Brandon's Notepad

December 29, 2017

Ignatius’ Epistle To Polycarp

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Home > My Research > Christianity > Early Church Fathers > Ignatius’ Epistle To Polycarp


Synopsis

Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr of the early Church, wrote to Polycarp, the Bishop of Smyrna, wherein he imparts wisdom regarding behavior proper for a bishop, married Christian couples, and Christian communities in general.

Authorship

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, while imprisoned and in transport to Rome in about the year A.D. 108, wrote letters to several of the ancient Churches. He also wrote a personal letter to his friend and fellow bishop, Polycarp of Smyrna. Full authenticity of the contents of these letters is not generally accepted; however, the most egregious embellishments can be identified and removed using copies of the letters from different ages and sources. The original letters and contemporary copies have been lost to antiquity.

Resources

Two copies of this letter were used to produce the summary below. The English version provided the bulk of the material, and the Greek was used to gain clarity on specific points.

English: New Advent
Greek: TextExcavation

Also, the language search tools found at the Perseus Digital Library (Tufts University) came in quite handy for understanding the Greek.

Summary

The format of this letter is commensurate with Ignatius’ other epistles, though not identical. After the salutation and customary self-humiliation and praise of the recipient, The main topics of discourse are presented, of which this letter contains three. The first is a series of exhortations made to Polycarp, providing advice, counsel, and encouragement; this occupies the space of three-and-a-half chapters. After that, one chapter is dedicated to married couples within the Christian community and another to the duties of Christians in general. Finally, some specific instructions are given for Polycarp to carry out.

  • Salutation
  • Commendation
  • Exhortations
    • Keep a steady course
    • Maintain position in both flesh and spirit
    • Preserve unity
    • Model Godly forbearance
    • Lovingly support the faithful
    • Pray without ceasing (1 Thess 5:17)
    • Always seek understanding (continuous learning?)
    • Be watchful
    • Communicate
    • Bear the infirmities of all
    • Don’t just love good disciples, but humbly subdue the troublesome
    • There is no one solution to all problems
    • Big problems can be mitigated with consistent care
    • Always be “wise as a serpent, and harmless as a dove.” (Matt 10:16)
    • As flesh and spirit, you can deal with all evil: that is plainly visible and that which can only be revealed by God
    • Navigate well, that you and yours may reach God
    • Be sober, for eternal life is at stake
    • In all things may my soul be for yours, and my bonds also, which you have loved.
    • Don’t fear teachers of false doctrine (1 Tim 1:3, 1 Tim 6:3)
    • Stand firm despite relentless opposition
    • Bear all things…as you want God to bear with you
    • Grow in zeal
    • Weigh carefully the times
    • Look for Him who became like us and suffered for our sake
    • Protect widows from neglect
    • Permit nothing to be done without your consent just as you seek the approval of God in all you do
    • Assemble frequently (Mass?)
    • It is better that slaves submit out of glory of God than to be freed and become slaves to their own desires (c.f. 1 Tim 6:1-2)
  • Duties of Husbands and Wives
    • Flee from abuse and don’t remain silent about it
    • Women should be satisfied with their husbands out of love of the Lord (Eph 5:22)
    • Men should love their wives as Christ loves the Church (Eph 5:25)
    • If one can remain unmarried and pure without boasting or conceit, let him do so to the honor of God
    • Those who do marry should do so with the approval of the bishop, and thus according to God’s will, not for lust
  • Duties of the Christian Flock
    • Remain submissive to the bishop, presbyters, and deacons
    • Work together as servants of God
    • Please God, your general and employer, and do not desert him
    • Let your baptism, faith, love, and patience endure and protect you
    • Work, that you may be rewarded according to the value of your deeds
    • Be patient with one another as God is with you (Matt 6:19-21)
  • Instructions
    • Elect by solumn council a new bishop for Antioch
    • Correspond with adjacent Churches on my behalf
  • Commendations of Others
  • Farewell

