Day Nine: St. Ignatius of Antioch: Letter to the Philadelphians (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: As usual, a general call to remain in unity and heed their bishop. Also to avoid listening to Judaizers who would have them follow the Law.

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.

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When: Around 107-108 AD

As with the rest of Ignatius's letters, there is the message of unity stressed throughout this, along with the call to heed their bishop's teaching and leadership.

As to this point, Ignatius recalls to Philadelphians a time when we was among them as a speaker. He reminds them what he taught, making the point that what he said came to him by the Spirit and was not “intelligence from any man”:

But the Spirit proclaimed these words: Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions; be the followers of Jesus Christ, even as He is of His Father.

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Ignatius emphasised the role of the Spirit here because there were apparently those who were trying to cause division, and this message he brought spoke right into the heart of that situation, presumably dissolving the situation before it got out of hand, and putting the fear of God in them.

This in itself shows us the importance of listening to the Spirit for our guidance in all situations, and is a good example of the outworking of what Jesus promised his followers when he said not to worry about what you'll say because the Spirit will give to the words (Jn 16:13; Mk 13:11).

Like in his letter to the Magnesians, Ignatius again highlights the importance of avoiding Judaizers. “If any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him” he urges, because if they do, Ignatius says, they are no better than “monuments and sepulchres of the dead” since they preach that which has passed away.

He goes on to contrast the Old Testament with the New by saying that, “the priests indeed are good, but the High Priest is better” because “He is the door of the Father, by which enter in Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets, and the apostles, and the Church”. Christ is now the way, and only way, to God the Father and as such they old ways of Judaism are no longer in effect.

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He emphasises this even more by pointing out that, “the Gospel possesses something transcendent [above the former dispensation]” and that is: “the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ” along with his death and resurrection.

The “prophets announced Him, but the Gospel is the perfection of immortality” and so, why would we need anything more? Judaism pointed the way to the Gospel and to the Messiah, but now that his appearance has been made known, the old is superseded by the new. As the writer of Hebrews says;

Hebrews 8:13

In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.

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This was written whilst the temple still stood and animal sacrifices were still being made, and so the old was still fading and disappearing (Heb 9:8-9).

But now in Ignatius's time it has been about 30 years since the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, so the old really had disappeared and as far as he was concerned, the New Covenant was in full effect which is why his letters often remind the churches not to fall back into the old ways of Judaism.

That is something that I think many Christians today still need reminding of as well. We have been set free in Christ (Acts 13:39; Rom 8:2; Rom 10:4; Gal 5:1), taken out from under the power of the old and are now under a new Law: the Law of Love/Christ (Rom 13:10; Gal 5:14; Gal 6:2).

Go, therefore, in freedom.

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