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Anastasios D. Salapatas

The Diaconate in Ignatious' Epistles

From: A. Salapatas, "A short essay on Early Church History", Theologia, vol. 70, issue 2-3, Athens 1999 (pp. 513-520).

I. The purpose of the various diaconal references in Ignatius’ epistles

It is true that the Epistles of Ignatius are full of references to the diakonos and to the diaconal function in the early Church. But it is also true that those references do not constitute the central theme in any of the Epistles.

The diaconal theme appears in these texts as part of the greater discussion concerning the ecclesiastical authority and the threefold ministry. Diaconal references may be found in all the Epistles except that addressed to the Romans.

For the first time in the history of the Church the three ranks of priesthood are clearly mentioned together(8), in exactly the same order as we know them today. Diakonos is placed on the lowest level, or on the first rank of the Christian ministry, while presbyteros is on the second and the episkopos on the third and obviously the highest.

Ignatius is very clear on this matter of the Church ministry. He makes a great contribution to Ecclesiastical History by:

1. offering the names of the titles of the three officers (diakonos, presbyteros, episkopos)(9),

2. presenting their functions, liturgical and pastoral, as they are found in his time(10),

3. making the point that they are different in function and distinct among themselves(11),

4. interpreting the threefold Church ministry as the earthly and visible ministry which resembles the heavenly prototype(12), and

5. emphasising the idea of unity in the Church, in accordance with the unity experienced within the Holy Trinity(13).

Ignatius firmly believes that deacons, presbyters and bishops are “appointed according to the will of Jesus Christ”(14). He supports the view that deacons, presbyters and bishops are definitely a separate category of people, called to minister to the faithful. With his “prophetic voice”(15) Ignatius calls the lay people to pay attention(16) to them.

Therefore it becomes quite clear that the diaconal references in Ignatius are obviously offered as part of his theory of the ecclesiastical authority and the Christian ministry.


8. A.D. Salapatas, “The Diaconate in the Eastern Orthodox Church” in Diaconal Ministry, Past, Present & Future, edited by Peyton G. Craighill, Rhode Island 1994, p.41.

9. Trall. 3,1; Trall.7,2; Smyrn. 8,1; Polyc. 6,1.

10. Ιακ. Πηλίλη, Η Χριστιανική Ιερωσύνη, Athens 1988, pp. 289-294.

11. Μεθ. Φούγια, Γένεσις και Ανάπτυξις της Χριστιανικής Ιερωσύνης, Athens 1972, p.79.

12. Magn. 6,1; Trall. 2 & 3,1. J. Pelilis, op. cit., p. 265.

13. According to Hans von Campenhausen, “Just as Christ was united to his Father, so must Christians be subject to their presbyters and deacons and all of them to the bishop...”. (Ecclesiastical Authority and Spiritual Power in the Church of the First Three Centuries London, p. 100).

14. J.R. Wright , “The Emergence of the Diaconate”, in Liturgy (Journal of the Liturgical Conference), vol.2, No 4, Washington D.C. 1982, p.20.

15. L. Goppelt , Apostolic and Post-Apostolic Times, London 1970, p. 193.

16. Philad. 7,1.

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