So wrote Tertullian in the early 3rd Century. One of the many who shed blood for Christ in the pre-Constantine Church was Ignatius of Antioch, martyred in the early 2nd Century. Until he made his famous trip to Rome to gain his incorruptible crown very little was known about him. Perhaps he was a disciple of St. John, and what we know of him before his sentence is derived from the writings of Eusebius in the 4thC. It seems that SS. Peter and Paul had directed for Ignatius to succeed Evodius as bishop Antioch, an office he held for forty years, being an exemplary pastor. This was manifested during the persecution under Domitian (81-96) when he sustained the courage of his flock by daily preaching, praying and fasting.
Under Trajan there were spasmodic killings of Christians including Ignatius.
It is said that Trajan wintered in Antioch in the year 115 whereupon he met and examined the aged Bishop Ignatius. What follows is part of the dialogue.
Emperor: Who are you, spirit of evil, who dare disobey my orders and goad others on to their destruction?
Bishop: No one calls Theophorus a spirit of evil.
Emperor: Who is Theophorus?
Bishop: He who bears Christ within him.
Emperor: And do we not bear within ourselves the gods who help us against our enemies?
Bishop: You are mistaken when you call gods those who are no better than devils. There is but one God, who created heaven and earth and all that in them is; and one Jesus, made Christ, into whose kingdom I earnestly desire to be admitted.
Emperor Do you mean Him who was crucified under Pontius Pilate?
Bishop: Yes, the same, who by His death has crucified both sin and its author, and who has proclaimed that every malice of the devil shall be trodden underfoot by those who bear Him in their hearts.
Emperor: Do you then bear Christ within you?
Bishop: Yes, for it is written, 'I will dwell in them and will walk with them.'
For such daring answers to the Emperor, Ignatius was sentenced to death in the coliseum in Rome. For Ignatius he could not have been given a higher honour. "I thank you, Lord and Master, that you have deemed to honour me by making complete my love for you, in that you have bound me with chains of iron to your apostle Paul."
That trip to Rome has been a blessing for the Church as Ignatius wrote to various Christian communities en route - Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Philadelphia and Smyrna. Those letters reveal so much about church organisation, worship and life. For example its three-fold ministry, and he urged the Christian communities to be faithful to their presiding bishop, presbyters and deacons.
The most pressing concern for Ignatius (as it should be with us too) was unity. Writing to the Magnesians he urged them "to do all things in harmony with God, under the presidency of the bishop, who holds the place of God, and of the presbyters, who hold the place of the college of apostles, and of the deacons, who are so dear to me and who have been entrusted with the service of Jesus Christ." Indeed he urged Christians "not to do anything in a spirit of divisiveness but only according to the teaching of Jesus Christ," in his epistle to the Philadelphians.
The focus for unity, he stressed, is the Eucharist, when bishop and flock come together to celebrate and proclaim the Lord's death in which the breaking of the Bread signified this unity. Ignatius also instructed them that the Sacrament is "the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death which gives eternal life in Jesus Christ;" it is "the bread that is the flesh of Jesus Christ, this flesh which has suffered for our sins." Indeed Ignatius expressed his own martyrdom in eucharistic terms when he prayed to be become like wheat grounded by beasts teeth to a fine white grain in Christ.
He also wrote to Christians in Rome pleading with them not to interfere with his impending martyrdom. "One thing only I beg of you: allow me to be a libation poured out to God, while there is still an altar ready for me. Then you can form a choir of love around it and sing hymns of praise to the Father in Christ Jesus for allowing Syria's bishop, summoned from the realms of the rising sun, to have reached the land of its setting." From here may I "rise again into the dawn of his presence."
We celebrate Ignatius' martyrdom on the 17th, giving thanks to the "faith of our Fathers" and praying that we too "will be true to thee till death."