St Ignatius: Are You Bearing Christ on Your Shoulders and of the Same Mind as the Apostles?

Feast of St. Salome the Holy Myrrhbearer

Ignatius_of_Antioch_Square_2.jpegTHERE ARE some people who persistently bandy the Name about with the grossest hypocrisy, besides behaving in a number of other ways that do no credit to God. You must keep away from these men as you would from a pack of savage animals; they are rabid dogs who snap at people unawares, and you need to be on your guard against their bites, because they are by no means easy to heal. There is only one Physician—

Very Flesh, yet Spirit too;
Uncreated, and yet born;
God-and-Man in One agreed,
Very-Life-in-Death indeed,
Fruit of God and Mary’s seed;
At once impassible and torn
By pain and suffering here below:
Jesus Christ, whom as our Lord we know.

Let no one, then, mislead you—though being so wholly God’s I am sure you have not been misled. So long as there are no deep-seated differences among you, of a kind that could do serious harm, your manner of life is just as God would have it; and my heart goes humbly out to you Ephesians and your ever-famous church. Men who are carnal are no more capable of acting spiritually, nor spiritual men of acting carnally, than deeds of unbelief are possible to the faithful, or deeds of faith to the unbelieving. But with you, even what you do in the flesh is spiritual, for your actions are all done in Jesus Christ.

All the same, I did hear of a visit paid to you by certain men from another place, whose teaching was pernicious. However, you refused to allow its dissemination among you, and stopped your ears against the seed they were sowing. Deaf as stones you were: yes, stones for the Father’s Temple, stones trimmed ready for God to build with, hoisted up by the derrick of Jesus Christ (the Cross) with the Holy Spirit for a cable; your faith being the winch that draws you to God, up the ramp of love. Again, you are all pilgrims in the same great procession, bearing your God and your shrine and your Christ and your sacred treasures on your shoulders, every one of you arrayed in the festal garments of the commandments of Jesus Christ. And I too have my part in your jubilation, since by virtue of this letter I can count myself one of you, and rejoice with you that your affections are not set upon the things of earthly life, but on God alone.

Regarding the rest of mankind, you should pray for them unceasingly, for we can always hope that repentance may enable them to find their way to God. Give them a chance to learn from you, or at all events from the way you act. Meet their animosity with mildness, their high words with humility, and their abuse with your prayers. But stand firm against their errors, and if they grow violent, be gentle instead of wanting to pay them back in their own coin. Let us show by our forbearance that we are their brothers, and try to imitate the Lord by seeing which of us can put up with the most ill-usage or privation or contempt—so that in this way none of the devil’s noxious weeds may take root among you, but you may rest in Jesus Christ in all sanctity and discipline of body and soul.

The end of all things is near. From now onwards, then, we must bear ourselves with humility, and tremble at God’s patience for fear it should turn into a judgment upon us. Let us either flee from His future wrath, or else embrace His present grace; no matter which, so long as we are found in Jesus Christ with our true life before us. Apart from Him, nothing else should have any value in our eyes; but in Him, even these chains I wear are a collar of spiritual pearls to me, in which I hope to rise again through the help of your intercessions. May there always be a place for me in those intercessions, so that I too may have part and lot among the men of Ephesus—Christians, who in the power of Jesus Christ, have ever been of the self-same mind as the Apostles themselves.

I know well what I am, and what you are to whom I write. I am the condemned; you are the pardoned. I am in peril; you are in security. You are the gateway, through which we are escorted by Death into the presence of God. You are initiates of the same mysteries as our saintly and renowned Paul of blessed memory (may I be found to have walked in his footsteps when I come to God), who has remembered you in Christ Jesus in every one of his letters.

Do your best, then, to meet more often to give thanks and glory to God. When you meet frequently, the powers of Satan are confounded, and in the face of your corporate faith his maleficence crumbles. Nothing can better a state of peaceful accord, from which every trace of spiritual or earthly hostility has been banished.

Given a thorough-going faith and love for Jesus Christ, there is nothing in all this that will not be obvious to you; for life begins and ends with two qualities. Faith is the beginning, and love is the end; and the union of the two together is God. All that makes for a soul’s perfection follows in their train, for nobody who professes faith will commit sin, and nobody who possesses love can feel hatred. As the tree is known by its fruits, so they who claim to belong to Christ are known by their actions; for this work of ours does not consist in just making professions, but in a faith that is both practical and lasting.

Indeed, it is better to keep quiet and be, than to make fluent professions and not be. No doubt it is a fine thing to instruct others, but only if the speaker practices what he preaches. One such Teacher there is: He who “spake the word, and it was done” (Ps. 33.9); and what He achieved even by His silences was well worthy of the Father. A man who has truly mastered the utterances of Jesus will also be able to apprehend His silence, and thus reach full spiritual maturity, so that his own words have the force of actions and his silences the significance of speech. Nothing is hidden from the Lord; even our most secret thoughts are ever present to Him. Whatever we do, then, let it be done as though He Himself were dwelling within us, we being as it were His temples and He within us as their God. For in fact, that is literally the case; and in proportion as we rightly love Him, so it will become clear to our eyes.

 ~St. Ignatius of Antioch, Epistle to the Ephesians


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