Ignatius of Antioch Biography


(Historic Lives: The Ancient World, Prehistory-476)

Article abstract: Antiochene bishop{$I[g]Middle East;Ignatius of Antioch}{$I[g]Roman Empire;Ignatius of Antioch} Ignatius served as bishop of Antioch from the early 60’s to the early 100’s and was an important theologian and the exemplary martyr of the early Christian church. By his writings and example, Ignatius strengthened the office of bishop in the church hierarchy, clarified many central Christian doctrines, such as the Real Presence and the Virgin Birth, and formulated the strategy and tactics of voluntary martyrdom.

Early Life

Ignatius (ihg-NAY-shee-uhs) was born to pagan parents at Antioch, the capital of Syria, during the second quarter of the first century, about 30 c.e. One of the largest cities of the Roman Empire, the terminus of both Eastern caravan routes and Mediterranean sea-lanes, Antioch was the center of commerce and Greek culture in the eastern Mediterranean region. It contained a large Jewish refugee population but was also the site of the first gentile Christian community, which became the mother church of Christian churches throughout the Roman Empire.

According to the earliest traditions, Ignatius was converted to Christianity by the Apostle John, whose theology certainly profoundly influenced him, and in the early 60’s was consecrated bishop of Antioch by Peter and Paul on their way to Rome and martyrdom under the emperor Nero. A charming but improbable story identifies Ignatius with the small child whom Jesus Christ presented to his disciples at Capernaum as a lesson in humility. It would appear that this story is a wordplay on the surname Theophorus (or “God-bearer”), which Ignatius took later in life; the tradition shows that Ignatius was believed to have been born before the death of Christ. Ignatius, the eager young Christian convert, was blessed with strong faith and great abilities; these qualities brought him quickly to prominence in the Christian community at Antioch and to the attention of Saint Evodius, bishop of Antioch, and Peter and Paul.

Life’s Work

As bishop of Antioch in the first century, Ignatius presided in dignity over the early gentile church, leading the greatest Christian community in the Roman Empire. Here he furthered Paul’s work in transforming Christianity from a Jewish sect into a world religion. Ignatius was an exemplary bishop who maintained Christian order in the community and orthodoxy in doctrine; like a good shepherd, he protected his flock from the wolves during the persecution under the emperor Domitian (81-96 c.e.).

Bishop Ignatius of Antioch suffered martyrdom not then but later under the humane, progressive, and just emperor Trajan. Though a pagan, the emperor was a good man and an enlightened ruler who regarded himself as the servant and protector of his people. So admirable was Trajan that there would arise a popular legend in the Middle Ages that Pope Gregory the Great had interceded with God and secured Trajan’s salvation. In La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802), Dante, following this legend, placed Trajan, though a pagan, in Heaven alongside certain eminently just Christian rulers.

Trajan’s policy toward Christianity was both moderate and legalistic. He strongly discouraged active persecution of Christians, though he allowed the legal prosecution of those who had been publicly denounced to the Roman authorities. Trajan laid down this policy explicitly in 112 in his correspondence with Pliny the Younger, the governor of Bithynia. Roman officials were forbidden to search out Christians. Those denounced to the state were to be prosecuted by their denouncers before Roman magistrates, but these Christians were given procedural guarantees and the opportunity and encouragement to recant Christianity and conform to the state religion. Thus, under Trajan, Christians could be punished if legally proved guilty and then only if obdurate in their belief.

Allegations against Christians included treason, sedition, unspecified crimes, impiety, depravity, and...

(The entire section is 1672 words.)