“The Old that is Strong does not Wither…” Wisdom from Ignatius of Antioch

Ignatius of Antioch

By Tom Palanza, Jr.

Perhaps I seemed critical of the “Francis Movement” in my recent post?  I was, in fact, trying to look at it through a critical lens, but I do think that Francis is doing things well.  It also seems to me that, far from doing new things, he is actually doing Christianity like the early Church did it.  While praying the Office of Readings a few Fridays ago, I was surprised at how closely the pope’s agenda reflected the advice that Ignatius of Antioch gave to Polycarp back at the turn of the first to second century.  I’ve included Ignatius’ letter as it appears in the Office below.  While reading it, look for similarities between Ignatius and Francis and also look at how Ignatius blends spiritual and temporal needs, concerns, methods, and goals.  Does the combination seem odd to you?  How would you present Ignatius’ advice to people today?  Is that what Francis is doing?

            Ignatius, also called Theophorus, to Polycarp, who is bishop of the Chruch of Smyrna, or rather who has for his bishop God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, greetings and all good wishes.

Recognizing your devotion to God, firmly built as if upon a solid rock, I am full of thanksgiving to Him for allowing me to see your blessed countenance – may I forever enjoy the sight of it in God!  I beseech you by the grace with which you are endowed to press forward on your course and to exhort all people to salvation.  Justify your episcopal dignity by your unceasing concern for the spiritual and temporal welfare of your flock; let unity, the greatest of all goods, be your preoccupation.  Carry the burdens of all people as the Lord carries yours; have patience with all in charity, as indeed you do.  Give yourself to prayer continually; ask for wisdom greater than you now have, keep alert with an unflagging spirit.  Speak to each person individually, following God’s example; bear the infirmities of all, like a perfect athlete of God.  The greater the toil, the richer the reward.

If you love only your good disciples, you gain no merit; rather you must win over the more troublesome of them by kindness.  The same salve does not heal all wounds; convulsions should be allayed with poultices.  Be prudent as the serpent in all things and innocent as the dove always.  You are both body and soul; treat gently the manifestations of human fault, even as you pray for the knowledge of things invisible, and then you will lack nothing but abound in every blessing.  Do as the circumstances require, like the pilot looking to the wind and the storm-tossed sailor to the harbor, that you may win your way to God with your people.  Exercise self-discipline, for you are God’s athlete; the prize is immortality and eternal life, as you know full well.  In everything I am your devoted friend – I and my chains, which you have kissed.

Do not be overwhelmed by those who seem trustworthy and yet teach heresy.  Remain firm, like tha anvil under the hammer.  The good athlete must take punishment in order to win.  And above all we must bear with everything for God, so that he in turn may bear with us.  Increase your zeal.  Read the signs of the times.  Look for him who is outside time, the eternal one, the unseen, who became visible for us; he cannot be touched and cannot suffer, yet he became subject to suffering and endured so much for our sake.

Do not neglect widows; after the Lord, it is you who must be their guardian.  Nothing must be done without your approval, and you must do nothing without God’s approval, as indeed is the case; stand firm.  Services should be held often; seek out everyone by name.  Do not look down upon slaves, whether men or women; yet they too should not be arrogant, but should give better service for the glory of God so as to gain from him a better freedom.  They should not be anxious for their freedom to be bought at the community’s expense, for they might then prove to be the slaves of their own desires.

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