May I enjoy the wild beasts that are prepared for me, and I pray that they may be found eager to rush upon me,” writes St. Ignatius, amazingly eager to die for Christ. The third bishop of Antioch had been arrested and was being taken to Rome to die. “When I suffer,” he continues, “I shall be the freedman of Jesus Christ, and shall rise again emancipated in Him.”
“I know what is for my benefit. Now I begin to be a disciple. And let no one envy me that I should attain to Jesus Christ. Let me be put to fire and the cross; attacked by crowds of wild beasts; let me be torn and my bones broken and dislocated; let my members be cut off and my whole body be shattered; and let all the devil’s dreadful torments: only let me attain to Jesus Christ.”
We have no record of his death, other than a very dubious Martyrdom of Ignatius. In his history of the Church, Eusebius reports that tradition says that Ignatius was sent to Rome and there “he was cast as food to wild beasts.” Ignatius himself expects that end. We have no record of his death, but we do have his reflection on dying in his letter to the Christians in Rome. He worries not that he will die. He worries that they will try to stop his death and begs them not to.
Better for Me to Die
Ignatius continues contrasting life in the world with death into Christ. “All the pleasures of the world, and all the kingdoms of this earth, shall profit me nothing. It is better for me to die in behalf of Jesus Christ, than to reign over all the ends of the earth. ‘For what shall a man be profited, if he gain the whole world, but lose his own soul?’ Him I seek, who died for us: Him I desire, who rose again for our sake. This is the gain which is laid up for me. ”
He asks the Roman Christians not to save his life, but with a twist in the way he says it. “Pardon me, brethren: do not hinder me from living, do not wish to keep me in a state of death. And while I desire to belong to God, do not ye give me over to the world. . . . The prince of this world would like to carry me away, and corrupt my disposition towards God. Let none of you help him. Be on my side, that is, on God’s.”
This is a subject he keeps returning to. “For though I am alive while I write to you, yet I am eager to die. My love has been crucified, and there is no fire in me desiring to be fed, but there is within me a water that lives and speaks. It says to me inwardly, ‘Come to the Father.’ I have no delight in corruptible food, nor in the pleasures of this life. 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. I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.”
For other stories of the saint’s deaths, go here. The stories include the martyrdom of his fellow bishop, St. Polycarp.
The quotes have slightly paraphrased from the Victorian era translation by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. The picture is taken from the painting in the Villa Borghese in Rome.