The Letters of Ignatius: Prologue

St. Paul’s House of Formation

The Apostolic Fathers

  • Early Christian writings from the Apostolic and sub-Apostolic Age
    • First and second generations of Christians
  • Ten writings generally included in this category
    1. Didache (Teaching of the Twelve Apostles)
    2. 1 Clement (Letter to the Corinthians)
    3. 2 Clement (anonymous second-century homily)
    4. Collected letters of Ignatius of Antioch
    5. Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians
    6. Martyrdom of Polycarp
    7. Letter of Barnabas (“Pseudo-Barnabas”)
    8. Papias
    9. The Pastor (written by Hermas, thus Pastor of Hermas)
    10. Letter to Diognetes

Ignatius of Antioch

  • Bishop of Antioch
    • Succeeded the Apostle Peter and Evodius
    • Antioch = the oldest Church after Jerusalem
      • Birthplace of Gentile Christianity
      • One of the three largest cities of the Roman Empire 
  • Biographical information
    • Limited to the short period covered by the letters themselves
    • Died as a martyr early in the 2nd Century
    • Attested by Polycarp and Eusebius
  • With Polycarp, the best known author of the sub-Apostolic age

The 7 Letters of Ignatius

  • Six letters to individual Churches
    1. Ephesus
    2. Magnesia
    3. Tralles
    4. Rome
    5. Philadelphia
    6. Smyrna
  • One letter to Polycarp (bishop of Smyrna)

Background for the Letters

  • Condemned to be thrown to beasts in Rome
    • Ten guards accompany him on the trip across Asia Minor
      • Layover at Smyrna
      • Layover at Troas (port for trips across the Aegean)
    • Local Churches send delegates to meet him along the way
  • Letters written during the Smyrna layover
    1. Thank the Church at Ephesus
    2. Thank the Church at Magnesia
    3. Thank the Church of Tralles
    4. Write to the Church of Rome (his final destination)
  • Letters written during from the Troas layover
    1. Thank the Church at Philadelphia
    2. Thank the Church at Smyrna (his first layover)
    3. Thank the bishop of the Church at Smyrna (Polycarp)
  • Later on Polycarp wrote to the Church at Philippi (Europe) to get copies of the letters


  • A contemporary perspective unique in depth and breadth
    • Someone deeply embedded in the life of the Church
    • Someone connected with a number of different Churches
      • Useful in highlighting their shared structure
  • Valuable information on the structure of the Church
    • Focus on the need for unity
    • Distinction between overseers from elders
      • Essentially interchangeable in the New Testament
    • All six Churches share a common structure
      1. The term overseer (bishop) describes a single chief pastor
        • Monarchical episcopate
      2. Surrounded by college of elders (presbyters/priests)
      3. Further surrounded by deacons
    • Structure considered an image and continuation of the heavenly hierarchy
  • Chief points of interest
    • Information on the structure of the Church in the early 2nd Century
    • Evidence of theological development in the early 2nd Century
    • Special emphasis placed on martyrdom
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