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The Catholic Defender: Saint Ignatius of Antioch


He laid the foundation for dogmas that would be formulated in succeeding generations. His advocacy of a hierarchical structure of the church with emphasis on episcopal authority, his insistence on the real humanity of Christ, and his ardent desire for martyrdom are subjects that have generated much discussion.


Pope Benedict XVI said that “no Church Father has expressed the longing for union with Christ and for life in him with the intensity of Ignatius.” Ignatius' last words before the lions tore him to pieces:Allow me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose means it will be granted me to reach God.


Born in Syria, Ignatius converted to Christianity and eventually became bishop of Antioch. In the year 107, Emperor Trajan visited Antioch and forced the Christians there to choose between death and apostasy. Ignatius would not deny Christ and thus was condemned to be put to death in Rome.


Ignatius is well known for the seven letters he wrote on the long journey from Antioch to Rome. Five of these letters are to churches in Asia Minor; they urge the Christians there to remain faithful to God and to obey their superiors. He warns them against heretical doctrines, providing them with the solid truths of the Christian faith.

The sixth letter was to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was later martyred for the faith. The final letter begs the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his martyrdom. “The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God. I am the wheat of the Lord; may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”


Ignatius bravely met the lions in the Circus Maximus.


Ignatius’ great concern was for the unity and order of the Church. Even greater was his willingness to suffer martyrdom rather than deny Christ. He did not draw attention to his own suffering, but to the love of God which strengthened him. He knew the price of commitment and would not deny Christ, even to save his own life.


Blessed holy servant of God, St. Ignatius of Antioch, we pray today for protection of the faithful throughout the world. Intercede for us! Your faith in God was so great that you were a witness of Christ's love even though you were persecuted.

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