Observations

Papal Primacy. In his salutatory remarks, Ignatius addresses Polycarp as one “who has, as his own bishop, God the Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ”. Historically, there has been much debate about Ignatius’ understanding of the Church in terms of structure, his vision of the local bishop as the spiritual leader over presbyters (as opposed to a Congregationalist view), and whether or not he recognized (even the notion of) the primacy of the Bishop of Rome. One might interpret this phrase to mean that he did not, in fact, recognize the Roman Bishop as anything but perhaps a distant peer, and that a bishop must give an account to no man but answer only to God himself. In my assessment, this conclusion is both over-reaching and anachronistic. The primacy of the Pope is not an issue being addressed in the letter at all, and Ignatius’ statement should not be taken as a testamony as such. This debate belongs to a different era (beit AD 381, 484, 654, 736, 867, 1054, 1281, 1472, or 1517).

Upon This Rock. At the beginning of Chapter 1, Ignatius claims to have “obtained good proof that [Polycarp’s] mind is fixed in God as upon an immoveable rock (πετραν)”. This phrase calls to mind the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:18, I tell you that you are Peter (Πέτρος) and upon this rock (πέτρα) I will build my Church.. No, Ignatius is (most likely) not alluding to Peter or the Papacy, but it is interesting that he describes Polycarp’s understanding of the faith in the same manner.

Subjunctive Mood. In the line from Chapter 1, “I entreat you…exhort all that they may be saved”, the verb for “saved” (σωζωνται) is in the subjunctive mood.

Sports Medicine. Like Paul, Ignatius likens the Christians to athletes (thrice in this letter alone) and to life as a race to be run with eternal salvation as the prize. He also notes that athletes are often injured, yet they still strive to win, that there is no one cure for all types of wounds, and that as athletes we must remain sober and ready.

Holy Battle Gear. Also like Paul (Eph 6:10-18), Ignatius speaks of putting on the armor of God (Chapter 6), complete with helmet (faith) and spear (love).

Good Works. Chapter 6 includes a line that states, “Let your works be the charge assigned to you, that you may receive a worthy recompense.” I found the Greek (τα δεποσιτα υμων τα εργα υμων, ινα τα ακκεπτα υμων αξια κομισησθε) and looked up each word, eventually coming up with “Where your work is stored, there your unbounded worth will be taken care of.” This sounded too similar to Matthew 6:19-21 to dismiss (to paraphrase: don’t store treasure on earth where it can perish, but in Heaven where it cannot be destroyed, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also). I settled on the amalgamation of “Work, that you may be rewarded according to the value of your deeds” for the summary above and added the reference to Matthew.


December 28, 2017

Ignatius’ Roman Epistle

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Synopsis

Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr of the early Church, wrote to the Church in Rome, imploring that the faithful there not prevent his martyrdom.

Authorship

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, while imprisoned and in transport to Rome in about the year A.D. 108, wrote letters to several of the ancient Churches including the Christians in Rome. Full authenticity of the contents of these letters is not generally accepted; however, the most egregious embellishments can be identified and removed using copies of the letters from different ages and sources. The original letters and contemporary copies have been lost to antiquity.

Summary

Unlike his letters to the Churches in Asia, this letter is short and bears a simple message: don’t stop the Romans from killing me. It is clear from his salutatory introduction that he holds the Roman Christians in high esteem. He also suspects that they, out of brotherly love, will do anything they can to prevent his execution. Ignatius wishes to see the Lord and sees martyrdom as a direct path to this end.

Frankly, I find it difficult to glean much from this letter that could not be understood from reading the text itself. There is no hint of dogmatic beginnings or compelling exegesis to perform. Again the message is simple. The language, however, suffers from the disease of elegance, meaning that we modern readers have little patience for the flowery language employed, no matter how close to the original Greek the translator was able to render the English.

