Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch

(ca. 117)

Discussion Guide 

As you read through the seven epistles of Ignatius of Antioch written in AD117 on the way to his martyrdom, read for the following general themes:
  • Ignatius' view of the authority of the bishops and order of the churches
  • His warnings about heresy and his instructions on how to respond to it
  • His characteristic themes, i.e. glory, silence, sacrifice
  • His teaching on the Eucharist

Comprehension Questions (in addition to the above)

To the Ephesians

  1. What is important about the early hymn Ignatius includes? (sec. 7) Compare it with the prose translation below:

    There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible, even Jesus Christ our Lord.
  2. How does Ignatius describe the coming of Christ is imperial terms? (sec. 19)
  3. What do you think we means by calling communion "the medicine of immortality"? (sec. 20)

To the Magnesians

  1. Why does he mean by "two coinages" in section 5?
  2. What is his view of Jewish customs?

To the Trallians

  1. What makes sections 8 and 9 catechetical?
  2. How does Ignatius describe the cross and Christ? (sec. 11)

To the Romans

  1. How would you describe Ignatius' view of death?
  2. Why does he bring together martyrdom and discipleship?
  3. Why do you think he includes so little discussion of the issue of bishops and obedience in this epistle?

To the Philadelphians

  1. How does he respond to critics' views of scripture? (sec. 8-9)
  2. What is his view of Judaism?

To the Smyrnaeans

  1. Why does he condemn Docetism?
  2. How does he use his view of the Eucharist to buttress this?

To Polycarp

  1. What advice does he give to the younger bishop?
  2. What is the central irony of the hymn in this letter? (sec. 3)
  3. Do you find his view of slavery surprising? Why or why not? (sec. 4)

General Response Questions

  • How convergent or divergent do you believe his views of church authority and of the Eucharist to be with that of the New Testament?
  • What does Ignatius' view of Judaism suggest about Christianity's historical relationship with its Jewish origins at this point in history?
  • Do you find any of his metaphors surprising or suggestive?
  • What are we to learn from his writings?

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding