Ignatius of Antioch, Origen, Justin the Martyr | Famous Church Fathers

The second and third centuries were blessed with several Christian luminaries who helped shaped the Church’s early expression of faith. Here we will explore three figures, namely: Ignatius of Antioch, Justin Martyr and Origen of Alexandria.

1)      Ignatius of Antioch:

Ignatius of Antioch was born in c. 50 AD in Syria and was martyred in c. 110 in Rome devoured by wild beasts in a Roman arena. His remains are today preserved in a crypt at St. Peter’s Basilica. Not many details about his life are known and virtually all we know about him comes from the seven epistles he composed on en route to his execution in Rome. He was known for his opposition to Juadizers who taught that it was necessary to adopt Jewish customs and practices to become Christian, and Docetists, a branch of Gnosticism. Scholars speculate that Ignatius may have known John the Apostle. Some of the dominant themes that appear in his writings include the double identity of Christ as God and man, martyrdom as unity with Christ and the unity of the Church gathered around one bishop in the Eucharist.

2)      Justin the Martyr:

Justin Martyr was born in c. 100 in Flavia, Palestine and was martyred in 165 in Rome. After his long quest of finding the true philosophy, Justin became Christian in 130 AD. He continued to appreciate the elements of truth in all philosophy and continued to dress the philosopher’s cloak beyond his conversion. He wrote two apologies in defense of Christianity to Roman rulers of his time. In these two apologies he contrasted Christianity with paganism and philosophies showing the former to be superior. In these apologetic works Justin put forth a cogent summary of Christian theology and life. For example, Justin synopsizes the liturgy in the following quote,

“On the day called Sunday there is a gathering together in the same place of all who live in a given city or rural district. The memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read, as long as time permits. Then when the reader ceases, the president in a discourse admonishes and urges the imitation of these good things. Next we all rise together and send up prayers.

When we cease from our prayer, bread is presented and wine and water. The president in the same manner sends up prayers and thanksgivings, according to his ability, and the people sing out their assent, saying the ‘Amen.’ A distribution and participation of the elements for which thanks have been given is made to each person, and to those who are not present they are sent by the deacons.

Those who have means and are willing, each according to his own choice, gives what he wills, and what is collected is deposited with the president. He provides for the orphans and widows, those who are in need on account of sickness or some other cause, those who are in bonds, strangers who are sojourning, and in a word he becomes the protector of all who are in need.”

Justin was convinced that philosophies of his time included elements of truth which he called “seeds of the Logos.” The fullness of the Logos however is only found in Christ as confessed by the Church. As Justin’s preaching crescendoed, he was arrested for treason and was killed saying, “If we are punished for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ, we hope to be saved.”   

3)      Origen of Alexandria:

Origen was born in 184 AD in Alexandria and died a confessor of the Church after he was arrested and tortured in 253 in Tyre, Lebanon. Origen acted as presider, or dean, of the school of Alexandria. Due to arguments between Origen and the Patriarch of Alexandria, Demetrius, Origen chose to leave Alexandria and was uncanonically ordained a priest in Lebanon. Some believe that the arguments that erupted between Origen and Demetrius were theological in nature while a majority of scholars believe that they were the result of Demetrius’ concern with Origen’s popularity attenuate his authority as Patriarch of Alexandria. Though Origen died in communion with the Church, some of his alleged teachings were posthumously anathematized at the Council of Constantinople II (553 AD). Origen died having left the Church with a prodigious legacy of writings that attain to approximately six thousand works including On First Principles, hundreds of commentaries on scripture and the Hexapla: a document in which he compared different translations and versions of the Old Testament. Years following his death, Basil of Caesarea and Gregory of Nazianzus, Church fathers who relied on Origen in learning Christian philosophy and theology, compiled his spiritual sayings on prayer in what came to be known as the Philokalia (not to be confused with the later recording of sayings of monastic Fathers)