Saturday, January 29, 2011

Saintly Saturday: St. Ignatius the God-Bearer

Today is a secondary feast for St. Ignatius the God-Bearer, and, frankly, one of my heroes. He was the third bishop of Antioch (after Peter and Euodios) and was a disciple of both the Apostles Peter and John. At the beginning of the 2nd century, he was arrested by Roman authorities and transported all the way to Rome to be literally thrown to the lions in the arena.

The Romans figured that by making an example of St. Ignatius, they could discourage the spread of Christianity. Boy, howdy did that backfire. Instead, he got the chance to meet with, encourage and write letters to Christians all over the world. He lived his faith, which stated that if Christ came in the flesh to destroy death by death, if death has no sting, why should we be afraid to be torn apart by wild beasts? This was a guy who could not be cowed.

I say that this is a secondary feast, because today is the celebration of St. Ignatius' relics being returned to Antioch from Rome. Since death is understood to be the unnatural separation of the soul from the body, and the body is an integral part of the whole person, the various remains of a person are still that person. The saints are personally present with us through their relics. As such, ancient Christians would gather at the places where the martyrs were buried in order to pray and do various services.

When it became safe and legal for Christians to build churches, they gravitated towards those places where they naturally gathered — the tombs of the saints. This has resulted in two, now familiar, phenomena. Early churches were named for the saint whose relics they gathered around — which is why churches today are named after saints. The other is the close association of churches and graveyards, where it is not uncommon to see both on the same grounds.

Thus, in the Orthodox tradition, there are feasts which celebrate the removal, recovery and transfer of relics, because these are major events in the relationship we have with the saints.

For those of us who have ever struggled with the Paladin/Cavalier ethos of never retreat, St. Ignatius gives us a backbone for this ethos which justifies the behavior. Being afraid to die (which is at the emotional core of retreat!) is tantamount to a rejection of Christ and willingly excommunicating oneself from the Church. Thus, the next time your paladin is tempted to run away, imagine if he/she is willing to reject God in favor of living merely as a godless fighter.

The tradition of having relics closely associated with church buildings is something that I have used in my own campaign and is an interesting way to add flavor. Not only does it provide a layer of back story to the location, it also provides for an unusual NPC. Given that relics are the personal presence of a saint, those places that have them are places where saints can be personally encountered. They can provide for an interesting source of information and motivation — especially for those of us who like clerics.

However, having read enough hagiographies to know that demons will often appear in the guise of the holy, such encounters could require a good amount of discernment, depending on how much a Referee wants to mess with their players . . .


Alex Osias said...

Discernment is a difficult thing to handle in an RPG. Is that a rule mechanic, or an in-play thing where you drop hints that you hope the player / player character gets based on personal understandings of the metaphysical rules of the world?

FrDave said...

Discernment is a difficult thing to handle in an RPG.
That is because it isn't something you can control. Either your players have it or they don't. Personally, I give my players all the information that they ask for (that they logically could get) and they act upon what they think their characters should do. Sometimes it is to their benefit, sometimes not. This attitude not only allows a player's skill to shine and allows for a lot of player freedom, I have found it to be very rewarding and a lot of fun.