Tracts for the Times/Record IX
RECORDS OF THE CHURCH.
THE HOLY CHURCH THROUGHOUT ALL THE WORLD DOTH ACKNOWLEDGE THEE.
The Martyrdom of Ignatius, the friend of St, Peter and St. John, and Bishop of Antioch, at Rome.
I. Not long after the accession of Trajan, Emperor of Rome, Ignatius, who had been the Disciple of St. John, the Apostle, and who himself shewn forth in his conduct all the features of the Apostolic character, was actively engaged in the task of superintending the Church of Antioch. He had been recently directing its affairs, when it was struggling through those frequent days of storm and persecution, which occurred during the reign of Domitian; and like a skilful Pilot, with rudder and with cable, he had borne up against the swelling and insurgent billows, by prayer, by fasting, by assiduous teaching, in dependence on the Holy Spirit, as one who was deeply concerned that not one soul should perish, among the weak and the simple, that were entrusted to his care. It was not, therefore, without satisfaction, that he witnessed the calm which the Church enjoyed, during the temporary cessation of persecution; though, at the same time, for himself he had much misgiving, that he as yet fell short of the perfect love of Christ, and had not arrived at the highest elevation, which is offered to a Disciple's hopes. He felt that, were he to make the confession of Martyrdom, he would attain a more close similitude to his Divine Master. For the few succeeding years he continued at the head of the Church, a burning and shining light; and truly the expositions which he gave of the Holy Scriptures spread a bright reflection upon the hearts of all around him. At length he attained the object of his hopes.
II. It was in the ninth year of Trajan, when that monarch, elated with his recent victories over the Scythians, Dacians, and several other nations, appears to have regarded the pious brotherhoold of Christians, as forming the only exception to the universality of his conquests; and he accordingly issued his threats of persecution against any person, who should refuse to perform the customary worship to the heathen gods; so that all who professed the Christian religion were either reduced by their fears to acquiesce in this worship, or were exposed to the prospect of death if they refused it. Alive to the danger which had fallen on the Church of Antioch, this valiant soldier of Christ permitted himself to be brought before Trajan, who was residing at the time in that city, and was on the eve of an expedition against Armenia and the Parthians. When brought into the imperial presence, he was thus addressed by Trajan.—"Who art thou," he said, "and what evil spirit is exercising its malice upon thee, that thou hast thus adventured to transgress the commands which I have given, and even to exercise such persuasion upon others, as has brought them to a miserable end?" Ignatius answered, "I bear the title of Theophorus; evil spirits cannot influence the acts of those who bear that name; the Servants of God are protected from the approach of Demons. But if, in supposing the malice of such beings towards me, you imply my hostility against them, I admit that you are not mistaken. For I am the subject of a Heavenly King, whose name is Christ, and by His help I bring to nought the counsels of the evil spirits." "What signifieth the title Theophorus?" enquired Trajan; "to whom belongs it?" "It belongs," replied Ignatius, "to all, who carry Jesus Christ in their bosoms." "Then," said Trajan, "do you think that we have not our gods in our minds, when we employ them to fight with us against our enemies?" Ignatius answered him; "You do wrong to designate as gods, the Demons whom the heathen worship. There is One God, who made the heavens and the earth, and all that is in them; and there is One Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Only-begotten, of whose kingdom I am an expectant." "Do you mean," enquired Trajan, "that person, who was crucified in the time of Pontius Pilate?" "Him," replied Ignatius, "I mean, who nailed upon His Cross both the sins which I have committed, and the being that led me to commit them, and who has decreed that all spiritual craft and malice shall be put under the feet of them, who carry Him in their bosoms!" "Do you then," asked Trajan, "carry a crucified man within you?" Ignatius answered, "I do; for it is written, 'I will dwell within them, and I will walk among them.'" Trajan then issued this sentence. "We command that Ignatius, who says that he carries about within him, one who has been crucified, be carried by soldiers in chains unto the great city of Rome, there to be devoured by wild beasts, for the public gratification." When the holy Martyr heard this announcement, he cried out with joy, "I thank Thee, O my Master, for that Thou hast permitted me to show forth, in the penalty I am to suffer, the perfect love I have toward Thee, and hast associated me with Thine Apostle Paul, in these iron bonds." So saying, he gladly put on the chains, and after offering up a prayer for the Church, and commending it with tears to the Lord, he was withdrawn like some leader of a goodly flock, the foremost of its associates in grace and stature, being destined, under the conduct of a harsh and savage soldiery, to become a prey for the wild beasts at Rome.
III. Maintaining a tone of mind thus elevated, and happy in the prospect of the closing scene, he travelled from Antioch to Seleucia, and proceeded forward by sea; and on arriving after a troublesome voyage at Smyrna, he gladly took the opportunity of disembarking to visit the holy Polycarp, who at that time was Bishop of the Smyrnaeans, and who was his own fellow-disciple, both having at a former period received instruction from Saint John the Apostle. After having continued some time the guest of Polycarp, and having communicated with him in spiritual gifts, he declared the joy he found in his bonds, and invited him to give all diligence in assisting the main object of his desires; which was, that the wild beasts might make him an early prey; and so, retiring from the sight of this world, he might pass into the presence of Christ. To assist him in this object, he more particularly invited St. PoIycarp. But he extended the request to the Church in general; for the Churches and cities of Asia had, through their Bishops, Presbyteries, and Deacons, received the holy man; and all were pressing forward to meet him, from their anxiety to partake in the spiritual gifts which he distributed.
