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St Ignatius of Antioch

  • International
  • October 17, 2012
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Antioch in Syria was the second city of the Roman Empire during the first century. It was a rich, cosmopolitan city where the new faith took root, and where for the first time the disciples of Jesus were called “Christians”.

Ignatius grew up here, a zealous disciple of St John, Apostle and Evangelist. Ordained bishop, he encouraged the faithful by his life and teaching, specially during times of persecution. The first persecution was under the Emperor Domitian from 94 to 96. It is this persecution, carried out across the cities of the Empire, that inspired the pages of the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. Ignatius, steadfast in faith and strong in courage, proclaimed, “A Christian does not live for himself alone. He belongs to God!”

Barely two years later, another severe persecution broke out, that of the Emperor Trajan. Arrested in 107 because of his resistance to the imperial edict, Ignatius was hauled before the emperor who chanced to be in Antioch at that time, and who had referred to the great bishop in disparaging terms. Ignatius replied, “Call me not a poor wretch, for I bear God within me.” Trajan ordered that the bishop be sent to Rome to be devoured by wild beasts in the Coliseum.

Ignatius was then 62, and the long journey overland to Rome was a painful ordeal. But it also took on the aspect of a triumphant march, as large numbers of Christians turned out to meet him all the way across the province of Asia and northern Greece. At Smyrna, where Ignatius stayed awhile, he was greeted by his friend St Polycarp, also a disciple of John the Apostle. From here were dispatched Ignatius’s well-known letters to the churches of Ephesus, Magnesia and Tralles, which touched on matters of the faith and pastoral care.

Ignatius was eager to die for Christ, and discouraged friends who tried to get him released. His immortal words, repeated even today, were: “I am the wheat of Christ. I must be ground by the teeth of wild beasts in order to become pure bread !” And as he had wanted, so it was: he was killed and devoured by two lions in the Coliseum in Rome, with several other Christian martyrs, all witnesses to their faith in the Risen Lord.

The saga of Ignatius of Antioch has inspired many through the centuries. One of these was a young Basque soldier, who greatly moved by the story of his passion, changed his name after his own conversion. We know him as Ignatius of Loyola.
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