So, I feel that the best service I can provide at the moment is to do as I have done with other such writings and provide a more succinct rendition that may appeal to the current generation:

To the wonderful Christians in Rome,

[1]My prayers have been answered! I’m coming to see you as a prisoner and, God willing, to be executed in Rome. You who live there have ample opportunity to be martyred, but I had to go out of my way to make this happen. I’m just afraid that you, out of love, will prevent this from happening. [2]I may never have this opportunity again, so please, the best thing you could do for me is to just not say anything to anyone and let it happen. [3]Please do pray for an increase in my strength and resolve though. I would much rather be considered a true Christian after my death than to claim to be one and fall short. [4]Allow me to be eaten by the beasts, that my body be completely devoured so that no one must worry with my remains. [5]I hope the beasts attack quickly, and if they don’t attack me at all, I will provoke them! Bring it on! [6]Nothing in the world can profit me, for the world is death and Jesus is Life, and [7]I do not desire worldly food, but only the bread and drink of God, which is the flesh and blood of Christ. [8]I no longer want to live as man lives; pray that I obtain what I desire. [9]Pray also for the Church in Syria that I have humbly left behind. My soul praises you along with the other Churches that have met me with love along the way. [10]Tell those who have arrived before me that I am on my way. They are good people, so please show your hospitality to them.

Farewell!
Ignatius (a.k.a. Theophorus)
August 23rd

An Aside

If the letter above comes across as irreverent or even flippant, please know that this is not the intent. I’ve simply read with understanding Ignatius’ message and recast it in the words that might would be used by a modern English speaker. If anything, this is a reflection on our modern culture that devalues thoughtful personal correspondence and makes an idol of brevity. God only knows what Ignatius might’ve said if he had been limited to only 140 characters.

In all fairness, I am a modern English speaker too, and if I have misunderstood what Ignatius was trying to say, by all means, please bring it to my attention.


March 24, 2017

What Does “Catholic” Mean Anyway?

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My recent post covering the five Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch to the Churches in Asia gave rise to some interesting discussions online, including one about the origin of the word “Catholic”. I knew the general answer, that the word means “universal” and that Ignatius was indeed the earliest author to use it, but I wasn’t satisfied with that. I wanted to dig deeper. Here is the result of my research.


Ignatius of Antioch

A discourse on the meaning of the word ‘catholic’ would hardly be complete without some mention of Saint Ignatius of Antioch who used it to describe the Church in his letter to the Smyrnæans in approximately A.D. 108. His message to the believers in Smyrna was clear: be subject to your bishop in all things concerning belief. This is the earliest known writing in which the Church is referred to as ‘universal’ and that leads many people to the conclusion that Ignatius was the first to give the Church her name, or at least the first to coin the phrase. Nothing in the text, however, supports the hypothesis that Ignatius was trying to do either. It appears more likely that he was using a common adjective to describe the whole body of believers everywhere, and that the phrase caught on amongst early Christian writers.

Here is an excerpt taken from the eighth chapter of Ignatius’ letter to the Smyrnæans (taken from NewAdvent.org). The key line of interest has been emphasized and the phrase Catholic Church rendered in bold:

Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. [Smyrnæans 8]

Here is the emphasized line in Greek (from TextExcavation), again with Catholic Church in bold:

οπου αν φανη ο επισκοπος, εκει το πληθος εστω, ωσπερ οπου αν η Χριστος Ιησους, εκει η καθολικη εκκλησια.

I would take the time to provide a word-for-word translation of the entire excerpt, but it’s not really necessary for this discussion. There are online lexicons and translators for that purpose, so if you are not familar with Greek, now might be a good time to check out some of these tools.

