Ignatius to the Ephesians

Author: St. Ignatius of Antioch


Ignatius, also called Theophorus, sends heartiest good wishes for unalloyed joy in Jesus Christ to the Church at Ephesus in Asia; a church deserving of felicitation, blessed, as she is, with greatness through the fullness of God the Father; predestined, before time was, to be--to her abiding and unchanging glory--forever united and chosen, through real suffering, by the will of the Father and Jesus Christ our God.

1. With joy in God I welcomed your community, which possesses its dearly beloved name because of a right disposition, enhanced by faith and love through Christ Jesus our Savior. Being imitators of God, you have, once restored to new life in the Blood of God, perfectly accomplished the task so natural to you. Indeed, as soon as you heard that I was coming from Syria in chains for our common Name and hope--hoping I might, thanks to your prayer, obtain the favor of fighting wild beasts at Rome and through this favor be able to prove myself a disciple--you hastened to see me. In the name of God, then, I have received your numerous community in the person of Onesimus, a man of indescribable charity and your bishop here on earth. I pray you in the spirit of Jesus Christ to love him, and wish all of you to resemble him. Blessed, indeed, is He whose grace made you worthy to possess such a bishop.

2. As to my fellow servant Burrus, your deacon by God's appointment and blessed with every gift, I wish he would stay at my side both for your honor and that of the bishop. But Crocus, too, a man of God and worthy of you, whom I received as a living example of your affection, has brought relief to me in every way; and I wish that the Father of Jesus Christ may comfort him in turn, as also Onesimus and Burrus and Euplus and Fronto, in whose persons I saw tokens of the affection of all of you. May you ever be my joy, if indeed I deserve it! It is therefore proper in every way to glorify Jesus Christ who has glorified you, so that you, fully trained in unanimous submission, may be submissive to the bishop and the presbytery, and thus be sanctified in every respect.

3. I give you no orders as though I were somebody. For, even though I am in chains for the sake of the Name, I am not yet perfected in Jesus Christ. Indeed, I am now but being initiated into discipleship, and I address you as my fellow disciples. Yes, I ought to be anointed by you with faith, encouragement, patient endurance, and steadfastness. However, ,since affection does not permit me to be silent when you are concerned, I am at once taking this opportunity to exhort you to live in harmony with the mind of God. Surely, Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, for His part is the mind of the Father, just as the bishops, though appointed throughout the vast, wide earth, represent for their part the mind of Jesus Christ.

4. Hence it is proper for you to act in agreement with the mind of the bishop; and this you do. Certain it is that your presbytery, which is a credit to its name, is a credit to God; for it harmonizes with the bishop as completely as the strings with a harp. This is why in the symphony of your concord and love the praises of Jesus Christ are sung. But you, the rank and file, should also form a choir, so that, joining the symphony by your concord, and by your unity taking your key note from God, you may with one voice through Jesus Christ sing a song to the Father. Thus He will both listen to you and by reason of your good life recognize in you the melodies of His Son. It profits you, therefore, to continue In your flawless unity, that you may at all times have a share in God.

5. For a fact, if I in a short time became so warmly attached to your bishop--an attachment based not on human grounds but on spiritual--how much more do I count you happy who are as closely knit to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father! As a result, the symphony of unity is perfect. Let no one deceive himself: unless a man is within the sanctuary, he has to go without the Bread of God. Assuredly, if the prayer of one or two has such efficacy, how much more that of the bishop and the entire Church! It follows, then: he who absents himself from the common meeting, by that very fact shows pride and becomes a sectarian; for the Scripture says: God resists the proud. Let us take care, therefore, not to oppose the bishop, that we may be submissive to God.

6. Furthermore: the more anyone observes that a bishop is discreetly silent, the more he should stand in fear of him. Obviously, anyone whom the Master of the household puts in charge of His domestic affairs, ought to be received by us in the same spirit as He who has charged him with this duty. Plainly, then, one should look upon the bishop as upon the Lord Himself. Now, Onesimus for his part overflows with praise of the good order that, thanks to God, exists in your midst. Truth is the rule of life for all of you, and heresy has no foothold among you. The fact is, you have nothing more to learn from anyone, since you listen to Jesus Christ who speaks truthfully.

7. Some there are, you know, accustomed with vicious guile to go about with the Name on their lips, while they indulge in certain practices at variance with it and an insult to God. These you must shun as you would wild beasts: they are rabid dogs that bite in secret; you must beware of them, for they are hard to cure. a There is only one Physician, both carnal and spiritual, born and unborn, God become man, true life in death; sprung both from Mary and from God, first subject to suffering and then incapable of it--Jesus Christ Our Lord.

8. Let no one, then, deceive you, as indeed you are not being deceived, belonging wholly to God. For as long as no dissension calculated to plague you has taken firm root among you, it follows that you are leading a life conformable to God. Your lowliest servant, I also consecrate myself to you Ephesians--that Church whose renown will go down the ages. The carnal cannot live a spiritual life, nor can the spiritual live a carnal life, any more than faith can act the part of infidelity, or infidelity the part of faith. But even the things you do in the flesh are spiritual, for you do all things in union with Jesus Christ.

9. I have heard of certain persons from elsewhere passing through, whose doctrine was bad. These you did not permit to sow their seed among you; you stopped your ears, so as not to receive the seed sown by them. You consider yourselves stones of the Father's temple, prepared for the edifice of God the Father, to be taken aloft by the hoisting engine of Jesus Christ, that is, the Cross, while the Holy Spirit serves you as a rope; your faith is your spiritual windlass and your love the road which leads up to God. And thus you all are fellow travelers, God-bearers and temple-bearers, Christ- bearers and bearers of holiness, with the commandments of Jesus Christ for festal attire. At this I am jubilant, privileged as I am to converse with you through this letter, and to congratulate you because in your otherworldliness you love nothing but God alone.

10. But pray unceasingly also for the rest of men, for they offer ground for hoping that they may be converted and win their way to God. Give them an opportunity therefore, at least by your conduct, of becoming your disciples. Meet their angry outbursts with your own gentleness, their boastfulness with your humility, their revilings with your prayers, their error with your constancy in the faith, their harshness with your meekness; and beware of trying to match their example. Let us prove ourselves their brothers through courtesy. Let us strive to follow the Lord's example and see who can suffer greater wrong, who more deprivation, who more contempt. Thus no weed of the devil will be found among you; but you will persevere in perfect chastity and sobriety through Jesus Christ, in body and soul.

11. The last epoch has arrived! Therefore let us exercise restraint and fear lest God's long-suffering should turn to our condemnation. Obviously, we must either fear the gathering storm of anger or else cherish the present time of grace--one of the two; only let us be found in union with Christ Jesus so as to possess the true life. Apart from Him, let nothing fascinate you. In union with Him I carry about these chains of mine-- spiritual pearls they are! May I be privileged through your prayer--in which I wish I may ever have a share--to wear them when I rise from the dead! Thus I shall be found in the ranks of the Christians of Ephesus, who have ever been of one mind with the Apostles through the power of Jesus Christ.

12. I know who I am and to whom I am writing. I have been condemned, you have been spared; I am in danger, you are in perfect safety. YOU are the highway of God's martyrs. You are fellow initiates with Paul, a man sanctified, of character magnificently attested, and worthy of every felicitation, in whose footsteps I wish to be found when I come to meet God, and who in an entire epistle remembers you in Christ Jesus.

13. Make an effort, then, to meet more frequently to celebrate God's Eucharist and to offer praise. For, when you meet frequently in the same place, the forces of Satan are overthrown, and his baneful influence is neutralized by the unanimity of your faith. Peace is a precious thing: it puts an end to every war waged by heavenly or earthly enemies.

