Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians

Ignatius, Letter To the Magnesians

IGNATIUS THEOPHORUS to the Church in Magnesia near the Maeander that is blessed with the grace of God the Father through Jesus Christ our Savior. I salute you and wish you every joy in God the Father and in Jesus Christ.

I have heard of the perfect order of your love toward God; and so it is with great joy and in the faith of Jesus Christ that I have decided to address you. Honored as I have been with a name so dear to God,[1] I sing, in the chains I bear about with me, the praise of the Churches. And I pray that the Churches may have unity in the flesh and spirit of Jesus Christ, who is our everlasting life–a union in faith and charity that is to be preferred to all else and, especially, union with Jesus and the Father, through whom we shall reach God if only we bear with and escape from the wanton attacks of the prince of this world.

It was possible[2] for me to see you in the persons of your devout bishop Damas and the worthy priests, Bassus and Apollonius, and my fellow worker, the deacon Zotion. May I continue to have joy in him, since he is obedient to the bishop, as to the grace of God, and to the priests, as to the law of Jesus Christ.

It ill becomes you to treat your bishop too familiarly because of his youth. You should show him all reverence out of respect for the authority of God the Father. This, I understand, the holy priests do. They take no advantage of his youthful appearance, but they yield to him as to one who is wise in God—not, of course, merely to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, who is the bishop over all. To the honor of Him who loves you, you must obey without any insincerity; for in this case one does not so much deceive a bishop who can be seen as try to outwit one who is invisible—in which case one must reckon not with a man, but with God who knows our hidden thoughts.

It is not enough to be Christians in name; it behooves us to be such in fact. So, too, there are those who invoke the name of the bishop while their actions are without any regard for him. Such men, it seems to me, are lacking in good conscience, for they do not assemble regularly as enjoined.

Seeing that all things have an end, two things are proposed to our choice—life and death; and each of us is to go to his appropriate place. As there are two currencies, the one of God, and the other of the world, each stamped in its own way, so the unbelieving have the stamp of the world; those who, in charity, believe have the stamp of God the Father through Jesus Christ. And, unless it is our choice to die, through Him, unto His passion, His life is not in us.

In the persons I have mentioned I have seen in faith, and have loved, your whole community; and so I exhort you to be careful to do all things in the harmony of God, the bishop having the primacy after the model of God and the priests after the model of the council of the Apostles, and the deacons (who are so dear to me) having entrusted to them the ministry of Jesus Christ—who from eternity was with the Father and at last appeared to us. Let all reverence one another in conformity with God’s will. Let no man regard his neighbor with the eyes of the flesh, but in Jesus Christ love one another at all times. Let there be nothing among you to divide you; but be at one with the bishop and with those who are over you, thus affording a model and lesson of immortal life.

Just as the Lord, being one with the Father, did nothing, either in His own person or through the Apostles, without the Father, so you should do nothing without the bishop and the council of priests. Nor should you try to make a thing out to be reasonable, merely because it seems so to you personally; but let there be in common a single prayer, one petition, one mind, one hope, in love, in the unmixed[3] joy which is Jesus Christ who is the best of all. Hasten all of you together as to one temple of God, to one altar, to Jesus Christ alone, who came forth from one Father in whom He is and to whom He has returned.

Do not be led astray either by new doctrines or old fables which are now useless, for, to go on observing Jewish rites[4] is to deny that we have received grace. Remember that the holiest prophets lived according to Jesus Christ, and for this reason they were persecuted; they were inspired by His grace so that unbelievers might be fully assured that there is one God, who has manifested Himself in Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word proceeding[5] from silence, and who in all things was pleasing to Him who sent Him.

How, then, shall we be able to live apart from Him, seeing that the prophets were His disciples in the Spirit and expected Him as their Master, and that many who were brought up in the old order have come to the newness of hope? They no longer observe the Jewish Sabbaths, but keep holy the Lord’s day, on which, through Him and through His death, our life arose; and by this mystery—though some deny Him—we have received our faith, and therefore we persevere in the hope of being found to be the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master; and because of this mystery He whom the prophets rightly waited for came and raised them from the dead.

And, therefore, let us not be ungrateful for His loving kindness; for, were He to act toward us as we do toward Him, we should perish. So, let Us become His disciples; let us learn to live the life that Christianity calls for. No one with any other name than this can belong to God. Put away, therefore, the bad leaven which is old and stale, and be con­verted into the new leaven which is Jesus Christ. Be salted in Him, lest any of you lose your savor, for by your savor will you be judged. It is out of place to preach Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism. For Christianity did not believe in Judaism, but Judaism in Christianity; it was in this that men of every tongue believed and were gathered together in God.

Do not think that I have heard that any among you, my beloved, are practicing Judaism; but I say these things, small as I am in comparison with yourselves, to forewarn you against falling into the snares of an empty doctrine. I hope, rather, that you may be fully convinced of the birth and passion and the resurrection that took place during the period of the governorship of Pontius Pilate. These things were really and truly[6] done by Jesus Christ, our hope; and from this hope may God forbid that any of you should be turned aside.

If only I am worthy, I hope Imay have joy in you in every way. It is true that I am in bonds, but in comparison with any of you who are at liberty I am no one. Iknow that you are not vain, for you have Jesus Christ within you; and when I praise you I know that you reprove yourselves more than ever—for, it is written: ‘The just man is his own accuser.’[7]

Be eager, therefore, to be confirmed in the commandments of our Lord and His Apostles, so that ‘whatever you do may prosper[8] in body and spirit, in faith and charity, in the Son and Father and Spirit, in the beginning and in the end, along with your most reverend bishop and the priests —the spiritual wreath that so fitly crowns him—and the deacons, who are men of God. Be obedient to your bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ in His human nature was subject to the Father and as the Apostles were to Christ and the Father. In this way there will be union of body and spirit.

Ihave exhorted you briefly, because I know that you are full of God. Remember me in your prayers, so that Imay reach God, and also the Church in Syria, of which, how­ever unworthily, I am a member. I need your united prayer and love in God, if the Church in Syria is to have the grace of being bedewed by your fervent prayer.

From Smyrna, where I am writing to you, the Ephe­sians salute you. They are with me, like yourselves, for the glory of God, and have been an unfailing consolation to me; so, too, Polycarp, the bishop of the people of Smyrna, and all the other Churches, too, salute you in honor of Jesus Christ. Trusting that you may remain in the harmony of God, possessed of the spirit of union which is Jesus Christ, farewell.


[1] He may mean the name Theophorus, which is Greek for ‘God bearer’ or ‘God-borne,’ according to the accent.

[2] In the Greek text St. Ignatius begins with ‘Since it was possible… and leaves the sentence unfinished.

[3] Literally, ‘joy without blame.’

[4] One of the main difficulties that St. Ignatius had to contend with was the ‘Judaizing’ tendency of early Christians who emphasized the Law more than Grace. He tried to insist on what St. Paul says in Gal. 2.21: ‘If we can be justified through the law, then Christ’s death was needless.’

[5] The Greek text, as we now have it, says ‘not proceeding.’ However, the Armenian version, made from an early Syriac translation, says ‘proceeding.’ This suits the context better.

[6] Here, as in many other parts of these Letters, Ignatius has in mind the danger of the heresy of Docetism, according to which our Lord merely seemed to have lived and suffered in a human way.

[7] This is a quotation from the Septuagint Greek version of Prov. 18,17.

[8] According to the Septuagint translation of Ps. 1.3.