εκκλησια

Let’s start with the noun in this phrase. This is the less controversial of the two words. Almost always rendered in English as ‘church’, the word ekklēsía really just means assembly or gathering, as in a group of people assembled together. It was the term used to refer to the principal assembly of the Athenian democracy over 400 years before Christ walked the Earth. So, which assembly of believers Ignatius is talking about? Since the letter was written for the Chirstians in Smyrna, is he only referring to that assembly? Obviously, no. Ignatius clarified his message by modifying this noun with the adjective καθολικη.

καθολικη

This adjective is actually a combination of two root words: κατά (katá) + ὅλος (hólos). According to Strong’s Concordance, κατά (2596) is a preposition that can have various meanings, such as “down from”, “throughout”, and “according to”. Likewise, ὅλος (3650) is an adjective that means “all”, “whole”, or “entire”. Note how the words are combined into a single adjective, καθολικη. When used to modify the word ekklēsía, one might read the phrase as “according to the entire assembly” or “throughout the whole church”. It requires no stretch of thought to see why the word “universal” is used in translation.

To take this one step further, please note the spelling of the word. The suffix identifies the word’s declension, which is a fancy way of saying number, case, and gender in a single word. Taking a glance at the Wiktionary entry for καθολικός, we can easily determine that for three grammatical cases, this variant of the word modifies a female noun (which εκκλησια is) and is singluar. Ignatius is talking about one church. This implies a level of unity beyond that of the local church and her bishop. Ignatius did not consider the Christian communities to be a loose federation of independent congregations, at least when it came to matters of faith.

Another Look

Now that we have examined the key words in question, let’s reconstruct the line in English based on the Greek above. Again, I am not going to explain every word as they can easily be referenced online. I used the Greek Dictionary Headword Search engine in the Perseus Digital Library at Tufts University to translate the line as follows:

The place where lights the bishop, there the multitude is one; even as, where is Christ Jesus, there is the whole assembly throughout.

Ignatius is clearly drawing an analogy that makes perfect sense in his plea for the Churches in Asia to remain in unity with their respective bishops who are, themselves, in unity insofar as the teaching of the faith is concerned. What’s more, this concept of the whole assembly of believers being ever-present with Christ is an expression of what Mircea Eliade would call sacred time and space, though whether Ignatius intended to convey this idea or if it was a product of divine inspiration will be left for discussion at another time.

Word Usage

Some make the argument that Ignatius coined the word καθολικη, based primarily on the observation that the word is not used in the Bible to describe the Church…in fact, it doesn’t appear at all in the Bible. (Such people also tend to be Fundamentalist Christians who only know the word “Catholic” as a proper name and who want to prove that the Church’s universal authority is illegitimate by claiming that Ignatius invented the word after the age of the Apostles and therefore it isn’t “Biblical”.) However, if the word καθολικη (or more properly, καθολικός) existed prior to the time of Christ and the Apostles (and was even found to be commonly used), then there should be instances of it in other Greek texts that predate the New Testament. Whether or not these texts are part of Sacred Scripture is, of course, immaterial, but it never hurts to start there.

The words κατά (2596) and ὅλος (3739) both appear numerous times in the New Testament (480 and 1411 respectively). The word καθό (2526), which means “according to”, is found four times (Rom 8:26, twice in 2 Cor 8:12, and 1 Peter 4:13). The word καθόλου (2527), which is an adverb meaning “entirely” or “at all”, is found once, in Acts 4:18: they instructed them not to teach at all in the name of Jesus. Browsing through Hatch & Redpath’s 1897 Concordance to the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament), a similar pattern emerges: many references to the root words, a handful to καθό and καθόλου, and none for καθολικός. So, the root words and some similar words appear in the Bible, but the specific usage we are seeking here is not present.

