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The Ignatian Epistles


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#1 Evangelion

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Posted 26 January 2003 - 11:31 AM

Ignatius � High Christology in the 2nd Century AD?


Who was Ignatius, and what are the Ignatian Epistles? In The Trinity: True or False? (1995) Christadelphian authors Broughton and Southgate explain:

Ignatius was bishop of Antioch and was put to death in the Coliseum at Rome sometime between the years 110 and 117. On his fateful journey to Rome he wrote epistles to various churches that had sent emissaries to cheer him on his way, and to one individual, Polycarp of Smyrna. Of the epistles once attributed to him, seven are now regarded as genuine, although they may contain some interpolations.

In all these letters the essential distinction between God and Jesus and the subordination of the Son to the Father is evident. He speaks of God as the �Father of Jesus Christ�, of �one God, who has manifested himself through Jesus Christ his Son�, exhorts his hearers to �subordinate yourselves to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ in the flesh did to the Father�, and refers to the �God of Jesus Christ�.

In the following passage, by the repetition of the word �truly�, Ignatius was clearly attacking the Docetians in stressing the reality of the person of Jesus, but at the same time gives a summary of then Christian belief, which contains no hint of any co-equality or pre-existence but rather stresses the dependence of Christ on God (�his Father raised him�, etc.):

�Stop your ears therefore when anyone speaks to you apart from Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, who was the son of Mary, who was truly born, who both ate and drank, was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate, was truly crucified and died, in the sight of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth; who was also truly raised from the dead, when his Father raised him, and his Father in like manner will raise us up also who believe in him through Jesus Christ, without whom we can have no true life�.

There is clearly no hint here of any relationship between God and Christ as is demanded by Trinitarian dogma. If Ignatius believed the modern idea of the Trinity he could and almost certainly would have used other arguments to combat the errors of the Docetians.

But on the other hand elsewhere in his letters Ignatius does seem to go further than the Apostles in that he describes Jesus as �God�, using phrases such as �Jesus our God�, and �our God Jesus Christ�. We say �seem� advisedly, because there is some possibility that here we have examples of the later interpolations alluded to above; although probably few would go along with Lamson's view that the text is �hopelessly corrupt�.


Of the contentious Epistles, the Catholic Encyclopaedia advises:

Collections.

The oldest collection of the writings of St. Ignatius known to have existed was that made use of by the historian Eusebius in the first half of the fourth century, but which unfortunately is no longer extant. It was made up of the seven letters written by Ignatius whilst on his way to Rome. These letters were addressed to the Christians

of Ephesus (Pros Ephesious);
of Magnesia (Magnesieusin);
of Tralles (Trallianois);
of Rome (Pros Romaious);
of Philadelphia (Philadelpheusin);
of Smyrna (Smyrnaiois); and
to Polycarp (Pros Polykarpon).

We find these seven mentioned not only by Eusebius ("Hist. eccl.", III, xxxvi) but also by St. Jerome (De viris illust., c. xvi). Of later collections of Ignatian letters which have been preserved, the oldest is known as the "long recension".

This collection, the author of which is unknown, dates from the latter part of the fourth century. It contains the seven genuine and six spurious letters, but even the genuine epistles were greatly interpolated to lend weight to the personal views of its author. For this reason they are incapable of bearing witness to the original form.

The spurious letters in this recension are those that purport to be from Ignatius

to Mary of Cassobola (Pros Marian Kassoboliten);
to the Tarsians (Pros tous en tarso);
to the Philippians (Pros Philippesious);
to the Antiochenes (Pros Antiocheis);
to Hero a deacon of Antioch (Pros Erona diakonon Antiocheias).

Associated with the foregoing is

a letter from Mary of Cassobola to Ignatius.

It is extremely probable that the interpolation of the genuine, the addition of the spurious letters, and the union of both in the long recension was the work of an Apollonarist of Syria or Egypt, who wrote towards the beginning of the fifth century.

