Ignatius, Letter to the Ephesians

Ignatius, Letter To The Ephesians

IGNATIUS THEOPHORUS greets the Church of Ephesus in Asia, congratulating you as you deserve and wishing you perfect joy in Jesus Christ—you who have grown in spiritual stature through the fullness of God the Father, and have been predestined from eternity to eternal abiding and unchanging glory, and have been united and chosen through a true passion by the will of the Father and of Jesus Christ, our God.

I have welcomed in God your well beloved name, which is yours by reason of your natural [sense and][1] goodness in accord with faith and charity in Jesus Christ, our Savior. Imitators of God as you are, with hearts warmed in the blood of God, you have done perfectly the work that fell to you to do; for you were eager to visit me when you heard that I was on my way from Syria, in chains because of our common name and hope, and longing, with the help of your prayers, to face the wild beasts in Rome and not to fail and so become a disciple. And so in God’s name I received your whole community in the person of Onesimus, your bishop, in the flesh, a man whose charity is beyond all power to say. I beg of you to love him in Jesus Christ and to be like him to a man. May He be blessed who gave you the grace to have and to deserve to have such a bishop.

A word about Burrhus, my fellow worker and your deacon by the will of God, a man blessed in every way. It is my prayer that he may continue with me to your honor and that of your bishop. Crocus, too, who is worthy of God and of yourselves, I have received as an exemplar of the love you bear me. He has been a great comfort to me in every way. May the Father of Jesus Christ reward him with His grace—and not only him but Onesimus, Burrhus, Euplus and Fronto; for in them I saw the love of all of you. If only I deserve it, may I have joy in you always. And so it is right for you to glorify Jesus Christ in every way, who has given you glory so that you may be made perfect in a single obe­dience to your bishop and the priests and be made holy in every way.

I do not give you orders as though I were a person of importance, for I have not yet been made perfect in Jesus Christ, even though I am a prisoner for His name. But, at last, I am beginning to be His disciple and speak to you as His disciples, too. For I have need of being trained[2] by you in faith, counsel, endurance and long–suffering. Still, love will not let me be silent in your regard, and so I make bold to beg you to be in harmony with God’s mind. For Jesus Christ, the life that cannot be taken from us, is the mind of the Father, and the bishops appointed to ends of the earth[3] are of one mind with Jesus Christ.

Hence, it is right for you to concur, as you do, with the name of the bishop. For your priests, who are worthy of the name and worthy of God, like the strings of a lyre, are in harmony with the bishops. Hence it is that in the harmony of your minds and hearts Jesus Christ is hymned. Make of yourselves a choir, so that with one voice and one mind, taking the key–note of God, you may sing in unison with one voice through Jesus Christ to the Father, and He may hear you and recognize you, in your good works, as members of His son. It is good for you, therefore, to be in perfect[4] unity that you may at all times be partakers of God.

And if I, in a short time, have achieved such spiritual and not merely human communion with your bishop, all the more do I congratulate you who have become one with him, as the Church is one with Jesus Christ and as Jesus Christ is one with the Father, so that all things may be in harmony. Let no man be deceived. If a person is not inside the sanctuary[5] he is deprived of the Bread [of God]. For if the prayer of one or two men[6] has so much force, how much greater is that of the bishop and of the whole Church. Any one, therefore, who fails to assemble with the others has already shown his pride and set himself apart. For it is written: ‘God resists the proud.’[7] Let us be careful, therefore, not to oppose the bishop, so that we may be obedient to God.

And let a man respect the bishop all the more if he sees him to be a man of few words. For, whoever is sent by the Master to run His house, we ought to receive him aswe would receive the Master himself. It is obvious, therefore, that we ought to regard the bishop as we would the Lord Himself. I should tell you that Onesimus himself is full of praise for your orderly, religious behavior, because all of you are living according to truth and because among you no heresy finds a home. Indeed, you do not so much as listen to anyone unless his speech is of Jesus Christ in truth.

There are some who, in guile and wickedness, have a way of bearing the Name about while behaving in a way unworthy of God. Such men you must shun as you would wild beasts; for they are mad dogs that bite when you are not on your guard. Of these you must beware, for these men are hard to heal. There is one Doctor active in both body and soul, begotten and yet unbegotten, God in man, true life in death, son of Mary and Son of God, first able to suffer and then unable to suffer, Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Let no one, therefore, deceive you as, in fact, being wholly given to God, you are not deceived. For, so long at no passion within you has an established power to torment you, you are certainly living according to God. As a cheap sacrifice[8] in your stead I offer myself for you Ephesians, for your Church which will be remembered in every age. Carnal men can no more do the works of the spirit than those who walk in the spirit do the things of the flesh; nor can faith do the things of infidelity nor infidelity the things of faith. Since you do all things in JesusChrist, even those things are spiritual which you do according to the flesh.

