Ignatius of Antioch, Theology of

Theological view: Oneness Modalism


Ignatius is called an “Apostolic Father” because he was taught by the original apostles within the first century. Although the historical information about Ignatius’ background is somewhat vague, we can be sure that Ignatius had been taught by some of the original apostles within the first century, as scripture informs us that Peter and Paul had ministered in Antioch (Galatians 2:11-14). Historical sources within early Christian literature also inform us that both Ignatius and Polycarp had been students of the apostle John (O'Connor, John Bonaventure. "St. Ignatius of Antioch." The Catholic Encyclopedia Vol. 7. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 15 Feb. 2016). This is likely the case, as we know that the apostle John had ministered throughout Asia Minor.

In about 190 AD, Clement of Alexandria wrote that the apostle John had travelled “from church to church, appointing bishops.”

“When John the apostle returned to Ephesus from his exile on the island of Patmos, he was invited to numerous churches. He went from church to church, appointing bishops, strengthening the people, and ordaining others who were marked out by the Spirit.” (Clement of Alexandria, Who Is the Rich Man That Shall Be Saved? ch. 42, c. A.D. 190).

Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch in Norther Syria which borders Asia Minor where the apostle John ministered “from church to church.” Although we cannot be certain if Ignatius had been ordained as the bishop of Antioch by Peter, Paul, or John - as there are conflicting accounts in later church history (Theodoret, Dial. 1. p. 33 says “Peter” / The Apostolic Constitution states that “Euodius” was “ordained by Peter” and “Ignatius by Paul” / The "Synaxarium: The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius, and Patriarch of Antioch", Coptic Orthodox Church says “John”), no respectable scholar would argue against Ignatius being ordained by one of the first century apostles and that he had heard their teachings firsthand. It is therefore highly unlikely that Ignatius did not fully understand the theology of the first century apostles, as he sat under their teachings. Ignatius’ close association with the apostles would certainly explain why Ignatius was so highly venerated among the churches of Asia Minor and why his seven letters were copied and spread throughout the world.

Since most historians and scholars agree that Ignatius was martyred under Emperor Trajan within the time frame of 107-113 AD, it is very unlikely that Peter or Paul could have ordained Ignatius the third bishop of Antioch, as Ignatius would have been more than eighty years old by time of his death. If Peter or Paul ordained Ignatius, he would have had to be ordained in the late 50’s or early 60’s before their martyrdom’s (Peter died 64-68 / Paul died 67-68). Therefore I am prone to believe the historical sources pointing to Ignatius being mentored and ordained by the apostle John.

The “Synaxarium: The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius, and Patriarch of Antioch” says,

“On this day, the honorable St. Ignatius, Patriarch of Antioch, was martyred. He was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist and travelled with him to many cities. St. John ordained him Patriarch of Antioch where he preached the life giving Gospel, converted many to the knowledge of God, baptized them, illumined them, and showed them the error of worshipping idols.” (“Synaxarium: The Martyrdom of St. Ignatius, and Patriarch of Antioch", Coptic Orthodox Church Network)

Ignatius of Antioch who lived in the first century and was taught by the apostles, wrote to Polycarp 3:2, "Look for Him who is above time - the Timeless, the Invisible, who for our sake became visible, the Impassible, who became subject to suffering on our account and for our sake endured everything."

If Ignatius had been a disciple of the apostle John, and had travelled with him, he would have been very familiar with John’s theological beliefs. Ignatius would have known the precise meaning of John 1:1 where the apostle John wrote about “the logos” [“expressed thought”] of God in John chapter one being “with God” along with the precise meaning of John 14:24 when Jesus said that “the logos” was not his, but the Father’s. “The logos (word) which you hear IS NOT MINE, but THE FATHER’S.”