We see, therefore, that the letters of Ignatius are extremely controversial - not least because it is very difficult to ascertain the precise nature of the originals. Note:
  • The earliest collection known to have existed is dated to �the latter part of the fourth century.
  • This earliest collection is no longer extant.
  • Even the genuine epistles were greatly interpolated to lend weight to the personal views of its author.�
If the earliest collection known to have existed was merely a late 4th Century copy, we can safely conclude that the work of the interpolators took place during the 200+ years between the writing of these letters and their subsquent distribution. This in turn means that the collection with which Eusebius was familiar, must already have been corrupted. (Hence the Catholic Encyclopaedia's conclusion that �For this reason they are incapable of bearing witness to the original form.�)

Since the Short Recension has been generally accepted as the most accurate form I shall treat it as the �default� reading, making reference to the Long Recension only when its alternative gloss may shed light upon the veracity of the Short.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#2 Evangelion

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Posted 26 January 2003 - 11:58 AM

The Epistle to the Ephesians



Our first interpolation is found in the Introduction to this epistle:
  • Short Recension -
    Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fulness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory, being united and elected through the true passion by the will of the Father, and Jesus Christ, our God: Abundant happiness through Jesus Christ, and His undefiled grace.
  • Long Recension -
    Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which is at Ephesus, in Asia, deservedly most happy, being blessed in the greatness and fulness of God the Father, and predestinated before the beginning of time, that it should be always for an enduring and unchangeable glory, being united and elected through the true passion by the will of God the Father, and of our Lord Jesus Christ our Saviour: Abundant happiness through Jesus Christ, and His undefiled joy.
The Long Recension is clearly written in a style identical to the apostles' while the Short Recension contains an uncharacteristic reference to Jesus as �our God� (an expression which is only ever used of the Father in the New Testament and never applied to the Son.) Take note, however, of the clear Biblical language that is present in both Recensions, describing Jesus as "predestinated before the beginning of time." This provides us with Ignatius' view of Christ - as pre-destinated rather than pre-existent. Any language which goes further than this simple, Biblical concept must therefore be regarded as spurious.

The next interpolation arrives in Chapter 1:
  • Short Recension -
    Being the followers of God, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of God, ye have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you.
  • Long Recension -
    Being the followers of the love of God towards man, and stirring up yourselves by the blood of Christ, you have perfectly accomplished the work which was beseeming to you.
The correct reading is obvious; it must necessarily be that which we find in the Long Recension. Nowhere does the New Testament make reference to �the blood of God�, lest it be in a Trinitarian interpolation long since exposed as a fraud. (Acts 2:28 comes very close, but see here for clarification.) By contrast, the phrase "blood of Christ" is a strictly apostolic expression, occuring four times in the New Testament.

Thus:
  • I Corinthians 10:16.
    The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ?
  • Ephesians 2:13.
    But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ.
  • Hebrews 9:14.
    How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?
  • I Peter 1:19.
    But with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot:

The next interpolation arrives in Chapter 7:
  • Short Recension -
    There is one Physician who is possessed both of flesh and spirit; both made and not made; God existing in flesh; true life in death; both of Mary and of God; first passible and then impassible even Jesus Christ our Lord.
  • Long Recension -
    ...We have also as a Physician the Lord our God, Jesus the Christ, the only-begotten Son and Word, before time began, but who afterwards became also man, of Mary the virgin. For "the Word was made flesh." Being incorporeal, He was in the body; being impassible, He was in a passible body; being immortal, He was in a mortal body; being life, He became subject to corruption, that He might free our souls from death and corruption, and heal them, and might restore them to health, when they were diseased with ungodliness and wicked lusts.
Both recensions appear to support Trinitarian Christology, but the clause which I have italicised in the Short Recension is absent from the Greek copy, being found only in the Latin. (Notice also that the Long Recension does not match with this section of the Short.) So the Greek copy of the Short Recension provides us with a Unitarian gloss (in language that is perfectly consistent with the apostolic writings) while the Long Recension contains many uncharacteristic references to Jesus in language which was not in vogue until the 3rd Century AD.

