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The Church of the Early Fathers

Some time around the year A.D. 107, a short, sharp persecution of the Church of Christ resulted in the arrest of the bishop of Antioch in Syria. His name was Ignatius. According to one of the harsh penal practices of the Roman Empire of the day, the good bishop was condemned to be delivered up to wild beasts in the arena in the capital city. The insatiable public appetite for bloody spectacle meant a chronically short supply of victims; prisoners were thus sent off to Rome to help fill the need.

So it was that the second bishop of Antioch was sent off to Rome as a condemned prisoner. According to Church historian Eusebius (260-340), Ignatius had been bishop in Antioch for nearly forty years. This means he must have been named bishop of the Church there while some of the original apostles were still alive and preaching. Ignatius was closer to Jesus’ crucifixion than we are to World War I.

Escorted by a detachment of Roman soldiers, Ignatius was conducted first by land from Syria across Asia Minor (modern Turkey). In a letter sent ahead to the Church in Rome, he described his ardent wish to imitate the passion of Christ through his own coming martyrdom in the Colosseum. He warned Christians in Rome not to interfere or try to save him. He spoke of his conflicts with his military escort and of their casual cruelties; he described his guards as “ten leopards.” The discipline of the march cannot have been too onerous, though, since Ignatius was able to receive delegations of visitors from local churches along the way.

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