Ignatius of Antioch's Epistle to Polycarp
Ignatius of Antioch (Ancient Greek: Ἰγνάτιος Ἀντιοχείας, Ignátios Antiokheías; also known as Ignatius Theophorus (Ιγνάτιος ὁ Θεοφόρος, Ignátios ho Theophóros, lit. "the Godbearing"), was an Apostolic Father and disciple of John the Apostle, and was the third bishop of Antioch. En route to Rome, where he met his martyrdom by being fed to wild bests, he wrote a series of letters which have been preserved as an example of early Christian Theology. Important topics addressed in these letters include ecclesiology, the sacraments and the role of bishops. Presented here is just one of those letters.
Ignatius converted to Christianity at a young age. Later in his life he was chosen to serve as a Bishop of Antioch, succeeding the Apostle Peter and Peter's first successor Evodius (who died around AD 67). The 4th-century Church historian Eusebius records that Ignatius succeeded Evodius.
He was martyred in the 11th year of Trajan's reign; i.e., AD 108
Epistle to Polycarp
Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, to Polycarp who is bishop of the church of the Smyrnaeans or rather who has for his bishop God the Father and Jesus Christ, abundant greeting. Welcoming your godly mind which is grounded as it were on an immovable rock, I give exceeding glory that it has been my opportunity to see your blameless face, that gives me joy in God. I exhort you in the grace which you are clothed with to press forward in your course and to exhort all men that they may be saved. Vindicate your office in all diligence of flesh and of spirit. Have a care for union, of which there is nothing better. Bear all men, as the Lord also bears you. Deal with all men in love, as you do. Give yourself to unceasing prayers. Ask for greater wisdom than you have. Be watchful, and keep your spirit from slumbering. Speak to each man individually after the manner of God. Bear the maladies of all, as a perfect athlete. Where there is more toil, there is much gain. If you love good scholars, this is not worthy of thanks. Rather bring the more pestilent to submission by gentleness. All wounds are not healed by the same salve. Allay sharp pains by fomentations. Be prudent as the serpent in all things and guileless always as the dove. Therefore you are made of flesh and spirit, that you may humor the things which appear before your eyes; and as for the invisible things, pray that they may be revealed to you; that you may be lacking in nothing, but may abound in every spiritual gift. The season requires you, as sailors require winds or as a storm-tossed mariner a haven, that it may attain unto God. Be sober, as God's athlete. The prize is incorruption and life eternal, concerning which you are also persuaded. In all things I am devoted to you - I and my bonds which you cherished. Let not those that seem to be plausible and yet teach strange doctrine dismay you. Stand firm, as an anvil when it is smitten. It is the part of a great athlete to receive blows and be victorious. But especially must we for God's sake endure all things, that He also may endure us. Be more diligent than you are. Mark the seasons. Await Him that is above every season, the Eternal, the Invisible, who became visible for our sake, the Impalpable, the Impassible, who suffered for our sake, who endured in all ways for our sake. Let not widows be neglected. After the Lord you be their protector. Let nothing be done without your consent; neither should you do anything without the consent of God, as indeed you do not. Be steadfast.
Let assemblies be held more frequently. Seek out all men by name. Despise not slaves, whether men or women. Yet let not these again be puffed up, but let them serve the more faithfully to the glory of God, that they may obtain a better freedom from God. Let them not desire to be set free at the public cost, lest they be found slaves of lust. Flee evil arts, or rather hold discourse about these. Tell my sisters to love the Lord and to be content with their husbands in flesh and in spirit. In like manner also charge my brothers in the name of Jesus Christ to love their wives, as the Lord loved the Church. If any one is able to abide in chastity to the honor of the flesh of the Lord, let him so abide without boasting. If he boast, he is lost; and if it be known beyond the bishop, he is polluted. It becomes men and women too, when they marry, to unite themselves with the consent of the bishop, that the marriage may be after the Lord and not after concupiscence. Let all things be done to the honor of God. Give heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. I am devoted to those who are subject to the bishop, the presbyters, the deacons. May it be granted me to have my portion with them in the presence of God. Toil together one with another, struggle together, run together, suffer together, lie down together, rise up together, as God's stewards and assessors and ministers. Please the Captain in whose army you serve, from whom also you will receive your pay. Let none of you be found a deserter. Let your baptism abide with you as you shield; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as your body armor. Let your works be your deposits, that ye may receive your assets due to you. Be ye therefore long-suffering one with another in gentleness, as God is with you. May I have joy of you always. Seeing that the church which is in Antioch of Syria hath peace, as it has been reported to me, through your prayers, I myself also have been the more comforted since God has banished my care; if so be, I may through suffering attain unto God, that I may be found a disciple through your intercession.
It becomes you, most blessed Polycarp, to call together a godly council and to elect someone among you who is very dear to you and zealous also, who shall be fit to bear the name of God's courier – to appoint him, I say, that he may go to Syria and glorify your zealous love unto the glory of God. A Christian has no authority over himself, but gives his time to God. This is God's work, and yours also, when you shall complete it: for I trust in the Divine grace, that you are ready for an act of well- doing which is meet for God. Knowing the fervor of your sincerity, I have exhorted you in a short letter. Since I have not been able to write to all the churches, by reason of my sailing suddenly from Troas to Neapolis, as the Divine will enjoins, you shall write to the churches in front, as one possessing the mind of God, to the intent that they also may do this same thing -- let those who are able send messengers, and the rest letters by the persons who are sent by you, that you may be glorified by an ever memorable deed--for this is worthy of you. I salute all by name, and especially the wife of Epitropus with her whole household and her children's. I salute Attalus my beloved. I salute him that shall be appointed to go to Syria. Grace shall be with him always, and with Polycarp who sends him. I bid you farewell always in our God Jesus Christ, in whom you abide in the unity and supervision of God. I salute Alce, a name very dear to me. Farewell in the Lord.Letter to the Smyrnaeans Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, to the church of God the Father and of Jesus Christ the Beloved, which has been mercifully endowed with every grace, being filled with faith and love and lacking in no grace, most reverend and bearing holy treasures; to the church which is in Smyrna of Asia, in a blameless spirit and in the word of God abundant greeting.
I give glory to Jesus Christ the God who bestowed such wisdom upon you; for I have perceived that you are established in faith immovable, being as it were nailed on the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, in flesh and in spirit, and firmly grounded in love in the blood of Christ, fully persuaded as touching our Lord that He is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, but Son of God by the Divine will and power, truly born of a virgin and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him, truly nailed up in the flesh for our sakes under Pontius Pilate and Herod the Tetrarch (of which fruit are we -- that is, of His most blessed passion); that He might set up an ensign unto all the ages through His resurrection, for His saints and faithful people, whether among Jews or among Gentiles, in one body of His Church. For He suffered all these things for our sakes that we might be saved; and He suffered truly, as also He raised Himself truly; not as certain unbelievers say, that He suffered in semblance, being themselves mere semblance. And according as their opinions are, so shall it happen to them, for they are without body and demon-like. For I know and believe that He was in the flesh even after the resurrection; and when He came to Peter and his company, He said to them, “Lay hold and handle me, and see that I am not a demon without body.” And straightway they touched Him, and they believed, being joined to His flesh and His blood. Wherefore also they despise death; no, they were found superior to death. And after His resurrection He both ate with them and drank with them as one in the flesh, though spiritually He was united with the Father. But these things I warn you, dearly beloved, knowing that you yourselves are so minded. How is it I watch over you constantly to protect you from wild beasts in human form – men whom not only should you not receive, but, if it were possible, not so much as meet; only pray for them, if hopefully they may repent. This indeed is difficult, but Jesus Christ, our true life, has power over it. For if these things were done by our Lord in semblance, then am I also a prisoner in semblance. And why then have I delivered myself over to death, to fire, to sword, to wild beasts? But near to the sword, near to God; in company with wild beasts, in company with God. Only let it be in the name of Jesus Christ, so that we may suffer together with Him. I endure all things, seeing that He Himself enables me, who is perfect Man. But certain persons ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being advocates of death rather than of the truth; and they have not been persuaded by the prophecies nor by the law of Moses,; no, nor even to this very hour by the Gospel, nor by the sufferings of each of us; for they are of the same mind also concerning us. For what profit is it to me, if a man praises me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was a bearer of flesh? Yet he that does not affirm this, does thereby deny Him altogether, being himself a bearer of a corpse. But their names, being unbelievers, I have not thought fit to record in writing; no, far be it from me even to remember them, until they repent and return to the passion, which is our resurrection. Let no man be deceived. Even the heavenly beings and the glory of the angels and the rulers visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ [who is God], judgment awaits them also. He that receives let him receive. Let no office puff up any man; for faith and love are all in all, and nothing is preferred before them. But mark those who hold strange doctrine touching the grace of Jesus Christ which came to us, how that they are contrary to the mind of God. They have no care for love, none for the widow, none for the orphan, none for the afflicted, none for the prisoner, none for the hungry or thirsty. They abstain from Eucharist and prayer, because they do not accept that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which flesh suffered for our sins, and which the Father of His goodness raised up. They therefore that gainsay the good gift of God perish by their questionings. But it was expedient for them to have love, that they may also rise again. It is therefore meet that you should abstain from such, and not speak of them either privately or in public; but should give heed to the Prophets, and especially to the Gospel, wherein the passion is shown to us and the resurrection is accomplished. But shun divisions, as the beginning of evils.
