“It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but to actually be one.
Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name.”
— St. Ignatius of Antioch
(painting attributed to Cesare Fracanzano (1605-1651) Galleria Borghese, Rome)
This morning when I read today’s quote by St Ignatius of Antioch,
it was as if I had been hit upside the head.
How simple yet so profound—
It begs the question…
does being dubbed, labelled, branded a Christian…
claiming, professing, proclaiming to be a Chrisitan necessarily make one…a Christian??
The answer, in a nutshell, is a resounding no!!!…it most certainly does not!
Ignatius follows up this thought with the novel idea of then having to prove oneself as a Christian.
Meaning that if one can live it, share it, show it, prove it…
then one may lay claim to the name!
This is not to be an in-name-only sort of affair…
The back story of our friend…
Born in Syria in the year 50AD, Ignatius converted to Christianity and eventually became
bishop of Antioch.
It is believed that it was actually St Peter who appointed Ignatius as bishop of Antioch and
the surrounding region.
“The saint was called “God-Bearer” (Theophoros),
because he bore God in his heart and prayed unceasingly to Him.
He also had this name because he was held in the arms of Christ, the incarnate Son of God.”
And as the outspoken Chrisitan, he was, Ignatius was eventually arrested by the local Roman
authorities on grounds of “atheism” against the Roman gods.
In the year 107, Emperor Trajan visited Antioch and forced the Christians there to
choose between death and apostasy.
Ignatius would not deny Christ and thus was condemned to be put to death in Rome.
“In the year 106 the emperor Trajan (98-117), after his victory over the Scythians,
ordered everyone to give thanks to the pagan gods,
and to put to death any Christians who refused to worship the idols.
In the year 107, Trajan happened to pass through Antioch.
Here they told him that Bishop Ignatius openly confessed Christ,
and taught people to scorn riches, to lead a virtuous life, and preserve their virginity.
Saint Ignatius came voluntarily before the emperor,
so as to avert persecution of the Christians in Antioch.
Saint Ignatius rejected the persistent requests of the emperor Trajan to sacrifice to the idols.
The emperor then decided to send him to Rome to be thrown to the wild beasts.
Saint Ignatius joyfully accepted the sentence imposed upon him.
His readiness for martyrdom was attested to by eyewitnesses,
who accompanied Saint Ignatius from Antioch to Rome.
Ignatius bravely met the lions in the Circus Maximus.
On December 20, the day of a pagan festival, they led Saint Ignatius into the arena,
and he turned to the people: “Men of Rome,
you know that I am sentenced to death, not because of any crime,
but because of my love for God, by Whose love I am embraced.
I long to be with Him,
and offer myself to him as a pure loaf,
made of fine wheat ground fine by the teeth of wild beasts.”
After this the lions were released and tore him to pieces,
leaving only his heart and a few bones.
Tradition says that on his way to execution,
Saint Ignatius unceasingly repeated the name of Jesus Christ.
When they asked him why he was doing this,
Saint Ignatius answered that this Name was written in his heart,
and that he confessed with his lips Him Whom he always carried within.
When the saint was devoured by the lions, his heart was not touched.
When they cut open the heart, the pagans saw an inscription in gold letters:
“Jesus Christ.” After his execution, Saint Ignatius appeared to many of the faithful
in their sleep to comfort them, and some saw him at prayer for the city of Rome.
Hearing of the saint’s great courage,
Trajan thought well of him and stopped the persecution against the Christians.
The relics of Saint Ignatius were transferred to Antioch (January 29),
and on February 1, 637 were returned to Rome and placed in the church of San Clemente.
Ignatius is well known for the seven letters he wrote on the long journey from
Antioch to Rome.
Five of these letters are to churches in Asia Minor;
they urge the Christians there to remain faithful to God and to obey their superiors.
He warns them against heretical doctrines,
providing them with the solid truths of the Christian faith.
The sixth letter was to Polycarp, bishop of Smyrna, who was later martyred for the faith.
The final letter begs the Christians in Rome not to try to stop his martyrdom.
“The only thing I ask of you is to allow me to offer the libation of my blood to God.
I am the wheat of the Lord;
may I be ground by the teeth of the beasts to become the immaculate bread of Christ.”
Despite the story about Ignatius’ life being considered ancient history,
it would be wise for those of us who claim the name of ‘Christian’ to actually follow
the example of Ignatius.
…that we could / would not only claim to be a Christian… but that we could / would actually
live out being a Chrisitan.
Not just the worldly notion of Chrisitan but actually that of Christ’s true intention.
Imagine the change in this world if we each claimed the act behind the label of faith.
It now seems so simple really…
‘Do not fear, for I am with you; Do not anxiously look about you,
for I am your God I will strengthen you, surely I will help you,
Surely I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’
Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes.
Ephesians 6:11 NIV