Ignatius: On Dying for Christ

19 12 2011

I remember exactly where I was the first time I read this.  I was stunned.  This is a very spiritually edifying piece from Ignatius.  He had been taken captive by the Romans to be put to death for his faith.  He had learned of a rescue attempt to be staged by the church in Rome.  But as you can see from the letter, he was eager to “die and be with Christ.”  What do I expect people to get from this letter?  A vision of a man who finally realized there is nothing more precious than Christ.  It is because of this realization that a man who followed Christ his whole life can say  ”Now I begin to become a disciple.”

I write to the Churches, and impress on them all, that I shall willingly die for God, unless ye hinder me. I beseech of you not to show an unseasonable good-will towards me. Suffer me to become food for the wild beasts, through whose instrumentality it will be granted me to attain to God. I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ. Rather entice the wild beasts, that they may become my tomb, and may leave nothing of my body; so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], I may be no trouble to any one. Then shall I truly be a disciple of Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. Entreat Christ for me, that by these instruments   i.e., by the teeth of the wild beasts. I may be found a sacrifice [to God]. I do not, as Peter and Paul, issue commandments unto you. They were apostles; I am but a condemned man: they were free,   “Free,” probably from human infirmity. while I am, even until now, a servant. But when I suffer, I shall be the freed-man of Jesus, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. And now, being a prisoner, I learn not to desire anything worldly or vain.

From Syria even unto Rome I fight with beasts,  where the word is also used figuratively.both by land and sea, both by night and day, being bound to ten leopards, I mean a band of soldiers, who, even when they receive benefits,  Probably the soldiers received gifts from the Christians, to treat Ignatius with kindness. show themselves all the worse. But I am the more instructed by their injuries [to act as a disciple of Christ]; “yet am I not thereby justified”. May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me; and I pray that they may be found eager to rush upon me, which also I will entice to devour me speedily, and not deal with me as with some, whom, out of fear, they have not touched. But if they be unwilling to assail me, I will compel them to do so. Pardon me [in this] I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple, and have no desire after anything visible or invisible, that I may attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let breakings, tearings, and separations of bones; let cutting off of members; let bruising to pieces of the whole body; and let the very torment of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.

Ignatius, Letter to the Romans