Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Antioch, a prominent figure in the history of the Early Catholic Church. As Bishop of Antioch and one of the Early Church Fathers, Ignatius provided a glimpse into the life of a martyr, and he also spoke on the teachings of the Catholic Church when it was still in its infancy.
The city of Antioch was an epicenter of important events in the history
of Catholic church. This is the location where the followers of Jesus
were called Christian for the first time. This is also first center of
outreach to Gentiles and the city where Paul and Barnabas set out on
their missionary journeys.
Not much is known about the life of St. Ignatius, but his writings affirmed the values that live on in the Church today. During the reign of Trajan, a persecution broke out in Syria, and Ignatius, being the leader of the capital city, was apprehended and martyred because of his faith. While Ignatius was being transported to Italy for his official martyrdom, he wrote seven very important letters.
Ignatius was centuries ahead of his time, writing on issues that were not resolved until the First Council of Nicaea, which took place 200 years after his death. One such issue is the identity of Jesus Christ. Ignatius taught that Jesus is eternal, above all time and creation, truly God in the fullest sense.
During Ignatius's time, there were heretics called Docetists, who taught that Jesus was not human, but, instead, his body was merely an illusion. Therefore, they also believed that his death was not real but an appearance. Ignatius shot down these lies, and defended Jesus's humanity. While accomplishing this, Ignatius also describes the Early Church's understanding of the Eucharist, which he called "the medicine of immortality." He explained that the Eucharist is at the center of Christianity, one of the most important beliefs in Catholicism. Ignatius did not stop with establishing beliefs of the Church, he also spoke on the nature and the structure of the Church, acknowledging the necessity of hierarchical organization in the Church.
And if none of this exemplifies how amazing Ignatius was, he called the universal assembly of Christians "the Catholic Church," which is one of the very first instances of the phrase in surviving Christian literature. St. Ignatius of Antioch was a great man, who gave his life to laying the foundation of Catholic doctrine, and, today, we celebrate his extraordinary life.
“Christianity is greatest when it is hated by the world.”
-St. Ignatius of Antioch