One of the earliest Christian writings we have after the time of the apostles is that of Ignatius of Antioch who was martyred in the Roman Amphitheater in the year 107 A.D. It is worth noting that Ignatius was the first to use the term “Catholic” when referring to the Christian Church. While many argue that the “Catholic Church” of Ignatius is not that of the Catholic Church of today, his writings give a good description of what he considered the “Catholic Church” to be.

After his arrest in Antioch, Ignatius was led by his persecutors to Rome. On this trip, Ignatius wrote letters to many churches in which described how the Church was governed in this first generation after the apostles, and what they believed.

A primary message of Ignatius in his letters is that the Church exists only in union with the bishops. A clear hierarchy of Bishop/Presbyter/Deacon is described throughout the letters. And this hierarchy is united throughout the congregations within the Roman Empire. Churches and the laity are not free to establish their own doctrines. Most of the letters start by commending the bishop and commending the laity for their obedience to their bishop.

In addition to the doctrine of a Universal Church Hierarchy, several other doctrines are worth noting. In several of the Epistles, Ignatius warns the congregations that they may lose their salvation, even though we can assume these Christians have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior, and have professed themselves as Christians.

In several letters Ignatius discusses the Eucharist as the body and blood of Jesus Christ as well as a true unity in this belief.

And finally, Ignatius also rejects the use of personal interpretation of scripture and even goes so far as to state that what the bishops say must be taken as if Jesus Christ said it.

The excerpts presented below refer to the doctrines described above. With only a couple bracketed clarifications, there has been no attempt to improve the flow. The reader is encouraged to obtain a copy of the letters and read them in their entirety.