I have learned that some strangers[9] holding bad doctrine have passed your way, but that you have not allowed them to sow their seed among you and have stopped your ears lest you should receive what they sowed. Like the stones of a temple, cut for a building of God the Father, you have been lifted up to the top by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the Cross, and the rope of the Holy Spirit. For your faith has drawn you up and charity has been the road leading to God. You are all fellow pilgrims,[10] carrying with you God and His temple; you are bearers of Christ and of holy offer­ings, decked out in the commandments of Jesus Christ. And with this letter I am able to take part in your festivity, to be of your company, to share in the joy that comes from setting your heart not on what is merely human in life, but on God.

And so do not cease to pray for all other men, for there is hope of their conversion and of their finding God. Give them the chance to be instructed; at least by the way you behave. When they are angry with you, be meek; answer their words of pride by your humility, their blasphemies by your prayers, their error by your steadfastness in faith, their bullying by your gentleness. Let us not be in ahurry to give them tit for tat, but, by our sweet reasonableness, show that we are their brothers. Let us rather be eager to imitate the Lord, striving to be the first in bearing wrongs, in suffering loss, in being despised, so that no weed of the evil one may be found among you; but abide in Jesus Christ in perfect purity and temperance of body and soul.

The last days are at hand. For the rest, let us live in reverence and fear of the patience of God, lest it turn in judgment against us. Either let us fear the wrath which is to come or else let us love the grace we have—one or the other, so long as we are found in Jesus Christ unto true life. Let nothing appeal to you apart from Him, by whose help I bear my chains about with me like spiritual pearls; and in these, with your prayers—in which I trust always to have a share—may I rise again, so that I may be found in the company of the Christian Ephesians who have always been at one with the Apostles through the power of Jesus Christ.

I know who I am and to whom I am writing. I am a condemned man; you have received mercy. I am in danger; you are safe. You are the road for those on the way to die for God. You have shared in the sacraments[11] with Paul who was made a saint, who died a martyr, who deserved to be blessed—in whose footsteps may I be found when I reach God; in whose every letter[12] there is a mention of you in Christ Jesus.

Be zealous, therefore, to assemble more frequently to render thanks[13] and praise to God. For, when you meet together frequently, the powers of Satan are destroyed and danger from him is dissolved in the harmony of your faith. There is nothing better than peace in which an end is put to the warfare of things in heaven and on earth.

You are aware of all these truths if you have perfect faith and love for Jesus Christ—the beginning and end of life; for faith is the beginning and the end is love and God is the two of them brought into unity. After these comes whatever else makes up a Christian gentleman. No one commits sin who professes the faith, and no one hates who is possessed of charity. A tree is shown by its fruit,[14] and in the same way those who profess to belong to Christ will be seen by what they do. For what is needed is not mere present profession,[15] but perseverance to the end in the power of faith.

It is better to say nothing and be [a Christian] than to speak and not to be [one]. It is good to teach, if one practices what he preaches. There is one Teacher who spoke—and the thing was done;[16] and even the things He did without speaking are worthy of the Father. Anyone who is really possessed of the word of Jesus can listen to His silence[17] and so be per­fect; so that he may act through his words and be known by his silence. Nothing is hidden from the Lord and even the things we hide are near Him. Let us do all that we do, there­fore, as though He were dwelling within us—we as His temple and He within as our God. And so, indeed, it is, and will be clearly seen by us from the love we justly bear Him.

Make no mistake, brethren; the corrupters of fam­ilies will not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those are dead who do these things according to the flesh, how much worse if, with bad doctrine, one should corrupt the faith of God for which Jesus Christ was crucified. Such a man, for becoming contaminated, will depart into unquenchable fire; and so will anyone who listens to him.

It was for this reason that the Lord received the ointment on his head[18]—that he might breathe the odor of incorruptibility into the Church. Be not anointed with the bad odor of the doctrine of the prince of this world, lest he lead you away captive from the life proposed to you. Why do we not all become wise by accepting the knowledge of God which is Jesus Christ? Why do we perish in our folly by being ignorant of the grace which the Lord has truly sent us?

I offer up my life as a poor substitute[19] for the Cross, which is a stumbling block to those who have no faith, but to us salvation and eternal life. Where is the wise man? Where is the philosopher?[20] Where is the boasting of the so–called men of prudence? For our God Jesus Christ was, according to God’s dispensation, the fruit of Mary’s womb, of the seed of David; He was born and baptized in order that He might make the water holy by His passion.

