01.2.4 Ignatius – the First Apologist of the Early Church Fathers

In the epistle of Ignatius to the Romans, chapter 11 is called “Chap. XI. — Avoid the Deadly Errors of the Docetae” But it is in chapter 7, Let Us Stand Aloof from Such Heretics, of The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans that Ignatius is known for his harsh criticism of sects that did not believe in the Eucharist, the “Christian” Gnostics.

They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.

While Ignatius calls in other places to be on guard against false teaching, this is the most direct apologetic response in his writings. He says they “incur death”, that believers should “keep aloof” of such people and not even speak of them either in public or private! I imagine they walked on the other side of street, or turned away on the sight of them. There is no friendliness here, no tolerance.

These references by Ignatius are used by Catholics to help define the Eucharist as “transubstantiation.” Transubstantiation is the doctrine that the bread and wine communion service turn into the actual body and blood of Christ. The above quote does not actually say the elements are changed. In fact, this quote from Ignatius is very similar to Jesus’s own words found in Matthew:

And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it; and he gave to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body.
And he took a cup, and gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, Drink ye all of it;
for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many unto remission of sins. [Matt 26:26-28]

It doesn’t appear that Ignatius was arguing for transubstantiation any more than Jesus was.

For more on Ignatius’ apologetics see Docetism.

While Ignatius’s style here was very similar to that of Paul, we will see that as the apologetic movement developed it became more argumentative in the style of the Greek philosophers. Nevertheless, we see apologetics appearing practically from the beginning of Christianity.

© copyright 2010 Mark W Smith, All rights reserved.

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