14. Nothing of this escapes you; only persevere to the end in your faith in, and your love for, Jesus Christ. Here is the beginning and the end of life: faith is the beginning, the end is love; and when the two blend perfectly with each other, they are God. Everything else that makes for right living is consequent upon these. No one who professes faith sins; no one who possesses love hates. The tree is known by its fruit. In like manner, those who profess to belong to Christ will be known as such by their conduct. Certainly, what matters now is not mere profession of faith, but whether one is found to be actuated by it to the end.

15. It is better to keep silence and be something than to talk and be nothing. Teaching is an excellent thing, provided the speaker practices what he teaches. Now, there is one Teacher who spoke and it was done. But even what He did silently is worthy of the Father. He who has made the words of Jesus really his own is able also to hear His silence. Thus he will be perfect: he will act through his speech and be understood through his silence. Nothing is hidden from the Lord; no, even our secrets reach Him. Let us, then, do all things in the conviction that He dwells in us. Thus we shall be His temples and He will be our God within us. And this is the truth, and it will be made manifest before our eyes. Let us, then, love Him as He deserves.

16. Do not be deceived, my brethren. Those who ruin homes will not inherit the kingdom of God. Now, if those who do this to gratify the flesh are liable to death, how much more a man who by evil doctrine ruins the faith in God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a filthy creature will go into the unquenchable fire, as will anyone that listens to him.

17. The Lord permitted myrrh to be poured on His head that He might breathe incorruption upon the Church. Do not let yourselves be anointed with the malodorous doctrine of the Prince of this world, for fear he may carry you off into captivity--away from the life that is in store for you. Why do we not all become wise, having received knowledge of God, that is, Jesus Christ! Why do we perish in folly, failing to appreciate the gift which the Lord has sent us in truth!

18. I offer my life's breath for the sake of the Cross, which is a stumbling block to the unbelievers, but to us is salvation and eternal life. What has become of the philosopher? What of the controversialist? What of the vaunting of the so-called intellectuals? The fact is, our God Jesus Christ was conceived by Mary according to God's dispensation of the seed of David, it is true, but also of the Holy Spirit. He was born and was baptized, that by His Passion He might consecrate the water.

19. And the Prince of this world was in ignorance of the virginity of Mary and her childbearing and also of the death of the Lord--three mysteries loudly proclaimed to the world, though accomplished in the stillness of God! How, then, were they revealed to the ages? A star blazed forth in the sky, outshining all the other stars, and its light was indescribable, and its novelty provoked wonderment, and all the starry orbs, with the sun and the moon, formed a choir round that star; but its light exceeded that of all the rest, and there was perplexity as to the cause of the unparalleled novelty. This was the reason why every form of magic began to be destroyed, every malignant spell to be broken, ignorance to be dethroned, an ancient empire to be overthrown--God was making His appearance in human form to mold the newness of eternal life! Then at length was ushered in what God had prepared in His counsels; then all the world was in an upheaval because the destruction of death was being prosecuted.

20. If Jesus Christ, yielding to your prayer, grants me the favor and it is His will, I shall, in the subsequent letter which I intend to write to you, still further explain the dispensation which I have here only touched upon, regarding the New Man Jesus Christ--a dispensation founded on faith in Him and love for Him, on His Passion and Resurrection. I will do so especially if the Lord should reveal to me that you--the entire community of you!--are in the habit, through grace derived from the Name, of meeting in common, animated by one faith and in union with Jesus Christ--who in the flesh was of the line of David, the Son of Man and the Son of God--of meeting, I say, to show obedience with undivided mind to the bishop and the presbytery, and to break the same Bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death, and everlasting life in Jesus Christ.

21. I offer my life as a ransom for you and for those whom for the glory of God you sent to Smyrna, where, too, I am writing to you with thanks to the Lord and with love for Polycarp and you. Remember me, as may Jesus Christ remember you! Pray for the Church in Syria, whence I am being led away in chains to Rome, though I am the least of the faithful there. But then, I was granted the favor of contributing to the honor of God. Farewell! May God the Father and Jesus Christ, our common Hope, bless you!