All of you follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God's commandment. Let no man do anything pertaining to the Church apart from the bishop. Let that be held a valid Eucharist which is under the bishop or one to whom he shall have committed it. Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be; even as where Jesus may be, there is the universal Church. It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve, this is well pleasing also to God; that everything you do may be sure and valid. It is reasonable henceforth that we wake to soberness, while we still have time to repent and turn to God. It is good to recognize God and the bishop. He that honors the bishop is honored of God; he that does anything without the knowledge of the bishop renders service to the devil. May all things therefore abound to you in grace, for you are worthy. You refreshed me in all things, and Jesus Christ shall refresh you. In my absence and in my presence you cherished me. May God recompense you; for whose sake if you endure all things, you shall attain unto Him. Philo and Rhaius Agathopus, who followed me in the cause of God, you did well to receive as ministers of [Christ] God; who also give thanks to the Lord for you, because you refreshed them in every way. Nothing shall be lost to you. My spirit is devoted for you, as also are my bonds, which you did not despise, neither were ashamed of them.
Nor shall He, who is perfect faithfulness, be ashamed of you, even Jesus Christ. Your prayer sped forth to the church which is in Antioch of Syria; whence coming a prisoner in most godly bonds I salute all men, though I am not worthy to belong to it, being the very last of them. By the Divine will was this vouchsafed to me, not of my own complicity, but by God's grace, which I pray may be given to me perfectly, that through your prayers I may attain to God. Therefore that your work may be perfected both on earth and in heaven, it is meet that your church should appoint, for the honor of God, an ambassador of God that he may go as far as Syria and congratulate them because they are at peace, and have recovered their proper stature, and their proper bulk hath been restored to them. It seemed to me therefore a fitting thing that you should send one of your own people with a letter, that he might join with them in giving glory for the calm which by God's will had overtaken them, and because they were already reaching a haven through your prayers. Seeing you are perfect, let your counsels also be perfect; for if you desire to do well, God is ready to grant the means. The love of the brethren which are in Troas salutes you; from whence also I write to you by the hand of Burrhus, whom you sent with me jointly with the Ephesians your brethren. He has refreshed me in all ways. And I would that all imitated him, for he is an ensample of the ministry of God. The Divine grace shall requite him in all things. I salute your godly bishop and your venerable presbytery and my fellow-servants the deacons, and all of you severally and in a body, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in His flesh and blood, in His passion and resurrection, which was both carnal and spiritual, in the unity of God and of yourselves. Grace to you, mercy, peace, patience, always. I salute the households of my brethren with their wives and children, and the virgins who are called widows. I bid you farewell in the power of the Father. Philo, who is with me, salutes you. I salute the household of Gavia, and I pray that she may be grounded in faith and love both of flesh and of spirit. I salute Alce, a name very dear to me, and Daphnus the incomparable, and Eutecnus, and all by name. Farewell in the grace of God. Letter to the Philadelphians Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, to the church of God the Father and of Jesus Christ, which is in Philadelphia of Asia, which has found mercy and is firmly established in the concord of God and rejoices in the passion of our Lord and in His resurrection without wavering, being fully assured in all mercy; which church I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, that is eternal and abiding joy; more especially if they be at one with the bishop and the presbyters who are with him, and with the deacons that have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom after His own will He confirmed and established by His Holy Spirit. This your bishop I have found to hold the ministry which pertains to the common weal, not of himself or through men, nor yet for vain glory, but in the love of God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. And I am amazed at his forbearance; whose silence is more powerful than others' speech. For he is attuned in harmony with the commandments, as a lyre with its strings. Wherefore my soul blesses his godly mind, for I have found that it is virtuous and perfect -- even the imperturbable and calm temper which he has, while living in all godly forbearance.
As children therefore of the light of the truth, shun division and wrong doctrines; and where the shepherd is, there follow you as sheep. For many specious wolves with baneful delights lead captive the runners in God's race; but, where you are at one, they will find no place. Abstain from noxious herbs, which are not the husbandry of Jesus Christ, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found division among you, but filtering. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ, they are with the bishop; and as many as shall repent and enter into the unity of the Church, these also shall be of God, that they may be living after Jesus Christ. Be not deceived, my brethren. If any man follows one that makes a schism, he does not inherit the kingdom of God. If any man walks in strange doctrine, he has no fellowship with the passion. Be ye careful therefore to observe one Eucharist (for there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ and one cup unto union in His blood; there is one altar, as there is one bishop, together with the presbytery and the deacons my fellow-servants), that whatsoever you do, you may do it after God.
