Ignatius, Surnamed Theophorus

, one of the apostolical fathers of the church, was born in Syria, educated under the apostle and evangelist St. John, intimately acquainted with some other of the apostles, especially St. Peter and St. Paul; and being fully instructed in the doctrines of Christianity, was, for his eminent parts and piety, ordained by St. John; and confirmed about the year 67, bishop of Antioch by these two apostles, who first planted Christianity in that city, where the disciples were first called Christians. In this important seat he continued to sit upwards of forty years, both an honour and safeguard to the Christian religion; in the midst of very stormy and tempestuous times, undaunted himself, and unmoved with the prospect of suffering a cruel death. So much seems to be certain in general, though we have no account of any particulars of his life till the year 107, when Trajan the emperor, elated with his victory over the Scythians and Daci, came to Antioch to prepare for a war against the Parthians and Armenians. He entered the city with the pomp and solemnities of a triumph; and, as he had already commenced a persecution against the Christians in other parts of the empire, he now resolved to carry it on here. However, as he was naturally mild and humane, though he ordered the laws to be put in force against them, if convicted, yet he forbad any extraordinary means to be used for discovering or informing against them.

In this state of affairs, Ignatius voluntarily presented himself to the emperor; and it is said, there passed a long conversation between them, in which the emperor expressing a surprise how he dared to transgress the laws, the bishop took the opportunity to assert his own innocence, and the power which God had given Christians over evil spirits; declaring that “the gods of the Gentiles were no better than daemons, there being but one supreme Deity, who made the world, and his only begotten son Jesus Christ, who, though crucified under Pilate, had yet destroyed him that had the power of sin, that is, tue devil, and would ruin the whole power and empire of the daemons, and tread it under the feet of those who carried God in their hearts.” For this bold avowal of his principles, | combined with a defiance of heathenism, he was cast into prison, and sentence passed upon him, that he should be carried bound by soldiers to Rome, and there thrown as a prey to wild beasts. It may seem strange that they should send an old man by land, at a great expence, attended with soldiers, from Syria to Rome, instead of casting him to the lions at Antioch; but it is said, that Trajan did this on purpose to make an example of him, as of a ringleader of the sect, and to deter the Christians from preaching and spreading their religion; and for the same reason he sent him to be executed at Rome, where there were many Christians, and which, as it was the capital of the world, so was it the head-quarters of all religious sects. After all, this part of his sentence was a particular cruelty, and above what the laws required, and consequently such as might not be expected from Trajan. But, in our martyr’s case, he might not improbably be persuaded to act contrary to his natural disposition by those about him, who began to perceive that Christianity, if it prevailed, would prove the ruin of their religion. Ignatius was so far from being dismayed, that he heartily rejoiced at the fatal decree. “I thank thee, O Lord,” says he, “that thou hast condescended to honour me with thy love, and hast thought me worthy, with thy apostle St. Paul, to be bound in iron chains.” With these words he cheerfully embraced his chains; and having frequently prayed for his church, and recommended it to the divine care and providence, he delivered up himself into the hands of his keepers. These were ten soldiers, by whom he was first conducted to Seleucia, a port of Syria, at about sixteen miles distance, the place where Paul and Barnabas set sail for Cyprus. Arriving at Smyrna, in Ionia, Ignatius went to visit Polycarp, bishop of that place, and was himself visited by the clergy of the Asiatic churches round the country. In return for that kindness, he wrote letters to several churches, as the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, besides the Romans, for their instruction and establishment in the faith; one of these was addressed to the Christians at Rome, to acquaint them with his present state and passionate desire not to be hindered in that course of martyrdom which he was now hastening to accomplish.

