St. Ignatius of Antioch

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This is an article written previously for Precious Blood Family

The spirituality of the Precious Blood was not new with St. Gaspar in the early Nineteenth Century. He himself was the one who told us that this "devotion of ours is so antique" (1) it goes back to the very beginning. He was to assert that this devotion is "the basis, the sustenance, the essence"(2) of all other devotions. Thus we consider other saints as part of the Precious Blood Family.

This month we consider the life and witness of St. Ignatius of Antioch. He was a Syrian, a convert from paganism, and was the third bishop of Antioch. He was one of those who came to believe through the powerful preaching and example of the Christian community in Antioch, an important community in the spread of the gospel outside of Palestine. It was in Antioch that the believers were first called “Christians." Antioch was one of the first communities to integrate people who had no acquaintance with Judaism. Antioch, as a young church, knew that part of the call was to send out missionaries. They are the ones who commissioned Barnabas and Paul as missionaries. One source indicates Ignatius may have taken over the Church in Antioch around the year 69.(3) Another source states it was during the reign of Emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) that Ignatius was condemned as a Christian and sent to Rome under chains to face martyrdom.(4) Our modern ears may think that he unnaturally desired this martyrdom, yet if we spend time with his letters and breathe the air he breathes, we shall see that his death is a marvelous testament to life.

Little is known of his life in Antioch. What we know of him is from his arrest and deportation to Rome to become a feast for lions in the Roman amphitheater. On his journey to Rome under guard, representatives visited him from various churches and cities along the route. His seven letters were written to the communities of those who visited him, or to the cities he had previously visited on this journey. There is much in his writings that finds resonance in the life of our own St. Gaspar.

Greetings in the Blood of Jesus

One of the trials of Ignatius was to hear of those Christians who had denied the reality of Christ's sufferings. In effect, they denied the reality of his Body and his Blood. For them, God had visited his people, but he had not become human. This is an ancient heresy known as Docetism. For Ignatius, to deny Jesus' humanity was to deny our salvation. "I want you to be unshakably convinced of the birth, the passion, and the resurrection which were true and indisputable experiences of Jesus Christ, our Hope."(5)

Blood then became for Ignatius, the symbol of the stark reality of Jesus humanity and his sufferings. His letters, with salutations like "greetings in the Blood of Jesus,"(6) were filled with references to the "divine Blood."(7) "For let nobody be under any delusion; there is judgement in store even for the hosts of heaven, the very angels in glory, the visible and invisible powers themselves, if they have no faith in the Blood of Christ."(8) For Ignatius, the pouring out of Jesus Blood was the essence, the real experience of Jesus' love. Love is the very blood of the Christian life, the "energy coursing through its veins and arteries."(9)

Gasparian Echoes

One of the central ideas in Ignatius' letters is the focus on humility that would be echoed centuries later in the writings of St. Gaspar. In Ignatius this humility was the key to his hope for martyrdom. Accounting the suffering as joy was a way of acknowledging eternal life, and that death was not the end. To focus on preserving his life would be, for him, the same as saying that Jesus' gift of life had no meaning. Humility was the key to victory. "I have great need of that humility which is the prince of this world's undoing,"(10) he wrote. Not only could he not focus solely on his present life, but also he enjoined his correspondents to do nothing to save him, ensuring that he belonged entirely to Jesus alone. (11) Very much related to this was his focus on silence. The creative stillness, the silence of God brought about a great redemption in silence in what he referred to as trumpet-tongued secrets: Mary's virginity, her childbearing, and the death of the Lord. All of these were done in the silence and humility of lowly flesh, yet overturned the power of death. (12)

Another focus in Ignatius that finds an echo in Gaspar is the emphasis on the unity of the church and the respect paid to the leaders of the Church. Ignatius' letters are the earliest writing we have on church order that includes the three orders of bishop, presbyter and deacon. Gaspar’s devotion to Pope Pius VII would have made St. Ignatius very happy. Ignatius demanded "complete unity, in the flesh as well as in the spirit."(13) He proclaimed Christ in the flesh so completely, that he taught that obedience to the bishop was the same as obedience to Christ. We can have no life apart from Jesus in the flesh, and the only way this could be accomplished in the flesh was by submission of mind and heart to the bishop.(14)

For Ignatius, blood was life itself. But more than that it was Jesus very real life giving life and salvation to us. Both Ignatius and Gaspar remarked how this life was being denied in the world in which they lived. For us in this day, this life is most precious. We celebrate St. Ignatius Feast on October 17 each year, four days before the feast of St. Gaspar. As this saint is such a strong witness of the importance of Jesus' Precious Blood his letters and story should be an important part of our preparation for our founder’s feast. As we take the cup at each Eucharist, we remind ourselves of the joy Ignatius took in his impending suffering. Suffering is not a sign that God abandons us, rather it is precisely the place the Lord comes to accompany us, not just in spirit, but in his own flesh. Everything we do now in the flesh, joys and sufferings, are now done in his body, with his blood, in his love.


(1).Gaspar del Bufalo, letter to Pope Leo XII, July 29, 1825
(3)Butler's Lives of the Saints, Concise Edition, Michael Walsh, ed., HarperSan Francisco, 1991, pg. 341.
(4)Early Christian Writings, Penguin Classics, Maxwell Staniforth, trans. pg 55
(5)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Magnesians, 11; all quotes from the Letters of St. Ignatius of Antioch are taken from Early Christian Writings except where indicated.
(6)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Philippians, 1
(7)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 1
(8)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to The Symrnaeans, 6
(9)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Trallians, 8, see footnote in text referring to Lightfoot translation.
(10)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Trallians, 4
(11)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Romans
(12)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Ephesians, 19
(13)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Magnesians, 13
(14)St. Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to Polycarp

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Splendid article, my friend.

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This page contains a single entry by Fr. Jeffrey Keyes, C.PP.S. published on October 17, 2006 12:08 PM.

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