, Bishop and Martyr
from the Liturgical Year, 1904
Two days more, and the happy season of Christmas will be over! This is the vigil of its termination, and lo! there comes to gladden us one of the grandest Martyrs of the year--Ignatius surnamed the Theophorus (i.e. he that carries God, or, he that is carried of God), Bishop of Antioch. A venerable tradition tells us, that this old man, who so generously confessed the faith before Trajan, was the child whom Jesus took into his arms, and showed to his Disciples as a model of that simplicity, which we must all have, if we would enter into the kingdom of heaven. Today he appears before us, standing near the Crib, in which this same Jesus gives us His own divine lessons of humility and simplicity.
But, in this the Court of our Emmanuel, Ignatius stands near to Peter, the Feast of whose Chair we kept a few days since; for the Prince of the Apostles made him his second successor in his first See of Antioch. From so honoured a position Ignatius derived that courage, which made him resist a powerful Emperor even to his face, defy the wild beasts of the amphitheatre, and triumph by a glorious martyrdom. As it were to show the supremacy of the See of Rome, Divine Providence willed that he, with his chains upon him, should go to see Peter (Gal. i. 18), and finish his course in the Holy City, and thus mingle his blood with that of the Apostles. Rome would have been imperfect without the glory of Ignatius' martyrdom, which is the pride of her Colyseum, rich as it is with the blood of so many thousands of Martyrs.
Ignatius' character is impetuosity of love for his God. He has but one fear--it is, that the prayers of the Romans will stay the lions from devouring him, and his desire of being united to Christ be thus denied him. Let us admire this superhuman fortitude, which shows itself thus suddenly amidst the pagan world, and let us acknowledge, that so ardent a love of God, and so vehement a longing to possess him, could only have come from the accomplishment of the Mysteries of our Redemption, which showed man how much God loved him. The Crib of Bethlehem, even had there never been the Sacrifice of Calvary, would, of itself, be sufficient to convince us of all this. God comes down from heaven for the sake of His creature, man; He himself becomes Man, nay, a Child, and is laid in a manger! Such miracles of love would have sufficed to save the guilty world; how, then, shall they not have power to prompt men to give their whole heart to their loving God? And would it be too much, if we made a sacrifice of our very lives to repay our Jesus for only that much of his love, which He showed us by being Born among us?
The Church gives us, in the Lessons of today's Office, the brief account of our Saint given by St. Jerome in his Book On Ecclesiastical Writers. The holy Doctor has inserted a few sentences from the Martyr's admirable Epistle, written to the Faithful of Rome. We would have gladly offered the whole of this Epistle to our readers, had it not been for want of space. But the passages quoted by St. Jerome are some of the finest.
Ignatius was the third Bishop of the Church of Antioch, St. Peter the Apostle being the first. During the persecution under Trajan, he was condemned to be devoured by wild beasts, and was sent in chains to Rome. During this voyage, which was made by sea, he had to stop at Smyrna, where Polycarp, the disciple of St. John, was Bishop. From this city, he wrote several Epistles; one to the Ephesians, a second to the Magnesians, a third to the Trallians, a fourth to the Romans. When he had left Smyrna, he addressed an Epistle to the Philadelphians and Smyrneans, and one to Polycarp himself, recommending to him his Church of Antioch. It is in this last named Letter, that he quotes from the Gospel, which I have lately translated, a passage bearing testimony to the person of our Lord Jesus Christ.
I cannot pass by this mention of so great a man, without citing a
few sentences from the Epistle, which he wrote to the Romans.
"From Syria," he says, "even unto Rome, I am fighting with wild beasts, both by sea and land, both night and day, for I am fastened to ten leopards, I mean, to the soldiers who have care of me. When I show them a kindness, they grow more brutal. Their injuries are my instruction, but I am not thereby justified. I long for the wild beasts, that are prepared for me, which I heartily wish may rush upon me, and torture me, and devour me, and not be afraid to touch me, as has happened with other Martyrs. Nay, if they refuse to approach me, I will make them come on, I will rush upon them, that so they may devour me. Pardon me, my little children: I know what is for my own welfare.
"Now do I begin to be a disciple of Christ, and care for nothing in this world, that so I may find Jesus. Let fire, or the cross, or wild beasts, or the breaking of my bones, or the cutting me to pieces, or the shattering of my whole body, yea, all the tortures of the devil--let them all come upon me, only let me enjoy my God."
When he was sentenced to be devoured by wild beasts, and heard the roaring of the lions, his impatience to suffer made him exclaim: " I am the wheat of Christ--let me be ground by the teeth of wild beasts, that I may become the pure bread." He suffered in the eleventh year of Trajan's reign. His Relics are at Antioch, in the Cemetery outside the Daphne Gate.
