Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-107) against docetism


“I glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who by Him has given you such wisdom. For I have observed that ye are perfected in an immoveable faith, as if ye were nailed to the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, both in the flesh and in the spirit, and are established in love through the blood of Christ, being fully persuaded, in very truth, with respect to our Lord Jesus Christ, that He was the Son of God, ‘the first-born of every creature,’ God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and was of the seed of David according to the flesh, by the Virgin Mary; was baptized by John, that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; that He lived a life of holiness without sin, and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh. From whom we also derive our being, from His divinely-blessed passion, that He might set up a standard for the ages, through His resurrection, to all His holy and faithful [followers], whether among Jews or Gentiles, in the one body of His Church. Now, He suffered all these things for our sakes, that we might be saved. And He suffered truly, even as also He truly raised up Himself, not, as certain unbelievers maintain, that He only seemed to suffer, as they themselves only seem to be [Christians]. And as they believe, so shall it happen unto them, when they shall be divested of their bodies, and be mere evil spirits.”

– Ignatius of Antioch (c. 35-107), To the Smyrnaeans, i-ii.

While we may question Ignatius’ last statement that docetist heretics (those who claimed that Christ was not really a true man of flesh and blood but only seemed or appeared this way) would end up as “evil spirits”, or as it is elsewhere translated, “phantom-like”, we can nonetheless see that the docetist heresy carried with it dire consequences. His main point in the letter to the Smyrnaeans was to counter docetism and defend the true Incarnation of Christ, which was a major issue in the early church.

Ignatius of Antioch (late 1st century – c. 115) on the reality of Christ’s human nature vis-à-vis Docetism


“Turn a deaf ear to any speaker who avoids mention of Jesus Christ who was of David’s line, born of Mary, who was truly born, ate and drank; was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, truly crucified and died while those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth beheld it; who also was truly raised from the dead, the Father having raised him, who in like manner will raise us also who believe in him – his Father, I say, will raise us in Christ Jesus, apart from whom we have not true life.”

– Ignatius of Antioch (late 1st century – c. 115), To the Trallians, ix.

* Ignatius was writing against the early church heresy of docetism – the belief that Jesus only seemed (Greek: dokein, “to seem”; hence “docetism”) to be human, and that his physical body was merely a phantasm. It was very difficult for some to believe that God actually became incarnated as a genuine man, and docetism developed as a result. Early Christian writers wrote strongly against it, and it was unequivocally rejected at the First Council of Nicaea in AD 325.