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Anastasios D. Salapatas

The Diaconate in Ignatious' Epistles

From: A. Salapatas, "A short essay on Early Church History", Theologia, vol. 70, issue 2-3, Athens 1999 (pp. 513-520).


(Ignatius and his writings)

Ignatius is an exceptional figure of Christianiry, “a man of intense devotion”(1), who lived and offered his episcopal ministry in the years of the so-called primitive Church.

Ecclesiastical History has only preserved a few biographical elements about Ignatius; most of them come from his own writings. But his Epistles are not historical-biographical texts. Thus, they contain only very few delails about Ignatius.

From what we know he had been the second bishop of Antioch, starting his ministry at about 70 A.D. It is certain that he had met with some of the Apostles. The social environment in which he was brought up might have been Greek, or at least influenced by Greek culture (this is a conclusion we reach by studying his writings).

During the years of the Roman persecution by Emperor Trajan, Ignatius was arrested and was brought to Rome in order to receive martyrdom. The common view today is that he was put to death at the Roman Stadium called Colosseum(2), sometime between the years 107 and 117.

He called himself «Θεοφόρος» (Theophorus)(3), which is a very distinctive title for Christians and means the “God-bearer”. The title signifies the close spiritual relationship that he had with Christ. His memory is commemorated in the Eastern Orthodox Church on 20th December and in the Roman on the lst of February.

At his last days before he died he wrote seven Epistles. These are as follows: to the Ephesians, to the Magnesians, to the Trallians, to the Romans, to the Philadelphians, to the Smyrnaeans and to Polycarp. The first four were written from Smyrna and the remaining three from Troas, in Asia Μinor(4).

The Epistles of Ignatius, written at a relatively early date, “have played an important role in the theological reflections of the Church and represent a central point of contention in the scholarly discussions of Christian origins”5.

The significance of the Epistles is so great, basically because in them we find the first clear and direct reference to the threefold ministry and the settlement of the ecclesiastical authority, the centre of which is the bishop(6).

These texts are of great importance to all of Christendom and because of them Ignatius has been acknowledged as “the first great theologian of the post-apostolic period and the fιrst Father and Teacher of the Church”(7).


1. Henry Chadwick, The Early Church, Penguin Books, London 1988, p.30.

2. Στυλ. Παπαδόπουλου, Πατρολογία, vol.Ι, Athens 1982, p.178. E. W. Βarnes (in The Rise of Christianity, London 1948, p.261) believes that “the story of the martyrdom of Ignatius is edifying legend, not contemporary histoιy”, suggesting that this is “the invention of a hagiographer”, because “of Ignatius himself little is known”.

3. Παν.Χρήστου, «Ιγνάτιος», in Θρησκευτική και Ηθική Εγκυκλοπαίδεια, vol. 6, Athens 1965, col. 705.

4. Μ.W. Holmes (ed.), The Apostolic Fathers Apollos-Leicester 1989, p.80.

5. W. R. Schoedel, Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters, Philadelphia 1985, p.1.

6. Δημ. Μπαλάνου, Πατρολογία, Athens 1930, p.43ff.

7. Στυλ. Παπαδόπουλου, op. cit., p. 178.

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