See that you all follow the Bishop, as Christ does the Father, and the presbyterium as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as a command of God. Let no one do anything connected with the Church without the Bishop. Let that be considered a certain [βεβαια, “valid”] eucharist which is under the leadership of the Bishop, or one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the Bishop appears, there let the multitude of the people be; just as where Christ Jesus is, there is the catholic church [ἡ καθολικὴ ἐκκλησία]. It is not permitted with the Bishop either to baptize or to celebrate an agape; but whatever he shall approve of, that is well-pleasing alos to God, so that everything that is done may be assured and certain [βέβαιον].
—St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 111 AD, Letter to the Smyrneans 8
For since I was able to establish such an intimacy with your bishop so quickly (an intimacy that was not human but spiritual), how much more do I consider you fortunate, you who are mingled together with him as the church is mingled with Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ with the Father, so that ll things may be symphonic in unison. Let no one be deceived. Anyone who is not inside the sanctuary [θυσιαστήριον, “altar,” “place of sacrifice”] lacks the bread of God. For if the prayer of one or two persons has such power, how much more will that of the bishop and the entire church? Therefore the one who does not join the congregation [“come together to the same place,” ἐρχόμενος ἐπὶ τὸ ἀυτὸ] is already haughty and passes judgement on himself. For it is written, “God opposes the haughty.” And so we should be eager not to oppose the bishop, that we may be subject to God.
—St. Ignatius of Antioch, c. 111 AD, Letter to the Ephesians 5
At the center all Ignatius’ thinking, lies the Divine Eucharist. Coming together, epi to auto, is the usual expression to indicate the Divine Eucharist, and here it is quite clear that this is what it means. The Divine Eucharist is Ignatius’s passion. He advises the faithful to come together frequently to celebrate it. This insistence on Ignatius’s part seems to stem from his ecclesiology. The Divine Eucharist is the body of Christ, the very flesh of the historical Christ which suf¬fered and is risen. The unity of the Church should be not only spiritual, he says, but also physical. Through this physical unity which is realized in the Divine Eucharist, the local Church takes on historical substance. This is also why he identifies the local Church with the gathering for the Divine Eucharist, and not simply the local Church, but the “Church of God”: the deacons, being ministers of the Divine Eucharist, are ministers of the Church of God.
Both the local Church and the “Church of God” are expressed historically (in space and time) through the Divine Eucharist. We find ourselves confronted once again with the Pauline ecclesiology. The Church is the body of Christ. Ignatius is quite clear on the justification for this consciousness which he interprets fully: the Church is the body of Christ because the body of Christ is the historical Christ Himself and the historical Christ is the flesh of the Divine Eucharist. The local Church, then, is the whole Church for no other reason than because the whole historical Christ is made incarnate within her through the Divine Eucharist. Precisely because of the Divine Eucharist, the local Church can be regarded as the Church of God, the whole Church, and can be addressed as such through the epithets that we have seen. Because through the unity of the body of Christ, she “partakes of God.” This leads Ignatius to stress another element in this passage.
The Divine Eucharist is closely bound up with the Bishop as he is in turn with “the whole Church.” These elements are so deeply bound up with one another that they are not clearly distinguished in Ignatius’ thought. Thus, when he is talking about the Altar, he suddenly introduces the prayer of the Bishop and of the whole Church. And when he is saying that one who does not participate in the Divine Eucharist is showing pride, he immediately adds that in order to avoid pride we should be subject to the Bishop. He indicates the same connection of the Altar with the Bishop more clearly when he says that anyone who does something “apart from the Bishop and the presbyters and the deacons” is the same as one who is outside the Altar. This most profound bond between Bishop and Eucharist in Ignatius’ thought has as a consequence another, more striking identification: the Bishop is identified with the entire local Church. Thus, we reach the classic passage “where the Bishop is, there is the multitude . . . ” Judging from the whole of Ignatius’ theology, it appears that this passage does not have a merely hortatory sense—or if it has such a sense, it.is no more than an expression and affirmation of a reality which is understood ontologically. Ignatius does not hesitate to say that the whole multitude, i.e. the whole local Church, appears before him in the person of the Bishop. The “whole multitude” of the Church of Ephesus is present for Ignatius in the person of her Bishop Onesimus. This incarnation of the local Church in the Bishop – the result, as we have seen, of the connection between the Bishop and the Divine Eucharist – leads to further consequences for the position of the Bishop in the Church. In these consequences, the characteristics of the “catholicization” of the Church find their completion.
