Note: This is posting #7 in a series on historical theology within the Christian church. To view other postings, please click here.
He once said, “Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.” Noting that persecution often expanded the church, building not only character but more committed Christians, Ignatius of Antioch himself was prepared to die for his faith. In fact, while on his way to be martyred sometime around AD 110-115, he wrote to his supporters urging them not to rescue him, instead saying, “I fear your kindness, which may harm me.”
As the bishop of Antioch, Ignatius wrote 7 letters while on his way to Rome to be martyred. The letters, written to Ephesus, Magnesia, Trallia, Rome, Philadelphia, Smyrna, and Polycarp, contributed much to counteract the false teachings of his time (each of the letters can be read online here). The letters culminate together to reveal a man that had a high view of church leadership, a high view of the Lord’s Supper, and a high view of Jesus Christ.
Ignatius’ view on church leadership focused on the church body’s obedience to leadership. He stressed especially, the need to submit to the bishop overseeing the church. With division, perhaps it was that obedience to leadership would provide the unity necessary for the church to stand. However, Ignatius probably elevated leadership too much, thus becoming the basis for a church hierarchy that gives man more power than God. It is the precursor to a faith that sets the word of certain men above the word of God…..something you see in the Roman Catholic Church as the pope has authority to override teachings of Scripture (thus generating confusion as one pope’s writings conflict with the writings with a previous pope). Regardless, Ignatius provides insight into the church structure of the day and the issues sometimes faced within the church.
Furthermore, he held a high view of the Lord’s Supper. In fact, he was the one that began the term ‘Eucharist’ in order to describe it. His writings indicate a view that see people participating in the divine mortality of Christ when they participate in the Lord’s Supper.
Finally, Ignatius had a high view of Jesus Christ. During a time in which the church had just been set to its own without the help of any of the original apostles, issues such as Christology began to require defining. Ignatius devoted time to explaining both the humanity and deity of Jesus Christ, and in the process countered many of the teachings of the Gnostics.
Eventually, Ignatius would be brought forth to die for his faith, being charged with ‘atheism’ for his refusal to submit to the Roman Gods. While his theology was not always accurate, Ignatius left something exceedingly important behind for us. In a culture that was rapidly changing, he was one of the first who would both interpret Scripture in its original context in order to apply it for believers in their current context, much like what is done today. Thus, Ignatius was one of the first, it not the first, to show that Scripture spans across time and culture to be applicable to all people in all eras.