09 March 2009

St. Ignatius on Discipleship, conclusion


When Protestants examine Ignatius’ writings, it is hoped they can see his zeal for Christ and his Church. He did not separate discipleship from ecclesiastical unity. Perhaps they can be distinguished, but never separated permanently. In fact, Baptism and the Eucharist served as two key events in the process of discipleship that highlighted the new Christian’s commitment to the faith of our Lord. We showed this by Ignatius' repeated refrain of unity in the liturgical aspects of baptism and taking the Holy Eucharist. He did not desire death for personal reward; rather he viewed his death in light of the lives he left behind in the Churches of Asia Minor. He mainly concerned himself with his peoples’ discipleship through unity. His death for Christ was the example he hoped to leave for them. His death was true imitation of his mentors Paul and John, his peer Polycarp, not to mention the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not simply view Christ’s death as an example of Divine love. His view of the atonement goes back to the cross. But it was natural for him to see continuity between the obedient, even willing, sacrifice of Christ and the apostles and other apostolic fathers. Only if the Churches of Ignatius’ bishopric were united would his own death be a bona fide martyrdom. Then indeed would he be a true disciple.1 His death would unite those he left behind for the mission he left to them [clearly imitating the Lord]. Ignatius could not sever the cord between true discipleship and faithfulness to the apostles' teaching on Christ either. As with many things we learn about in the Church, discipleship is not disconnected from the community nor its unity...perhaps it can be distinct but not separated.

1 Willard M. Swartley, “The Imitatio Christi in the Ignatian letters,” Vigiliae Christianae 27 no. 2 (1973): p. 103.

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