Archive for the ‘Early Christian Writings’ Category

I have been reading through Michael Holmes’ The Apostolic Fathers (3rd edition, Greek Texts and English Translations) for my class on Church History, and I am compelled to share a few noteworthy excerpts.  These are, in my estimation, among the most graceful and inspiring words ever penned.

The early centuries of the Christian church were dangerous; the next wave of persecution was always merely a breath away, executed through the command of a hostile Roman emperor.  One of the innumerable martyrs during this period was Ignatius, the bishop of Antioch.

Ignatius was the bishop of one of the largest and most famous Christian congregations, that of Antioch.  Antioch was one of the earliest missional churches, sending Paul and Barnabas on their missionary journey.  In Acts 11:26, we learn that Antioch was where the followers of Christ were first called “Christians.”  This congregation was one with a rich, albeit brief, history of following the teachings of their Savior faithfully.

At some point early in the second century, a group of ten Roman soldiers was dispatched to arrest the bishop of this faithful congregation in order to bring him back from Antioch to the Coliseum in Rome, where he would be thrown to the wild beasts.  On the way to Rome, Ignatius wrote a series of letters to churches in cities along the way, who had sent delegations to meet with Ignatius.

These letters are immensely valuable for understanding what concerns a bishop of this time might have for other congregations as well as how martyrdom was viewed by one on his way to such a fate.  My desire here is to simply expose you to some brief passages which I found deeply inspiring.

In his letter to the Ephesians (4:1-2), Ignatius likens the unity of the church to a lyre (a stringed musical instrument–think guitar) and a choir:

(1) Thus it is proper for you to run together in harmony with the mind of the bishop, as you are in fact doing.  For your council of presbyters, which is worthy of its name and worthy of God, is attuned to the bishop as strings to a lyre.  Therefore in your unanimity and harmonious love Jesus Christ is sung.  (2) You must join this chorus, every one of you, so that by being harmonious in unanimity and taking your pitch from God you may sing in unison with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, in order that he may both hear you and, on the basis of what you do well, acknowledge that you ar members of his Son.  It is, therefore, advantageous for you to be in perfect unity, in order that you may always have a share in God.

In his letter sent ahead to the church in Rome, to which he is journeying to his death, Ignatius implores the believers there not to interfere in his being thrown to the beasts.  He wants them to allow this to take place in order that he might accomplish a great thing to God’s glory.  He writes in chapter 2:

(1) For I do not want you to please people, but to please God, as you in fact are doing.  For I will never again have an opportunity such as this to reach God, nor can you, if you remain silent, be credited with a greater accomplishment.  For if you remain silent and leave me alone, I will be a word of God, but if you love my flesh, then I will again be a mere voice. (2) Grant me nothing more than to be poured out as an offering to God while there is still an altar ready, so that in love you may form a chorus and sing to the Father in Jesus Christ, because God has judged the bishop from Syria worthy to be found in the west [where Rome was], having summoned him from the east [where Antioch was, in Syria].  It is good to be setting from the world to God in order that I may rise to him.

I think Ignatius’ using the rising and setting of the sun (from east to west) as a metaphor for his journey as a martyr is stunningly beautiful, absolutely breathtaking.

I will leave you with a final excerpt, again from Ignatius’ letter to the Romans (chapter 4).

I am writing to all the churches and am insisting to everyone that I die for God of my own free will–unless you hinder me.  I implore you: do not be unseasonably kind to me.  Let me be food for the wild beasts, through whom I can reach God.  I am God’s wheat, and I am being ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, so that I may prove to be pure bread.

Think on these passages, and always remember that Christians today are united with the same Church that bore these burdens so many centuries ago.  I encourage you to seek out the writings of the early Church; they can be incredibly edifying and inspiring.  The link “Early Christian Writings” on the far right of this page will take you to many of them.  1 and 2 Clement, the Martyrdom of Polycarp, and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch are great places to start.


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