One of the earliest saints about whom we have quite of a bit of information is St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was a bishop and martyr for the Faith who died around the year 107. Through him, we have the written witness of the life of the early Church.
What is very interesting is that what you find in his letters, is what you find throughout Church history and up to today. He describes the hierarchy of the bishops, priests, and deacons. St. Ignatius touches upon the doctrine of the Trinity and the doctrine that Jesus has both a divine and human nature. And he proclaims the unchangeable teaching of the Church that in the Eucharist we have the very flesh and blood of Jesus Christ.
In other words, St. Ignatius shares that the early Church was in full possession of the deposit of Faith, and despite persecutions was sharing the Good News to a pagan world that needed the Gospel.
An Early Example
It is believed that he was born in what would be the country of Syria today. The date of his birth is unknown. There is, however, a charming legend about him as a very young child. According to the story, when Our Lord placed a small child among the disciples to teach them about humility, the child was none other than St. Ignatius. Jesus' words to the disciples, who were arguing over who would be the greatest were:
Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. (Mt 18:3-4)
Bishop of Antioch
According to the early historian and bishop Eusebius, St. Ignatius succeeded Evodius as bishop of the city of Antioch. In the early Church, the see of Antioch was very important. It was considered the bishopric of St. Peter before he left for Rome and was succeeded by Evodius at Antioch. And, as it is reported in the book of Acts (11:26), it was in Antioch that the followers of Christ were first called Christians or little Christs.
As bishop of Antioch, he helped the believers weather storms of persecution which came their way both externally and internally. Through his example, teaching, and love for his flock, he helped the believers remain faithful And for a time, there was peace in Antioch, although it would not last for long.
A New Wave of Persecution
It just so happened that the emperor was in Antioch on his way to Armenia. As part of the persecution, St. Ignatius, as an important leader of the believers was apprehended and brought before the emperor.
Bound for Rome
The journey to Rome took months because of the way the ships would typically travel by sailing from one port to another nearby port in a sort of skipping way across the Mediterranean.
His Martyrdom and the Prayers of the Faithful are Answered
Image: The martyrdom of St. Ignatius of Antioch
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