A search of other Greek texts proves to be more fruitful. Again, using the Greek Dictionary Headword Search engine in the Perseus Digital Library, a search for words starting with καθολ resulted in over sixty hits across eleven works. Nine instances were found in the Histories of Polybius (200-118 B.C.), two of which concern making a “general assertion” (καθολικῆς ἀποφάσεως). The geopgrapher Strabo (63 B.C.-A.D.24; thus immediately prior to Jesus’ public ministry) used it in his work on Geography. The excerpt …ὥστ᾽ οὐδ᾽ ἔνεστι καθολικῶς εἰπεῖν ἐπὶ τῶν ἀπεριλήπτων τὸ πλῆθος… [Strab. 17.3] is translated in the accompanying English translation as “…so that it cannot be asserted generally of places indefinite in number…”, but could probably be reduced to “…it cannot be generally said…” So much for the notion that Ignatius was the original inventor of this word.

There are examples of the word being used by writers contemporary to Ignatius as well. The Stoic Philosopher Epictetus (A.D. 50-135) used the word six times in his Discourses. One sample drawn from that work is καθολικοῦ μέμνησο [book2, chapter 2], which is rendered in the accompanying English version as “Remember, then, the general rule…” but which could probably be simplified as “Remember generally…”. In a work called Tetrabiblos by Claudius Ptolemy (A.D. 100-170; yes, the same Ptolemy famous for his geocentric model of the universe), there can be found thirteen separate instances of the word with usages similar to those found in Polybius, such as to describe a calling, a custom, etc. Two more instances can be found in M. Antonius Imperator Ad Se Ipsum by Marcus Aurelius (A.D. 121-180). And so on and so forth. Even if the Perseus Digital Library contains a complete collection of ancient Greek texts, there is proof enough that the compound word καθολικός was common in ancient Greek texts, making Ignatius’ single use of it even less extraordinary.

Incidentally, the largest number of search hits (21 occurences) arose from the Church History according to Eusebius (~A.D. 260-341), six modifing the “assembly” (same usage as Ignatius), four in reference to letters or letter writers (i.e. epistles, as in the Catholic Epistles of Peter, Jude, James, and John), and the remainder modifying various other words to describe general knowledge, direction, order, etc. So, while this adjective was starting to grow in usage, it was still not used to refer exclusively to the Church, even in the Fourth Centruy writings of the Church Fathers.

Conclusion

Ignatius was not attempting to give a name to a universal church, or to coin a new phrase, but was simply using a common adjective to describe the collective of all Christian believers everywhere. In the long run, of course, that is what eventually happened. “Catholic Church” is a proper name that, today, specifically identifies an assembly of people around the world that is rooted in a common belief, and whose “headquarters” (if you want to call it that) is located in Rome. It is slightly more complicated than that, of course, because the Roman Church is just one of many that belong to this more universal collection of Churches, but then, this makes Ignatius’ message even more understandable for modern Catholics.

Addendum: New Questions

Doing this research has brought to mind two additional questions that will make for some interesting study in the future.

First, at what point in history did the word ‘Catholic’ become part of the proper name of the Church, and thus an adjective that exclusively associates whatever it modifies as belonging to the same? One might expect to find this usage prevailent in the writings of the Protestant Reformers and possibly even in Catholic writings in the years leading up to the Reformation. I have seen some claims online that explain how the Church didn’t have to qualify itself as Catholic until Protestant thought became widespread and uncontrollable. Perhaps this was the same reason καθολικός became so popular amongst the Church Fathers, as they were often combating the early heresies and wrote about how these strange beliefs contradicted the Church’s universal teachings.

Second, why does καθολικός not appear in Sacred Scripture? This may be much harder to answer, as it requires a deep understanding of ancient Greek and how the language evolved over time. It may have to do with the level of sophistication with which the various authors wrote. All of the examples given above where the word appears are from works written by scholars, philosophers, scientists, and even an Emperor! Their education, and thus their, command of the Greek language was undoubtedly superior to those common men who roughly incribed the stories of the Apostles while in hiding for fear of Roman persecution. Likewise, translation of ancient Hebrew writings, most of which had already been passed from age to age as oral traditions, into Greek may have dictated the use of simple language.

