Ignatius of Antioch (dc 117) against Sola Scriptura


Protestant apologists, in addressing the subject of sola Scriptura and whether the Fathers of the Church believed it or not, very often argue as follows:

Father X of the Church believes in sola Scriptura, because, look, see! : he praise Scripture in this place and that, and another over there, and says that Christians should read the Bible to learn theology! He therefore clearly agrees with the formal Protestant principle of sola Scriptura! Who could doubt this?

But it is fallacious and illogical through and through. The proper approach to this and what an Church father believed is:

Sola Scriptura (as classically defined by Protestants) means that Scripture is the the only ultimate infallible standard and source and standard (rule of faith) for Christian doctrine and faith. It follows from this that neither the Church, nor the Ecumenical Councils, nor the Popes, nor the sacred apostolic tradition, nor the apostolic succession are infallible sources of authority. They are generally respected by thoughtful Protestants and regarded as authoritative to some extent, but not infallibly so.

We must therefore seek whether the Father of the Church X think scripture is formally sufficient for authority (not just materially sufficient, which we agree with) without the necessary help from tradition and the Church, or if it does not, as stated in other statements. A thinker’s statements about Christian authority must be evaluated in the context of all his thinking in this area, rather than pulling out pieces of it and then claiming that they “prove” something that they do not prove. Actually not at all.

In other words, even if we find a quote where a father seems (at first glance) state something that looks like sola Scriptura (since he writes on the Bible without immediate reference to Church or tradition), we must examine what he thinks of the (obligatory?, infallible?) authority of tradition, of the Church (y including ecumenical councils) and apostolic succession, because the question at hand (what is the rule of faith?) has to do with the relationship of all these things (all except Scripture being non-infallible, according to sola Scriptura).

For this reason, their beliefs regarding all of these other elements have to examine, in order to fully understand how they view their relationship to each other, and whether or not they adhere to sola Scriptura. as a rule of faith. If they hold to the infallible authority of anything other than Scripture, they do not not believe in sola Scriptura.

The Protestant always places the Bible above Church and tradition, and denies that the latter two can be infallible. Catholics and Orthodox believe in a three-legged stool, where, practically, Church and tradition have equal authority with Scripture, as they are the necessary framework and grid of interpretation through which Scripture can be correctly interpreted in an orthodox sense.

With this in mind, we proceed to determine whether Saint Ignatius of Antioch believed in sola Scriptura, or the rule of Catholic faith. The material below is from Philip Schaff’s 38-volume collection on Church Fathers).


The Church / The Bishops

. . . being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you can be sanctified in every way. (Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 2)

[I]f the prayer of one or two possesses Matthew 18:19 such power, how much more that of the bishop and the the whole church! Him, therefore, who does not assemble with the Church, at even by that manifested his pride, and condemned himself. Because it is written, God resists the proud. Let us therefore be careful not to oppose the bishop, in order to be subject to God. (Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 5)

[W]i should watch the bishop even oneas we would on the Lord himself. (Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 6)

[O]beyond the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided spirit . . . (Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 20)

It is therefore appropriate not only to call ourselves Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such people seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, since they are not systematically collected according to the command. (Letter to the Magnesians, ch. 4)

I urge you to study to do all things with divine harmony, while your bishop presides in place of God,. . . be united to your bishop, and those who preside over you,. . . (Letter to the Magnesians, ch. 6)

. . . nor do anything without the bishop and the priests. (Letter to the Magnesians, ch. seven)

To be subject to the bishop, and to each other, like Jesus Christ to the Father,. . . (Letter to the Magnesians, ch. 13)

Because, since you are submitted to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you seem to me to live not like men do, but according to Jesus Christ,. . . without the bishop you shouldn’t do anything,. . . (Epistle to the Tralliens, ch. 2)

[L]and all revere deacons as a meeting of Jesus Christ, and the bishop in Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and priests as sanhedrim of God, and the assembly of the apostles. Apart from these there is no Church. (Epistle to the Tralliens, ch. 3)

[T]this will be the case if you are not bloated, and continue in intimate union with Jesus Christ our God, and the bishop,. . . the one who does anything apart from the bishop and the presbytery, and deacons, such a man is not pure in his conscience. (Epistle to the Tralliens, ch. seven)

Be well in Christ Jesus while you to continue submissive to the bishop, as to the order [of God], and in the same way at the presbytery. (Epistle to the Tralliens, ch. 13)

Therefore, as children of light and of truth, flee from division and bad doctrines; corn where the shepherd is, follow like sheep. (Letter to the Philadelphians, ch. 2)

As far as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. . . . If someone follows the one who makes a schism in the Church, he will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Letter to the Philadelphians, ch. 3)

Pay attention to the bishop, and the presbytery. . . But the Spirit proclaimed these words: Do nothing without the bishop; . . . (Letter to the Philadelphians, ch. seven)

See you all follow the bishop, as Jesus Christ does the Father, and . . . revere deacons as the institution of God. Let no one do anything related to the Church without the bishop. . . . Wherever the bishop will appear, let the multitude [of the people] be too; Even like, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is Catholic Church. (Epistle to the Smyrna, ch. 8)

It is good to revere both God and the bishop. Whoever honors the bishop has been honored by God; whoever does something without the bishop’s knowledge, does [in reality] serve the devil. (Epistle to the Smyrna, ch. 9)

Beware of the bishop, so that God also keeps you. (Epistle to Polycarp, ch. 6)

Sacred tradition

Onesimus himself praises your good order in God, that all of you live by the truth, and that no sect has a home among you. (Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 6)

Apostolic succession

. . . that I may be found in the fate of the Christians of Ephesus, who have always been of the same opinion with the apostles by the power of Jesus Christ. (Letter to the Ephesians, ch. 11)

[Y]our presbyters [preside] instead of the assembly of the apostles . . . (Letter to the Magnesians, ch. 6)

So study for be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the apostles,. . . (Letter to the Magnesians, ch. 13)

[Y]us. . . should also be submitted to the presbytery, as for the apostle of Jesus Christ,. . . (Epistle to the Tralliens, ch. 2)

[L]and any reverence. . . priests as. . . assembly of the apostles. (Epistle to the Tralliens, ch. 3)

[T]this will be the case if you are not bloated, and continue in intimate union with . . . the acts of the apostles. (Epistle to the Tralliens, ch. seven)

See you all to follow . . . the presbytery like the apostles; . . . (Epistle to the Smyrna, ch. 8)


It is fitting, O Polycarp, most blessed in God, to gather a very solemn council, and to elect the one whom you love very much and whom you know to be a man of activity, who can be designated as the messenger of God; and to grant him this honor so that he can go to Syria and glorify your love always active to the praise of Christ. (Epistle to Polycarp, ch. seven)


Related reading

For many safer sola Scriptura: see my Bible, Tradition, Canon and “Sola Scriptura” web page.

For the documentation of many more Church Fathers who rejected sola Scriptura, see the “Bible” section of my Church Fathers webpage.


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Photo credit: Dosseman (5-19-18). The Decumanus Maximus (the main street facing east-west), in Antioch (in present-day Turkey). [Wikimedia Commons / Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license]


Summary: Saint Ignatius of Antioch (dc 117) did not believe in sola Scriptura as a rule of faith, and held to the sublime authority of the Church, of the bishops and of the apostolic succession.


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