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The Catholic Defender: St. Ignatius of Antioch

According to ancient tradition, St. Ignatius was the child whom Christ had held, as described in Matthew 18:4. As the Church went under persecution with the martyrdom of St. Stephen, Christians left for the hills, many of them fleeing to Ephesus.

St. Peter himself was there and actually began the bishopric there entrusting the see to St. Evodius, a Pagan convert, who filled the chair until 66 A.D. when he was put to death by the Emperor Nero.

It was during this early period that the Church became known as Christians (Acts 11:19-26) whom Nero blamed for the burning of Rome. This persecution extended to the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire.

Antioch became an early Christian center as a result of the great persecution of the followers of Jesus which began with the stoning of St. Stephen (Act’s 7:54-60). It is interesting that we did become known as Christians in Antioch, the Church was first called Catholic (Act’s 9:31 Greek Translation).

Acts 9:31 states, “Then the church throughout all* Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.” In the original Greek, it is: “Acts 9:31 ἡ μεν ουν εκκλησια καθ᾽ ὁλης της ιουδαιας και γαλιλαιας και σαμαρειας ειχεν ειρηνην οικοδομουμενη και πορευομενη τω φοβω του κυριου, και τη παρακλησει του ἁγιου πνευματος επληθυνοντο.”

The term in bold commonly translated as‘church throughout all’ is in Greek ‘”εκκλησια καθ᾽ ὁλης”—pronounced “Ekklesia Kath olos” (Catholic) meaning the Church Universal, since Kath olos is the same term used by St Ignatius of Antioch for the Church in his letter to the Smyrnaeans on his way to Rome as a prisoner, “Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church.”

According to Theodoret of Cyrrhus, St. Peter found much favor in St. Ignatius, who had been a disciple of the Apostle John, and instructed that Ignatius be appointed to the episcopal see of Antioch. With the martyrdom of St. Evodius, St. Ignatius became the 3rd bishop to fill this Chair.

St. Ignatius served this see for more that 40 years being the humble servant of Jesus. He did much to spread the young Catholic Faith among the Pagans, who respected him for his love for the people. St. John writes of the see in Ephesus as one of the seven stars (Revelation 2:1-7) encouraging Ignatius recognizing his need to be patient as some people were turning away from their love of God and giving themselves over to the Nicolaitan Hersey which began serving false gods, those who became secular giving into the temptations of the flesh.

St. Ignatius was a contemporary of St. Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna) who was also a disciple of St. John at a time when the Roman persecution would continue principally because the Catholic Church did not recognize the divinity of the Roman Emperor, the Church always recognized that we serve but One Lord, Jesus Christ.

With the accent of the Roman Emperor Trajan (98-117) and his military victories over the Scythians and Dacians, he sought universal dominion by conquest. The Emperor sought to expand his power crashing down on religious freedom wanting to be the absolute center of devotion. This would eventually come to Ephesus as Roman Soldiers are tasked with capturing the older St. Ignatius who would not bend to the Roman Rule but only to the God of all creation.

Trajan sent our a decree that the Christians were to join the Pagans in worshiping the gods, death was the penalty for resistance. Because of St. Ignatius leadership, many held the line against this decree. St. Ignatius prayed when seeing the detachment of Soldiers coming for him offering them breakfast as he prayed for another 2 hours. The Soldiers admired the courage of Ignatius who did not run or hide from them but instead was welcoming and humble towards them.

Once brought before Trajan, who was in Antioch at the time, St. Ignatius being accused of violating the decree, bore such a great witness for Jesus Christ, the Emperor ordered Ignatius to be placed in chains and taken to Rome to provide food for the wild beasts and to make sport of him in the arena.

It was a long trip to Rome as St. Ignatius was placed in chains which made him feel all the more as a disciple. Of this journey, St. Ignatius writes, "From Syria even to Rome I fight with wild beasts, by land and sea, by night and by day, being bound amidst ten leopards, even a company of soldiers, who only grow worse when they are kindly treated."

St. Ignatius was greeted by people with words of comfort and encouragement as word spread of his capture and journey to Rome. He wrote seven letters that exhorts the faithful to remain obedient to their bishops as they would to Jesus Christ and to avoid heresies. Everywhere St. Ignatius call for people to remain faithful to the Catholic Faith.

Approaching Rome, St. Ignatius writes, "Not as Peter and Paul did, do I command you [Romans]. They were apostles, and I am a convict” (Letter to the Romans 4:3 [A.D. 110]).

Being led into the Colosseum, St. Ignatius was not afraid as he knew that he would one day arise as the Lord Jesus Christ arose from the dead. He writes to the faithful of Rome, "Permit me to imitate my suffering God ... I am God's wheat and I shall be ground by the teeth of beasts, that I may become the pure bread of Christ."

St. Ignatius recognized his Eucharistic Lord, and he wanted to imitate and follow Our Lord giving witness to the truth of the Catholic Faith, founded by Christ, the true teaching handed down by the Apostles. After giving great witness before the Emperor and the crowd, two lions were released as St. Ignatius stood gazing the heavens reducing the crowd to silence.

Anticipating his death St Ignatius wrote: A letter to the Romans by St Ignatius of Antioch

"I am God's wheat and shall be ground by the teeth of wild animals. I am writing to all the churches to let it be known that I will gladly die for God if only you do not stand in my way. I plead with you: show me no untimely kindness. Let me be food for the wild beasts, for they are my way to God. I am God's wheat and shall be ground by their teeth so that I may become Christ's pure bread. Pray to Christ for me that the animals will be the means of making me a sacrificial victim for God. No earthly pleasures, no kingdoms 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. Forgive me, my brothers. Do not stand in the way of my birth to real life; do not wish me stillborn. My desire is to belong to God. Do not, then, hand me back to the world. Do not try to tempt me with material things. Let me attain pure light. Only on my arrival there can I be fully a human being. Give me the privilege of imitating the passion of my God. If you have him in your heart, you will understand what I wish. You will sympathize with me because you will know what urges me on. The prince of this world is determined to lay hold of me and to undermine my will which is intent on God. Let none of you here help him; instead show yourselves on my side, which is also God's side. Do not talk about Jesus Christ as long as you love this world. Do not harbor envious thoughts. And supposing I should see you, if then I should beg you to intervene on my behalf, do not believe what I say. Believe instead what I am now writing to you. For though I am alive as I write to you - still - my real desire is to die. My love of this life has been crucified, and there is no yearning in me for any earthly thing. Rather within me is the living water which says deep inside me: "Come to the Father." I no longer take pleasure in perishable food or in the delights of this world. I want only God's bread, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, formed of the seed of David, and for drink I crave his blood, which is love that cannot perish.

I am no longer willing to live a merely human life, and you can bring about my wish if you will. Please, then, do me this favour, so that you in turn may meet with equal kindness. Put briefly, this is my request: believe what I am saying to you. Jesus Christ himself will make it clear to you that I am saying the truth. Only truth can come from that mouth by which the Father has truly spoken. Pray for me that I may obtain my desire. I have not written to you as a mere man would, but as one who knows the mind of God. If I am condemned to suffer, I will take it that you wish me well. If my case is postponed, I can only think that you wish me harm."

"But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8)

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