Ignatius, allegedly in about 100-110 CE, wrote 7 letters on his way to marytyrdom, these letters were redacted and added to in later centuries, and there are several versions of varying lengths. The original shorter versions of the 7 letters named in Eusebius are considered fairly reliable, I used this short recension (which is confusingly sometimes also known as the 'middle', I used the short one which is NOT the Syriac epitomy).While in Smyrna, he wrote his four Epistles to the Ephesians, the Magnesians, the Trallians, and the Romans. Then in Troas, he wrote to the Philadelphians, the Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp.

The letters are notiously corrupt, even considered conspirational forgeries by some, and are cited to support wildly varying points of view - they are very odd documents.


For Bishops etc.

The primary concern of Ignatius is to strengthen obedience to the Bishops and Presbyters and Deacons - the church seems to be forming a hierarchy in this period :

Eph. 2 : "..and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, ye may in all respects be sanctified."

Eph. 4 : "Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop,"

Poly.6 : "Give ye heed to the bishop,"

Smyr.8 : "See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. "

Tral.3 : "In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrin of God,"


Against Judaizers, Docetics,

Other notable elements in Ignatius are arguments against the Judaizing and Jewish elements :

Mag. 10 : "It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity ..."

Phil. 6 : "But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumcised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. "

Ignatius also attacks Docetism :

Smyr. 2 : "And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer,"

Tral.10 : "But if, as some that are without God, that is, the unbelieving, say, that He only seemed to suffer (they themselves only seeming to exist), then why am I in bonds?"


Christian mysteries

Interestingly, Ignatius calls his religion 'mysteries of Jesus Christ':

Tral. 2 : "It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, "

he also describes the Ephesian as being 'initiated' in the 'mysteries of the Gospel' :

Eph.12 : " Ye are initiated into the mysteries of the Gospel with Paul, "

Ignatius hopes to personally attain Christ by death

Ignatius is prepared to die because he expects to become a disciple :

Rom.4 : "so that when I have fallen asleep [in death], ... Then shall I be a true disciple of Jesus Christ, when the world shall not see so much as my body. ... But when I suffer, I shall be the freedman of Jesus Christ, and shall rise again emancipated in Him. "

In fact, by death he actually expects to 'attain Christ'

Rom.5 : "And let no one, of things visible or invisible, envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ. Let fire and the cross; let the crowds of wild beasts; let tearings, breakings, and dislocations of bones; let cutting off of members; let shatterings of the whole body; and let all the dreadful torments of the devil come upon me: only let me attain to Jesus Christ. "

He expects he will be the 'last one' to attain, being 'out of due time' (similar to Paul's phrase), to attain to God :

Rom.9 : "But as for me, I am ashamed to be counted one of them; for indeed I am not worthy, as being the very last of them, and one born out of due time. But I have obtained mercy to be somebody, if I shall attain to God."

Ignatius is hoping to attain to Christ at the moment of death, and become the last one of a series of mystics, like Paul before him, who have personally attained the Godhead - whatever that may really mean, its a classic Gnostic idea.


Jesus Christ ancient and eternal

Ignatius writes not of a recent historical Jesus Christ, but one who was an eternal Word :

Mag.8 : "who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him. "

He describes Jesus and the "... cross, and death, and resurrection..." to be 'ancient' :

Phil. : " Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity, "


New revelation

To Ignatius, what is new is Christ being now 'revealed' in the Christian mysteries :

Mag.6 : "Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed."

He has come to 'new hope' and 'obtained faith' by this 'mystery' of 'His death' :

Mag.9 : "If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord's Day, on which also our life has sprung up again by Him and by His death (whom some deny), by which mystery we have obtained faith,...

This new 'Gospel possesses something Transcendent' above the Jewish religion :

Phil. 9 : "The priests indeed are good, but the High Priest is better; to whom the holy of holies has been committed, and who alone has been trusted with the secrets of God. He is the door of the Father, by which enter in Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and the prophets, and the apostles, and the Church. All these have for their object the attaining to the unity of God. But the Gospel possesses something transcendent [above the former dispensation], viz., the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, His passion and resurrection. For the beloved prophets announced Him, but the Gospel is the perfection of immortality. "

Ignatius' emphasizes the 'appearance of Christ', and the 'passion and resurrection' as what is Transcendent, .


Christian Initiation is 'raising'

Ignatius writes of the disciples being raised from the dead -

Mag.9 : "...and therefore endure, that we may be found the disciples of Jesus Christ, our only Master--how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their Teacher? And therefore He whom they rightly waited for, being come, raised them from the dead. "

note well that 'He' (Jesus Christ) raised 'them' (the disciples) from the dead when he came i.e. when Christ was revealed, the disciples them selves were raised.

Above we saw he specifically describes the Ephesian as being 'initiated' in the 'mysteries of the Gospel with Paul' i.e. the Ephesians were initiates, like Paul, (and possibly like Ignatius) into the 'mysteries of the Gospel'.

I think that this 'raising' refers to the succesful Gnostic initiation into the ' mysteries of the Gospel' of Paul and other disciples like Ignatius.


Flesh vs Spirit

Ignatius often distinguishes between the carnal (physical, after the flesh) and the spiritual -

Eph. 8 : "They that are carnal cannot do those things which are spiritual, nor they that are spiritual the things which are carnal; ... But even those things which ye do according to the flesh are spiritual; for ye do all things in Jesus Christ. "

Mag. 13 : "Be ye subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union beth fleshly and spiritual. "

Poly.1 : "Maintain thy position with all care, both in the flesh and spirit. "

Poly.2 : "For this purpose thou art composed of both flesh and spirit, that thou mayest deal tenderly with those [evils] that present themselves visibly before thee. "

Mag. 13 : "...so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; "

Phil. 7 : "For though some would nave deceived me according to the flesh, yet the Spirit, as being from God, is not deceived."

