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The Epistles of St. Ignatius



[This epistle was one of those which were written from Troas immediately before Ignatius and his guard set sail for Neapolis (c. 8), and probably accompanied the letter addressed to the Church at Smyrna. It is of a more personal character than any of the others, and reveals the affection entertained by Ignatius for Polycarp. Ignatius had stayed at Smyrna and had apparently received much kindness from its bishop, of whom he makes a grateful mention in the letters written from that city (Eph. 21, Magn. 15).
     Whether Ignatius had been acquainted with Polycarp before this visit it is difficult to say. The Antiochene Acts speak of Polycarp as the 'fellow-student' of Ignatius, and add, 'for in old time they had been disciples of John' (c. 3). But the tone of the present epistle certainly indicates that Polycarp was considerably the younger of the two, and was in fact a comparatively young man. The disparity of age would thus render improbable the statement of the Acts. On the other hand, when Ignatius expresses his gratitude that he has been permitted to see Polycarp (Polyc. 1), this language is insufficient to justify us in assuming, as Pearson and Lightfoot do, that Ignatius had not seen him before his visit to Smyrna.
     The epistle was undoubtedly intended to be read also by the members of the Church at Smyrna, as in c. 6 he addresses them and enjoins them to obey their bishop. In the more directly personal part of the epistle he gives advice to Polycarp with reference to the various responsibilities of his office and his own personal conduct. He gives full instructions as to the choice of a delegate to represent the Church of Smyrna at Antioch, and makes a passing allusion to heresy. See c. 3.] 

IGNATIUS, who is also Theophorus, to Polycarp, who is bishop of the Church in Smyrna, or rather, who has God the Father and Jesus Christ for his bishop,[1] abundant greeting. 

I. I welcome your godly purpose which is firmly planted as on an immovable rock, and I render ex- 

[1] Cf. Magn. 3 ; Rom. 9 (notes). 


ceeding glory that I have been granted the sight of your blameless face—may I have joy of it in God. I urge you in the grace wherewith you are clothed to press on in your race, and to urge all men to be saved. Assert your office with all diligence of flesh and spirit.[1]  Give heed unto union, for there is nothing better. Bear all men, as the Lord also bears you.[2]  Suffer all men in love, as indeed you do suffer them.  Devote yourself to unceasing prayers.  Ask for greater understanding than you have. Be watchful, possessing a wakeful spirit.  Speak to each man individually after God's way.[3] Bear the infirmities of all men, as a perfect athlete.[4] Where there is more toil there is greater gain. 

II. If you love good disciples, this does not win you favour.[5]  Rather subdue by meekness the more pestilent. Not every wound is cured by the same salve. Ease sharp pains by fomentations. Become prudent as the serpent in all things, and harmless continually as the dove.[6] Therefore you are of flesh and spirit, that you may humour the things which are visibly present before your face.[7] But ask that the things which are unseen 

[1] Polycarp is urged to make the power and influence of his office felt by an attentive discharge of all its duties.
[2] For the idea of this passage, cf. Gal. vi. 2. The latter part of the sentence is probably taken from Is. liii. 4, following the version given in Matt. viii. 17, which differs from the LXX rendering. The influence of the same passage is also to be noticed a few lines below, where Ignatius says: 'Bear the infirmities of all men.' 
[3] i. e. in conformity with the character of God as revealed in the principles on which He acts. Cf. Matt. v. 45 ff., which probably suggested this passage.
[4] Cf. for the figure 2 Tim. ii. 5 and Heb. x. 32.  In later times the word 'athlete' became a common synonym for a martyr.
[5] The spirit of this passage resembles that of Luke vi. 32 and 1 Pet. ii. 18.
[6] A reference to Matt. x. 16.
[7] By 'the things visibly present before your face' Ignatius means 'the visible, material world.'  This world is to be 'humoured' into obedience to God. The two elements of man's nature, flesh and spirit, render it possible for him to act as a mediator between the


may be manifested to you, that you may lack nothing and may abound in every gift. The season demands you, as pilots demand winds and the tempest-tossed man demands the haven, so as to attain unto God.[1] Be temperate, as God's athlete. The prize is incorruption and life eternal, concerning which also you have been persuaded. In all things I devote myself for you, even I and my bonds which you have cherished.[2]

III. Let not those who seem to be specious and yet bring novel teaching dismay you. Stand firm as an anvil when it is smitten. It is the part of a great athlete to suffer blows and to conquer. And above all for God's sake we ought to endure all things, that He also may endure us. Become more zealous than you are. Consider the seasons.[3] Look for Him Who is above all seasons, Who is timeless, invisible, made visible for our sakes, Who is beyond the touch of our hands, beyond suffering, Who yet suffered for us, Who in every way endured for us.