The famed Eastern Orthodox church historian, Jaroslav Pelikan, wrote that “Many of the passages in ancient Christian writers sound like Modalistic Monarchianism” (The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition, Vol. 1, Pg. 177). Then in the same paragraph (page 177) Pelikan cited Ignatius of Antioch (40-113 AD) and Melito of Sardid (130-180 AD) to show that their writings sounded “like Modalistic Monarchianism.”

After citing Ignatius of Antioch and Melito of Sardis, Pelikan admitted that “Modalistic Monarchianism … turns out to have been a systematization of popular Christian belief in ancient Christian theology.” (The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition Vol. I. – Page 179)

If Trinitarian thought had been a “popular Christian belief in ancient Christian theology,” we can be certain that Mr. Pelikan would have pointed it out to us. To the contrary, Pelikan wrote that “Modalistic Monarchianism” was the “popular Christian belief” as the most “ancient Christian theology.”

Trinitarian historians such as J.N.D. Kelly and Edmund Fortman have correctly pointed out Ignatius’ tendency to think of the Oneness of God in that “the Son and the Spirit” are “modes of the Father’s self-revelation” (JND Kelly Early Christian Doctrines, p.93). On the other hand, Kelly and Fortman pointed out Ignatius’ use of the titles, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit listed together in two occurrences within his seven authentic epistles. The use of the titles Father, Son, and Holy Spirit listed together is not problematic for Oneness Pentecostals, as this does not necessitate a belief in a three person deity. Matthew 28:19 lists Father, Son, and Holy Spirit together without proving a Trinity of three divine persons. Oneness adherents believe that God the Father has manifested Himself through His own Spirit (God in action – Gen. 1:2-3) and that He was later “manifested in the flesh (1 Tim. 3:16) as “the man Christ Jesus” in order to “save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:18-23). Therefore, rather than believing in three coequally distinct divine persons, Oneness adherents can affirm that Ignatius believed that the Son and the Holy Spirit are manifestations of the Father’s own self-revelation.

Catholic scholar Edmund J. Fortman wrote in his book, The Triune God,

“He (Ignatius) urges the Magnesians to `be eager ... to be confirmed in the commandments of our Lord and His apostles, so that whatever you do may prosper ... in the Son and Father and Spirit' (Magn. 13.2). And in one of his most famous passages he declares: `Like the stones of a temple, cut for a building of God the Father, you have been lifted up to the top by the crane of Jesus Christ, which is the Cross, and the rope of the Holy Spirit'(Eph. 9.1). Thus although there is nothing remotely resembling a doctrine of the Trinity in Ignatius, the triadic pattern of thought is there …” (The Triune God, Edmund J. Fortman, p. 39-40)

Notice that while acknowledging the three-ness “pattern of thought” in Ignatius, Mr. Fortman still acknowledged that “there is nothing remotely resembling a doctrine of the Trinity in Ignatius.” This speaks volumes! To Fortman, Ignatius’ use of the titles Father, Son, and Holy Spirit does not even “remotely” resemble “a doctrine of the Trinity.” If Ignatius was a true Trinitarian, why is there “nothing remotely resembling a doctrine of the Trinity” in his writings?

According to historians Kelly and Loofs, the only alternative view describing Ignatius’ theology is that “the Son and the Spirit” are “merely forms or modes of the Father’s self- revelation (JND Kelly Early Christian Doctrines, p.93),” which was clearly the Modalistic Monarchian view held by the majority of the earliest Christians within the first three hundred years of Christian history (Tertullian, Against Praxeus 3 affirms that the Modalits were “always the majority of the faithful” in the West, while Origen’s Commentary of the Gospel of John Book 1., chapter 23, affirms that the Modalists were “the general run of Christians” in the East).