All thy desires were satisfied, O glorious Martyr! Thou hast died for Jesus--thou art with Jesus. Rome's sons and daughters filled the Colyseum; their savage joy made it tremble with their cheers as they saw thee mangled by the lions. It was the hour thou hadst prayed for--thy sacrifice for Him, who had sacrificed himself for thee, is over, and thy soul is buried in his divine embrace! Generous and impetuous lover of Christ! thou wast ambitious to pay thy debt to the Crucified--the debt of suffering. It seemed to thee, that thou hadst no right to His kingdom, until thou hadst repaid his Passion by some cruel tortures endured for Him. O worthy companion of Stephen, Sebastian, Vincent, and Agnes! how rich and verdant is the Palm thou holdest over thy Jesus' Crib! Canst thou look upou us, weak Christian cowards, and not pity us? Pray for us that we may at least be faithful to our Lord, when we are persecuted by the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil; that we may, at least, give our hearts to his service, if we are not to be permitted to give our bodies to be tortured for His name. Thou wast chosen, when a little child, as the model of the simplicity which our Saviour was teaching to His Disciples, and this innocence never left thee:--ask for us from Him, who is the King of Little Children, that one of the graces of the Christmas we have been keeping, may be this holy Simplicity of heart.
Successor of Peter in the See of Antioch! pray for the Churches of thy Patriarchate, that they may return to the true Faith and Catholic unity. Intercede for the holy City of Rome, which thou didst water with thy blood, and which is now in possession of thy sacred Relics, that were saved from the lions' jaws. Watch over the maintenance of ecclesiastical discipline and order, of which thou hast left such admirable rules in thy Epistles; and obtain for the Church, that all the members of her hierarchy may be united in the bonds of duty and love, that thus she may be beautiful in the strength of her unity and terrible to the enemies of God, as an army set in array (1 Cant. vi. 3).
Hymn: Deus, tuorum militum
O God, of those that fought Thy fight,
Portion, and prize, and crown of light,
Break every bond of sin and shame
As now we praise Thy Martyr's name.
He recked not of the world's allure,
But sin and pomp of sin forswore:
Knew all their gall, and passed them by,
And reached the throne prepared on high.
Bravely the course of pain he ran,
And bare his torments as a man:
For love of Thee his blood outpoured,
And thus obtained the great reward.
With humble voice and suppliant word
We pray Thee therefore, holy Lord,
While we thy Martyr's feast-day keep,
Forgive Thy loved and erring sheep.
All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee,
All glory, as is ever meet,
To Father and to Paraclete. Amen
St. Ignatius, Bishop and Martyr
by Fr. Francis Xavier, 1877
St. Ignatius, a disciple of the Apostles, but more particularly of St. John, lived in the first century of the Christian Era. His surname was Theophorus--that is, a man who carries God in his heart. That he was a man of great piety is evident from the fact that he became Bishop of the city in which St. Peter had first established his See, in which he was succeeded by St. Evodius. I speak of Antioch, where the believers, heretofore called "disciples," first received the name of "Christians." For forty years this holy Bishop presided over the Church of Antioch, with so much wisdom and such unceasing solicitude, that he not only became widely known, but his counsel, on many occasions, was sought by all the Bishops in Syria. At the time of the persecution of Domitian, he remained with his flock, exhorting them to continue steadfast in the true Faith; but, for himself, he desired nothing so much as to shed his blood for Christ's sake. Besides firmness in faith, he most earnestly preached to those committed to his charge obedience to the Bishops and Priests and the avoidance of heretics. "Be obedient to the Priests and Bishops," said he, "but shun the heretics as wild beasts, that approach unawares, and wound you in such a manner that you cannot be easily healed."
While St. Ignatius was thus anxiously occupied with the salvation of his flock, the Emperor Trajan came to Antioch, full of vain pride on account of the victory he had just won over the Parthians. Having been informed that St. Ignatius was the greatest enemy of the gods of the Empire, as well as the principal protector of Christianity, he had the Bishop brought before him. He asked if what had been reported of him was true. Undauntedly the Saint replied: "I pray to the only true God, and how happy would you and the whole Empire be if you believed in Him also! The gods whom you worship are devils: I cannot pray to them." Trajan, interrupting him, said: "There is no time now to dispute;--sacrifice to my gods, and I will make you High Priest of Jupiter and a member of the Imperial Council. If you refuse, you shall die the most cruel death." "I am a Priest of the Most High, to whom I daily offer a sacrifice," replied St. Ignatius; "and blessed indeed should I consider myself were I to be sacrificed to His glory." Trajan, enraged, immediately condemned him to die, giving this order: "Ignatius shall be conducted, bound, to Rome, and there become a prey to wild beasts."
Never did criminal, condemned to die, manifest such joy on hearing that he was pardoned as did St. Ignatius when he heard the imperial sentence that doomed him to so dreadful a death. He exclaimed, with a loud voice, "I thank Thee, O Lord, for vouchsafing me the happiness of offering my life as a proof of my great love to Thee!" Having kissed the chains which were to deprive him of liberty, he joyfully extended his hands to be shackled. After praying with many tears for the Church, he bade farewell to his flock, consoling them most tenderly, and once more earnestly besought them to remain constant in their faith. Two deacons accompanied him to Rome. But what the holy Bishop suffered in his long journey over land and sea, from the brutality of the soldiers whose prisoner he was, words fail to tell. Neither can the heroic patience which he manifested be described, nor how unceasingly and ardently he longed to become a victim for his faith.
