Day Seven: St. Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Trallians (full text)
Who: Ignatius converted at a young age and later became Bishop of Antioch. A friend of Polycarp and fellow disciple of John, there is a long standing tradition that Ignatius was the child that Jesus held in his arms and blessed in Mark 10:13-16
What: Ignatius urges the church to continue in unity and to honour their leadership. This letter also gives a defence against certain heresies.
Why: Ignatius wrote a series of letters to the churches in Asia Minor whilst en route to Rome to face martyrdom by wild beasts in the Colosseum around 108 AD.
When: Around 107-108 AD
The letter to the Trallians is shorter than the previous two by Ignatius we've read so far. But much like the others, there's a lot said for keeping in unity in Christ and for following their bishop and presbyters, and not to do anything apart from their instruction. Ignatius makes reference to his impending death again for the sake of the Gospel, and in doing so leads into a defence against Docetism.
This heresy, or that of Judaizers, comes up in every letter, which goes to show that even this early on, Christians were really up against it all having to defend the truth of the Gospel from every direction.
Because of the nature of the Docetic beliefs — that Jesus wasn’t really manifest in the flesh but was rather an illusion, Ignatius gives us a nice run down of the life and passion of Jesus, which really focusses on his physical nature.
Like John wrote so clearly in his Gospel: “the Word became flesh”, Ignatius writes a similar summary of the Gospel message in order to combat any notions that Christ was anything but human in manifestation.
There appeared to be those who taught “that [Jesus] only seemed to suffer” and if that were so, Ignatius argued, “then why am I in bonds … Do I therefore die in vain? Am I not then guilty of falsehood against [the cross of] the Lord?”.
We don't see much of this heresy around today, though it has its forms here and there (such as within Islam), but it's not such a great threat to the Faith anymore. Even so, remembering the fact that Jesus was indeed “revealed in flesh, vindicated in spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among Gentiles, believed in throughout the world, [and] taken up in glory” (1 Tim 3:16) is the cornerstone of our faith. Anything less is not the Gospel, and that is what Ignatius was emphasising to this church.
I'm going to close by quoting Ignatius’ “history of Christ” just because I really like the way it summarises the Gospel:
Stop your ears, therefore, when anyone speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.