The next interpolation arrives in Chapter 18:
  • Short Recension -
    �For our God, Jesus Christ, was, according to the appointment of God, conceived in the womb by Mary, of the seed of David, but by the Holy Ghost. He was born and baptized, that by His passion He might purify the water.
  • Long Recension -
    For the Son of God, who was begotten before time began, and established all things according to the will of the Father, He was conceived in the womb of Mary, according to the appointment of God, of the seed of David, and by the Holy Ghost. For says [the Scripture], "Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and He shall be called Immanuel." He was born and was baptized by John, that He might ratify the institution committed to that prophet.
Here we have a curious mixture. One would expect both of these clauses (�our God, Jesus Christ� and �begotten before time began�) to be used together as a joint statement about the status and work of the Son. Neither one of them, of course, is an explicitly Trinitarian statement. Both could be recited by the Arians of the 4th Century, with perfect confidence. (Indeed, both were!) Each is clearly part of a two-fold statement about the nature of Christ, so it is odd that the one should appear without the other.

The expression "begotten before time began" (or "before the ages", as the literal Greek reads) finds a parallel in Christ's own words (John 17:5), and in the book of Revelation, where Jesus is described as �the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world� (which not even Trinitarians will take as a literal reference.) But it is still curiously unBiblical, for the apostles never speak of Christ in this way.

I have considered the possibility that Ignatius�s use of �begotten before time began� is his own personal invention; perhaps an extension of the �foreknowledge and predestination� language which we find in the OT and NT, in regard to the work of Christ (hence John 17.) But on the basis of the textual evidence (both Biblical and extra-Biblical) I am inclined to dismiss this clause � along with �our God� � as spurious.

In this regard I am fully supported by Cardinal Newman, who, in his celebrated essay On the Texts of the Seven Epistles of St Ignatius (1870), writes:
Another mark of Arianism was to insist on �the generation of the Son before all ages,� which is of course a revealed truth, but was used by the Arians as a denial of His co-eternity with the Father, the �ages� being creatures of God, priority to which did not involve eternity � parte ante. Again, as generation in their mouths implied a beginning of existence, they preferred to say that our Lord �was begotten before all time,� to saying �was before all time.�

Hence it is, that in another passage above quoted, the larger edition gives, �Jesus Christ, who was begotten before time with the Father, the Word God, the only-begotten Son,� etc., while the shorter reads, �who was with the Father before the ages.��Magn., c. 7.

And so in like manner Eph., c. 18, in the shorter, runs, �Our God, Jesus Christ, was borne in the womb by Mary, according to the economy of God,� etc.; but in the longer, �The Son of God, who was begotten before the ages, and has constituted all things by the mind of the Father.�

This last clause brings us to another characteristic of the Arian system. It inculcated that our Lord was made by God in order to be His instrument in creating all things, and that he acted according to His Father's will, mind, or design; whereas the orthodox held that our Lord was Himself the very will, mind, design, Word, and Wisdom of God, and God acted according to His own Mind or Design in acting by Him.

Hence, while in the shorter edition Ignatius says to the Ephesians, c. 3, �I exhort you to concur in the mind of God; for Jesus, our inseparable Life, is the Father's Mind,� he is made to say in the longer, �for Jesus Christ does all things according to the mind of the Father.�

Newman�s unswerving Trinitarian sympathies will not permit him to accept such blatantly Arian language. He correctly identifies the Alexandrian�s subordinationist terminology here, concluding that both texts are corrupt in the places referred to. With this conclusion I wholeheartedly agree.