Whenever he approached a city the Christians, with their Bishops, came to meet him. He received them most affectionately, humbly entreating them to pray that God would give him grace to pass happily through his martyrdom. At Smyrna he was greeted by St. Polycarp, his most intimate friend, who had been a disciple of St. John with him. It will be more easy to imagine than describe the great consolation that these two holy men found in each other. From this city as well as from several other places, the holy Bishop wrote letters to the different churches, giving to all the most pious instructions, and declaring his eagerness to be immolated for his Lord's sake. He found also in Smyrna several men from Ephesus, who were on their way to Rome, and as they would arrive there before him, he gave them a letter to the Christians living there, in which he most humbly besought them not to supplicate heaven for his life, and thus deprive him of the crown of martyrdom. Thus, in this letter, he again revealed his fervent desire to suffer and die for his God.
At length, after indescribable torments, the holy Bishop arrived at Rome. The faithful came in crowds to meet him, weeping bitterly while they saluted him. But he appeared more cheerful than ever, and, kneeling down in the midst of them, he prayed for the Christian Church, and offered himself as a sacrifice to the Son of the Almighty.
The Roman Book of Martyrs relates further that the holy Bishop was most barbarously tortured in Rome before he was thrown to the lions, but in what these tortures consisted is not known. Incontestible, however, is the fact that, on being brought into the amphitheatre, where innumerable people were present to witness his death, he addressed the multitude, saying that he, as a Christian Bishop, had been brought thither because he longed to suffer and die for Christ. Having said this, he prayed, and earnestly supplicated God not to prevent the wild beasts from destroying him, as had often happened to other Christians. As soon as the roaring of the lions was heard, he cried aloud: "I am the grain of Christ. I shall be ground by the teeth of these wild beasts, and so become the pure bread of Christ!" While he thus spoke they let the lions loose, which fiercely bounded towards the Saint, who while repeating the holy name of Jesus, was torn in pieces. The lions devoured him instantly, leaving only his bones, which were gathered by the faithful and brought to Antioch, where they were received by the Christians with the greatest honors. They were deposited with as much solemnity as circumstances would permit, in a sanctuary devoted to that purpose, and they were held in great honor by all believing in the true Faith.
St. Ignatius desired nothing more ardently than to suffer and die for the sake of Jesus Christ. The source of this desire was the Saint's adoration of the crucified God, which he derived from contemplating the inconceivable love which moved Jesus to suffer and die for us. Therefore, was he often heard to say, "My love is the crucified God." Can you likewise say, in sincerity, that the crucified God is your love, or the only object of your devotion? Ah! until now it most certainly has not been thus. A contemptible human being, a short-lived pleasure, a temporal profit, a sinful delight, you have loved more than your Saviour. Oh, shame! Has not Jesus, who loved so much that He suffered death upon the cross for you, deserved to be loved far above everything and beyond everybody? Devote yourself to Him from this hour, and show by your deeds that you love Him. This is done when you remain constant to your crucified God, and when you allow no sin to separate you from Him. Tell me who, at the time the Crucifixion took place, showed by deeds that they loved Christ? Certainly not the heathens, nor the Jews, neither Scribes nor Pharisees, not even the Apostles themselves, one only excepted. For the heathens crucified Christ, the Jews derided and scorned and helped to crucify Him; the Apostles deserted Him--yes, one of them even sold Him, and another denied him! These were no tokens of love. Only St. John, Mary, the Holy Mother, and a few other saintly women, showed by deeds their love for the crucified Christ. They did not leave Him in His hour of bitter trial, and much less did they deride Him, scorn Him, or assist in crucifying Him, as so many others. And just such tokens of love I require of you, especially during the time of the so-called Carnival, as being the time when your Saviour is not only again derided, scorned, and crucified by many sinners, but even, in many places, deserted and denied by His Apostles--that is, by those who, during the year, were zealous in serving Him. Remain, during that period, with your Jesus; do not separate yourself from Him by sin; leave Him not. In this way you can show by your actions that you love Him truly. The thought alone that Christ suffered so much for you should be sufficient to incite you to this. He has so fervently loved you, and showed so plainly His love in deeds: why will you not, in like manner, return His love, and manifest it also in visible deeds?
Quotes from St. Ignatius of Antioch
"It is fitting, therefore, that you keep aloof from such persons, and neither in private nor in public speak to them. But flee from all abominable heresies and those who cause schism… Brethren, do not be deceived. If any man follows him who separates from the truth, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God; and if any man does not stay away from the preacher of falsehood, he shall be condemned to Hell… If anyone walks according to a foreign doctrine, he is not of Christ, nor a partaker of His passion. Have no fellowship with such a man, lest you perish along with him, even though he should be your father, your son, your brother, or a member of your family."
Do not err, my brothers. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this in regard to the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a one becomes defiled and shall go away into everlasting fire. So shall every one that listens to him.
St. Ignatius of Antioch (A.D. 107), preparing for martyrdom: “I look forward with joy to the wild animals held in readiness for me; I will coax them to devour me, so that they may not, as happened in some cases, shrink from seizing me… I am God’s wheat, and I am ground by the wild beasts that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.” http://catholicharboroffaithandmorals.com/