Ignatius of Antioch – Who was he?

Ignatius of Antioch was the third bishop of Antioch, and a student of John the Apostle. He was one of the early church fathers. The letters of Ignatius of Antioch are seen as an early source of much Catholic ecclesiology and church doctrine, including information on sacraments and the role of bishops in the church. Because Ignatius also called himself Theophorus, which means "God bearer," Catholic tradition holds that he was one of the children Jesus took into His arms when He said, "Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 19:14). The connection of this verse to the name Theophorus is unclear, and there is no biblical reference that verifies the tradition.

There were seven original letters of Ignatius to the churches in Asia Minor, but the collection was increased by a number of false letters, forged by people who wished to use Ignatius' name to further their own causes. The eyewitness account of his martyrdom (being eaten by wild beasts) is thought to be one of these forgeries. It should be noted that, though Ignatius clearly had faith in Christ, his letters were not determined to be canonical.

In his real letters, Ignatius of Antioch seemed to have exhorted the churches towards harmony and order in their ecclesiastical meetings, and was the first to emphasize a regional bishop who had elders and deacons to assist him. This contributed to the way that Catholic churches still function today. He also stressed the importance of communion, because it reminded followers that Jesus had been in the flesh, and was not just a spirit. If (as some people at that time claimed) Jesus was pure spirit, Ignatius rightly argued, He could not have died on the cross and shed blood for our sins, and the atonement would not have happened (Hebrews 2:9; 9:12; 10:10–14).

Ignatius of Antioch spoke against Gnosticism and Docetism. The heresies embraced the false ideas that the spirit is good and the flesh is evil and that Satan is the evil and equal opposite of a good God. The heresies also separated the divine Christ from the human Christ, saying the divine Christ came on Jesus at His baptism and departed before His death. In his letter to the Ephesian church, Ignatius says, "There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord."

Ignatius of Antioch had an overall positive impact on the churches, and gave much encouragement to the Christians of that day.

Related Truth:

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Philo of Alexandria – Who was he?

The Apostles' Creed – What is it?

What was the Council of Nicea?

The Nicene Creed – What is it?

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