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St Ignatius of Antioch explodes a myth about early Christian history


It is sometimes claimed that the earliest Christians thought only that Jesus was a prophet or a great moral teacher – and that it was not until much later that they started to claim that he was God incarnate. In Dan Brown’s 2003 The Da Vinci Code, for example, Leigh Teabing claims:
Until [the Council of Nicaea in 325], Jesus was viewed by His followers as a mortal prophet…a great and powerful man, but a man nonetheless. A mortal. […] Constantine upgraded Jesus’ status almost four centuries after Jesus’ death.
This is simply and incontrovertibly not the case. In fact, so wildly remote is it from the case, that there is strong evidence to suggest that some of the earliest Christians struggled not with the idea that Jesus was really God, but that he was, in addition, a man.
We find traces of this in the New Testament (e.g., John 20.27-8; 1 John 1.1-3). Clear confirmation comes, however, from the writings of St Ignatius of Antioch, whose Feast it is today.
Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in modern-day Syria from circa AD 67 until his martyrdom in Rome, probably around AD 108. He was, according to tradition, a disciple of St John the Evangelist. His seven surviving letters were all written while en route to Rome to be martyred. Most of these were to the local churches in Asia Minor (modern Turkey) situated nearby. He also wrote one to the Christians in Rome, and a personal letter to the bishop of Smyrna, Polycarp (who would himself be martyred about 50 years later).

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