Memorial of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr
(Galatians 5:18-25; Luke 11:42-46)
The letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch come as a ray of sun shining through a miry fog. The New Testament leaves the episcopacy in a murky state. They detail in a limited way the qualifications for the office of bishop but say little about his functions. St. Ignatius, who lived at the end of New Testament times, fills in the lacunae.
Ignatius clearly distinguishes the duties of bishop, priest, and deacon. He leaves no doubt as to who is in charge. But he has favorable words for all the ordained. He compares the bishop with God, the Father. For this reason he is considered the originator of the “monarchial bishop.” He sees the priests’ role as like that of the Holy Spirit who is found sanctifying the people in all places and ways. Deacons in Ignatius’ view are quite honored. They are like Christ, the Savior, doing good to all whom they meet.
As much as a theologian, Ignatius is renowned as a spiritual writer. His letters can turn deeply personal. He reflects on his upcoming execution as an opportunity to join Christ in suffering and death. In one memorable passage he tells Roman Christians not to interfere with his being sent to the lions. Why? He wrote, “I am the wheat of God and am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ”! Saint Ignatius of Antioch was a martyr and a bishop, a wise man and a holy man.