His guard, a little impatient at their stay, set sail with him for Troas, a noted city of the lesser Phrygia, not far from the ruins of old Troy; where, at his arrival, he was | much refreshed with the news he received of the persecution ceasing in the church of Antioch. Hither atlso several churches sent their messengers to pay their respects to him, and hence too he dispatched two epistles, one to the church of Philadelphia, and the other to that of Smyrna; and together with this last, as Eusebitfs relates, he wrote privately to Polycarp, recommending to him the care and inspection of the church of Antioch. All this while his keepers used him very cruelly and barbarously. He complains of it himself: “From Syria even to Rome,” sa’yS fie 4 "both by sea and land, I fight with beasts night and daj^ I am chained to 1 the leopards, which is my military guard, who, the kinder I am to them, are the more cruel and fierce to me. 7 ‘ And yet it is evident, that they suffered him to be visited by Christians, and to give them instructions; and write epistles in several cities through which he passed. But his own account of the matter explains this apparent difficulty; the words implying, that these ruffian^ made money of him this way, being handsomely rewarded for this permission by the Christians who resorted to him, although their savage tempers induced them to use him the worse for it. From Trcras they sailed to Neapolis, a maritime town in Macedonia, thence to Phflrppi, a Roman colony, where they were entertained with all imaginable’ kiffdiress and courtesy, and conducted forwards on their journey, passing on foot through Macedonia and Epirus, till they came to Epidaurum, a city of Dalmatia, where again taking shipping, they sailed through the Adriatic, and arrived at Rhegium, a port town in Italy; directing their course thence through the Tyrrhenian sea to Pu’teoli, whence Ignatius desired to proceed by land, ambitious to trace the same way by which St. Paul went to Rome; buC this wish was not complied with. In about twenty-four hours, however, a brisk wind conveyed them to Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber, about sixteen miles from Rome.

The Christians at Rome, d’aiiy expecting his arrival, had come out to meet and entertain him, and accordingly received him with an equal mixture of joy and sorrow: but when some of them intimated, that possibly the populace might be dissuaded from desiring his death, he expressed a pious indignation, in treating them to Cast no obstacles in his way, nor do any thing that might hinder him, now he was hastening to his crown. The interval before his | martyrdom was spent in prayers for the peace and prosperity of the church. That his punishment might be the more pompous and public, one of their solemn festivals, the Saturnalia, was chosen for his execution; when it was their custom to entertain the people with the conflicts of gladiators, and the hunting and fighting with wild beasts. Accordingly, Dec. 20, in the year 107, or as some think in 116, he was brought out into the amphitheatre; and the lions, being let loose upon lum, quickly dispatched their meal, leaving nothing but a few of the hardest of his bones. These remains were gathered up by two deacons who had been the companions of his journey, transported to Antioch, and interred in the cemetery, without the gate, but afterwards, by command of the emperor Theodosius, were removed to the Tycheon, a temple within the city, now consecrated to the memory of Ignatius. Thus far all historians concur; but the pretended translation of these relics to Rome, and other places, must be classed among the fables of the early Romanists.

His epistles are very interesting remains of ecclesiastical antiquity on many accounts. He stands at the head of those Antenicene fathers, who have occasionally delivered their opinions in defence of the true divinity of Christ, whom he calls the Son of God, and his eternal word. He is also reckoned the great champion of the episcopal order, as distinct and superior to that of priest and deacon. He is constantly produced as an instance of the continuation of supernatural gifts, after the time of the apostles, particularly that of divine revelation, but the miracles imputed to him are of very doubtful authority. The most important use of his writings respects the authenticity of the Holy Scriptures, to which he frequently alludes, in the very expressions which are extant.

There are also some spurious writings attributed to Ignatius, which are accurately examined by Dupin and others. Of the genuine seven epistles, the best editions are, that of Amsterdam, 1697, fol. with remarks by archbishop Usher and Pearson; and that by M. Cotelier, in his “Patres Apostolici,Greek and Latin. These seven epistles are addressed to the Smyrneans, St. Polycarp, the Ephesians, Magnesiaus, Philadelphians, Trallians, and Romans. They are also excellently translated, and make part of archbishop "Genuine Epistles of the Apostolical Fathers,' v | 1737, 8vi, fourth edit, where there is a valuable introductory chapter on the history and writings of Ignatius. 1

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Life by Cave. Jortin’s Remarks on Ecclesiastical History. Milnr’s Church History, Dr. Horsley’s Letters to Priestley. Lardner’s Works.