Ignatius, Letter To the Trallians

IGNATIUS THEOPHORUS to the holy Church which is in Tralles in Asia.

Beloved as you are by God, the Father of Jesus Christ, elect and worthy of God, out­wardly and inwardly at peace through the passion of Jesus Christ, in whom we have hope through our resurrection unto Him, I salute you in the fullness of God, as the Apostles used to do, and I wish you every joy.

By the will of God and of Jesus Christ your bishop, Polybius, has visited me here in Smyrna. He tells me that by nature more than by habit you are faultless in disposition and resolute in patience. In spite of the bonds I bear for Jesus Christ, he filled me with such consolation that in him I wasable to behold your whole community. Accepting your spiritual benevolence through him, I thanked God to find, as I had heard, that you are imitators of God.

For it seems to me that, when you are obedient to the bishop as you would be to Jesus Christ, you are living, not in a human way, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us that by faith in His death you might escape death. You must continue, then, to do nothing apart from the bishop. Be obedient, too, to the priests as to the apostles of Jesus Christ, our hope—in whom we shall be found, if only we live in Him. And, as ministers of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, the deacons should please all in every way they can; for they are not merely ministers of food and drink, but the servants of the Church of God. They must avoid all reproach as they would beware of fire.

In the same way all should respect the deacons as they would Jesus Christ, just as they respect the bishop as representing the Father and the priests as the council of God and the college of the Apostles. Apart from these there is nothing that can be called a Church. In such matters I am sure you feel as I do, for I have received a sample of your love in the person of your bishop who is here with me. His demeanor is a great lesson; his meekness is his power. I am sure that even the infidels esteem him. Because I love you I treat you gently; but on his behalf I could write more sharp­ly. However, prisoner as I am, I have not felt myself in a position to command you as though I were an Apostle.

By the grace of God I am not lacking in wisdom; but I measure my words, lest my boasting should be fatal. I must, in fact, be more afraid than ever of paying attention to those who flatter me. Their words only serve to scourge me. I long to suffer, but I do not know if I am worthy. To most people my ardor[1] is not apparent, but for my part it is becoming irresistible.[2] My prayer is for humility, by which the prince of this world is overcome.

It is not that I am unable to write to you of heavenly realities, but I am afraid that, children as you are, I might do you harm. Please share my convictions; else you may be choked by what you cannot swallow. For myself, I do not pretend to be a disciple merely because I am in chains and can contemplate such mysteries as the ordered hierarchy of angels and principalities and the visible and invisible worlds. Much must be lacking to us, if we are not to lose God.

I exhort you, then, to leave alone the foreign fodder of heresy and keep entirely to Christian food. It is not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, that speaks. For the heretics mingle poison with Jesus Christ, as men might administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, without giving a hint of their wicked­ness, so that without thought or fear of the fatal sweetness a man drinks his own death.

Against such men be on your guard. This will be possible if you are not proud and if you keep close to Jesus Christ and the bishop and the ordinances of the Apostles. Anyone who is within the sanctuary is pure and anyone who is outside is impure, that is to say, no one who acts apart from the bishop and the priests and the deacons has a clear conscience.

Not that I have heard of anything of this sort among you; but I keep watch over you as ones I love, foreseeing, as I do, the snares of the devil. And so, put on the armor of forbearance and refresh yourselves in faith, that is, in the body of the Lord, and in love, that is, in the blood of Jesus Christ. Let no one be down on his neighbor. Let not the folly of a few give occasion to the pagans to calumniate your pious community. ‘Woe unto him through whom my name is ca­lumniated before others without cause.’[3]

And so, be deaf when anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was of the race of David, the son of Mary, who was truly born and ate and drank, who was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate and was really crucified and died in the sight of those ‘in heaven and on earth and under the earth.’[4] Moreover He was truly raised from the dead by the power of His Father; in like manner His Father, through Jesus Christ, will rise up those of us who believe in Him. Apart from Him we have no true life.

If, as some say who are godless in the sense that they are without faith, He merely seemed to suffer—it is they themselves who merely seem to exist—why am I in chains? And why do I pray that I may be thrown to the wild beasts? I die, then, to no purpose. I do but bear false witness against the Lord.

Avoid, therefore, the evil sprouts that bring forth deadly fruit, merely to taste this fruit is to meet a sudden death. Such are not the plants of the Father. If they were, they would appear as branches of the Cross and their fruit would be immortal. It is by the Cross, by His passion, that He invites you who are His members. The Head cannot be born without the members, since it was God, that is, He Himself, who promised to keep them together.

I am writing these greetings from Smyrna. With them goes those of the others of God’s Churches who are with me. They have been of comfort to me in many ways, both physical and spiritual. My bonds—which I bear about with me for the cause of Jesus Christ and as a petition that I may reach God—are my exhortations to you. Persevere in harmony with one another and in common prayer together. All of you without exception, and particularly the priests, must help to keep up the bishop’s spirit out of reverence for the Father and Jesus Christ and the Apostles. I beg you to give heed in charity to what I say, so that my letter may not be taken in evidence against you. Pray for me, for by the mercy of God I stand in need of your charity, if I am to be worthy of the end I am eager to meet and am not to be found reprobate.

The Smyrnaeans and Ephesians greet you in love. Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria of which—unworthy as I am, for I am the least among them—I am a member. Farewell in Jesus Christ. Be obedient to your bishop—and to the priests as well—as to the commandment [of God]. With undivided heart let each and all of you love one another. My life is offered for you, both now and when I shall be with God. I am not yet out of danger, but the Father, through Jesus Christ, can be counted on to answer both your prayer and mine. May we be found with Him without blame.

[1]  Some translate éris as though it meant the ‘envy of Satan.’

[2]  Literally, ‘it makes war on me.’

[3]  Isa. 52.5, freely translated. Cf. the same quotation in the Letter of Polycarp to the Philippians, Ch. 10.

[4]  Phil. 2.10.