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The Epistles of St. Ignatius

The Epistles of St. Ignatius

By J. H. Srawley

London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge

First published 1900.


Preface v
The Literary Controversy upon the Ignatian Epistles 9
Genuineness and Date 15
St. Ignatius the Martyr 20
St. Ignatius as a Teacher 24
1. The Epistle to the Ephesians 38
2. The Epistle to the Magnesians 53
3. The Epistle to the Trallians 62
4. The Epistle to the Romans 70
5. The Epistle to the Philadelphians 81
6. The Epistle to the Smyrnaeans 90
7. The Epistle to Polycarp 102
Additional Notes 110
Index of Scriptural Passages 126
General Index 129



[Magnesia by the Meander was about fifteen Roman miles south-cast of Ephesus. The foundation of the Church there probably dates from St. Paul's residence at Ephesus (Acts xix. 10—26).  The Magnesian Christians, like the Ephesians, on hearing of Ignatius' visit to Smyrna, had sent delegates to that city, including representatives of all three orders of the ministry (c. 2). Ignatius writes to acknowledge their interest in him. As in other epistles, he urges the importance of unity and the duty of obedience to the ministry, especially warning them against presuming upon the youthfulness of their bishop (c. 3). In cc. 8—10 he deals with a form of Judaistic error, against which he warns them, without, however, implying its actual existence at Magnesia (cf. cc. u, 12, 14). There are incidental allusions to Docetism (cc. 9, 11). See further Add. Note I.]

IGNATIUS, who is also Theophorus, to her that has been blessed by the grace of God the Father in Christ Jesus our Saviour, in Whom I salute the Church which is in Magnesia by the Maeander, and wish her in God the Father and in Jesus Christ heartiest greeting.

I. When I learned that your godly love shows itself in a most orderly demeanour,[1] I rejoiced and resolved to address myself to you in the faith of Jesus Christ. For having been granted a title of the highest reverence,[2] in my bonds which I wear I sing the praises of the churches,[3] and I pray that in them there may be union of flesh and spirit,[4] which belong to Jesus Christ, our

[1] i. e. their submission to authority.
[2] Probably the title of 'a prisoner of Jesus Christ.' Cf. Eph. iii. 1, iv. 1, Philem. i, 9.
[3] Cf. Eph. 4, Rom. 2. Here, as there, Ignatius 'compares himself to some gay reveller; his fetters are his holiday decoration.'—LIGHTFOOT.
[4] Cf. Rom. inscr. and below, c. 13. On Ignatius' conception of the unity of the Church, see Introd. § 4.  The source of the Church's unity, as of its life, is Christ Himself. See below, 'union with Jesus and the Father.' Cf. Trall. 11.


continual Life, an union in both faith and love—for there is nothing better than that—and, more than all, union with Jesus and the Father.  In Him we shall endure all the malicious attacks of the prince of this world,[1] and, escaping from them, shall attain unto God.

II. Since therefore I have been permitted to see you in the person of Damas, your godly bishop, and the worthy presbyters, Bassus and Apollonius, and my fellow-servant, the deacon Zotion, of whom may I have joy, because he is subject unto the bishop as unto the grace of God, and to the presbytery as unto the law of Jesus Christ—[2]

III. And for yourselves, it is fitting that you too should not treat lightly the youth of your bishop, but considering the power of God the Father,[3] pay him all reverence.  For in like manner I have perceived that the holy presbyters have not presumed upon his seemingly youthful state,[4] but yield place to him as to one who is prudent[5] in God, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, even to Him Who is Bishop of all men.[6] So then for the honour of Him,

[1] See note Eph. 17. 
[2] 'The bishop is here regarded as the dispenser of blessings; the presbyters as the representatives and guardians of order.' — LIGHTFOOT. The sentence is unfinished.
[3] i. e. the authority bestowed on him by God. 
[4] The words νεωτερικην ταξιν have been variously translated. The rendering given above follows Pearson and Lightfoot.  Others, seeing in the words an allusion to episcopacy as a newly-created institution, translate 'not recognizing the seemingly newly-created office.'  But, apart from the fact that the language of Ignatius lends no countenance to the view that he regarded episcopacy as a new institution, the words will not admit of this rendering.  Zahn renders 'the ordination of a young man,' but this puts a strain on the words.  The translation above gives good sense.  Damas outwardly appeared youthful, but showed a wisdom beyond his years.
[5] The reading of the Armenian Version has been followed.
[6] Cf. Rom. 9, Polyc. inscr. See 1 Pet. ii. 25.


