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Education The Faculty Graduate Schools Graduate School Theology and Religious Studies PhD Programme Graduations 2003

06-02-'03 | H.A. Bakker

Ignatius of Antioch’s death wish not caused by an unsound mind

Bishop Ignatius of Antioch wanted to die – not for himself, but as a martyr for his congregation, which suffered from discord and persecution. This is the conclusion drawn by theologian Henk Bakker based on seven letters that Ignatius wrote in the second century AD after he had been captured by Roman soldiers. Ignatius’ death wish, according to Bakker, did not spring from an unsound mind, feelings of guilt or self-interest, as some theologians claim. In Ignatius’ time the interests of the group were paramount. This PhD thesis claims that a comparative study of Ignatius’ death wish and a number of recent suicides may reveal similar ways of thinking. Research into the reasons behind Ignatius’ death wish is difficult as the content of the seven surviving letters can be interpreted in many different ways. Most theologians think that Ignatius had failed in his bishop’s duty of maintaining unity in his church and wanted to do penance for this, whereas others claim that he yearned for the glory of heaven. Bakker, however, claims that this is far from certain. Ignatius, he states, wanted his martyrdom and may even have provoked it. He fits into the tradition of the suffering prophet, a tradition that can be found in the various texts from Old Testament, inter-Testament, New Testament and post-New testament sources that Bakker has studied. God sent prophets who were persecuted and killed. Like Jesus, the prophets did not die for themselves but for the collective that they represented: the Church. The death of a prophet may avert God’s wrath and bring change and renewal to the Church. Ignatius thought that by dying he would follow in Jesus’ footsteps and expected his death to have a positive effect on the developments in the Church. Ignatius’ church at the time was divided with regard to the question of how badly Jesus could suffer and to what extent Christians with a non-Jewish background had to abide by the Jewish traditions. On his way to Rome, the bishop was sent messages that various churches in the Near East were fighting over the same questions. Ignatius wanted to avert the crisis by proving Jesus’ true suffering via his own suffering and death. /ImK

Henk Bakker (Haarlem, 1960) studied theology and religious studies in Leiden, Heverlee, Leuven and Utrecht. He is a minister in the Baptist church in Katwijk aan Zee/Rijnsburg and teaches theology at the Evangelische Theologische Hogeschool in Veenendaal. He conducted his research at his own expense as a buitenpromovendus (external PhD student) at the Faculty of Theology and Religious Studies of the University of Groningen.

Date and time

Thursday 6 February 2003, 4 p.m.

PhD student

H.A. Bakker

PhD thesis

Exemplar domini. Ignatius of Antioch and his martyrological self-concept


Prof. G.P. Luttikhuizen


Theology and Religious Studies


Aula, Academy Building, Broerstraat 5, Groningen

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