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TO THE ROMANS
His final letter from Smyrna, Ignatius writes to the church of Rome. Unlike his other letters, this one is not concerned with questions of heresy and Church unity. Rather is it an intensely personal document. In it he reveals most clearly the spirit of the Oriental martyr; and in a double way it is a letter to prepare his martyrdom. It is, on the one hand, a plea to the Romans not to interfere with the fate in store for him; and on the other hand it is, as it were, a letter to himself to brace him for the coming ordeal. It betrays an excess of zeal which is strange to most of us, and even repugnant to some. It must, however, be read in the light of the fact that Ignatius was tormented by the brutality of his Roman guard (his "ten leopards" as he calls them, ch. 5:1), and reacted with the intemperance of a man who had already given his life away. Some will find in the letter a perverted masochism; others will discern in it all the splendor of the martyr spirit. No one, however, will miss its burning sincerity or the courageous zeal of a disciple to suffer with his Lord.
The significant place that the Roman church held in the imagination of Ignatius is clear from the flattering inscription, with its emphasis on the extensiveness of that church's charity, and from the mention of Peter and Paul (in that order!) in ch. 4:3.
Greetings in Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, from Ignatius, the "God-inspired," to the church that is in charge of affairs in Roman quarters228228Bizarre as some of Ignatius’ expressions are, this one is most perplexing, and has exercised commentators not a little. The Greek is: prokathētai en topō chōriou Rōmaiōn. The words en topō might conceivably be taken as "in dignity," and the whole clause rendered: "Which has a precedence of dignity over the district of the Romans." Another suggestion has been to read Christou for chōriou: "Which presides over the district of the Romans in the place of Christ." The most usual rendering has been: "Which presides [has the chief seat] in the district of the region of the Romans. This is somewhat barbarous. It also presents an ambiguity: is the presidence exercised over the whole Church or only over the district in which the Roman church has its seat? My own rendering is modeled on the phrase ho topos tēs chōras, which means "the local circumstances of the district." If, then, the Greek text is correct and topos has the sense of "local circumstances," the expression, literally rendered, would be: "Which has the chief seat in the local circumstances of the district of the Romans." and that the Most High Father 103and Jesus Christ, his only Son, have magnificently embraced in mercy and love. You have been granted light both by the will of Him who willed all that is, and by virtue of your believing in Jesus Christ, our God, and of loving him. You are a credit to God: you deserve your renown and are to be congratulated. You deserve praise and success and are privileged to be without blemish. Yes, you rank first in love,229229The Roman church was early renowned for its extensive acts of charity. being true to Christ's law and stamped with the Father's name.230230A reference to the invocation of the Father's name over the Christian in baptism. The implication is that the Christian by sharing the Father's name shares too the Father's generous nature. To you, then, sincerest greetings in Jesus Christ, our God, for you cleave to his every commandment—observing not only their letter but their spirit—being permanently filled with God's grace and purged of every stain alien to it.
1 Since God has answered my prayer to see you godly people, I have gone on to ask for more. I mean, it is as a prisoner for Christ Jesus that I hope to greet you, if indeed it be [God's] will that I should deserve to meet my end.231231I.e., martyrdom. 2Things are off to a good start. May I have the good fortune to meet my fate without interference! What I fear is your generosity which may prove detrimental to me. For you can easily do what you want to, whereas it is hard for me to get to God unless you let me alone. 2 I do not want you to please men, but to please God,232232Cf. I Thess. 2:4. just as you are doing. For I shall never again have such a chance to get to God, nor can you, if you keep quiet, get credit for a finer deed. For if you quietly let me alone, people will see in me God's Word. But if you are enamored of my mere body, I shall, on the contrary, be a meaningless noise. 2Grant me no more than to be a sacrifice for God while there is an altar at hand. Then you can form yourselves into a choir and sing 104praises to the Father in Jesus Christ that God gave the bishop of Syria the privilege of reaching the sun's setting when he summoned him from its rising. It is a grand thing for my life to set on the world, and for me to be on my way to God, so that I may rise in his presence.
3 You never grudged anyone. You taught others.233233I.e., about martyrdom, Rome being renowned for the martyrdoms of Peter and Paul. So I want you to substantiate the lessons that you bid them heed. 2Just pray that I may have strength of soul and body so that I may not only talk [about martyrdom], but really want it. It is not that I want merely to be called a Christian, but actually to be one. Yes, if I prove to be one, then I can have the name. Then, too, I shall be a convincing Christian only when the world sees me no more. 3Nothing you can see has real value. Our God Jesus Christ, indeed, has revealed himself more clearly by returning to the Father. The greatness of Christianity lies in its being hated by the world, not in its being convincing to it.
