead. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans. 6:2-7:1).
(5) “Come together in common, one and all without exception in charity, in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the flesh, the son of man and the Son of God, so that with undivided mind you may obey the bishop and the priests, and break the one Bread that provides the medicine of immortality, the antidote for death, and the food that makes us live forever in Jesus Christ” (Letter to the Ephesians, 20:1-2, quoted in part in Catechism, nos. 1331, 1405).
(6) (on the bishop’s authority) “Let all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ follows His Father, and the college of presbyters as the apostles; respect the deacons as you do God’s law. Let no one do anything concerning the Church in separation from the bishop” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans, 8:1, quoted in Catechism, no. 896).
(7) (on the importance of avoiding schism and division) “I beseech you therefore, do nothing in a spirit of division, but act according to Christian teaching. . . . If any man follows his that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the Kingdom of God” (Letter to the Philadelphians, 3; 8:2).
(8) (on the primacy of the Church of Rome, the see of St. Peter) “Ignatius . . . to the Church also which holds the presidency, in the location of the country of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honor, worthy of blessing, worthy of praise, worthy of success, worthy of sanctification, and, because you preside in charity, named after Christ and named after the Father. . . You [the Church in Rome] have envied no one, but others you have taught. I desire only that what you have enjoined in your instructions may remain in force” (Letter to the Romans, 1:1; 3:1, quoted in part in Catechism, no. 834).
(9) (another of many good “bishop” quotes) “Indeed, when you submit to the bishop as you would to Jesus Christ, it is clear to me that you are living not in the manner of men but as Jesus Christ, who died for us, that through faith in His death you might escape dying. It is necessary, therefore—and such is your practice—that you do nothing without the bishop” (Letter to the Trallians, 2:1).
(10) (striking reflection on his imminent martyrdom) “No earthly pleasures, no kingdom of this world can benefit me in any way. I prefer death in Christ Jesus to power over the farthest limits of the earth. He who died in place of us is the one object of my quest. He who rose for our sakes is my one desire. The time for my birth is close at hand” (Letter to the Romans, 6:1-2, quoted in the Office of Readings for October 17th, and also quoted in Catechism, no. 2474).
And as an added treat, here’s Pope Benedict XVI general audience from March 14, 2007, in which he tells us more about St. Ignatius of Antioch:
St. Ignatius’ letters make great reading, though I think he would prefer that we would reflect this day on Our Lord’s words recorded in John 12:24: “Amen, Amen I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains but a grain of wheat. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.”
St. Ignatius of Antioch, pray for us!