Who desired you, it is fitting that you should obey without dissembling. For it is not that a man deceives this visible bishop,[1] but rather that he tries to cheat Him Who is invisible. And in such case it is not with flesh that he has to do, but with God Who knows the things that are in secret.

IV. So then it is fitting not only to be called, but also to be Christians. Even as there are some who have the name 'bishop' always on their lips, and yet in everything act apart from him.  Now such seem to me to be not men of a good conscience, seeing that they gather not together in a valid way[2] according to command.

V. So then the things of this life have an end, and there are set together before us the two issues of life and death, and each man shall surely go to his own place.[3] For just as there are two coinages, the one of God, the other of the world, and each one of them has stamped upon it its own image, the unbelievers the stamp of this world, and they that in love believe, the image of God the Father through Jesus Christ,[4] through Whom unless we are ready of our own accord to die unto His Passion,[5] His life is not in us—[6]

VI. Seeing therefore that in the persons already

[1] A reference to the original meaning of the word, 'overseer.' Cf. Rom. 9.
[2] Cf. Smyrn. 8 note.
[3] Acts i. 25. Cf. Clement of Rome, c. 5, and Polyc., Phil . 9.
[4] Cf. Heb. i. 3, where Christ is Himself the 'impress' of the Father's 'essence.' This Divine image is stamped upon the believer by his union with Christ.
[5] Lit. 'die into His Passion.' The Christian becomes identified with Christ in His Passion, and dies with Him. Cf . the language of St. Paul on baptism into Christ in Rom. vi. 4, Gal. iii. 27; also Rom. vi. 5, Gal. ii. 20.
[6] The sentence is unfinished. The frequent occurrence of such broken sentences is an indication of haste in the composition of these letters.


mentioned I beheld in faith your whole number, and have welcomed them, I urge you, be diligent to do all things in godly concord, the bishop presiding after the pattern[1] of God, and the presbyters after the pattern of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, seeing they are entrusted with a service under[2] Jesus Christ, Who before the ages was with the Father, and appeared at the end.[3]  Therefore seeking to conform yourselves to the ways of God,[4] reverence one another, and let no man look upon his neighbour after the flesh, but in Jesus Christ love one another continually. Let there be nothing among you which shall be able to divide you, but be united with the bishop, and with them that have the rule over you for a pattern and lesson of incorruption.

VII. As therefore the Lord did nothing without the

[1] Reading τυπον, which has the support of the Syriac and Armenian Versions. The Greek text, Latin Version, and the Longer Greek text read τοπον, 'in the place of.'
    There are two types of authority to which Ignatius likens the authority of the bishop, both being suggested by the memory of the Lord's earthly ministry. (1) The bishop represents the authority of the Father, to whom Christ, as Son of Man, during His earthly life yielded obedience (cf. Trall. 3, Smyrn. 8, and present passage). (2) The bishop represents the authority of Christ over His Apostles (cf. Trall. 2).  In Magn. 13 we find both comparisons.
    The presbyters are regularly compared to the Apostles. Cf. Trall. 2, 3 ; Smyrn. 8.
    The deacons are also compared to Jesus Christ, but in His relation as Son of Man to the Father.  See present chapter and Trall. 3 (note).
    The word 'council' is suggested by primitive Church custom. The bishop sat in the centre, with the presbyters forming a 'corona' about him (cf. c. 13).  Cf. Trall. 3, Philad. 8. In App. Const , ii. 28 the presbyters are called 'the council of the Church.'
[2] Or 'a service in which Jesus Christ ministered.'  (Cf. Matt. xx. 28, Mark x. 45. Cf. Trall. 3.) For the rendering given, cf. 2 Cor. xi. 23, 1 Tim. iv. 6.
[3] Cf. Heb. i. 2.
[4] Cf. Polyc. 1 note.


Father[1] [being united with Him [2]], neither of Himself nor by the Apostles, so neither do you act in anything apart from the bishop and presbyters.  Neither attempt to persuade yourselves that anything is right which you do of yourselves apart.  But in common let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love, in joy that is without blame, which [3] is Jesus Christ —for there is naught better than He. Gather yourselves together, all of you, as unto one shrine, even God,[4] as unto one altar, even One Jesus Christ, Who proceeded from One Father,[5] and is in One and returned to One.

