Next Monday, 17th October, is the Memorial of St. Ignatius of Antioch (d. 107), Bishop and Martyr. He came from Syria and was made Bishop of Antioch in c. 69 AD. Nothing is known of his early life nor about his episcopate until his final journey to Rome to be martyred. He was under a military guard, but on the journey, he wrote seven fascinating letters which attest to him as an outstanding witness to Christ in those very early years of the Church. Four were written at Smyrna where he was received by Bishop St. Polycarp. He continued to Troas, where he wrote further letters to Polycarp and to the churches in Philadelphia and Smyrna. The letters clearly affirm the divinity of Christ and also the resurrection of Christ. They urge unity around the Holy Eucharist and with the person of the local bishop. Ignatius describes the Church of Rome as founded by Peter and Paul and worthy of a special reverence. He describes himself as the ‘wheat of Christ’ and having been thrown to the lions in the Colosseum, he died almost instantly.
For Ignatius, the bishop is the focal point of the unity of the Church: “Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptise or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid” (Smyrnaeans 8:2).