Q. Who was St. Ignatius of Antioch (feast, October 17)?
A. St. Ignatius (c. A.D. 50–c. 107) was the martyr Bishop of Antioch, Syria, an “Apostolic Father” of the Church — that is, one who received the Christian faith directly from the Apostles. According to ancient tradition, he was taught by St. John, appointed as bishop by St. Peter, and consecrated at the hands of several Apostles. He refused to deny Christ in the persecution of the Church during the reign of the Emperor Trajan. So he was transported from Antioch to Rome and thrown to the wild beasts in the Coliseum there.
The bishop left us seven letters that bear powerful testimony to the Catholic faith as received from Christ through the Apostles. He taught that “the Eucharist is the flesh of our Savior Jesus Christ, flesh which suffered for our sins and which [the] Father, in His goodness, raised up again” (Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6:2–7:1). He notes that the Church of Rome has a preeminence among the churches; emphasizes the authority of the bishop, who is surrounded by priests and deacons in each city; confesses Christ as “God existing in the flesh;” and affirms the Church’s already-established practice of celebrating Sunday (“the Lord’s Day”) as the day of worship rather than Saturday (as in Jewish tradition).
In one letter, Ignatius speaks explicitly of “the Catholic Church.” He uses the term without explanation, implying that his readers are already familiar with it and know what it means. We can reasonably conclude, then, that the designation of the Church as “Catholic” arose in the last quarter of the first century, even before the New Testament was complete.