Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Smyrnaeans
Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church of God the Father, and of the beloved Jesus Christ, which has through mercy obtained every kind of gift, which is filled with faith and love, and is deficient in no gift, most worthy of God, and adorned with holiness:1 the Church which is at Smyrna, in Asia, wishes abundance of happiness, through the immaculate Spirit and word of God.
Chapter I – Thanks to God for your faith
I Glorify God, even Jesus Christ, who has given you such wisdom. For I have observed that ye are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if ye were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded with respect to our Lord, that He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh,2 and the Son of God according to the will and power3 of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptised by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled4 by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. Of this fruit5 we are by His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard6 for all ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church.
Chapter II – Christ's true passion
Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits.7
Chapter III – Christ was possessed of a body after His resurrection
For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh,8 and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, "Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit."9 And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors.10 And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father.
Chapter IV – Beware of these heretics
I give you these instructions, beloved, assured that ye also hold the same opinions [as I do]. But I guard you beforehand from those beasts in the shape of men, whom you must not only not receive, but, if it be possible, not even meet with; only you must pray to God for them, if by any means they may be brought to repentance, which, however, will be very difficult. Yet Jesus Christ, who is our true life, has the power of [effecting] this. But if these things were done by our Lord only in appearance, then am I also only in appearance bound. And why have I also surrendered myself to death, to fire, to the sword, to the wild beasts? But, [in fact,] he who is near to the sword is near to God; he that is among the wild beasts is in company with God; provided only he be so in the name of Jesus Christ. I undergo all these things that I may suffer together with Him,11 He who became a perfect man inwardly strengthening me.12
Chapter V – Their dangerous errors
Some ignorantly13 deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being the advocates of death rather than of the truth. These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us.14 For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body?15 But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death.16 I have not, however, thought good to write the names of such persons, inasmuch as they are unbelievers. Yea, far be it from me to make any mention of them, until they repent and return to [a true belief in] Christ's passion, which is our resurrection.
Chapter VI – Unbelievers in the blood of Christ shall be condemned
Let no man deceive himself. Both the things which are in heaven, and the glorious angels,17 and rulers, both visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ, shall, in consequence, incur condemnation.18 "He that is able to receive it, let him receive it."19 Let not [high] place puff any one up: for that which is worth all is20 faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a different opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.
Chapter VII – Let us stand aloof from such heretics
They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer,21 because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death22 in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect,23 that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of24 them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved.25 But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.
Chapter VIII – Let nothing be done without the bishop
See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution26 of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper27 Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptise or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.28
Chapter IX – Honour the bishop
Moreover,29 it is in accordance with reason that we should return to soberness [of conduct], and, while yet we have opportunity, exercise repentance towards God. It is well to reverence30 both God and the bishop. He who honours the bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil. Let all things, then, abound to you through grace, for ye are worthy. Ye have refreshed me in all things, and Jesus Christ [shall refresh] you. Ye have loved me when absent as well as when present. May God recompense you, for whose sake, while ye endure all things, ye shall attain unto Him.
Chapter X – Acknowledgement of their kindness
Ye have done well in receiving Philo and Rheus Agathopus as servants31 of Christ our God, who have followed me for the sake of God, and who give thanks to the Lord in your behalf, because ye have in every way refreshed them. None of these things shall be lost to you. May my spirit be for you,32 and my bonds, which ye have not despised or been ashamed of; nor shall Jesus Christ, our perfect hope, be ashamed of you.
Chapter XI – Request to them to send a messenger to Antioch
Your prayer has reached to the Church which is at Antioch in Syria. Coming from that place bound with chains, most acceptable to God,33 I salute all; I who am not worthy to be styled from thence, inasmuch as I am the least of them. Nevertheless, according to the will of God, I have been thought worthy [of this honour], not that I have any sense34 [of having deserved it], but by the grace of God, which I wish may be perfectly given to me, that through your prayers I may attain to God. In order, therefore, that your work may be complete both on earth and in heaven, it is fitting that, for the honour of God, your Church should elect some worthy delegate;35 so that he, journeying into Syria, may congratulate them that they are [now] at peace, and are restored to36 their proper greatness, and that their proper constitution37 has been re-established among them. It seems then to me a becoming thing, that you should send some one of your number with an epistle, so that, in company with them, he may rejoice38 over the tranquillity which, according to the will of God, they have obtained, and because that, through your prayers, they have now reached the harbour. As persons who are perfect, ye should also aim at39 those things which are perfect. For when ye are desirous to do well, God is also ready to assist you.
Chapter XII – Salutations
The love of the brethren at Troas salutes you; whence also I write to you by Burrhus, whom ye sent with me, together with the Ephesians, your brethren, and who has in all things refreshed me. And I would that all may imitate him, as being a pattern of a minister40 of God. Grace will reward him in all things. I salute your most worthy41 bishop, and your very venerable42 presbytery, and your deacons, my fellow-servants, and all of you individually, as well as generally, in the name of Jesus Christ, and in His flesh and blood, in His passion and resurrection, both corporeal and spiritual, in union with God and you.43 Grace, mercy, peace, and patience, be with you for evermore!
Chapter XIII – Conclusion
I salute the families of my brethren, with their wives and children, and the virgins who are called widows.44 Be ye strong, I pray, in the power of the Holy Ghost. Philo, who is with me, greets you. I salute the house of Tavias, and pray that it may be confirmed in faith and love, both corporeal and spiritual. I salute Alce, my well-beloved,45 and the incomparable Daphnus, and Eutecnus, and all by name. Fare ye well in the grace of God.
1 Literally, “holy-bearing.”
2cf. Rom. 1:3
3Theodoret, in quoting this passage, reads, "the Godhead and power."
4cf. Matt. 3:15
5i.e., the cross, "fruit" being put for Christ on the tree.
6cf. Isa. 5:26, Isa. 49:22
7Or, "seeing that they are phantasmal and diabolical," as some render, but the above is preferable.
8Literally, "in the flesh."
9Literally, "demon." According to Jerome, this quotation is from the Gospel of the Nazarenes. cf Luke 24:39
10Literally, "above death."
11cf. Rom. 8:17
12cf. Phil. 4:13
14i.e., As they imagine Christ to have suffered only in appearance, so they believe that we suffer in vain.
15Literally, "a flesh-bearer."
16Literally, "a death-bearer."
17Literally, "the glory of the angels."
18Literally, "judgement is to them."
19cf. Matt. 19:12
20Literally, "the whole is."
21Theodoret, in quoting this passage, reads προσφοράς (prosphoras), "offering."
22Literally, "die disputing."
23Literally, "to love." Some think there is a reference to the agapæ, or love-feasts.
24The reading is περί (peri) in the one case, and μετά (meta) in the other, though the latter meaning seems preferable. Most of the mss. of the longer recension read περί (peri), as in the shorter.
30Literally, "to know."
32cf. Epistle of Ignatius to Ephesians, chap. 21; to Polycarp, chap. 2:6.
33Literally, "most becoming of God."
34Or, "from any conscience."
36Or, "having received."
38Literally, "may glorify with him."
39Or, "think of."
40Or, "the ministry."
41Literally, "worthy of God."
42Literally, "most becoming of God."
43Literally, "in the union of God and of you."
44The deaconesses seem to have been called widows.
45Literally, "the name desired of me."
Keywords: ignatius apostolic fathers unity the passion resurrection heretics docetæ bishops eucharist Antioch