Today’s the feast day of St. Ignatius of Antioch, one of my favorite Early Church Fathers. He was a student of the Apostle John, and served as Bishop of Antioch, one of the hubs of early Christianity.
He was also one of the Eucharistic martyrs, along with St. Paul. On his way to martyrdom, Paul described himself as being poured as a libation (sacrificial drink offering) for the Lord (2 Timothy 4:6). In comparison, when Ignatius was on the way to martyrdom (to be eaten alive by wild animals), he famously wrote, “I am the wheat of God, and let me be ground by the teeth of the wild beasts, that I may be found the pure bread of Christ.”
This wasn’t a one-off comment. Ignatius is probably the clearest of all of the very early Church Fathers in explaining the Physical Real Presence of Christ in the Eucharist. Describing the Eucharist as “the medicine of immortality,” it was Ignatius who condemned the Gnostics for denying the Real Presence, saying:
They [the Gnostics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour 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. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the Passion has been revealed to us, and the Resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.
With regard to what they pretend as to Ignatius, if they would have it to be of the least importance, let them prove that the apostles enacted laws concerning Lent, and other corruptions. Nothing can be more nauseating, than the absurdities which have been published under the name of Ignatius; and therefore, the conduct of those who provide themselves with such masks for deception is the less entitled to toleration.
Update: Fr. Erlenbush talks about one of Ignatius’ other central messages: the authority of bishops. It dovetails nicely with what I just wrote.