October 17: Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, and Martyr, c. 115

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About this commemoration

Ignatius of Antioch, martyred in 115, had a profound sense of two ends—his own, and the consummation of history in Jesus Christ. In ecstasy, he saw his impending martyrdom as the fitting conclusion to a long episcopate. He was accounted the second Bishop of Antioch in Syria.

Seven authentic letters which Ignatius wrote to Churches while he journeyed across Asia Minor in the custody of ten soldiers (“my leopards,” he called them), give valuable insights into the life of the early Church. Of certain Gnostic teachings that exalted the divinity of Jesus at the expense of his humanity, Ignatius wrote: “Be deaf … to any talk that ignores Jesus Christ, of David’s lineage, of Mary; who was really born, ate, and drank; was really persecuted under Pontius Pilate; was really crucified and died in the sight of heaven and earth and the underworld. He was really raised from the dead.”

In another, he condemned a form of biblicism espoused by some as the method of historical interpretation and the only rule of Church practice. He wrote: “When I heard some people saying, ‘If I don’t find it in the ancient documents, I don’t believe it in the Gospel,’ I answered them, ‘But it is written there.’ They retorted, ‘That has got to be proved.’ But to my mind it is Jesus Christ who is the ancient documents.”

Ignatius maintained that the Church’s unity would always spring from that liturgy by which all are initiated into Christ through Baptism. He exhorted: “Try to gather more frequently to celebrate God’s Eucharist and to praise him … At these meetings you should heed the bishop and presbytery attentively and break one loaf, which is the medicine of immortality … ”

Ignatius regarded the Church as God’s holy order in the world. He was, therefore, concerned for the proper ordering of the Church’s teaching and worship. He wrote: “Flee from schism as the source of mischief. You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father. Follow, too, the presbytery as you would the apostles; and respect the deacons as you would God’s law … Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather, just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”


I  Almighty God, we praise thy Name for thy bishop and martyr Ignatius of Antioch, who offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that he might present unto thee the pure bread of sacrifice. Accept, we pray thee, the willing tribute of our lives, and give us a share in the pure and spotless offering of thy Son Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II  Almighty God, we praise your Name for your bishop and martyr Ignatius of Antioch, who offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that he might present to you the pure bread of sacrifice. Accept, we pray, the willing tribute of our lives and give us a share in the pure and spotless offering of your Son Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Psalm 31:1-5

Lessons: Isaiah 43:16–21, Romans 8:35–39, and John 12:23–26

Preface of a Saint (3)

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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12 thoughts on “October 17: Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, and Martyr, c. 115

  1. The new Hebrew reading includes this: : ‘… the wild animals will honor me … ‘

    Even though it only mentions jackals and ostriches (among wild animals) it seems to fit nicely with the Holy Bishop of Antioch.

  2. I am delighted to see St. Ignatius in our calendar. It was reading the Letters of Ignatius that incited me to leave behind an “independent-congregational” belief system and head back to an episcopal ecclesiology after spending two decades in so-called “Bible Churches.” His writings, and their early date, came into direct conflict with so much that I had previsouly believed that they caused a ‘crisis of faith’ – and a good one at that 🙂

      • True…I thought he was there, but I didn’t notice him on my Ordo Kalendar or in my edition of Lesser Feasts & Fasts (1963 ed.)…and that’s because he is listed there as February 1 (which, of course, appropirtaley belongs to St. Bridge alone :-))

        In any event, this new dating works out nicely, as two giants of the faith (Ignatius and Luke) can be celebrated back to back, permitting a feast-spread of Anticohian/Syrian foods at ‘coffee hour.’

        I also must agree withthe previous comment that the collect seems odd in light of Ignatius’ contribution to the faith that went far above and beyond his martyrdom.

  3. I am very grateful to the editors of HWHM for retaining this biograhical note which I wrote several decades ago. What I quoted from Ignatius seems even more applicable now in the face of difficulties in the Anglican Communion! Thanks.

  4. ‘In ecstasy’—I don’t remember anything in Ignatius’s letters that quite suggests this. In any case, it’s a weird concept to mention in passing. Either explain it or drop it.