IV. It was in terms like those which have been stated, that he gave evidence of the integrity of that love for his Saviour, which was now leading him through a good confession to his heavenly inheritance; and he was assisted herein by the zealous prayers offered up by the persons who were with him, with a reference to the season of his trial. In repayment of the kindness shewn him by the Churches which received him on his journey, he sent by their rulers certain letters of thanks, which breathed forth the graces of a Christian spirit, in the language of supplication and warning. And, noticing what kindness of feeling was exhibited on all sides towards him, he began to fear, that now, while the glorious gate of martyrdom lay open before him, the affection of the Christian brotherhood would lead them to interfere with his devotion to the Lord; and he therefore addressed the Church of the Romans in an Epistle on the subject.
V. Having, by that Epistle, engaged in his own view those of the brethren at Rome, whose intentions had been opposite, he left Smyrna, and proceeded on his voyage. The object of his military guard, in thus hurrying him forward, was, to arrive at Rome in time for the games, which are publicly held in that great city; so that the populace might see him, when he gained his Crown of Martyrdom, by being thrown to the wild beasts. He touched at Troas, and then crossed to Neapolis; and traversing Macedonia, by way of Philippi, advanced to the parts of Epirus near Epidamnus; here finding a vessel on the coast, he crossed the Adriatic, and entered the Tyrrhene sea. As he was coasting in sight of the various islands and towns, the city of Puteoli was pointed out to the holy man, and he expressed a strong desire to disembark there, in order that he might tread in the very footsteps of the Apostle Paul. But as the wind arose violently, and the vessel was running before it, he was prevented from doing so; and therefore passed straight onward, not without remarking how good and blessed a love was once exhibited by the brethren in that spot. [ Acts xxviii. 13, 14. ] Taking advantage of the wind, which during the whole day and ensuing night continued favourable, we hurried forward; unwillingly ourselves, for we wept at the thought of that just man's separation from us; but he, on the other hand, was well satisfied with an early removal from this world, in the hope of being sooner joined unto the LORD he loved. We landed at the Roman Havens, nearly at the close of the unhallowed games. The soldiers expressed impatience at the tardiness of our arrival; and the Bishop was glad to acquiesce in their demand to hasten forward.
VI. The party was therefore hurried on from the place of landing called Portus; and, reports concerning the holy Martyr having gone before his arrival, he was met by certain brethren, whose minds were in a mingled state of fear and joy;—of joy, at being counted worthy to meet with him, whom the Saviour had taken up in His arms, while at the same time they shuddered at the thought of such a man being dragged away to death. To some of them he expressed a wish, that they should hold back from interference; as, in the ardour of their feelings, they declared an intention of inducing the populace to ask, that this good man might not be killed. Knowing this, he implored all, after saluting them, to show him a true love; expressing himself more largely on the point, than in his Epistle; and entreating them not to injure the prospects of one who was hastening to his Lord. And so, with all the brethren on their bended knees, he besought the Son of God for the Churches, that He would remove from them this persecution, and confirm the brotherhood in all mutual love. After which he was hurried off to the Amphitheatre, and straightway cast down into it, as the Emperor had ordered, nearly as the games were going to close. It was on that high day, which the Romans call the thirteenth, and multitudes were accordingly assembled. He was thrown to the wild beasts at a spot close to the temple; and so was speedily carried into effect the desire of this holy Martyr Ignatius, according to that which is written, "the desire of the righteous shall be granted." For thus he was a burthen to none of his brethren from the trouble of gathering up his remains; a consummation in correspondence with a wish, which he had previously expressed in his Epistle. The harder parts were alone left, and those were gathered up and carried to Antioch, where they were wrapped in a linen cloth, and deposited with the brethren of that Holy Church,—a treasure rendered invaluable, by the Christian graces, which had adorned the Martyr's life.
VII. This event took place on the thirteenth day before the Calends of January, that is, on the twentieth of December. The Consuls at Rome were Syrus, and Senecius for the second time. We personally witnessed every thing, and passed the following night within doors, in tears; and often knelt we down, and addressed to the Lord a prayer, that He would strengthen that reliance in Him, which the event of the day had tended to disturb. For a little time we reposed in sleep, and, on our doing so, some of us presently saw him, leaning over and embracing us; others saw our blessed Ignatius praying over us, as he had previously been doing; while to others he appeared with the marks of recent struggles and exertions upon him, but now come up, and standing before his Lord, his labours over, and rejoicing with exceeding gladness. After comparing the visions which thus presented themselves in our dreams, we sang an hymn to God, the Giver of all good, and uttered the language of benediction over the departed Saint.
And now we make known to you the day and time at which this event occurred; that at the season of his Martyrdom we may gather together, and collect a portion of the spirit, which animated this courageous Champion and Martyr of Christ, who trod down Satan beneath his feet, and finished according to his hope his career of love and zeal, through Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, be glory and power throughout all ages! Amen.
From this narrative, we learn to make the most of our time, wherever we ate and however circumstanced. We are always on our trial, always have duties, always can be promoting God's glory. Ignatius wrote his letters when he was a prisoner, travelling a weary way across a whole continent to his death. And of all his labours through forty years, these letters alone have been preserved to us. When then we are in pain, or trouble, and begin to despond, and think our labour has no fruit, let us think of this Blessed Martyr, praise God, and take courage.
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KING, PRINTER, ST. CLEMENT'S, OXFORD.