Later in Chapter 18:
  • Short Recension -
    ...Hence every kind of magic was destroyed, and every bond of wickedness disappeared; ignorance was removed, and the old kingdom abolished, God Himself being manifested in human form for the renewal of eternal life. And now that took a beginning which had been prepared by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death.
  • Long Recension -
    ...Every law of wickedness vanished away; the darkness of ignorance was dispersed; and tyrannical authority was destroyed, God being manifested as a man, and man displaying power as God. But neither was the former a mere imagination, nor did the second imply a bare humanity; but the one was absolutely true, and the other an economical arrangement. Now that received a beginning which was perfected by God. Henceforth all things were in a state of tumult, because He meditated the abolition of death.
The Short Recension contains a blunt Unitarian statement (�God Himself being manifested in human form�) which finds a direct parallel in the work of the first Christadelphians, who use this exact same language when describing the 1st Advent of Christ.

Writing in Elpis Israel, for example, John Thomas makes the following observations on page 153:
But the Mosaic Cherubim were deficient of several of the characteristics which distinguish those of Ezekiel and John. They had simply the wings and the faces. His cherubim were not only of beaten gold continuous with the substance of the mercy-seat; but they were embroidered into the Veil, made of blue, purple, and scarlet, and fine twined linen, which divided the holy and the holiest places of the tabernacle.

Now, when "Jesus cried with a loud voice, he expired (ejxevpneuse); and the Veil of the Temple was rent in twain from top to bottom". Thus, we see the breaking of the body of Jesus identified with the rending of the Cherubic Veil; thereby indicating that the latter was representative of the Lord. We have arrived then at this, that the Mosaic Cherubim were symbolical of �God manifest in the flesh�. We wish now to ascertain upon what principles His incarnate manifestation was represented by the Cherubim?

First, then, in the solution of this interesting problem, I remark, that the scriptures speak of God after the following manner: �God is light, and in him is no darkness at all "; again, "God is a Spirit; and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit and in truth"; and thirdly, "Our God is a consuming fire.� In these three texts, which are only a sample of many others, we perceive that God is represented by light, spirit, and fire; when, therefore, He is symbolized as manifest in flesh, it becomes necessary to select certain signs representative of light, spirit, and fire, derived from the animal kingdom.

Now, the ancients selected the lion, the ox, and the eagle for this purpose, probably from tradition of the signification of these animals, of the faces of them, in the original Cherubim. They are called God's Faces because His omniscience, purity, and jealousy are expressed in them. But the omniscient, jealous, and incorruptible God was to be manifested in a particular kind of flesh. Hence, it was necessary to add a fourth face to show in what nature He would show Himself. For this reason, the human face was associated with the lion, the ox, and the eagle.

Here, Thomas describes the manifestation of God in His Son Jesus Christ, using the language that Ignatius had already used centuries before him in the Short Recension of his Epistle to the Ephesians. It is tremendously reassuring to see our Christology confirmed by so august an authority as Ignatius himself.

But the Long Recension is markedly different. It contains 3rd Century language: �God being manifested as a man and man displaying power as God� nor did the second imply a bare humanity� the other an economical arrangement.� This is the language of Theophilus and Tertullian. It finds no parallel in the apostolic writings � and so we are at liberty to dismiss it as yet another of those blatant interpolations for which Trinitarian forgers have long since earned their notoriety.

Summarising the evidence from the Epistle to the Ephesians, therefore, I find that the only expressions with which I take issue are those which find no parallel in the NT � and since it is obvious from Ignatius' own style of writing that he quotes extensively from the words of Scripture, I am perfectly justified in taking such a position.

Observe the precise nature of the interpolated clauses:
  • They involve the casual use of �God� in connexion with Christ, which conflicts with the sharp distinction between �God� and �Christ� throughout (a) the remainder of the epistle, and (b) the apostolic literature.
  • Some of them are undoubtedly Arian (as Newman himself has confirmed), which precludes any possibility that they were written by a late 1st- or early 2nd-Century Christian.
  • They sound more philosophical than Biblical, reeking of post-2nd Century Christology.
  • They have no Biblical counterparts, and therefore no Biblical endorsement.

