Ignatius, Letter To the Philadelphians

IGNATIUS THEOPHORUS to the Church of God, the Father and of Jesus Christ in Philadelphia in Asia.[1] You have felt God’s mercy and are firmly established in union with God and with enduring joy in the passion of our Lord, through abundant mercy you have been given full assurance of His resurrection. I greet you in the blood of Jesus Christ. Your Church is to me a cause of unending and unbroken joy. It will be even more so, if all continue to be at one with the bishop and with his priests and with the deacons, who have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ. All these are men after His own will and He has confirmed them in stability through His Holy Spirit.

I know that your bishop has been given his ministry for the common good, not by any effort of his own or of others nor out of vain glory, but through the love of God the Father and of the Lord Jesus Christ. I am full of admira­tion for the sweet reasonableness of a man who can do more by his silence than others by speaking. He has been attuned to the commandments like a harp with its strings. And so my soul blesses his determination which is fixed on God. I know how virtuous and perfect it is, how imperturbable and calm, how modeled his life is on the sweet reasonableness of God.

You are children of truth; shun schisms and heresies. Follow, as sheep do, wherever the shepherd leads. There are many wolves plausible enough to ensnare the pilgrims of God[2] by evil pleasure; however, the harmony among you will leave no place for them.

Keep away from the poisonous weeds which grow where Jesus Christ does not till the soil, for they are not of the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any divi­sion among you—except the filtering away of impure elements. For, all who belong to God and Jesus Christ are with the bishop. And those, too, will belong to God who have returned, repentant, to the unity of the Church so as to live in accord­ance with Jesus Christ. Make no mistake, brethren. No one who follows another into schism inherits the Kingdom of God.[3] No one who follows heretical doctrine is on the side of the passion.

Be zealous, then, in the observance of one Eucharist.[4] For there is one flesh of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and one chalice that brings union in His blood. There is one altar,[5] as there is one bishop with the priests and deacons, who are my fellow workers. And so, whatever you do, let it be done in the name of God.

Dear brothers, my love for you is full and overflow­ing, and with immense joy I give you whatever assurance I can; and yet not I, but Jesus Christ for whom I am in chains —for I am more and more afraid that I am far from perfect­ion. However, your prayer to God will make me perfect, so that I may gain the inheritance that God’s mercy has assigned me, if only I take refuge in the Gospel as in the body of Jesus and in the Apostles as the priests of the Church. Let us likewise love the prophets, for it was they who foretold the Gospel and hoped in Him and looked for his coming. By their faith and union with Jesus Christ they were saved. They are worthy of love and admiration for their holiness. They were approved by Jesus Christ and numbered with us in the good news of our common hope.

Still, if anyone preaches a Judaizing system to you, do not listen to him. It is better to listen to Christianity preached by one who is circumcised than to Judaism preached by one who is not. Both alike, if they fail to preach Jesus Christ, are for me tombstones and graves inscribed merely with the names of men. Beware of the tricks and traps of the prince of this world, else you will succumb to his wiles and grow languid in love. Assemble together, all of you in oneness of heart. I thank God that my conscience is clear, for there is not one among you who can claim, covertly or openly, that I have been burdensome to him in any matter, great or small. I pray that nothing that I have said may be taken in evidence against any to whom I have spoken.

There may be some who outwardly sought to deceive me, but the spirit, which is from God, is not deceived. He knows whence it comes and whither it goes;[6] and He makes clear what is hidden. I cried out in your midst and I spoke with a loud voice—the voice of God: Give heed to the bishop, the priests and the deacons. When I said this, there were those who suspected that I knew ahead of time of the schism of some among you. But He is my witness, for whom I am in chains that I knew of this from no human lips. It was the Spirit that proclaimed these words: Apart from the bishop let nothing be done. Guard your flesh as a temple of God. Love unity. Shun schisms. Be imitators of Jesus Christ, as He is of His Father.