Perhaps these questions have already been answered in some scholarly works just waiting for me to discover.


March 15, 2017

Ignatius’ Asian Epistles

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Synopsis

Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr of the early Church, wrote to several Churches in Asia, imploring the faithful to remain united with the teachings of their bishops.

Authorship

Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch, while imprisoned and in transport to Rome in about the year A.D. 108, wrote letters to several Christian communities in Asia. Three of these letters (to the Churches in Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles) were written while he was imprisoned in Smyrna, and two (to the Churches in Philadelphia and Smyrna) were written after he was transported to Troas. Full authenticity of the contents of these letters is not generally accepted; however, the most egregious embellishments can be identified and removed using copies of the letters from different ages and sources. The original letters and contemporary copies have been lost to antiquity.

Summary

The following is a summary of the major points addressed in each letter:

Ephesians Magnesians Trallians

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Ephesians
  • Praise of their Bishop
  • Praise of their Deacon, others
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Denounce hypocrisy
  • Be an example through prayer and works
  • Give thanks to God often
  • Statement on faith and love
  • Statement on silence
  • Warning against false doctrine
  • The advent of Christ
  • Promise to write again
  • Request for prayers

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Magnesians
  • Praise of their Bishop, Priests, Deacon
  • Honor the bishop despite his youth
  • Disobedience mocks God, earns death
  • Remain united with your Bishop
  • Avoid Judaizing
  • Be united in doctrine and deed
  • Request for prayers

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Trallians
  • Be subject to the Bishop
  • Honor the Deacons
  • Humility in writing
  • Avoid heresy
  • Avoid temptation
  • History of Christ
  • More praise of the Trallians
  • Request for prayers
Philadelphians Smyrnæans

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Philadelphians
  • Praise of their Bishop
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Avoid schismatics
  • Request for prayers
  • Avoid Judaizing
  • Praise of the Gospel over the Law
  • End of persecution
  • Thanks to certain persons

  • Salutation
  • Praise of the Smyrnæans
  • Avoid heresy, which leads to death
  • Remain united with the Bishop
  • Honor the bishop
  • A word of thanks
  • Request to sent message to Antioch

Observations

Pauline Style. The style in which Ignatius writes is strikingly similar to that used by Paul. An elaborate greeting, followed by some commentary on the community to which he is writing, followed then by some order of business to discuss, etc. Compare the contents of the first three Ignatian epistles to, say, the opening paragraphs of 1st Corinthians.

The Saint John Connection. All five churches are in western Asia (modern-day Turkey). Three of the churches (Ephesus, Smyrna, and Philadelphia) are of the seven mentioned in the Apocolypse of Saint John (a.k.a. the Book of Revelation). Patmos, the island where John was exiled, is just off the coast. Tradition tells us that John wrote his three (Biblical) epistles while living in Ephesus and his Apocolypse while on Patmos. Both Ignatius (Bishop of Antioch) and Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna) are believed to have been disciples of John.

Unity. The underlying theme running throughout Ignatius’ Asian epistles is the importance of unity within the Christian communities. To Ignatius, this was manifest in maintaining unity with “the bishop and the presbytery” (the latter referring to the collection of priests that serve the bishop of course). This is an extension of Paul’s proclamation that there should be no divisions amongst Christians (1 Cor. 1:10+).

Ignatius uses strong words to emphasize this urgent need for unity. He likens obedience to the bishop to obedience to Christ himself and declares that the disobedient man separates himself from the Church and thereby condemns himself. Consider the following exceprts:

It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ…that by a unanimous obedience you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing, and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified. [Ephesians 2]

Let no man deceive himself: if any one be not within the altar, he is deprived of the bread of God. […] He, therefore, that does not assemble with the Church, has even by this manifested his pride, and condemned himself. [Ephesians 5]

It is manifest, therefore, that we should look upon the bishop even as we would upon the Lord Himself. [Ephesians 6]

