Faith and Love in Ignatius’ Letters

Ignatius (35-108 AD), the disciple of the apostle John and overseer of Antioch, left us a series of letters written during his journey to Rome to face trial and eventually martyrdom. They were written to various churches along the journey to encourage and instruct them in his absence.

As I read through his letters recently, I was struck by the pervasive theme of love and faith. Not held apart, but bound together as a unified response towards God and the gospel. For Ignatius, both love and faith are indispensable for salvation.

Ignatius frames salvation as attaining to God—a goal that requires endurance even unto death. If we are found to be faithful at the end, only then are we true disciples of Jesus. Attaining to God is not a mere matter of intellectual faith alone. It also requires true love towards God and each other.

Direct Quotations of Ignatius
One of the most explicit statements of faith and love by Ignatius is found in his letter to the Ephesian church, the same church we know Paul was deeply involved with. As you can read in the quote below, Ignatius viewed spiritual life as a continuum that requires endurance in both faith and love.

None of these things escape your notice, if you have perfect faith and love toward Jesus Christ. For these are the beginning and the end of life: faith is the beginning and love is the end, and the two, when they exist in unity are God. Everything else that contributes to excellence follows from them. No one professing faith sins, nor does anyone possessing love hate. The tree is known by its fruit; thus those who profess to be Christ’s will be recognized by their actions. For the work is a matter not of what one promises now, but of persevering to the end in the power of faith. (Ignatius, Ephesians 14.1-2)

Earlier in the same letter, Ignatius describes the construction of the church as God’s temple, in which both faith and love play a pivotal role in forming this holy body of believers:

[…] you are stones of a temple, prepared beforehand for the building of God the Father, hoisted up to the heights by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, using as a rope the Holy Spirit; your faith is what lifts you up, and love is the way that leads up to God. (Ignatius, Ephesians 9.1)

Faith, Love, and the Crucified Christ
The theological closeness that the early church held faith and love together can be seen in a unique parallel Ignatius forms between both faith and love, and the crucified body of Jesus. He associates faith with Jesus’ fleshly body and love with Jesus’ shed blood.

You, therefore, must arm yourselves with gentleness and regain your strength in faith (which is the flesh of the Lord) and in love (which is the blood of Jesus Christ). (Ignatius, Trallians 8.1)

I glorify Jesus Christ, the God who made you so wise, for I observed that you are established in an unshakeable faith, having been nailed as it were, to the cross of the Lord Jesus Christ in both body and spirit, and firmly established in love by the blood of Christ […] (Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 1.1)

The Gospel and Our Response of Faith and Love
In explaining the gospel, Ignatius describes both faith and love as our response towards Jesus:

If Jesus Christ, in response to your prayer, should reckon me worthy, and if it is his will, in a second letter that I intend to write to you I will further explain to you the subject about which I have begun to speak, namely, the divine plan with respect to the new man Jesus Christ, involving faith in him and love for him, his suffering and resurrection, especially if the Lord reveals anything to me. (Ignatius, Ephesians 20.1-2)

Again, in response to the gospel, Ignatius instructs his readers to “believe with love.” This is reminiscent of Paul’s statement to the Galatians that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything, but faith working through love.” (Gal. 5:6)

But the gospel possesses something distinctive, namely, the coming of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, his suffering, and the resurrection. For the beloved prophets preached in anticipation of him, but the gospel in the imperishable finished work. All these things together are good, if you believe with love. (Ignatius, Philadelphians 9.2)

I have too many quotes to list out here. I’ve posted the rest of them below this post if you’re curious.

Final Thoughts from Scripture
This theme of faith and love working together is seen all over scripture as well.

I’ve already mentioned Paul, how he taught that what really matters is “faith working through love.” Paul also writes that love is the fulfillment of the Law. All of the Mosaic Law and the Prophets are summed up in love, in loving God and loving our neighbor. (Romans 13:10) Paul also tells us that of faith, hope, and love, the greatest is love. (1 Co. 13:13) Earlier in the same chapter, Paul again emphasizes that without love, faith is nothing. He writes, “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.” (1 Co. 13:2)

For the apostle John, who apparently taught Ignatius, love is not only important, but a necessity. He writes in 1 John, “Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” And conversely, “The one who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4:7-8)

Finally, when we read in James that we are justified by works and not by faith alone, the context is clear that the “works” mentioned are acts of love. (James 2:24) They are not ritualistic religious practices that have no bearing on one’s heart for others, but are manifestations of godly love.

It is this other-focused love that is essential for Ignatius—true love that fulfills the law and looks not to please ourselves, but serve others. To use Ignatius’ own words, “nothing is preferable” to this love and faith working together in our lives to the glory of God.


Additional Quotes

For just as their are two coinages, the one of God and the other of the world, and each of them has its own stamp impressed upon it, so the unbelievers bear the stamp of this world, but the faithful in love bear the stamp of God the Father through Jesus Christ, whose life is not in us unless we voluntarily choose to die into his suffering. (Ignatius, Magnesians 5.2)

For inasmuch as I have been judged to bear a most godly name, in these chains that I bear I sing the praises of the churches, and I pray that in them there may be a union of flesh and spirit that comes from Jesus Christ, our never-failing life, and of faith and love, to which nothing is preferable, and–what is more important–of Jesus and the Father. In him we will reach God, if we patiently endure all the abuse of the ruler of this age and escape. (Ignatius, Magnesians 1.2)

Do not let a high position make anyone proud, for faith and love are everything; nothing is preferable to them. (Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 6.1)

I welcomed in God your well-beloved name, which you possess by reason of your righteous nature, characterized by faith in and love of Christ Jesus our Savior. (Ignatius, Ephesians 1.1)

[…] the church beloved and enlightened through the will of the one who willed all things that exist, in accordance with faith in and love for Jesus [Or faith and love of Jesus] Christ our God […] (Ignatius, Romans; Salutation)

Be eager, therefore, to be firmly grounded in the precepts of the Lord and the apostles, in order that in whatever you do, you may prosper, physically and spiritually, in faith and love, in the son and the Father and in the Spirit, in the beginning and at the end, together with your most distinguished bishop and that beautifully woven spiritual crown which is your council of presbyters and the godly deacons. (Ignatius, Magnesians 13.1)

I greet the household of Gavia, and pray that she may be firmly grounded in faith and love both physically and spiritually. (Ignatius, Smyrnaeans 13.2)

 

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