Lions, Little Children and Tiber Swims

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Did you know that Ignatius of Antioch was not only appointed to the see of Antioch by Peter himself, but tradition has it that he was one of the children that the Lord took up in his arms and blessed?

Ignatius of Antioch was martyred in the Roman Coliseum  by being devoured by beasts. On the way from Antioch to Rome he wrote seven letters to the various Christian churches.

This early church father helped me come into the Catholic church. Here are some of his quotable quotes. Here he speaks of the necessity of apostolic authority and the need for valid sacraments.

Wherever the bishop appears, there let the people be; as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful to baptize or give communion without the consent of the bishop. On the other hand, whatever has his approval is pleasing to God. Thus, whatever is done will be safe and valid.

Here he points out that even in his time those who denied the reality of the body and blood in the Eucharist were heretics. Phew! Considering that he had been taught by Peter and John themselves this was pretty weighty stuff.

Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God … They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which that Father, in his goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes. — Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1

Each sentence of this last quote hit home with me and echoed my experience within Protestantism–and I’m sorry to say–within certain types of Catholicism too. Here are the main points: 1. They hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ. (sola fide, the tenets of Calvinism, eternal security, total depravity etc. etc. 2. They abstain from the Eucharist Protestants who do not adore the Blessed Sacrament, have communion only once a month or twice a year…etc 3. The do not confess that the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ denial of transubstantiation. 4. Flesh which suffered for us  general denial of the importance of the physical world and physical actions.

Well, that, along with his courage in facing the beasts and the other church fathers, not to mention a hefty dose of  Bl. John Henry Newman–brought me across the Tiber.

Reflecting on St Ignatius today I pray for the innocence of a child blessed by the Lord and the courage of a martyr faced with lions. This is the mark of any saint–the innocence of a child and the courage of a martyr. Name one saint–any saint–and you will find these two traits in a real and unique blend.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • Matt R

    Cool post.
    Of course you would mention Bl John Henry Newman, for ‘to be deep in history is to cease to be a Protestant.’

  • Liz

    Thank you for reminding people, Father. St. Ignatius is one of the biggest reasons that I swam the Tiber. I sat in my congregational pew musing on the question of “where’s my bishop?” I spent much of my young life being taught (by people who truly believed it), that the Catholic Church taught things the early Christians didn’t believe. Then I came head to head with St. Ignatius. I didn’t read him in some book from a Catholic publishing house. I read him in a Penguin edition of the writings of the early Church fathers. I was blindsided by St. Ignatius. I was simply “doing” Church history with my son in an attempt at an honest refutation of the Bob Jones history book we’d used (since I was nicely ecumenical and BJU wasn’t). First I read the Fathers, then I read Chesterton, then I read Scott and Kimberly Hahn. The Hahns showed me the how, but the Fathers and Chesterton showed me the why. I did read JHN as well, but not until slightly later. What he did was show me that my reaction to the fathers was not unique, even though he was dealing with the Donatists, who came later.

    I must say, though, that my high school pastor had given me a slightly higher (and strangely, not quite Zwinglian) view of communion that probably helped. However, I will never, ever forget sitting in my living room and reading the very words from St. Ignatius that you quoted here. What baffles me is the number of Protestant friends I’ve quoted them to who weren’t gob smacked between the eyes by them the way that I was.

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  • Stephen Dalton

    The very quotes from St. Ignatius you used in this article played a big part in bringing me into the Catholic Church.

    • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

      me too!


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