It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honor of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not…the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible. [Magnesians 3]

…while your bishop presides in the place of God, and your presbyters in the place of the assembly of the apostles, along with your deacons…Let nothing exist among you that may divide you; but be united with your bishop, and those that preside over you, as a type and evidence of your immortality. [Magnesians 6]

…let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ,…and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and the assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church. [Trallians 3]

Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there follow as sheep. [Philadephians 2]

For where there is division and wrath, God does not dwell. To all them that repent, the Lord grants forgiveness, if they turn in penitence to the unity of God, and to communion with the bishop. [Philadephians 8]

Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. [Smyrnæans 8]

In these bold words of Ignatius we find the roots of basic Catholic concepts, such as the Magisterium, the ordinary authority of the bishops, and latae sententiae excommunication, and the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

Knowing the Community by the Bishops. While imprisoned in Smyrna, Ignatius was visited by delegations from at least three Christian communities. It is notable that these delegations included not just priests and deacons, but the local bishop as well! He apparently spent time talking with these men about their flocks and he makes it a point to mention in his letters that he “knows” them through their bishops. It may be a reflection of the translation, but his words seem to imply a deeper relationship and not just a surface knowledge of them. Consider the following excerpts:

I received, therefore, your whole multitude in the name of God, through Onesimus…your bishop… [Ephesians 1]

…I have had the privilege of seeing you, through Damas your most worthy bishop, and through your worthy presbyters…and through [the] deacon… [Magnesians 2]

I know that you possess an unblameable and sincere mind…as Polybius your bishop has shown me, who has come to Smyrna…that I beheld your whole multitude in him. [Trallians 1]

This language reinforces the unity found within these early Christian communities and the notion that the faithful are bound up to their bishop who is not only God’s representative to them, but their representative to God and to others.

For reference, here is a list of the names of the clergy and other visitors:

  • Ephesians: Onesimus (Bp), Burrhus (Dcn), Crocus, Euplus, Fronto
  • Magnesians: Damas (Bp, Bassus (Pr), Apollonius (Pr), Sotio (Dcn)
  • Trallians: Polybius (Bp)
  • Philadelphians: unnamed bishop
  • Smyrna: Polycarp, though not named in this letter

Dissenters. Unity with the bishop and the presytery isn’t important for the sake of simple affiliation. It is the way in which the faith is preserved and transmitted. Ignatius warns the Asian Churches about several types of dissenters, those who stray from the teachings of Christ and the Apostles as it is communicated through the bishops.

The first type of dissenter is the hypocrite, one who professes to be a follower of Jesus but who does not live a life in accordance with his teachings.

For some are in the habit of carrying about the name [of Jesus Christ] in wicked guile, while yet they practise things unworthy of God, whom you must flee as you would wild beasts. [Ephesians 7]

It is better for a man to be silent and be [a Christian], than to talk and not to be one. It is good to teach, if he who speaks also acts. [Ephesians 15]

It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing that they are not steadfastly gathered according to the commandment. [Magnesians 4]

Another type is the heretic, teacher of false doctrine. Some of Ignatius’ warnings are generic, as is the case with the passages below. It may be harsh to hear that heresy ultimately destroys both the heretic and his followers, but this is the same warning issued by Saint Peter in his second encyclical (2 Peter 2:1-3) and even by Christ himself (Mt 18:6, Mk 9:42, Lk 17:2).

Nevertheless, I have heard of some who have passed on from this to you, having false doctrine, whom you did not allow to sow among you, but stopped your ears, that you might not receive those things which were sown by them… [Ephesians 9]

…how much more shall this be the case with anyone who corrupts by wicked doctrine the faith of God…such an one becoming defiled [in this way], shall go away into everlasting fire, and so shall every one that hearkens unto him. [Ephesians 16]

I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that you use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. [Trallians 6]

In the category of heretics, we must include the Judeaizers who sought to bring the faithful Gentiles under the yoke of the Mosaic law. Paul writes at length about such heretics in his letter to the Galatians (the whole letter is about this) and to a lesser extent in his letter to the Ephesians (chapters 2-3). The Incident at Antioch (yes, the same Antioch in Syria where Ignatius eventually served as bishop) which led to the Council at Jerusalem (Acts 15) is the event that prompted Paul to issue such warnings.

