. . . in the best sense of the word.
And October 17 is his memorial!
St. Ignatius lived from the mid-1st century until the early 2nd century, and he was appointed bishop of Antioch by St. Peter himself, according to Theodoret. He was arrested during a persecution under the Roman emperor Trajan and was taken in chains from Syria to Rome. Along the way he wrote several letters to different Christian communities, seven of which we still have today. When he arrived in Rome, he willingly met a martyr's death, as he was devoured by lions in the Colosseum.
The old Catholic Encyclopedia gives this summary description of St. Ignatius:
"The character of St. Ignatius, as deduced from his own and the extant writings of his contemporaries, is that of a true athlete of Christ. The triple honor of apostle, bishop, and martyr was well merited by this energetic soldier of the Faith. An enthusiastic devotion to duty, a passionate love of sacrifice, and an utter fearlessness in the defense of Christian truth, were his chief characteristics. Zeal for the spiritual well-being of those under his charge breathes from every line of his writings. Ever vigilant lest they be infected by the rampant heresies of those early days; praying for them, that their faith and courage may not be wanting in the hour of persecution; constantly exhorting them to unfailing obedience to their bishops; teaching them all Catholic truth; eagerly sighing for the crown of martyrdom, that his own blood may fructify in added graces in the souls of his flock, he proves himself in every sense a true pastor of souls, the good shepherd that lays down his life for his sheep."
I read through all of St. Ignatius's epistles on Tuesday (they're quite short), and they are just fascinating. Not only do they paint an inspiring picture of a man of great faith in Jesus Christ, who actually begged the Christians at Rome not to prevent his execution; but they also give great perspective on what Christianity looked like during its very early days. (St. Ignatius probably wrote his letters during the first decade of the 2nd century.) Interestingly, St. Ignatius makes explicit and repeated references to many things that some people would have you believe were later "inventions" of the Church: the divinity of Christ, the hierarchical structure of the Church, and Christ's Real Presence in the Eucharist, to name a few.
Most of all, the epistles of St. Ignatius are often a joy to read. Though he is usually plain-spoken and straightforward, his imagery is occasionally beautiful, as in the case of this excerpt from his letter to the Ephesians:
“Wherefore it is fitting that you should run together in accordance with the will of your bishop, which thing also you do. For your justly renowned presbytery, worthy of God, is fitted as exactly to the bishop as the strings are to the harp. Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, you may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that you are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus you may always enjoy communion with God.”