He was on his way to his death, and he knew it. The story of Ignatius, the great bishop of Antioch, one of the early Christian martyrs, is well known, at least to those with an interest in church history (which limits things a good bit these days). Unwilling to compromise, Ignatius happily, as an aged man, embraced his departure to be with Christ. As he traveled to Rome to face death, he wrote to individuals and churches, and those letters have come down to us over the intervening centuries in Greek and Latin versions. Evidently, Dan Brown’s extensive “historical research” for TDVC missed his letters, written in 107 or 108 (that’s 200+ years prior to the Council of Nicea). If he had bothered to read these works, he would have known that claiming Constantine “made up” the deity of Christ or His position as the Son of God would be a historical blunder on the level of saying Jimmy Carter ran against George Washington for the Presidency of the United States.
Here is a selection from Ignatius’ genuine writings (there is a body of pseudo-Ignatian literature as well) that testify to his view of the Lord Jesus Christ. For more information on this, and the apologetic relevance of Ignatius in light of a tremendously gross attempt to misrepresent him by the Watchtower Society a number of years ago, click here. His words to the Ephesians identifying Jesus as God were noted in our previous entry. [Which reminds me: the Yahoo! article rendered the inscription found in the ancient church as “the god, Jesus Christ,” but in reality, the underlying Greek is probably almost identical to Ignatius’ phrase here, and whether you render it “the god” or “God” is dependent upon the translator and the context. Hence, the inscription [without having seen the actual Greek as yet] could be rendered “to the God, Jesus Christ” just as in Ignatius. This is, in fact, how it is rendered here.]
My spirit is but an offscouring of the cross, which is a scandal to the unbelieving, but to us it is salvation and life eternal. Where is the wise man? Where is the disputer? Where is the boasting of those who are called understanding? For our God, Jesus the Christ, was conceived by Mary according to a dispensation of God, from the seed of David, yes, but of the Holy Spirit as well. (Ephesians 18)
Notice not only the explicit affirmation of the deity of Christ, but likewise the very high view of Christ stated as well: Ignatius clearly viewed Jesus as the God-man, affirming both his humanity and his Deity, as we will see in another citation below.
Ignatius, who is also Theophorus, unto her that hath found mercy in the bountifulness of the Father Most High and of Jesus Christ His only Son; to the church that is beloved and enlightened through the will of Him who willed all things that are, by faith and love towards Jesus Christ our God; even unto her that hath the presidency in the country of the region of the Romans…(Romans 1).
Note here that 1) in the very salutation of the letter the deity of Christ is plainly present, again showing its centrality to the faith of the early believers; 2) in passing, Ignatius, though he names other bishops (like Polycarp) when he writes to the church at Rome he does not do so. Why? Because there was no single bishop at Rome at this time. Rome had a plurality of elders until around AD 140, and only then did the monarchical (single bishop) model take hold in Rome.
For our God Jesus Christ, being in the Father, is more plainly seen. The work is not of persuasiveness, but Christianity is a thing of might, whenever it is hated by the world (Romans 3).
This kind of description is so blatant, so easily made, coming not at the end of a long series of arguments or a long theological discussion, but almost “in passing,” shows the centrality of the belief to believers worldwide, for remember, Ignatius is not only bishop of a major church (Antioch), but he is writing to churches all over Asia Minor, so that his words are not idiosyncratic, but represent the universal faith of the early believers. Surely this is the case with the church at Smyrna:
I give glory to Jesus Christ the God who bestowed such wisdom upon you; for I have perceived that ye are established in faith immovable, being as it were nailed to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ, in flesh and in spirit, and firmly grounded in love in the blood of Christ, fully persuaded as touching our Lord that He is truly of the race of David according to the flesh, but Son of God by the Divine will and power, truly born of a virgin and baptized by John that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him, truly nailed up in the flesh for our sakes under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch (of which fruit are we–that is, of His most blessed passion); that He might set up an ensign unto all the ages through His resurrection, for His saints and faithful people, whether among Jews or among Gentiles, in one body of His Church….Let no man be deceived. Even the heavenly beings and the glory of the angels and the rulers visible and invisible, if they believe not in the blood of Christ [who is God], judgment awaiteth them also (Smyrneans 6).
Note not only the repeated references to the deity of Christ, but to Christ as the Son of God, to the human nature of Christ, the redeeming death of Christ…so much for altered gospels in the fourth century at Nicea!
Await the One who is above every season, the Eternal, the Invisible, the One who for our sake became visible, the Untouched, the Impassible, who for our sake suffered, who endured in every way for our sake (Polycarp 3).
Once again not only the deity of Christ but the Incarnation are central to Ignatius’ teachings. Here, within a single generation of the last of the Apostles the highest forms of Christology exist in the writings passed down to us through history. To say Brown’s statements about the early followers of Christ viewing him merely as a mortal prophet stand utterly refuted is to engage in understatement.
There is one physician, of flesh and of spirit, generate and ingenerate, God in man, true life in death, both from Mary and from God, first passible and then impassible, Jesus Christ our Lord. (Ephesians 7)
This is one of my favorite quotations from Ignatius, and for many others who have had to endure the endless babbling of liberal scholars and theologians who assure us with condescending smile that what we believe about Christ was the result of slow and purely human evolution over time. Here, in the first generation after the Apostles, the highest Christology is found—one person, two natures, the God-man, incarnation—it is all here, and it is a given that his audience shares his faith. How wonderful that after two thousand years of man’s best attempts to pervert this faith, it still flourishes in the hearts of God’s people!