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. [Magnesians 8]

If, therefore, those who were brought up in the ancient order of things have come to the possession of a new hope, no longer observing the Sabbath, but living in the observance of the Lord’s Day…how shall we be able to live apart from Him, whose disciples the prophets themselves in the Spirit did wait for Him as their teacher? [Magnesians 9]

For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. [Magnesians 10]

But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumsised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either…do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men. [Philadelphians 6]

Likewise, Ignatius mentions in several of the letters that there are some who believe that Jesus did not suffer and die at all, but that his body was merely an illusion. The heresy is called Docetism and its proponents would eventually come to be known as the Docetæ. Trallians 9-11 is one example, but his lengthiest treatment on this particular heresy is in Smyrnæans 2-7.

Unique to the letter to the Philadelphians, Ignatius advises the faithful to avoid those who seek to divide the Church. These dissenters are called schismatics.

If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion [of Christ]. [Philadephians 3]

References

All quotes above came from the letters as they appear on NewAdvent.org.


January 23, 2017

Martyrium Ignatii

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Synopsis

The Martyrium Ignatii (“Martyrdom of Ignatius”) provides details about the trial of Ignatius of Antioch before Emperor Trajan, his transport to Rome by way of Smyrna and Troas, and his execution in the Roman arena as he was fed to the beasts.

Authorship

This account is written from the perspective of one who accompanied Ignatius from Antioch to Rome, possibly Philo, a deacon from Tarsus, and Rheus Agathopus from Syria. According to The Catholic Encyclopedia, scholars generally agree that the narrative is authentic, but since the earliest reliable copy is a revision with its earliest witness in the Tenth Century, it is also believed to be highly interpolated.

Summary

Here are the main points covered in this document:

  • Ignatius, disciple of John the Apostle, was bishop of the Church in Antioch (Syria).
  • He guided his Church through the persecutions under Domitian and survived.
  • He longed for a closer relationship with Christ through martyrdom.
  • Emperor Trajan forced Christians to choose to worship Roman gods or be killed.
  • In his ninth year as Emperor, Trajan was passing through Antioch on conquest.
  • Trajan questioned Ignatius about his religious disobedience and influence.
  • When Ignatius confirmed his devotion to Christ, he was sentenced to fight the beasts in Rome.
  • He was transported from Antioch to Seleucia, and then by sea to Smyrna.
  • He visited his former disciple, Polycarp, who was now the Bishop of Smyrna.
  • He was also visited by bishops, priests, and deacons from various cities in Asia.
  • To repay their hospitality, Ignatius wrote to the cities, giving praise and instruction.
  • They sailed to Troas and Neapolis, then traveled by land to Philippi and Epirus in West Macedonia.
  • From there they sailed to Rome, skipping Puteoli; thus, Ignatius could not follow in Paul’s steps.
  • Landing in Portus, he prayed with the brethren for the end of persecution, and was thrown into the arena.
  • His bones were collected, wrapped in linen, and returned to Antioch.
  • The authors of this account assert that, after his death, Ignatius visited each of them one night in their dreams.

Observations

  • External sources seem to agree that the letters to the Ephesians, Magnesians, Trallians, and Romans were written in Smyrna, and the letters to the Philadelphians, Smyrnæans, and to Polycarp were written in Troas.
  • According to Chapter Four, this account originally included a copy of Ignatius’ letter to the Romans. (This makes sense, as the authors returned to Antioch from Rome with Ignatius’ bones, and could have obtained or produced a copy there.)

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