No Compromise

Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world”

The early Church fathers were a tough and uncompromising lot. They had to be. Sharp-tongued St. Jerome wouldn’t have done well in the diplomatic service, or even made it past the interview; he bitterly attacked heretical enemies and wasn’t always very nice to his friends. St. Ignatius of Antioch was a contemporary of both Polycarp and Clement of Rome. All three had had direct contact with the Apostles and are therefore in that second “generation” of the apostolic succession that unites us all in the communion of saints. All three were martyrs, too, which ought not to surprise us given the circumstances of the time. Two of them, at least, probably met their deaths in the reign of Marcus Aurelius, who is generally thought of as a “good” emperor. There’s a lesson in that somewhere!

That was a time when men and women of principle had no patience with compromise. Ignatius of Antioch wrote, “Our task is not to produce persuasive propaganda; Christianity shows its greatness when it is hated by the world.”

Nowadays we would take a more nuanced approach, shying away from the confrontational, even deliberately provocative, manners of the first Christians. Ignatius begged his followers not to obstruct his martyrdom. We, on the other hand, strive to persuade and to teach. But Ignatius and his contemporaries remind us that example is much more important, even if it attracts loathing.

 

David Daintree was President of Campion College (Australia’s only Catholic liberal arts college) from 2008 to 2012. In 2013 he founded and is now Director of the Christopher Dawson Centre for Cultural Studies, under the patronage of the Archbishop of Hobart.

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