The maidenhood of Mary and her child–bearing and also the death of the Lord were hidden from the prince of this world–three resounding mysteries wrought in the silence of God. How, then, did He appear in time? A star, brighter than all other stars, shone in the sky, and its bright­ness was ineffable and the novelty of it caused astonishment. And the rest of the stars, along with the sun and the moon, formed a choir about the star; but the light of the star by itself outshone all the rest. It was a puzzle to know the origin of this novelty unlike anything else. Thereupon all magic was dissolved, every bond of malice disappeared, ignorance was destroyed, and the ancient kingdom was ruined, when God appeared in the form of man to give us newness of eternal life. What had been prepared in God now had a beginning. And, because of the plan for the abolition of death, all things were disturbed.

If, through your prayers, Jesus Christ should make me worthy and if it should be His will, and still more if the Lord should reveal it to me, in a second letter which I intend to write to you, I shall explain more fully what I have merely touched upon—the dispensation of becoming the new man Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the passion and resurrection. Come together in common, one and all without exception in charity, in one faith and in one Jesus Christ, who is of the race of David according to the flesh, the son of man and Son of God, so that with undivided mind you may obey the bishop and the priests, and break one Bread[21] which is the medicine of immortality and the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ.

I am offering up my life[22] for you and for those whom, to the honor of God, you sent to Smyrna; and from here I write to you, thanking the Lord and loving Polycarp as I love you. Remember me as Jesus Christ remembers you. Pray for the Church which is in Syria, from which I, the last of the faithful there, am being led away a prisoner to Rome; for so I was deemed worthy to be found to God’s glory. Fare­well in God the Father and in Jesus Christ our common hope.


[1]  The words in square, brackets represent an addition to the Greek text suggested by Lightfoot. The words appear in an early Syriac version,

[2]  Literally, ‘anointed,’ that is, rubbed with embrocation as trainers do with athletes.

[3] ‘Of one Inlaid with……’ Literally, ‘in the mind of……’ The theme of the unity of Christ with the Father, of the bishops with Christ, and of the faithful with the bishops is one that is very dear to the heart of Ignatius. The ‘ends of the earth’ meant for Ignatius in the beginning of the second century the Churches as far east as Mesopotamia and as far west as Gaul.

[4] Literally, ‘blameless.’

[5] Literally, ‘the place of sacrifice.’

[6] Cf. Matt. 18.18–20

[7] Prov. 3.34.

[8] The word here used is peripsema. It is the word used by St. Paul in 1 Cor. 4.13. It is used again by Ignatius in Ch. 18 of this Letter. Literally, peripsema means ‘offscouring’: but it is sometimes applied to the ‘scum,’ the ‘jail birds,’ who were offered in sacrifice to appease the wrath of the gods in times of affliction. St. Ignatius wants to imply that his life is being offered up for the Church and, at the same time, that it is a life of no value.

[9]  Literally, ‘persons from yonder.’

[10]  The rapid change of metaphors, from seed and soil to stones and building and now to pilgrims with their festal clothes and carved offerings, is typical of St, Ignatius’ tumultuous style. For an illus­tration of such a pagan procession see Lightfoot, Ignatius and Polycarp 2.17. See, too, Acts 19.24 for silver shrines made by Deme­trius of Ephesus for the pilgrims to the temple of Artemis.

[11]  Literally, ‘you are initiated into the mysteries along with Paul.’

[12]  This may mean ‘throughout the whole of one of those letters,’ namely, the Epistle to the Ephesians.

[13]  The verb eucharistein may well have here the more special senseof to celebrate the Eucharist.’

[14]  Cf. Matt. 12.33; Luke 5.44.

[15]  This may mean: ‘At present the Work (i.e., of preaching and prac­ticing the Christian religion) is no mere matter of profession.’ Cf. Acts 15.38; Phil. 2.30; John 4.34; 6.29; 17.4.

[16]  Cf. Ps. 32.9.

[17]  I.e., can learn the lessons of His hidden life at Nazareth, of His silence during the passion.

[18]  Cf. John 12.3.

[19] The sameword peripsema occurs here us in Ch. 8. Literally ‘my spirit (or life) is a cheap sacrifice in comparison with the Cross.’

[20] Cf. 1 Cor. 1.20,23,24.

[21]  A clear reference to Holy Communion. Cf. Acts 2.46; 20.7; 1 Cor. 10.16,17; John 6.53,54.

[22] The word antipsychon which is used here and again in the Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ch. 10, and in the Letter to Polycarp, Chs. 2 and 6, seems to have something of the force of peripsema. The central idea is that St. Ignatius is dying physically in order that his brothers may live supernaturally. Cf. the counsel in1 John 3.16.