You have seen pictures of Christians in the arena, facing lions. Ignatius, bishop of Antioch, was one of those martyred by the ferocious beasts.
While the emperor Trajan was on a visit to Asia Minor, he arrested Ignatius. When the bishop confessed his faith in Christ, the emperor sent him in chains to Rome to die. The public spectacles were about to close when Ignatius arrived. He was hustled to the arena at once and thrown to two fierce lions who immediately devoured him. According to traditions, he died on this day, October 17, 107.
At no time did he try to escape his miserable death. On the contrary, while bound for Rome under armed guard, he wrote a letter to the church in the imperial capitol insisting that no one interfere with his "true sacrifice." There has to be an explanation for such an unlikely attitude.
Here it is, in Ignatius's own words, given in a letter that he wrote to Smyrna while on his death march, "...nearness to the sword is nearness to God; to be among the wild beasts is to be in the arms of God; only let it be in the name of Jesus Christ. I endure all things that I may suffer together with him, since he who became perfect man strengthens me." What an attitude!
It was merely the outworking of the faith he had preached for many years. "We have not only to be called Christians, but to be Christians," he had written. To die for Christ, even if it meant becoming a sport to bloodthirsty spectators, was to inherit eternal glory. Ignatius is notable because he was a disciple of John the apostle. According to John Chrysostom, Peter himself appointed Ignatius to the see of Antioch where he was bishop for forty years. Ignatius was the earliest bishop whose writings speak of the church as "catholic," meaning "universal."
- Adapted from and earlier Christian History Institute story.
- Aland, Kurt. Saints and Sinners; men and ideas in the early church. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1970.
- Durant, Will. Caesar and Christ. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1944.
- González, Justo L. The Story of Christianity. Peabody Massachusetts: Prince Press, 2001.
- Ignatius, St. The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Various encyclopedia and internet articles.