Eph. 10 : "...so no plant of the devil may be found in you, but ye may remain in all holiness and sobriety in Jesus Christ, both with respect to the flesh and spirit. "

Christ's Flesh vs Spirit

Ignatius wrote that Jesus Christ has both Flesh and Spirit -

Mag. 1 : "...I commend the Churches, in which I pray for a union both of the flesh and spirit of Jesus Christ,"

Smyr.12 : " ...in the name of Jesus Christ, and in His flesh and blood, in His passion and resurrection, both corporeal and spiritual, in union with God and you. "

He describes Jesus Christ in the Two Worlds (physical and spiritual)

Eph. 20 : "...and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, "

Smyr.1 : "...He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; "

Ignatius is descibing dual natures of Christ, a higher side and a physical side - spiritually he is Son-of-God, physically he is seed-of-David. This phrase 'seed of David' often cited to support the Historical Jesus theory - but it does not support much. Ignatius could be refering to an archetypal man here, or a typical Jew, or other physical things known as 'seed of David'. Coupled with the allegories and odd symbologies which abound in Ignatius' writings, the key words 'seed of David', even if authentic and original, are too vague to specifically support a historical Jesus.

The two natures expressed here can be shown in a simple table :

of the flesh



seed of David


son of God


God vs Mare

This dichotomy between Spiritual and Physical is central to understanding of Ignatius' ideas -

Eph. 7 : "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 possible and then impossible, even Jesus Christ our Lord. "

This is a two-sided co-relation chart, it explains how facets of the two natures of Jesus Christ correspond :






not made

God in flesh


true life

of Mary


of God



not possible

This column arrangement shows how flesh corresponds to Mary.

Another column shows the corresponding esoteric elements :

water (mare)


fire (pyr)


Mary and Pontius Pilate mis-understandings?

Kuhn argues that the Ignatian references to Mary and Pontius Pilate are mis-interpretations of Gnostic concepts - there are major flaws in this argument - yet the Ignatian writings are extremely corrupt and even considered a forgery by some, I present his point of view for consideration.

To the Gnostics, to be 'born of Mare' means to incarnate on the physical plane (this only applies in Latin of course).

'Pontos Pilatos' may refer esoterically to the 'dense sea' of matter - the physical plane (I cannot find any such word 'piletas' or 'pilatos' meaning dense). To the Gnostics, to 'suffer crucifixion under Pontos Pilatus' means to be be incarnated on the physical plane - to have the higher self, the Christos, nailed to the physical body.


The Flesh of Christ

Ignatius wrote at length of the flesh of Christ, in rather unusual ways :

Phil.4 : "Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ , and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar"

He talks about there being only 'one flesh of Lord Jesus Christ', perhaps suggesting there are other fleshes. This statement about the 'Gospel as the flesh of Christ' is most unusual :

Phil.5 : "...while I flee to the Gospel as to the flesh of Jesus , and to the apostles as to the presbytery of the Church"

He refers oddly to Jesus Christ as 'Lord of the flesh'

Poly.5 : "..to the honour of Him who is Lord of the flesh ,"

Ignatius' talks about his desire for the 'flesh of Jesus Christ', the bread of life :

Rom.7 : "I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life. "

Ignatius' emphasis on the 'bread' which is the 'flesh' of Jesus Christ continues :

Smyr.6 : "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. "

Eph. 20 : "...so that you give ear to the bishop and to the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one Bread, which is the medicine of immortality, the antidote against death, enabling us to live forever in Jesus Christ."

These allusions really seems to be about drugs :

Tral.6 : "I ... entreat you that ye use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. For those mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure leading to his own death. "

He specifically entreats the Trallians to use only 'Christian nourishment', and further warns against 'herbage' of other kinds, and he calls these 'heresy' He then criticies the heretics who 'mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison', like those who give a deadly 'drug ' in wine. I think Allegro's "The Sacred Mushroom and the Cross" and Heinrich's Strange Fruit were on the right track - here Ignatius does actually seem to be refering to mystic experience brought about by a drug - perhaps the amanita muscaria.

The Passion

Ignatius uses drug terminology refering to the cross and the passion -

Tral. 11 : "Flee, therefore, those evil offshoots [of Satan], which produce death-bearing fruit, whereof if any one tastes, he instantly dies. For these men are not the planting of the Father. For if they were, they would appear as branches of the cross, and their fruit would be incorruptible. By it He calls you through His passion, as being His members. "

Smyr.1 : "...nailed for us in His flesh. Of this fruit we are by His divinely-blessed passion..."

The cross is perhaps based on agricultural symbology (tree? vine? mushroom under pine tree?).

The 'blood of Christ' seems to be a drug and the passion the drug-induced initiation trip of the mystic in which his body dies to unconsciousness and he is 'raised' or 'resurrected' to Christ.

Smyr.5 : "...Christ's passion, which is our resurrection. "

Tral. '...possessing peace through the flesh, and blood, and passion of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, through our rising again to Him "

Phil. : "...and rejoiceth unceasingly in the passion of our Lord, and is filled with all mercy through his resurrection; which I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, who is our eternal and enduring joy "

Rom. 7 : "...and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life. "


by Kapyong


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