'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#3 Evangelion

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Posted 26 January 2003 - 12:01 PM

The Epistle to the Magnesians.


Our first stop is Chapter 6:
  • Short Recension:
    Since therefore I have, in the persons before mentioned, beheld the whole multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, 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, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ, who was with the Father before the beginning of time, and in the end was revealed.
  • Long Recension:
    Since therefore I have, in the persons before mentioned, beheld the whole multitude of you in faith and love, I exhort you to study to do all things with a divine harmony, 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, who are most dear to me, and are entrusted with the ministry of Jesus Christ. He, being begotten by the Father before the beginning of time, was God the Word, the only-begotten Son, and remains the same for ever; for "of His kingdom there shall be no end," says Daniel the prophet.
Here again, we have the same language which was found in Chapter 18 of the Epistle to the Magnesians. As I said then, so say I now � the expression �begotten before time began� is distinctly unBiblical, for the apostles never speak of Christ in this way. I therefore dismiss it as an interpolation, for the reasons given earlier.

The next interpolation arrives in Chapter 8:
  • Short Recension:
    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.
  • Long Recension:
    For the divinest prophets lived according to Jesus Christ. On this account also they were persecuted, being inspired by grace to fully convince the unbelieving that there is one God, the Almighty, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His Word, not spoken, but essential. For He is not the voice of an articulate utterance, but a substance begotten by divine power, who has in all things pleased Him that sent Him.
In reference to this phrase...

who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence

...which appears in the Short Recension but not in the Long, the Christian Classics Ethereal Library (see here has a footnote:

Some have argued that the Gnostic Sige (�silence�) is here referred to, and have consequently inferred that this epistle could not have been written by Ignatius.

Newman was not of this opinion. Nevertheless, there is some doubt here in the minds of many commentators.

Either way, I am perfectly happy with the Long Recension � and quite probably with the Short Recension as well, depending on which word has been translated here as "eternal."

It could be:
  • Aiōnios � used here to describe the immortality of the Son, and therefore more correctly translated �immortal.� (The same word is used in Revelation 22:5 in reference to those who have been raised from the dead to immortality.)
  • Athanasia � used here for the same purpose as above, and correctly translated �immortal.� (The same word is used in I Corinthians 15:53 in reference to those who have been raised from the dead to immortality.)
  • Aphtharsia � used here for the same purpose as above, and correctly translated �immortal.� (The same word is used in Romans 2:7 in reference to those who �see for glory and honour and immortality [aphtharsia], eternal [aiōnios] life.�)
There is no threat here to Unitarian Christology - nor any endorsement of Trinitarian Christology.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#4 Evangelion

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Posted 26 January 2003 - 12:05 PM

The Epistle to the Romans



We begin with the introduction:
  • Short Recension -
    Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High Father, and Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is beloved and enlightened by the will of Him that willeth all things which are according to the love of Jesus Christ our God.

    []

    ...in Jesus Christ our God.

  • Long Recension -
    Ignatius, who is also called Theophorus, to the Church which has obtained mercy, through the majesty of the Most High God the Father, and of Jesus Christ, His only-begotten Son; the Church which is sanctified and enlightened by the will of God, who formed all things that are according to the faith and love of Jesus Christ, our God and Saviour;

    []

    ...in God, even the Father, and our Lord Jesus Christ.
Both Recensions contain language which is consistent with Arian and Trinitarian Christology, but the Long Recension also makes use of the apostolic expression "our God and Saviour." The phrase has a Biblical precedent in Titus 2:13, where its grammatical construction is the subject of endless debate (see here) and for this reason I feel that the Long Recension provides the more accurate gloss here. (The words "Our God and Saviour" could be translated God and our Saviour, thereby precluding any Trinitarian argument from this Epistle.)
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#5 Evangelion

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Posted 26 January 2003 - 12:08 PM

