Land of Persians, Spartans, and Alexander the Great

Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace. For the divinest prophets lived according to Christ Jesus. On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by His grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence, and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him.
Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians

Historical Spotlights

Soldiers of the great Agamemnon, Thessalian Magnetes founded Magnesia ad Maeandrum, the inland city of the Ionian league. Led by the ancient oracle at Delphia, the Magnetes went to Crete to recruit settlers for a plot of land situated on a small tributary of the Maeander (Büyükmenderes) River about 12 miles southeast of Ephesus. A revered city, Magnesia had both Priene and Miletus under its governance. 

We know the city’s founding precedes the seventh century B.C.E. because it was sacked for the first time in 657 B.C.E. and restored shortly thereafter with assistance from its nearby rival Ephesus. Magnesia then changed hands every one hundred years among Persians, Spartans, and Persians again; Alexander the Great and his successors, the Pergamenes; and finally the Romans, who helped Magnesia flourish. Rome controlled the city during the time of Ignatius’ letters and granted the Magnesians independence when they stood up with the Romans against a rebellion.

‍Having been informed of your godly love, so well-ordered, I rejoiced greatly, and determined to commune with you in the faith of Jesus Christ. For as one who has been thought worthy of a divine and desirable name, in those bonds which I bear about, I commend the Churches, in which I pray for a union both of the flesh and spirit of Jesus Christ, “who is the Saviour of all men, but specially of them that believe”; by whose blood ye were redeemed; by whom ye have known God, or rather have been known by Him; in whom enduring, ye shall escape all the assaults of this world: for “He is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that which ye are able.

Ignatius, Letter to the Magnesians (Reason of Writing the Epistle)

Magnesia in Christian History

The origin of the church in Magnesia ad Maeandrum likely began at the Apostle Paul’s School of Tyrannus in Ephesus. There he trained and sent out evangelists and church planters throughout the Aegean Region, most notably to the Lycus River Valley, but we can assume he also sent them to nearby Magnesia. Around 108 A.D., Ignatius called upon church leaders to come to him as delegates representing Christians from Magnesia. They met him in Smyrna as did delegates he summoned from nearby Ephesus (located only 15 miles away). 

Ignatius specifically requested the young Bishop of Magnesia, Damas, whom he was trying to support and encourage. In his letter Ignatius instructs the believers not to presume upon the youthfulness of their bishop, and he urges them to pursue unity and subject themselves to the church offices. He also warns them of the theological errors of Judaizers. There must have been a significant Jewish population in the city because Ignatius spends much ink warning them against practicing Jewish beliefs and falling prey to the heresy of the Judaizers.

Magnesian bishop Eusebius attended the third ecumenical council at Ephesus. Emperor of the eastern Roman empire, Theodosius II convened the council in 431 A.D. at the request of Nestorius, who was declared a heretic by the council of bishops. Nestorius pled his case to 200-250 bishops present. The outcome is known as the Nestorian Schism because churches supportive of Nestorius (primarily in Persia) were severed from the rest of Christianity. The council upheld the Nicene Creed, and the “churches of the east” remain outliers to this day on the doctrine of the Trinity.

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