Ephesians
Chapter 1  - I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus, a man of inexpressible love, and your bishop in the flesh, whom I pray you by Jesus Christ to love, and that you would all seek to be like him. And blessed be He who has granted unto you, being worthy, to obtain such an excellent bishop.
Chapter 2  - It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who hath glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience "ye may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing," and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, ye may in all respects be sanctified
Chapter 3  - For even Jesus Christ, our inseparable life, is the [manifested] will of the Father; as also bishops, settled everywhere to the utmost bounds [of the earth], are so by the will of Jesus Christ
Chapter 4  - Wherefore it is fitting that ye should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also ye do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. . .
It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus ye may always enjoy communion with God. . .
For if I in this brief space of time, have enjoyed such fellowship with your bishop — I mean not of a mere human, but of a spiritual nature — how much more do I reckon you happy who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity! . . .
He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. For it is written, "God resisteth the proud." Let us be careful, then, not to set ourselves in opposition to the bishop, in order that we may be subject to God.
Chapter 6  - It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. And indeed Onesimus [Bishop of Ephesus] himself greatly commends your good order in God, that ye all live according to the truth, and that no sect has any dwelling-place among you.
Chapter 9  - I have heard of some who have passed on from this to you, having false doctrine, whom ye did not suffer to sow among you, but stopped your ears, that ye might not receive those things which were sown by them,
Chapter 11  - Let us therefore be of a reverent spirit, and fear the long-suffering of God, that it tend not to our condemnation.. . . Apart from Him, let nothing attract you, for whom I bear about these bonds, these spiritual jewels, by which may I arise through your prayers, of which I entreat I may always be a partaker, that I may be found in the lot of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same mind with the apostles through the power of Jesus Christ.
Chapter 13  - For when ye assemble frequently in the same place, the powers of Satan are destroyed, and the destruction at which he aims is prevented by the unity of your faith.
Chapter 14  - The tree is made manifest by its fruit; so those that profess themselves to be Christians shall be recognized by their conduct. For there is not now a demand for mere profession, but that a man be found continuing in the power of faith to the end.
Chapter 16  - Do not err, my brethren. Those that corrupt families shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If, then, those who do this as respects the flesh have suffered death, how much more shall this be the case with any one who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God, for which Jesus Christ was crucified! Such a one becoming defiled in this way, shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him.
Chapter 20  - so that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ
Magnesians
Chapter 3  - Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters do . . .
submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all. It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey your bishop, in honor of Him who has willed us so to do, since he that does not so deceives not by such conduct the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible.
Chapter 4  - It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not steadfastly gathered together according to the commandment.
Chapter 6  - I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ . . .
Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be ye united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality.
Chapter 7  - As therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him, neither by Himself nor by the apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and presbyters. Neither endeavor that anything appear reasonable and proper to yourselves apart; but being come together into the same place, let there be one prayer, one supplication, one mind, one hope, in love and in joy undefiled.
Chapter 8  - Do not be deceived by strange doctrines
Chapter 11  - These things I address to you, my beloved, not that I know any of you to be in such a state; but, as less than any of you, I desire to guard you beforehand, that ye fall not upon the hooks of vain doctrine
Chapter 13  - Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles, that so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God.
Be ye subject to the bishop, and to one another, as Jesus Christ to the Father, according to the flesh, and the apostles to Christ, and to the Father, and to the Spirit; that so there may be a union both fleshly and spiritual.
Philadelphians
Chapter 1  - I salute in the blood of Jesus Christ, who is our eternal and enduring joy, especially if men are in unity with the bishop, the presbyters, and the deacons, who have been appointed according to the mind of Jesus Christ, whom He has established in security, after His own will, and by His Holy Spirit.
Which bishop, I know, obtained the ministry which pertains to the common weal, not of himself, neither by men, nor through vainglory, but by the love of God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ;
Chapter 2  - Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there do ye as sheep follow. For there are many wolves that appear worthy of credit, who, by means of a pernicious pleasure, carry captive those that are running towards God; but in your unity they shall have no place.
Chapter 3  - For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. . .
Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion of Christ.
Chapter 5  - Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to the will of God.
Chapter 6  - But be ye all joined together with an undivided heart.
Chapter 7  - For, when I was among you, I cried, I spoke with a loud voice: Give heed to the bishop, and to the presbytery and deacons. Now, some suspected me of having spoken thus, as knowing beforehand the division caused by some among you. . .
Do nothing without the bishop; keep your bodies as the temples of God; love unity; avoid divisions; be ye followers of Paul, and of the rest of the apostles, even as they also were of Christ.
Chapter 8  - I therefore did what belonged to me, as a man devoted to unity. For where there is division and wrath, God doth not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop.
I trust as to you in the grace of Jesus Christ, who shall free you from every bond. And I exhort you to do nothing out of strife, but according to the doctrine of Christ.
When I heard some saying, If I do not find it in the ancient Scriptures, I will not believe the Gospel; on my saying to them, It is written, they answered me, That remains to be proved. But to me Jesus Christ is in the place of all that is ancient: His cross, and death, and resurrection, and the faith which is by Him, are undefiled monuments of antiquity; by which I desire, through your prayers, to be justified.
Polycarp
Chapter 1  - Have a regard to preserve unity, than which nothing is better.
Chapter 2  - If thou lovest the good disciples, no thanks are due to thee on that account; but rather seek by meekness to subdue the more troublesome. Every kind of wound is not healed with the same plaster.
Chapter 3  - Let not those who seem worthy of credit, but teach strange doctrines, fill thee with apprehension. Stand firm, as does an anvil which is beaten.
Chapter 4  - Let nothing be done without thy consent;
Chapter 6  - Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. . My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God!
Romans
Chapter 7  - I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.
Smyrnaeans
Chapter 4  - I give you these instructions, beloved, assured that ye also hold the same opinions as I do. But I guard you beforehand from those beasts in the shape of men, whom you must not only not receive, but, if it be possible, not even meet with; only you must pray to God for them, if by any means they may be brought to repentance, which, however, will be very difficult.
Chapter 7  - They [Heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. . .
But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils
Chapter 8  - See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop.
Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] 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, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.
Chapter 9  - It is well to reverence both God and the bishop. He who honors the bishop has been honored by God; he who does anything without the knowledge of the bishop, does [in reality] serve the devil.
Trallians
Chapter 2  - For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ . . .
It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ
Chapter 3  - In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the Sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church.
Chapter 4  - I have great knowledge in God, but I restrain myself, lest, I should perish through boasting.
Chapter 6  - I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that ye use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. For those [that are given to this] mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure leading to his own death.
Chapter 7  - Be on your guard therefore against such persons [heretics]. . .
he who does anything apart from the bishop, and presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience.
Chapter 8  - Foresee the snares of the devil
Chapter 13  - Fare ye well in Jesus Christ, while ye continue subject to the bishop, as to the command of God, and in like manner to the presbytery.


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