The Epistle to Polycarp



Here I merely take issue with the conclusion of Chapter 8:
  • Short Recension -
    I pray for your happiness for ever in our God, Jesus Christ, by whom continue ye in the unity and under the protection of God, I salute Alice, my dearly beloved. Fare ye well in the Lord.
  • Long Recension -
    I pray for your happiness for ever in our God, Jesus Christ, by whom continue ye in the unity and under the protection of God. I salute Alice, my dearly beloved. Amen. Grace [be with you]. Fare ye well in the Lord.
Both Recensions contain the expression our God, Jesus Christ but this term has no Biblical precedent whatsoever, and for this reason (as before) I discard it as fraudulent.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#6 Evangelion

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Posted 26 January 2003 - 02:07 PM

The Christology of the Ignatian Epistles -

Which Way does the Evidence Point? (Part I)

From a total of seven authentic letters, we have seen a mere nine clauses which might give Unitarians cause for concern.

Moreover:
  • None of these clauses are distinctly Trinitarian.
  • All of these clauses are perfectly compatible with Arianism.
  • The vast majority of them are easily disposed of by
  • an appeal to the alternate Recension.
  • an appeal to the Biblical standard.
  • an appeal to mainstream commentators and standard authorities.
leaving only two or three allegedly "Trinitarian" clauses common to both Recensions.
So already, the evidence in favour of a Trinitarian Ignatius is reduced to a few paltry sentences.

Of the Short Recension, Phillip Schaff (History of the Christian Church; 1819-1893) makes the following admissions:

We grant that the integrity of these epistles, even in the shorter copy, is not beyond all reasonable doubt. As the manuscripts of them contain, at the same time, decidedly spurious epistles (even the Armenian translation has thirteen epistles), the suspicion arises, that the seven genuine also have not wholly escaped the hand of the forger.

Yet there are, in any case, very strong arguments for their genuineness and substantial integrity; viz.

(1) The testimony of the fathers, especially of Eusebius. Even Polycarp alludes to epistles of Ignatius.

(2) The raciness and freshness of their contents, which a forger could not well imitate.

(3) The small number of citations from the New Testament, indicating the period of the immediate disciples of the apostles.

(4) Their way of combating the Judaists and Docetists (probably Judaizing Gnostics of the school of Cerinthus), showing us Gnosticism as yet in the first stage of its development.

(5) Their dogmatical indefiniteness, particularly in regard to the Trinity and Christology, notwithstanding very strong expressions in favor of the divinity of Christ.

(6) Their urgent recommendation of episcopacy as an institution still new and fresh, and as a centre of congregational unity in distinction from the diocesan episcopacy of Irenaeus and Tertullian.

(7) Their entire silence respecting a Roman primacy, even in the epistle to the Romans, where we should most expect it. The Roman church is highly recommended indeed, but the Roman bishop is not even mentioned.

In any case these epistles must have been written before the middle of the second century, and reflect the spirit of their age in its strong current towards a hierarchical organization and churchly orthodoxy on the basis of the glory of martyrdom.


Schaff's optimistic declaration that the Epistles contain "strong expressions in favour of the divinity of Christ" are somewhat dampened by his own concession to "their dogmatical indefiniteness, particularly in regard to the Trinity and Christology." Still, he holds out hope that a Trinitarian Ignatius may be found somewhere in the few scant interpolations which might be coerced into performing a Trinitarian role. Whilst acknowledging the presence of interpolations, he argues that the Short Recension is the genuine one.

With this conclusion I would be tempted to agree, were it not for the many discrepancies between the two Recensions (some favouring the Trinitarian gloss, others the Unitarian.) For example, in Chapter 15 of the Epistle to the Ephesians (Long Recension) we find the clause "Our Lord and God, Jesus Christ." (The Short Recension not only omits the clause but contains nothing remotely similar to it.) Is Ignatius likely to use such a phrase? Trinitarians will say "Yes", for they claim he was one of their own. But how do they account for the omission of this clause from the Short Recension, which they believe to be the most accurate form of his work?