“Where the Bishop is, there let the multitude be,” because according to Ignatius the Bishop incarnates the multitude, the local Church. But the local Church is a full, complete entity, the whole Church of God, because the whole Christ is to be found in her and makes her a unity, the one body of Christ, through the Divine Eucharist. In consequence, Ignatius does not hesitate to go on to link the Bishop with Jesus Christ. The Lord is called “Bishop.” Whatever happens to the visible Bishop of the Church is transmitted to the invisible Bishop, Jesus Christ. The Bishop forms a “type” and icon of Christ or of the Father Himself, an icon and type not in a symbolic but in a real sense: “It is fitting to obey in no hypocritical fashion; since one is not deceiving this visible Bishop, but seeking to mock the One who is invisible.” This realist view of the relationship between the Bishop and the Lord allows Ignatius easily to interchange these two persons: when he is being led to martyrdom and is away from Antioch, the Lord is the Bishop of that local Church. Two different worlds are thus created: God with the Bishop, and those who are apart from the Bishop with the devi1. Unity around the Bishop is a unity around God and in Gοd. “For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ, these are with the Bishop.” In the same way, union with the Bishop constitutes union with Christ, and vice versa.
What we have said already sets out the essence of the “catholicization” of the Church. The further consequences of these statements are drawn out by Ignatius himself. The unity of the Church is not simply eucharistic, but because of the relation of the Bishop to the Eucharist it becomes hierarchical as well. The Church of the Philadelphians realizes her “oneness” when she is “with the Bishop and the presbyters and deacons who are with him.” Not only that, but the community cannot even be called a church without the clergy, i.e. the Bishop, presbyters and deacons: “without these, it cannot be called a church.”
The further consequences now follow naturally: whatever is accomplished in the Church is valid only when it is approved by the Bishop. The Bishop is not from men or through men, but from Christ. And unity around the Bishop is not the will of man, but the “voice of God.” The Bishop, in other words, is appointed as such by divine law, and unity around him is recognized as the will not of man but of God. Thus the “catholicization” of the Church leads to the sequence: will (gnome) of the Father – will of Jesus Christ – will of the Bishop. The Catholic Church, as the whole Church, is such by virtue of the fact that she has the whole Christ. But the local Church too is likewise catholic, because she has the whole Christ through the Divine Eucharist. The Bishop as being directly connected with the Divine Eucharist represents the local Church in the same way as the whole Christ represents the generic (katholou) or catholic Church. But given that both the whole Christ and the Bishop are connected with the Church in the Divine Eucharist, the kath’ olou or Catholic Church is to be found where the Divine Eucharist and the Bishop are. Thus the Bishop, as it has been most aptly observed, comes to be “the center of the visible and also the true Church,” and the local Church comes to be the “Catholic Church” herself.
Thus, neither universal consciousness nor polemic against heresies can explain the origin of the “Catholic Church.” Its presence in history follows the line which Ignatius presents to us in such a remarkably concise and comprehensive way, and which, curiously, has been overlooked by scholarly research: one Church, one Eucharist, one flesh and one cup, one altar, one Bishop with the presbyterium and the deacons. Thus, in conclusion, the “Catholic Church” is identified according to Ignatius with the whole Christ, and the whole Christ is to be found and is revealed in the most tangible way in the eucharistic synaxis and communion of all the members of each Church under the leadership of the Bishop. In consequence, the local Church is catholic not because of her relationship with the “universal” Church, but because of the presence within her of the whole Christ in the one Eucharist under the leadership of the Bishop. In this way, each local Church having its own Bishop is catholic per se; that is to say, it is the concrete form in space and time of the whole body of Christ, of the “generic” (kath’ olou) Church.