VIII. Be not deceived by strange doctrines nor by ancient fables,[6] seeing that they are profitless. For if, until now, we live after the rule of Judaism,[7] we confess

[1] Cf. John viii. 28.
[2] Cf. Smyrn. 3. Some authorities omit the words.
[3] The relative refers to the whole clause. 'This perfect unity is Jesus Christ.'—LIGHTFOOT. In place of the relative, which the Latin Version reads, the Greek text has 'there is one Jesus Christ.'
[4] The rendering given follows the text of Lightfoot, and adopts his reading Θεον, for Θεου of the Greek text and Latin Version; 'one shrine, even God,' instead of 'one shrine of God.'  With this reading God is compared to the shrine, and Jesus Christ to the altar-court, through which in the Jewish Temple access was gained to the Holy Place and Holy of Holies.  The idea is that Christ is the means of access to the Father. The whole passage is an appeal for unity, which can only come through being in Jesus Christ, Who is Himself in the Father. For the word altar, cf. Eph. 5, Trall. 7, Philad. 4. See also Heb. xiii. 10. For the whole idea of the passage cf. Heb. ix. 6 sq.
[5] The reference is to His earthly mission. The language of this passage recalls John i. 18, xiii. 3, xvi. 28.
[6] Cf. 1 Tim. i. 4, iv. 7, Tit. i. 14, iii. 9. In those passages, as also in the present passage, the reference is probably to Rabbinic fables and the allegorical interpretations of Jewish history.  See Hort (Judaistic Christianity , p. 135 sq.). In the expressions of this epistle and of that to the Philadelphians there is nothing which necessarily points to a mixture of Gnosticism and Judaism as Lightfoot supposes. See further Add. Note I.
[7] Cf. Gal. i. 13, ii. 14. By 'the rule of Judaism,' Ignatius means the observance of Jewish rites.


that we have not received grace.[1]  For the Divine prophets lived a life in accordance with Christ Jesus.[2]  For this cause too they were persecuted, being inspired by [His] grace, so that unbelievers [3] might be fully convinced that there is One God Who manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son, Who is His Word,[4] coming forth from silence, Who in all things did the good pleasure of Him that sent Him.[5]

IX. If therefore those who lived in ancient observances attained unto newness of hope, no longer keeping the Sabbath,[6] but living a life ruled by the Lord's day,[7]

[1] Cf. Gal. ii. 21, v. 4. The Pauline contrast of 'grace' and 'law' underlies the passage.
[2] For these references to the Old Testament prophets cf. Philad. 5, 8, 9. These Judaistic teachers set up the authority of the Old Testament against the Gospel, and refused to accept anything in the latter which was not prophesied in the former. Ignatius maintains that the teaching of the prophets anticipated, and was completed by, the perfect revelation of God in Christ. For this Pauline thought, cf. Rom. i. 2, iii. 21. Cf. also 1 Pet. i. 10, and the present epistle c. 9 (end).
[3]  i. e. unbelievers of a later age, who would be struck by the fulfilment of prophecy. 
[4] The Greek text and Latin version both read 'His Eternal Word, not coming forth from silence.'  The reading translated is that of the Armenian Version, which though translated from the Syriac, is ultimately derived from a very ancient Greek text.  It occurs also in the earliest known quotation of these words by Severus of Antioch (c. 513—518).  It suits the context better than the other reading, pointing a contrast with the preceding phrases, and it agrees with Ignatius' language elsewhere (cf. Eph. 19), Lightfoot thinks that the other reading was due to an alteration of the text in the fourth century.  Both the Gnostics and Marcellus used language of the Divine generation of the Son similar to that of Ignatius.  But the resemblance is only apparent, as the context shows that Ignatius is speaking of the coming forth of the Word in the Incarnation, and the question of the pre-existence of the Word does not come within the scope of the passage. 
[5] Cf. John viii. 29. 
[6] Cf. Coloss. ii. 16. They are not to fall back into a Jewish mode of life, represented here by the Sabbatical observances of the Judaistic party. 
[7] i. e. living in the hopes and memories which the day inspires as the commemoration of Christ's Resurrection. There is a con- 


whereon our life too had its rising through Him and His death—which [1] some deny, a mystery through which we have received the power to believe, and therefore we endure, that we may be found disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Teacher—how shall we be able to live apart from Him?[2]  For the prophets also became His disciples, and awaited in the Spirit.[3] His coming to teach them.  And therefore He, for Whom they rightly waited, came and raised them from the dead.[4] 

X. Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For if He should follow us in acting according to our acts, we are indeed undone.  Therefore, becoming His disciples, let us learn to live in a way befitting Christianity.  For he who is called by any other name besides this, is not of God.  Lay aside, then, the evil leaven[5] which has become stale[6] and bitter, and turn 

trast between the formal observance of the Sabbath and the new spirit which marked the Christian observance of the weekly festival of the Resurrection.  For 'the Lord's day,' cf. Barnabas, 15. 'We keep the eighth day for rejoicing, in the which also Jesus rose from the dead, and having been manifested ascended into the Heavens.' 
[1] The passage 'which . . . our only teacher' is perhaps best taken, with Zahn, as a parenthesis.  It is a passing allusion to the Docetae.  In letters so closely connected in point of time as the Ignatian Epistles, it is only natural that the writer should show signs of the thoughts which were engaging his attention at the time. The danger arising from Docetism gives a certain colouring to the whole language of Ignatius upon the Passion of Christ, even where he is not directly assailing the error. 
[2] Cf. c. 10 and Philad. 8, 9. 
[3] For the idea, cf. 1 Pet. i. II. 
[4] The belief in the descent of Christ into Hades and His preaching there, based probably upon the passage 1 Pet. iii. 19, 20, was widespread in the second and third centuries, and was accepted by the heretic Marcion (Iren. I. 27. 2). The clause 'He descended into Hell' is not found in any baptismal creed before that of Aquileia, quoted by Rufinus, circa 400 A.D., though it may go back much earlier (Swete, Apostles' Creed, pp. 61, 62). A similar clause is found in the Dated Creed of Sirmium in 359 A.D. 
[5] Cf. 1 Cor. v. 7. 
[6] Cf. for the idea, Heb. viii. 13. 


to the new leaven,[1] which is Jesus Christ. Be salted in Him,[2] that no one among you wax corrupt, for by your savour you shall be proved. It is outrageous to utter the name of Jesus Christ and live in Judaism.  For Christianity believed not in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity, in which people of every tongue believed and were gathered unto God. 

XI. I write not this, my beloved, because I have learned that some of you are in such evil case, but as one who is less than you, I desire to put you on your guard that you fall not into the snares of vain teaching, but be fully convinced of [3] the birth and passion and resurrection, which came to pass in the time of the government of Pontius Pilate[4]—events which truly and certainly were brought to pass by Jesus Christ, our Hope, from which Hope may none of you ever go astray. 

XII. May I have joy of you in all things, if I be worthy. For even though I am a prisoner, I am nothing in comparison with one of you who are free.  I know that you are not puffed up, for you have Jesus Christ within yourselves.[5] And I know that when I praise you, you feel the greater shame, for it is written, ' The righteous man is his own accuser.' [6] 

XIII. Be diligent therefore to be confirmed in the 

[1] Matt. xiii. 33, Luke xiii. 21. 
[2] Matt. v. 13, Mark ix. 50, Luke xiv. 34. Cf. Lev. ii. 13. 
[3] This confession, couched in an anti-Docetic form, may indicate that Ignatius feared the danger of Docetism at Magnesia. Or possibly he is thinking of the dangers threatening other churches, and so gives an anticipatory warning to the Magnesians. 
[4] The date of the Crucifixion is inserted here, as in the Creed, in order to emphasize the historical truth of the fact, and connect it with the general history of the period. Tacitus, in his account of the Christians, mentions Pilate (Ann. xv. 44). 
[5] Cf. 2 Cor. xiii. 5. 
[6] Prov. xviii. 17. LXX. The Hebrew gives quite a different sense.


decrees[1] of the Lord and the Apostles, that in everything which you do, you may be prospered[2] in flesh and spirit, by faith and love, in the Son and Father and in the Spirit,[3] in the beginning and in the end, along with your bishop who is worthy of all honour, and the fitly-woven spiritual coronal[4] of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to the mind of God.  Submit yourselves to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ [was subject] to the Father [after the flesh], and the Apostles to Christ and the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and spirit.[5]

XIV. Knowing that you are full of God, I have exhorted you briefly.  Remember me in your prayers, that I may attain unto God.  Remember too the Church which is in Syria, whereof I am not worthy to be called a member. For I have need of your united prayer in God, and your love, that the Church in Syria may be granted the refreshing dew of your fervent supplication. 

XV. The Ephesians from Smyrna salute you, whence also I am writing to you, for they have come hither for God's glory, even as yourselves. In every way they have refreshed me, with Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna. The rest of the churches, too, salute you in the honour which is of Jesus Christ. Farewell in godly peace, keeping a steadfast spirit, which[6] is Jesus Christ. 

[1] The word for 'decrees' occurs in Acts xvi. 4. 
[2] An allusion to Ps. i. 3. LXX. 
[3] For the order, cf. 2 Cor. xiii. 13. 
[4] See note on c. 6. 
[5] Cf. c. 1 (note), and see Introd. § 4. 
[6] The relative probably refers to the whole clause and the idea of concord prominent in it.

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