Trinitarian Church historian, J. N. D. Kelly, accurately described the theology of Ignatius when he wrote,

“… he speaks of God the Father and Jesus Christ, declaring that 'there is one God, Who has revealed Himself through His Son Jesus Christ, Who is His Word emerging from silence (Magnesians 8:2)'. Christ is the Father's 'thought' (gnome – Ephesians 3:2), 'the un-lying mouth by which the Father spoke truly'(Ephesians 3:2; Romans 8:2).” (JND Kelly Early Christian Doctrines, Pg. 92)

Mr. Kelly succinctly described the theology of Ignatius from the following passages written by Ignatius:

“... there is one God who manifested Himself through Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word that proceeded from silence,...” (Magnesians 8:2, J.B. Lightfoot).

The context proves that One God the Father “MANIFESTED HIMSELF through Jesus Christ HIS SON, who is HIS WORD.” According to Ignatius, the Son is the Father’s Word rather than a coequal Word Person. The text does not state that a God the Son manifested Himself as an alleged distinct God the Word Person called the Son, but rather, One “God” the Father “was manifested in the flesh” (1 Tim. 3:16) through “His Word that proceeded from silence.”

“… run in harmony with the mind of God: for Jesus Christ also, our inseparable life, is the mind of the Father …” (Ephesians 3:2, J.B. Lightfoot)

How could Jesus be “the mind of the Father” while being a coequal God Person? Could an alleged God the Son have been mindless, not having His own divine mind? If the Son is “the mind of the Father,” then that makes Him the Father’s Logos (the Father’s “expressed thought”) as an extension of the Father Himself revealed (“the arm of Yahweh” - Isaiah 53:1).

The original word order of John 1:1 says, “In the beginning was the word (logos) and the word (logos) was with God, and God was the word (logos).” The Greek word “logos” simply means the “expressed thought” of someone. According to the apostle John, the “logos” is the “expressed thought” of God which would naturally be the expressed mind or thought of God the Father Himself. Since there are early Christian sources affirming that Ignatius was taught and mentored by the apostle John himself, it is easy to see how Ignatius knew the correct meaning of the logos in John 1:1 as “Jesus Christ” being “the mind of the Father” and the word of the Father Himself (John 14:24 “the logos (word) which you hear IS NOT MINE, BUT THE FATHER’S”).

“… Jesus Christ, the unerring mouth in whom the Father hath spoken [truly].” (Romans 8:2, J.B. Lightfoot)

Jesus said in John 14:24, “The word (logos) which you hear is not mine, but the Fathers who sent me.”

Kelly goes on to mirror German historian Friedrich Loofs assessment of Ignatius as a Modalist (Friedrich Loofs, Professor of Church History at the University of Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, 1858-1928), by writing,

“Ignatius regarded God ‘as an undifferentiated monad in His essential being, the Son and the Spirit being merely forms or modes of the Father’s self-revelation, only distinguishable from Him in the process of revelation.’” (JND Kelly Early Christian Doctrines, p.93)

Myriam Webster succinctly Defines Modalism as, “Three modes or forms of activity (the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) under which God manifests himself.” Monarchianism simply means a belief in “One Ruler.” Monarch comes from “mono”, meaning “One” and “arch”, meaning “Ruler.” Hence, Modalistic Monarchianism is the belief in God as One Monarch [Ruler] who has manifested Himself in three modes of activity.

If Loofs and Kelly’s description of Ignatius’ theology does not sound like Modalism, I don’t know what else does! Loofs and Kelly admitted that Ignatius and the early Christians of Asia Minor (who were taught by the original apostles) believed in God as “an undifferentiated monad (monad = “a single unit or entity”) in His Being” as “the Son and the Spirit” were to them, “merely” “modes of the Father’s self-revelation.” Therefore, even Trinitarian historians describe the theology of Ignatius with vocabulary that fits perfectly with the definition of Modalistic Monarchianism.

Why would Trinitarian scholars state that Ignatius believed that “the Son and the Spirit” were merely “modes of the Father’s self-revelation” if Ignatius was a true Trinitarian? As honest historians Kelly and Loofs had to admit, Ignatius taught that the Son and the Spirit are manifestations of the self-revealing Father.