My brethren, my heart overflows altogether in love towards you; and rejoicing above measure I watch over your safety; yet not I, but Jesus Christ, wearing whose bonds I am the more afraid, because I am not yet perfected. But your prayer will make me perfect unto God, that I may attain the inheritance wherein I have found mercy, taking refuge in the Gospel as the flesh of Jesus and in the Apostles as the presbytery of the Church. Yes, and we love the prophets also, because they too pointed to the Gospel in their preaching and set their hope on Him and awaited Him; in whom also having faith they were saved in the unity of Jesus Christ, being worthy of all love and admiration as holy men, approved of Jesus Christ and numbered together in the Gospel of our common hope. But if any one propound Judaism unto you, do not hear him: for it is better to hear Christianity from a man who is circumcised than Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either the one or the other does not speak concerning Jesus Christ, I look on them as tombstones and graves of the dead, whereon are inscribed only the names of men. Shun therefore the wicked arts and plots of the prince of this world, lest you eventually be crushed by his devices, and wax weak in your love. But assemble yourselves all together with undivided heart. And I give thanks to my God, that I have a good conscience in my dealings with you, and no man can boast either in secret or openly, that I was burdensome to any one in small things or in great. Yes and for all among whom I spoke, it is my prayer that they may not turn it into a testimony against themselves. For even though certain persons desired to deceive me after the flesh, yet the spirit is not deceived, being from God; for it knows whence it comes and where it goes, and it searches out the hidden things. I cried out, when I was among you; I spoke with a loud voice, with God's own voice, Give heed to the bishop and the presbytery and deacons. Howbeit there were those who suspected me of saying this, because I knew beforehand of the division of certain persons.
But He in whom I am bound is my witness that I learned it not from flesh of man; it was the preaching of the Spirit who spoke on this wise; Do nothing without the bishop; keep your flesh as a temple of God; cherish union; shun divisions; be imitators of Jesus Christ, as He Himself also was of His Father. I therefore did my own part, as a man composed unto union. But where there is division and anger, there God abides not. Now the Lord forgives all men when they repent, if repenting they return to the unity of God and to the council of the bishop. I have faith in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall strike off every fetter from you; and I entreat you, Do nothing in a spirit of factiousness but after the teaching of Christ. For I heard certain persons saying, If I find it not in the charters, I believe it not in the Gospel. And when I said to them, It is written, they answered me That is the question. But as for me, my charter is Jesus Christ, the inviolable charter is His cross and His death and His resurrection, and faith through Him; wherein I desire to be justified through your prayers. The priests likewise were good, but better is the High-Priest to whom is committed the holy of holies; for to Him alone are committed the hidden things of God; He Himself being the door of the Father, through which Abraham and Isaac and Jacob enter in, and the Prophets and the Apostles and the whole Church; all these things combine in the unity of God. But the Gospel has a singular preeminence in the advent of the Savior, even our Lord Jesus Christ, and His passion and resurrection. For the beloved Prophets in their preaching pointed to Him; but the Gospel is the completion of immortality. All things together are good, if you believe through love. Seeing that in answer to your prayer and to the tender sympathy which you have in Christ Jesus, it has been reported to me that the church which is in Antioch of Syria has peace, it is becoming for you, as a church of God, to appoint a deacon to go there as God's ambassador, that he may congratulate them when they are assembled together, and may glorify the Name. Blessed in Jesus Christ is he that shall be counted worthy of such a ministry; and you yourselves shall be glorified. Now if you desire it, it is not impossible for you to do this for the name of God; even as the churches which are nearest have sent bishops, and others presbyters and deacons. But as touching Philo the deacon from Cilicia, a man of good report, who now also ministers to me in the word of God, together with Rhaius Agathopus, an elect one who follows me from Syria, having bidden farewell to this present life; the same who also bear witness to you -- and I myself thank God on your behalf, because you received them, as I trust the Lord will receive you. But may those who treated them with dishonor be redeemed through the grace of Jesus Christ. The love of the brethren which are in Troas salutes you; from whence also I write to you by the hand of Burrhus, who was sent with me by the Ephesians and Smyrnaeans as a mark of honor. The Lord shall honor them, even Jesus Christ, on whom their hope is set in flesh and soul and spirit, by faith, by love, by concord. Farewell in Christ Jesus our common hope.