Ignatius considered baptism a step of obedience underneath the authority of the Bishop. This was done within the Church, by the Bishop, as to Christ. The early Church gives evidence that the rite of baptism was a step in discipleship that preceded that of the Eucharist.1 Likewise with the Eucharist, Ignatius teaches us to be submissive to God-ordained authorities. In other words, how can one display submission to an unseen God unless s/he submits to God’s ordained leadership? Ignatius’ words on baptism are few, but they point us to his clearer statements about right actions in respect to Christian living. His comments on baptism admonish us to be mindful of this event throughout our pilgrimage. So that, in times of suffering, we should be mindful that we approach God through His ordained channel in obedience to His plan. One should consider this a precursor to the third century statement of Cyprian, “extra ecclesium, nulla salus.” Ignatius’ idea is that outside of Christ’s body, no Christian dwells.
Let us consider his comments about baptism to see whether they speak to obedience and discipleship.
Ephesians 6:2. ‘Since also "there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all, and through all, and in all.”’ Here he describes the fact that baptism comparable to the nature of the FATHER, the SON, and the FAITH. Baptism has been connected to obedience and faith from the beginning. Also from the beginning, Baptism was the ceremony wherein one was submissive to the God-appointed Bishop, as unto Christ, in the baptismal waters and the chrismation. There could not be a baptism outside the walls of Church for Ignatius. There is one Church and one God. Also, one cannot help but notice his statement about the unity of the Lord, the faith, etc. More will be added upon that topic later in the discussion of Christology. If then the Father is over all, through all, and in all, how can there be obedience to him outside of His Church? And that in his Church, baptism standing as the initial rite of entrance and obedience all authorities agree. Remember too the context of this biblical quote. In Ephesians 4:5-7, St. Paul has the same thrust:1 I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called, 2With all lowliness and meekness, with longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; 3Endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; 5One Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6One God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. 7But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.The quote from both SS. Ignatius and Paul connote discipleship.
Ephesians 18:2. ‘For our God, Jesus Christ, was . . . born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.’ Of course, in Christ’s baptism we see the perfect example for us to follow. As part of the Father’s plan, the Son allowed John to baptize him, in Ignatius’ words, to cleanse the water. Why should he cleanse the water, if not to redeem all of creation in his incarnation, passion, and resurrection? Though an indirect example of discipleship, here Ignatius points the reader to the impartation of incorruptibility to the creation vis-à-vis the water. Our own baptism is the very symbol of this event in history and in our own lives. So we see the obedience of Christians being baptized into the Church serves as a symbol of the Son’s obedience to the Father, reconciling the world. Likewise St. Ignatius conquers the claim that water cannot save the soul. Jesus Christ quickened the water for us to be made new in Baptism. Baptism marks us as the followers our Lord by walking in His example and in His life giving water, and it serves as a sign that we are disciples of our parents who were washed previously, and who walk in His ways for a lamp unto our feet.
Smyrneans 8:2. ‘Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God.’ Again Ignatius strikes the bell of submission to earthly authorities. His mind cannot accept the idea that one can be obedient to God without so being obedient to God’s appointed leadership. Thus private discipleship in isolation from the community of faith is invalid. In another place he describes the deacons as the apostles, the presbytery as the Son, and the bishop as the Father. In this we discern his view of hierarchical leadership. Without submitting to the appointed leaders, one cannot submit truly to the Father as Christ did. The Bishop is the chief mentor of every Church, just as every martial artist has a master that he follows until he is made a master himself.
Polycarp 6:2. ‘Let your baptism endure as your shield; your faith as your helmet; your love as your spear; your patience as a complete panoply.’ Here he likens baptism to the strength of a shield, a weapon of defense. Interestingly he did not conceive of baptism as a finished event in the lives of believers. Here he likens it to armor of defense to be used to endure the hardships of discipleship, finishing the faith mindful of one’s initial step of obedience. Since the life of devotion to God is hard, incurring persecution, he admonishes us to be mindful of our connection to Christ’s incorruptibility in the waters of our baptism. Martin Luther echoed this many centuries hence, "This I say lest we fall into the opinion in which we were for a long time, imagining that our Baptism is something past, which we can no longer use after we have fallen again into sin. .For the ship never breaks because (as we have said) it is the ordinance of God, and not a work of ours; but it happens, indeed, that we slip and fall out of the ship. Yet if any one fall out, let him see to it that he swim up and cling to it till he again come into it and live in it, as he had formerly begun."
Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Were you baptized into the name of Paul? 14 I am thankful that I did not baptize any of you except Crispus and Gaius, 15 so no one can say that you were baptized into my name. 16 (Yes, I also baptized the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I don't remember if I baptized anyone else.) 1 Corinthians 1:13-16; For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body--whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free--and we were all given the one Spirit to drink.12:13
1 David F. Wright, “W.H. Griffith Thomas Lectureship,” (Dallas Theological Seminary, 2002).