    ‘Seven authentic letters which Ignatius wrote’—this sounds as though he might have written some inauthentic ones. There’s no longer any doubt about which of the letters attributed to him he actually wrote, so there’s no need even to explain it. Just say ‘the seven letters which Ignatius wrote’.

    I’m not sure his emphasis on devotion to the clergy has been helpful to the church in the long run, and wish some other quote could have been found with which to conclude the bio.

    The quote in the collect about ‘grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts’ is, if I remember correctly, from his own writings, so quite approprriate, but it might seem fanciful if you don’t know that. Mentioning it in the bio might be helpful.

  5. October 17: Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, and Martyr, c. 115
    I dislike “gory-fying” the details of masochistic martyrdoms to begin with, so I have two criticisms of the collect. With all the significant emphases listed in the bio (eschatology, faithful service as bishop, anti-Gnostic guidance, Jesus being our ideal “ancient document,” Church unity as a value, centrality of Baptism, communal Eucharistic devotion, holy order in the church and the ministry, harmfulness of schism, catholicity of the Church), the collect only highlights his being chewed to smithereens. That’s disappointing. (Philip Wainwright’s comment sheds light I didn’t realize on where it came from, but I still find it odd that it, above all, would be latched onto in preference to other possible emphases for the collect.)
    On top of that (assuming the response to the above is, “yeah, so?”), since the bio provides no information about his manner of death, the reference to “teeth of wild beasts” (grinding him) seems to float, unexplained and without context, in the collect. (Wasn’t he thrown to the beasts?) Can’t we find some other segue about him that still allows the collect to arrive at its point about having “a share in the pure and spotless offering of your Son Jesus Christ”?
    Martyrdom, per se, is heroic, but the point of martyrdom is its witness quality, so the point of the commemoration should be the gospel, its great value, and Ignatius’ faithful “witness” to it, not his audacious heroism for its own sake, detached from the gospel. You don’t have to be an exemplary Christian (or any kind of Christian) to be a hero.
    As for the commemoration as a whole, it’s excellent. It sums up a great deal that is of importance, and presents it clearly and logically. Thank you to those who prepared it.

    • ‘the bio provides no information about his manner of death’—I don’t think there is any to provide. All we know for sure is that he was arrested and carted off to Rome, expecting martyrdom.

      • Catholic Encyclopedia has a convoluted, late tradition about his death. My point is not that I feel good info has been neglected, but that the “teeth of wild beasts” allusion in the collect lacks all context in HWHM. I do assume (and could be wrong — since it has no context) that it’s related to the tradition that he met his end by being fed to the animals. I also get that it’s about his whole life being “grain” ground up as flour for the “pure bread of sacrifice.” I don’t like the metaphor. He deserves a better collect — or a better metaphor — or enough of a context in the bio so the metaphor in this at least has some semblence of a referent. “Who offered himself as grain to be ground by the teeth of wild beasts that he might present to you the pure bread of sacrifice” — do you really think that’s the best we can do with Ignatius of Antioch after all he did for Christ and the Church?

  6. Thanks, Dr. Peterson for writing this excellent bio. The unknown authors of the new bios could read, mark, and inwardly digest your worthy effort. 🙂

  7. Delete the comma in the subheading, in order to conform to the pattern elsewhere.

    I suggest adding “of Antioch” to the heading, to distinguish him from Ignatius Loyola.

    Although his year of birth is uncertain, I find it helpful to have at least an approximate year. In line 1 of the first paragraph, I would insert after “Antioch” “, born about 35 A.D.”.

    Some sources consider him the third Bishop of Antioch; the phrase “he was accounted” is strange. Perhaps rewriting the last sentence in the first paragraph, as follows, would resolve this: “After the Apostles, Ignatius became the second Bishop of Antioch in Syria.”

  8. What is there to say. Ignatius is one of the “apostolic fathers” and was in all the earlier LLFs and in the BCP calendar. His letters are still widely read and quoted, especially the sections on the three-fold ministry… The only new thing is the OT reading, to which I have no objection.
    I liked the bio and am happy to know Bill Perersen wrote it.

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