St. Ignatius of Antioch was the third Bishop of Antioch after the Apostle Peter and St. Evodius, and was appointed to be Bishop of Antioch by St. Peter. Before becoming Bishop of Antioch, he had been a disciple of the Apostle John and is identified by several ancient authorities as being one of the children whom Christ blessed in Matthew 19:13-15.
While on his way from Antioch to be martyred in Rome (where he was eventually, in about AD 107, eaten by lions in the Colosseum), he wrote a series of seven letters, six to various churches and a final one to his friend St. Polycarp of Smyrna, a fellow-Bishop and fellow-disciple of St. John the Apostle. His letters are important because of their forcefulness (he was a Bishop and, if his letters are any indication, expected his wishes to be fulfilled on this authority alone) and because of the details they contain about early Christian belief and practice, especially concerning the role of clergy, the Sacraments, and ecclesiology.
His writings are important to the debate about whether the Church Fathers believed in Sola Scriptura for a couple of reasons:
- Perhaps the most important reason is that he argues specifically against Sola Scriptura as it was being adopted by certain Jews in his time. Remember, he’s writing at a time before the New Testament books were even widely recognized as Scriptural individually much less as a 27-book whole like we have today; for him and his contemporaries, the Gospel was almost completely oral Tradition. Here’s what he says about those Jews who objected to the Gospel because they couldn’t find it in Scripture:
“I heard some [Jews] saying, ‘If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel;’ on my saying to them, ‘It is written,’ they answered me, ‘That remains to be proved.’ But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity.” – Epistle to the Philadelphians, 8
- The second reason St. Ignatius’ letters are important to this debate is that he is unequivocal about where authority is located in the Church, namely, in the Bishops who bear Apostolic Succession — and what the state is of those who choose to break with or deny this authority. Here’s a few relevant quotes:
“See that ye all follow the Bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the Priests as ye would the Apostles; and reverence the Deacons, as being the command of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the Bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the Bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the Bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the catholic Church. It is not lawful without the Bishop either to Baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.” – Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 8
“… Continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the Bishop, and the enactments of the Apostles. He that is within the altar is pure, but he that is without is not pure; that is, he who does anything apart from the Bishop, and Priests, and Deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.” – Epistle to the Trallians, 7
“It is well to reverence both God and the Bishop. He who honours the Bishop has been honoured by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the Bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil.” – Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, 9
“Give ye heed to the Bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the Bishop, to the Priests, and to the Deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God!” – Epistle to Polycarp, 6
“As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the Bishop and Priests.” – Epistle to the Magnesians, 7
If you’d like to read the seven letters of St. Ignatius for yourself, you can do so here.
|Father||Not Sola Scriptura||Sola Scriptura|
|St. Clement of Rome|
|St. Ignatius of Antioch|