Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Morbid Martyrdom of Ignatius of Antioch

Philip Schaff (1858): “But although he was a man of apostolic character, and governed the church with great care, he was personally not satisfied, until he could be counted worthy of sealing is testimony with his blood, and thereby attaining to the highest seat of honor. The coveted crown came to him at last, and his eager and morbid desire for martyrdom was gratified.”

Henry Chadwick (Oxford/Cambridge, 1967): “… the conviction that martyrdom granted immediate admission to paradise and conferred a victor’s crown, combined with a somber evaluation of the Roman empire as a political institution, led to a tendency towards acts of provocation on the part of over-enthusiastic believers … Hotheads who provoked the authorities were soon censured by the church as mere suicides deserving no recognition. As, from the middle of the third century onwards, the private commemorations of the martyrs began to pass into the official and public liturgy of the church, control had to be exercised and the claims of an individual martyr were subjected to examination and scrutiny. Even so there were difficulties, mainly because there were different interpretations of what constituted provocation. Ignatius of Antioch, martyred at Rome before AD 117, was a man of intense devotion; his warnings that the influential Roman Christians should not try to obtain his release so as to deprive him of suffering in union with his Lord, could easily pass into an attitude that would appear provocative to a magistrate. His friend Polycarp, … was held up as a model on the specific ground that he did nothing to provoke the authorities but quietly waited for them to come and arrest him.”

Paul Johnson, Catholic Historian (1972): “Ignatius, martyred at Rome around 117, begged his influential friends not to intervene and deprive him of suffering in the Lord; this attitude would have been regarded as heretical later in the century, when the saintly Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna, set the pattern by doing nothing to provoke the authorities. The Church would not compromise on the matter of emperor-worship or the divinity of Christ, but otherwise it did not look for trouble.”


  1. I have barely read anything of Ignatius. Could it be argued that this "morbid desire for martyrdom" is in itself a striving to achieve a final work in which Ignatius hoped would save him? Instead of trusting in the shed blood of Christ to pay for his sins Ignatius was not satisfied until "sealing his testimony with his blood." Polycarp on the other hand is said to not provoke the authorities but instead waited for his inevitable arrest.

    1. Hi Michael -- Two things about Ignatius: He is early -- early 2nd century, and what we know of him has been thoroughly mixed with legend. Thus, as CTC begins its article on Ignatius with an "eyewitness account of the martyrdom of St. Ignatius, recorded by Deacon Philo of Tarsus and the Syrian Rheus Agathopus", you can rest assured that this much, at least, is a piece of fiction.

      Michael Holmes says "everything said about Ignatius thus far rests upon the conclusion that the seven letters of the so-called 'middle recension' are authentic. This conclusion is widely held today, but such was not always the case".

      The "middle recension" includes seven letters; There are three recensions: short, middle, and long. The long recension contains thirteen letters, included the original seven (in expanded form) and six additional letters. The long recension is a fourth century creation.

      So, if the "middle recension" letters are authentic, they are probably a good source of history about that period. But there are ongoing problems with the "authenticity".