Ignatius, Letter to the Romans

Ignatius, Letter To the Romans

IGNATIUS THEOPHORUS to the Church on which the majesty of the most high Father and ofJesus Christ, His only Son, has had mercy; to the Church beloved and enlightened by the faith and charity of Jesus Christ, our God, through the will of Him who has willed all things that exist—the Church in the place of the country[1] of the Romans which holds the primacy. I salute you in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father. You are a Church worthy of God, worthy of honor, felicitation and praise, worthy of attaining to God, a Church without blemish, which holds the primacy of the community of love,[2] obedient to Christ’s law, bearing the Father’s name. To you who are united, outwardly and inwardly, in the whole of His commandment and filled with grace, in union with God and with every alien stain filtered away, I wish every innocent joy in Jesus Christ, our God.

In answer to my prayer and beyond all I asked for, I have at last seen the faces I have longed to see.[3] In chains as I am for Jesus Christ, I hope to salute you, if only it be His will to grant me grace to reach my goal. I shall know that the beginning is providential[4] if, in the end, without hindrance, I am to obtain the inheritance. But I am afraid of your love; it may do me wrong. It is easy for you to have your way, but if you do not yield to me, it will be hard for me to reach God.

I would have you think of pleasing God—as indeed you do—rather than men. For at no later time shall I have an opportunity like this of reaching God; nor can you ever have any better deed ascribed to you—if only you remain silent. If only you will say nothing in my behalf, I shall be a word of God. But, if our love is for my body, I shall be once more a mere voice.[5] You can do me no greater kindness than to suffer me to be sacrificed to God while the place of sacrifice is still prepared. Thus forming yourselves into a chorus of love, you may sing to the Father in Jesus Christ that God gave the bishop of Syria the grace of being trans­ferred from the rising to the setting sun.[6] It is good to set, leaving the world for God, and so to rise in Him.

Never have you envied anyone. You have been others’ teachers. I trust that what you have taught and prescribed to others may now be applied by yourselves.[7] Beg only that I may have inward and outward strength, not only in word but in will that I may be a Christian not merely in name but in fact. For, if I am one in fact, then I may be called one and be faithful long after I have vanished from the world. Nothing merely visible is good, for our God, Jesus Christ, is manifest the more now that He is hidden in God. Christianity is not the work of persuasion, but, whenever it is hated by the world, it is a work of power.

I am writing to all the Churches to tell them all that I am, with all my heart, to die for God—if only you do not prevent it. I beseech you not to indulge your benevolence at the wrong time. Please let me be thrown to the wild beasts; through them I can reach God. I am God’s wheat; I am ground by the teeth of the wild beasts that I may end as the pure bread of Christ. If anything, coax the beasts on to become my sepulcher and to leave nothing of my body un–devoured so that, when I am dead, I may be no bother to anyone. I shall be really a disciple of Jesus Christ if and when the world can no longer see so much as my body. Make petition, then, to the Lord for me, so that by these means I may be made a sacrifice to God. I do not command you, as Peter and Paul did. They were Apostles; I am a condemned man. They were free men; I am still a slave. Still, if I suffer, I shall be emancipated by Jesus Christ and, in my resurrection, shall be free. But now in chains I am learning to have no wishes of my own.

I am already battling with beasts on my journey from Syria to Rome. On land and at sea, by night and by day, I am in chains with ten leopards around me—or at least with a band of guards who grow more brutal the better they are treated. However, the wrongs they do me make me a better disciple. ‘But that is not where my justification lies.’[8] May I find my joy in the beasts that have been made ready for me. My prayer is that they will be prompt in dealing with me. I shall coax them to devour me without delay and not be afraid to touch me, as has happened in some cases. And if, when I am ready, they hold back, I shall provoke them to attack me. Pardon me, but I know what is good for me. I am now beginning to be a disciple; may nothing visible or invisible prevent[9] me from reaching Jesus Christ. Fire and cross and battling with wild beasts, [their clawing and tearing[10]] the breaking of bones and mangling of members, the grinding of my whole body, the wicked torments of the devil—let them all assail me, so long as I get to Jesus Christ.

Neither the kingdoms of this world nor the bounds of the universe can have any use for me. I would rather die for Jesus Christ than rule the last reaches of the earth. My search is for Him who died for us; my love is for Him who rose for our salvation. The pangs of new birth are upon me. Forgive me, brethren. Do nothing to prevent this new life. Do not desire that I shall perish. Do not hand over to the world a man whose heart is fixed on God. Do not entice me with material things. Allow me to receive the pure light. When I reach it, I shall be fully a man. Allow me to be a follower of the passion of my God. Let those who hold Him in their hearts understand what urges me, realize what I am choosing, and share my feelings.