As for me, I played my part, like a mediator appointed to bring about unity. For, wherever there is division or anger, God has no place. Now God forgives all who repent, so long as their repentance turns to union with God and to com­munion with the bishop. I have faith in the grace of Jesus Christ; He will break all your bonds. I beseech you to do all in the light of Christ’s teaching and nothing in a party spirit. There are some whom I heard to say: Unless I find it in the documents,[7] I do not believe in what is preached. When I said: It is the written word, they replied: That is what is in question. For me, Jesus Christ is the written word, His cross and death and resurrection and faith through Him make up the untampered documents. Through these, with the help of your prayers, I desire to be justified.

The priests[8] were good; but still better is the High Priest to whom the Holy of Holies was committed, to whom alone the mysteries[9] of God were committed. He is the door[10] of the Father through which Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and the prophets, the Apostles and the Church all enter. All these enter into the unity of God.[11] But what distinguishes the Gospel is that it contains the coming of the Savior, Our Lord Jesus Christ, His passion, His resurrection. The preaching of the beloved prophets had Him in view. The Gospel is the perfection of Eternal Life. Taken together, all these things are good so long as your faith is alive with chastity.

The news has reached me that, thanks to your prayer and the sympathy you showed. in Christ Jesus, the Church of Antioch in Syria is enjoying peace. I feel that you ought, as a Church of God, to choose a deacon to go there as an ambassador of God, for the glory of the Name and to congratulate them when they assemble together. Blessed in Jesus Christ is the man who is to he found worthy of this ministry. All praise to you, too, who send him, you can do this for the Name of God if only you choose to; just as the Churches which are near neighbors sent deacons or priests and, some of them, bishops.

The deacon, Philo of Cilicia, a man of good name who is now ministering to me in the word of God, and Rhaius Agathopus, an outstanding person of Syria who gave up his present occupations[12] to follow me, join in speaking highly of you. I give thanks to God for your kindness in receiving them with the kindness which the Lord shows to you. But may the grace of Jesus Christ forgive those who treated them with scant respect. The love[13] of the brethren in Troas salutes you. I am writing from here by the hand of Burrhus, who was sent by the Ephesians and Smyrnaeans to accompany me as a token of respect. The Lord Jesus Christ will reward them who hope in Him in body, soul and spirit, in faith, and love and concord. Farewell in Christ Jesus, our common hope.

[1]  Unlike the preceding Letters which were written from Smyrna, this and the following Letters were written from Troas.

[2]  Literally, ‘the runners in God’s race.’ Cf. Gal. 5.7; 1 Cor. 9.24.

[3]  Cf. 1 Cor. 6.9.

[4]  Mass in the Didache, Chs. 9 and 14 and in the Letter of Clement of Rome, Chs. 40-44.

[5]  The word here used, thysiastérion, means ‘a place for sacrifice.’

[6]  Cf. John 3.8; 8.14. Here, as in so many other instances, the language of St. Ignatius is parallel to rather than identical with the expressions of the Gospels and Epistles. This indicates that, at the time, the oral teachings of the Church was as authoritative as the written word of the Scriptures.

[7]  It is not certain whether we should read archeiois or archaiois, ‘archives’ or ‘ancient writings.’ In either case the historical fact of the death and resurrection of our Lord is put above any merely written record, whether of prophecy or of narration.

[8]  The reference is to the priests of the Old Testament. The High Priest, of course, is Jesus Christ, as in St. Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews.

[9]  Literally, ‘secret things.’

[10] A reference to John 10.9, Cf. the Letter of Clement of Rome 48; also the Shepherd of Hermas. Parable 9.4,12,15.

[11] That is, ‘enter into the unity of Divine Revelation’; or perhaps; ‘help in uniting men with God.’

[12]  Bios, ‘life,’in the sense of ‘the normal life of ordinary men.’

[13] Agápe here, as in the beginning of the Letter to the Romans, may mean ‘the community of love,’ ‘the Christian community.’