What crime did Ignatius of Antioch commit and who laid the charges?

Ignatius of Antioch was a controversial leader of the church in Antioch (around 100 CE) who ended up in handcuffs on his way to Rome for trial. There is some mystery surrounding why he was arrested and who brought charges against him, however. He never tells us, but there are hints in his own letters to churches in Asia Minor that some of Ignatius’s problems stemmed from tensions not with outsiders but with fellow followers of Jesus at Antioch in Syria.

In his letter to the Christians at Philadelphia, for instance, he refers to reports of peace finally coming to the church at Antioch, thereby alluding to the conflict or schism that had been going on previously (Phld 10.2). This situation of conflict at Antioch has led some scholars (including myself) to suggest the possibility that it was fellow-Christians on the other side of the conflict who brought charges against Ignatius, resulting in his arrest (though they may not have intended his execution). Or, although less likely, it may be that turmoil within the Christian community led to intervention by local authorities and the arrest of Ignatius as one among the “trouble-causers”.

The reason I bring this up now is that, for other purposes (regarding Eusebius’ view of the unity of the earliest church against heresy), we were reading through a passage in Eusebius’ Church History (written in the 300’s CE). There I noticed an incident that provides an analogy for this possible explanation of Ignatius’ arrest: namely, that it was other Christians that took actions which resulted in the arrest of the leader with whom they disagreed. Eusebius cites Hegesippus regarding the reason for the arrest and martyrdom of Symeon, bishop of Jerusalem in the early second century: “Certain of these heretics brought accusation against Symeon, the son of Clopas, on the ground that he was a descendant of David and a Christian; and thus he suffered martyrdom, at the age of one hundred and twenty years, while Trajan was emperor and Atticus governor” (Eccl. Hist. 3.32.3).

Remembering that “heretics” is a label for fellow Christians with whom another Christian has a disagreement, this incident may not be unlike what happened at Syria when Ignatius was arrested, despite his role as a leader (sole bishop, in his view) of the assembly of Jesus-followers there. It may be that other Christians who disagreed with his monarchical method of leadership were involved in some way.

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