IV. Let not widows be neglected.[4] Next to the Lord

material and the spiritual world. The passage expresses in a somewhat homely way a truth which recalls the great saying of St. Paul, 'I am made all things to all men.'
[1] The text here is probably in some confusion. The reading translated above represents the crisis as the pilot and Polycarp as the breeze, which gives an unnatural sense. Lightfoot suggests an emendation of the text which would yield the translation: 'The season demands you, as a ship demands a pilot, and as a tempest-tossed mariner the haven.'  The metaphor of a ship to denote the Church is frequently found in later Christian writers. The abridged Syriac version contains a reading in this passage which indicates the presence of the word 'ship' in the text.
[2] Or, as Zahn would translate it here, following Bunsen, 'kissed,' referring to a practice alluded to by Tertullian and the Acts of Paul and Thecla.  But, though αγαπαν is used of external demonstrations of affection, there seems no authority for this precise sense.
[3] Cf. Matt. xvi. 3; Luke xii. 56.
[4] See note on Smyrn. 6.


be yourself their guardian.[1] Let nothing be done without your approval, neither yourself do anything without God's approval, as indeed you do not. Be firm. Let assemblies[2] be held more often. Search out all men by name. Treat not disdainfully bondmen or bondwomen, yet neither let them be puffed up, but let them serve the more[3] to the glory of God, that they may obtain from God a better freedom. Let them not desire to gain their freedom out of the common fund,[4] that they may not be found the slaves of lust. 

V. Flee evil arts,[5] or rather discourse upon them.[6]  Charge my sisters to love the Lord and to be satisfied with their husbands in flesh and spirit. Likewise charge my brethren in the name of Jesus Christ to love their wives, even as the Lord loved the Church[7] If any one is able to abide in purity[8] to the honour of the flesh,

[1] Or 'trustee,' 'a semi-official term.'—LIGHTFOOT.
[2] συναγωγαι, lit. 'synagogues,' a name derived from Jewish usage and applied in the N. T. to the meetings for worship held by Jewish Christians. See James ii. 2. Here, however, it is used quite generally. For the duty here enforced see Heb. x. 25.
[3] Cf. 1 Tim. vi. 2.
[4] For this custom of the early Church cf. the Apostolic Constitutions iv. 9, where the ransom of slaves is included among the objects to which the Church alms may be devoted.
[5] Various interpretations have been given of this warning. Some have seen in these 'evil arts' a reference to the 'black arts' of witchcraft, sorcery, etc. which we know to have been common in these regions. See Acts xix. 19. Others, as Zahn, take the phrase more generally to denote all improper ways of earning a living. Zahn rightly urges that it would be an easy transition for the writer, after speaking of slaves, to pass on to the other elements of life to be found in the great cities of the day, the disreputable callings of actors, mountebanks, wizards, etc.
[6] Polycarp is urged to warn his hearers against the dangers alluded to by 'holding discourse' upon them, i.e. by making mention of them in his sermons in the Christian assemblies.
[7] An echo of Eph. v. 25.
[8] The word for 'purity,' αγνεια, is used here in the strictest sense to denote 'virginal chastity.' In the second and third centuries there grew up within the Church a widespread feeling upon this subject, which led many both married and unmarried to devote


which is the Lord's [1] let him abide therein without boasting. If he boast, he has perished. And if it be known further than the bishop,[2] he is corrupted. It is fitting that those who marry, both men and women, should enter into the union with the approval of the bishop, that the marriage may be according to the Lord and not according to lust. Let all things be done to the honour of God.

VI. Give heed [3] unto the bishop, that God also may give heed unto you. I devote myself for those who submit to the bishop, presbyters, deacons. May it be mine to have my portion along with them in the presence of God. Share one another's toil,[4] contend together, run together, suffer together, alike in rest and rising be together, as stewards [5] and assessors and ministers of God. Please Him under Whom you serve,[6] from Whom also you shall receive your pay. Let none of you be


themselves to perpetual chastity. The starting-point for such a view was probably the words of St. Paul, 1 Cor. vii. 1 ff.
[1] Cf. I Cor. vi. 15 sq. The words are especially applicable to those spoken of here.
[2] Those who devote themselves to perpetual chastity are to make known their vow to the bishop, but to no one else. To parade their virtue would be an act of immodesty. Others, however, as Zahn, would translate here 'if he become better known than the bishop,' i.e. if his chastity win him greater fame than the bishop, supposing the latter to be married.
[3] At this point Ignatius turns to the members of the Church of Smyrna. In the whole of this and the following chapter he is addressing them.
[4] The phrase alludes to the hard course of training which athletes underwent. Cf. Phil. ii. 16; Col. i. 29 ; 1 Tim. iv. 10. The following passage continues the metaphor, and the words 'rest' and 'rising' refer to the hours of sleep and rising appointed by the trainer.
[5] The word 'stewards' is used here of Christians generally. Cf. 1 Pet. iv. 10. The following word 'assessors' is a strong expression of the idea found in 1 Cor. iii. 9.
[6] Cf. 2 Tim. ii. 4.