It is therefore unwise to characterise either one as "the original", since both are clearly interspersed with unoriginal material. Even the Long Recension (which, though older than the Short, has been frequently criticised as the less accurate of the two) frequently employs language which is far more supportive to Trinitarian Christology.

Thus far, we have seen nothing which might vindicate the interpolations as valid, nor anything which requires us to believe that Ignatius believed in the deity of Christ (much less Trinitarianism.)
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.

#7 Evangelion

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Posted 26 January 2003 - 02:13 PM

The Christology of the Ignatian Epistles -


Which Way does the Evidence Point? (Part II)

Schaff has already alluded to the breathtaking simplicity of Ignatius' Christology. Leaving aside the interpolated passages, we can sense his frustration as he struggles to wrest an explicit Trinitarian statement from these unsophisticated epistles.

Other Trinitarian commentators have been refreshingly candid about Ignatius' lack of support for Trinitarianism. Srawley (for example) was positively dismal when presenting his own summation of the textual evidence:
As compared with later teaching, the theology of Ignatius, like that of the other 'Apostolic Fathers,' exhibits in some respects an immature and undeveloped character. It was only slowly that men came to sound the depths of the teaching of St. Paul and St. John, and to grasp the eternal relations of the truths revealed in time.

Hence we find in Ignatius a use of doctrinal terms, which would have been avoided by the more exact theology of a later age. Instances are the phrases, the blood of God,' ' the passion of my God,' and the word ' unoriginate,' which, as applied to our Lord, might seem to deny the Eternal Generation.

There is also an absence of any references to the work of the Son of God in the world before the Incarnation (except, perhaps, in Magn. 8), and of the doctrine of His agency in Creation such as we find in St. Paul. While Ignatius applies to Him the title ' Logos' or 'Word,' and elsewhere speaks of Him as ' the Mind of the Father,' and ' the unerring Mouth whereby the Father spake ;' while, moreover, he asserts the Divine Sonship, and once uses the phrase, ' the Only Son,' yet he nowhere speaks of the eternal relations of this Divine Sonship to the Fatherhood of God, beyond the mere fact of the Son's pre-existence with the Father.

How far the human nature was complete, whether Christ had a human soul, how the two natures are united in One Person, these are questions which lie outside the scope and grasp of the teaching of Ignatius.

Srawley, J. H. (1927), The Epistles of St Ignatius Bishop of Antioch.
Far from embracing them unreservedly (as we might expect) Srawley is forced to address the problems that the interpolated narratives pose for his Christology. His comments with regard to the "blood of God", etc. cast a shadow over Schaff's previous assertion that the Short Recension was the original one. Clearly, the issue is far more complex than he would like us to believe. Both Recensions contain language that is (in one way or another) problematic for the Trinitarian, Arian and Unitarian schools of Christological thought.

But Srawley perks up at a later stage:
It is the Person and not merely the teaching of Christ, which is of importance. He is ' our God,' ' my God,' 'God in man,' though never apparently called God absolutely without some defining words. The controversial purpose of the letters leads Ignatius to lay special stress upon the reality of the human nature of Christ. The Docetse, whom he is attacking, conceived of the existence of Christ in a purely metaphysical way, as a spiritual or ideal existence. Against this view Ignatius sets the historical Christ, whose appearing in human form becomes the medium of God's revelation and alone guarantees its truth to man. Hence he emphasizes the facts of His earthly life.
Ibid.
Here he argues blatantly from the interpolations themselves ("our God"; "my God"; "God in man") in a vain attempt to bolster the Trinitarian claim. But as we have already seen, these interpolations are quite indefensible and most can be culled from the text by the simplest of critical methods. Only the words "our God" appear in both Recensions - and since this (unBiblical) phrase could be recited by an Arian with perfect confidence, it proves nothing in the way of Trinitarian Christology.
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

Credo.




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