The prince of this world is eager to tear me to pieces, to weaken my will that is fixed on God. Let none of you who are watching the battle abet him. Come in, rather on my side, for it is the side of God. Do not let your lips be for Jesus Christ and your heart for the world. Let envy have no place among you. And even, when I am come, if I should beseech you, pay no attention to what. I say; believe, rather, what I am writing to you now. For alive as I am at

this moment of writing, my longing is for death. Desire[11] within me has been nailed to the cross and no flame of material longing is left. Only the living water speaks within me saying: Hasten to the Father. I have no taste for the food that perishes nor for the pleasures of this life. I want the Bread of God which is the Flesh of Christ, who was of the seed of David; and for drink I desire His blood which is love that cannot be destroyed.

I desire no longer to live a purely human life; and this desire can be fulfilled if you consent. Make this your choice, if you yourselves would be chosen. I make my petition in a few words. Please believe me; Jesus Christ will make it clear to you that I speak the truth, for He was the mouth without deceit through which the Father truly spoke. Beg for me that, through the Holy Spirit, I may not fail. I have not written to you after the manner of men, but according to the mind of God. If I die, it will prove you loved me; if I am rejected, it will be because you hated me.

Remember in your prayers that Church of Syria, which now, in place of me, has God for its pastor. Jesus Christ, along with your love, will be its only bishop. For myself, I am ashamed to be called one of them, for I am not worthy, being the last among them and, as it were, born out of due time.[12] If I reach God, I shall be someone only by His mercy. My spirit salutes you—and with it the love of the Churches which welcomed me in the name of Jesus Christ. They treated me as more than a passing pilgrim; for even the communities that did not lie along the route I was taking con­ducted me from city to city.

I am writing this letter to you from Smyrna by the hands of the Ephesiarts, who deserve all praise. Among many others who are with me there is my dear friend Crocus. I trust you have come to know those who went ahead of me from Syria to Rome for the glory of God. Please tell them that I am not far away. All of them are worthy of God and of yourselves. You will do well to help them in every way. The date of this writing is the ninth day before the calends of September.[13] Farewell, and persevere to the end in Jesus Christ.


[1]  The reading en tópo choriou, ‘in the place of the country,’ makes very poor sense. It was suggested by P. S. Phillimore in an article in the Journal of Theological Studies l9 (1919) 276 that we should read Chrisitoú for choriou. In this case the meaning would be ‘the Church of the Romans that holds the primacy in the place of Christ.’ This should be compared with the expression in the Letter to the Magnesians 6 which means either ‘the bishop having the primacy in the place (tópo) of God’ or ‘having the primacy according to the pattern (typo) of God.’ the reading with tópos has the authority of our present Greek text and of the Latin translation. The reading with typo is suggested by the Syriac and Armenian versions.

[2]  It has been well argued by F. X. Funk that the word agápe, ‘love’has often the meaning in St. Ignatius of ‘the community.’ The Greek verb prokáthemai. ‘Ipreside over; is always found followed, as n Plato (Laws 758 D), by some such word as ‘city’ and never by a merely abstract noun like ‘love.’ Whether St. Ignatius has in mind a pre-eminence of authority or of charity, the context seems to imply that he means a universal and not merely a local pre-eminence. ­It will be noted that, unlike the other Letters in this series, the one to the Roman Church contains no hint of doctrinal or discipli­nary disunion.

[3] This may mean simply ‘your holy faces.’ Axiótheos means ‘worthy of God, holy’ and axiothéos means ‘worth seeing.’ The Armenian version takes the meaning ‘worth seeing.’

[4]   Literally, ‘well ordained.’

[5]  St. Ignatius seems to have in mind the difference between the ‘word,’ 1ógos, that was made flesh (John 1.14), and the—‘voice,’  phoné, of one crying in the wilderness (John 1.23). The choice for St. Ignatius was between dying, and so making his life meaningful, in some sense like the Lógos, the ‘only begotten Son, who abides in the bosom of the Father’ and who ‘has himself brought us a clear message’; or of being spared and so finding his life without meaning, like an unintelligble cry. Cf. what is said below in 3, ‘for our God, Jesus Christ, is manifest the more now that He is hidden in God.’

[6] That is, from the East to the West.

[7] St. Ignatius means that the Church of Rome, so far from begrudg­ing anyone the grace of martyrdom, has exhorted others to follow the example of the martyrs. Cf. the Letter of Clement of Rome to the Corinthians.

[8]  1 Cor. 4.4.

[9]  Literally, zelósai means ‘envy’ or ‘be jealous of’ asin Gal. 4.17.

[10] The words in square brackets are supplied from the version in the Martyrium of St. Ignatius.

[11]  The word éros which is here used may mean ‘my Love’ or ‘my Beloved,’ that is, Jesus Christ.

[12] Ektroma. St. Paul uses the word of himself in I Cor. 15.8. Some have seen in the expression a hint that St. Ignatius was converted late in life.

[13] August 24.