found a deserter.[1] Let your baptism abide as your shield,[2] your faith as your helmet, your love as your spear your patience as body-armour. Let your works be your deposit,[3] that you may receive the sums credited to you as your due. So then be long-suffering with one another in meekness as God is with you. May I have joy of you continually.

VII. Since the Church which is at Antioch in Syria enjoys peace [4] through your prayer, as I have been informed, I also have been more greatly cheered, and God has set my mind at rest; if haply I may through suffering attain unto God, so that I may be found, through your entreaty, a disciple.[5]  It is meet, most blessed Polycarp, that you should assemble a godly council and appoint[6] some one of your number, who is greatly

[1] The word used here is the Latin word 'desertor'; similarly below the words translated 'deposit' and 'sums accredited to you ' are Latin words. The presence with Ignatius of an escort of Roman soldiers helps to explain the use of such words, and also the repeated reference to the details of a soldier's life and equipment.
[2]  i. e. your baptism into the privileges and blessings of the Christian life will be found your best defence against sin.  The metaphor in this passage was undoubtedly suggested by Eph. vi. 13-17, though it is worked out differently.
[3] Zahn compares for the general sentiment here Matt. vi. 20, xix. 21; Tobit iv. 8, 9. The metaphor is derived from the savings-bank attached to the cohorts of the Roman legions.  The sums accumulated in this way were paid over to soldiers at their discharge. Deserters forfeited their savings.
[4] Cf. Philad. 10, with note.
[5] In the Greek there is a play of words which may have been intended to recall, as Lightfoot suggests, a Greek proverb, παθηματα μαθηματα, 'suffering brings wisdom.'  There is, however, some doubt about the text in this passage. Another reading, supported by some MSS. and adopted by Zahn, would yield the translation, 'so that I may be found at the resurrection your disciple.'  Then the contrast would be between 'suffering' and 'resurrection.'  The expression 'your disciple' would find a parallel in Eph. 3, where his readers are spoken of as his trainers for the athletic contest.
[6] Cf. Smyrn. 11, where the messenger is called 'God's ambassador.'


beloved and full of zeal, that he may bear the name of God's messenger:—it is meet, I say, that you should commission him to go to Syria and glorify your untiring love to the glory of God.[1] A Christian has not power over himself, but devotes his time to God. For this is God's work and yours, when you have completed it. For I trust in God's grace that you are prepared to do a good work which is meet for God. I have exhorted you in a brief letter, because I know how earnest is your sincerity.

VIII. Seeing that I could not write unto all the churches, because I sail immediately from Troas to Neapolis,[2] as God's will commands, you shall write to the churches which lie in front,[3] as yourself possessing the mind of God, to bid them also do the same thing. Let those who can send messengers, the rest letters by the hands of the messengers whom you send, that you may be glorified, as you are worthy to be, by a work that will live for ever.

I salute all by name, as also the wife of Epitropus,[4] with all her household and her children's. I salute Attalus my beloved. I salute him who is to be commissioned to go to Syria. God's grace shall be with him continually, and with Polycarp who sends him. I bid you farewell continually in our God, Jesus Christ, in

[1] The purpose of this mission is more fully stated Philad. 10 ; Smyrn. 11.
[2] For Neapolis see Acts xvi. 11. It was the port of Philippi. From Philippi Ignatius would travel along the Via Egnatia to Dyrrhachium and thence by sea to Italy.
[3] i. e. nearer to Syria.
[4] Lightfoot thinks the passage may be translated 'the widow of the procurator.' His reasons are — (i) there is no mention of the husband in the following salutation; (2) the word 'Epitropus' may possibly be, not a proper name, but the title of an office, as inscriptions found at Smyrna mention an officer called επιτροπος στρατηγος.


Whom abide in the unity and under the governance[1] of God. I salute Alce, a name dear to me. Farewell in the Lord.

[1] The word here is επισκοπη, the title of the bishop's office. Cf. the opening words of the epistle, where Polycarp is said to have God as his bishop.

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