4 I am corresponding with all the churches and bidding them all realize that I am voluntarily dying for God—if, that is, you do not interfere. I plead with you, do not do me an unseasonable kindness. Let me be fodder for wild beasts—that is how I can get to God. I am God's wheat and I am being ground by the teeth of wild beasts to make a pure loaf for Christ. 2I would rather that you fawn on the beasts so that they may be my tomb and no scrap of my body be left. Thus, when I have fallen asleep, I shall be a burden to no one. Then I shall be a real disciple of Jesus Christ when the world sees my body no more. Pray Christ for me that by these means I may become God's sacrifice. 3I do not give you orders like Peter and Paul. They were apostles: I am a convict. They were at liberty: I am still a slave.234234Cf. I Cor. 7:22. But if I suffer, I shall be emancipated by Jesus Christ; and united to him, I shall rise to freedom.
Even now as a prisoner, I am learning to forgo my own wishes. 5 All the way from Syria to Rome I am fighting with wild beasts, by land and sea, night and day, chained as I am to ten leopards (I mean to a detachment of soldiers), who only get worse the better you treat them. But by their injustices I am becoming a better disciple, "though not for that reason am I acquitted."235235I Cor. 4:4. 2What a thrill I shall have from the wild beasts that are ready for me! I hope they will make short work of me. 105I shall coax them on to eat me up at once and not to hold off, as sometimes happens, through fear. And if they are reluctant, I shall force them to it. 3Forgive me—I know what is good for me. Now is the moment I am beginning to be a disciple. May nothing seen or unseen begrudge me making my way to Jesus Christ. Come fire, cross, battling with wild beasts, wrenching of bones, mangling of limbs, crushing of my whole body, cruel tortures of the devil—only let me get to Jesus Christ! 6 Not the wide bounds of earth nor the kingdoms of this world will avail me anything. "I would rather die"236236I Cor. 9:15. and get to Jesus Christ, than reign over the ends of the earth. That is whom I am looking for—the One who died for us. That is whom I want—the One who rose for us. 2I am going through the pangs of being born. Sympathize with me, my brothers! Do not stand in the way of my coming to life—do not wish death on me. Do not give back to the world one who wants to be God's; do not trick him with material things. Let me get into the clear light and manhood will be mine. 3Let me imitate the Passion of my God. If anyone has Him in him, let him appreciate what I am longing for, and sympathize with me, realizing what I am going through.
7 The prince of this world wants to kidnap me and pervert my godly purpose. None of you, then, who will be there, must abet him. Rather be on my side—that is, on God's. Do not talk Jesus Christ and set your heart on the world. 2Harbor no envy. If, when I arrive, I make a different plea, pay no attention to me. Rather heed what I am now writing to you. For though alive, it is with a passion for death that I am writing to you. My Desire237237A deliberate pun. Ignatius means both that Christ (on whom his love is set) is crucified, and that all earthly passion has been quelled within himself. has been crucified and there burns in me no passion for material things. There is living water238238Cf. John 4:10; 7:38. in me, which speaks and says inside me, "Come to the Father." 3I take no delight in corruptible food or in the dainties of this life. What I want is God's bread,239239Cf. John 6:33. which is the flesh of Christ, who came from David's line240240Cf. Rom. 1:3.;and for drink I want his blood: an immortal love feast indeed!
8 I do not want to live any more on a human plane. And so it shall be, if you want it to. Want it to, so that you will be wanted! Despite the brevity of my letter, trust my request. 2Yes, Jesus 106Christ will clarify it for you and make you see I am really in earnest. He is the guileless mouth by which the Father has spoken truthfully. 3Pray for me that I reach my goal. I have written prompted, not by human passion, but by God's will. If I suffer, it will be because you favored me. If I am rejected, it will be because you hated me.
9 Remember the church of Syria in your prayers. In my place they have God for their shepherd. Jesus Christ alone will look after them241241I.e., be their "overseer" or "bishop."—he, and your love. 2I blush to be reckoned among them, for I do not deserve it, being the least of them and an afterthought.242242Literally, an "untimely birth," an "abortion," suggested by I Cor. 15:8. Yet by his mercy I shall be something, if, that is, I get to God.
3With my heart I greet you; and the churches which have welcomed me, not as a chance passer-by, but in the name of Jesus Christ, send their love. Indeed, even those that did not naturally lie on my route went ahead to prepare my welcome in the different towns. 10 I am sending this letter to you from Smyrna by those praiseworthy Ephesians.243243I.e., who will act as postman. It would seem that some of the Ephesian delegation went ahead of Ignatius to Rome. With me, along with many others, is Crocus—a person very dear to me. 2I trust you have had word about those who went ahead of me from Syria to Rome for God's glory. Tell them I am nearly there. They are all a credit to God and to you; so you should give them every assistance. 3I am writing this to you on the twenty-fourth of August. Farewell, and hold out to the end with the patience of Jesus Christ.107
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