Wednesday, October 17, 2012

St. Ignatius of Antioch

In my last 7 Quick Takes post, I mentioned St. Ignatius of Antioch. Since today is his feast day, I will write a little more about why he is so interesting.

Ignatius was the bishop of Antioch sometime between 98 and 117, when Trajan was emperor.  This was one of the periods when the Roman empire was persecuting anyone who was identified as Christian, bishops probably being easy targets. On his way to Rome for a trial, and to be martyred, Ignatius wrote letters to various churches (kind of like how Paul did), and seven of them survive (if I wanted to look up what all of them were, maybe I'd do a 7 quick takes on them, but I don't feel like doing research for quick takes.)

The letter that I read for class was his letter to the Magnesians.  Here are some thematic highlights from it.

I. Church hierarchy and episcopal authority:
Ignatius stresses authority of the episcopal office in relation both in terms of the people who are subject to their Bishops and in terms of the Bishops being themselves subject to God.  He describes the people's submission to the bishop in a way that reminds me of how Paul describes being subject to Christ.  About the bishop, Ignatius instructs, "render him all respect according to the power of God the father... even the holy presbyters... yield to him in their godly prudence, yet not to him but to the Father of Jesus" (III.1).

Later, he shows the hierarchy of the bishops and presbyters as a symbol of Christ and the apostles, and also direct people to Pauline mutual love: "...with the bishop presiding in the place of God and the presbyters in the place of the Council of Apostles... Be then all in conformity with God, and respect one another... in everything love one another in Christ" (VI.1).

II. Adhere to Christianity:
Ignatius instructs his readers to adhere fully to the Christian faith, and not merely to be nominal Christians: "It is right, then, that we should be really Christians, and not merely have the name; even as there are some who recognize the bishop in their words, but disregard him in all their actions. Such men seem to me not to act in good faith, since they do not hold valid meetings according to the commandment" (IV.1). Isn't it interesting that this was seen as an issue even back then?  As a modern reader, the first thing I think of is someone saying "I'm Catholic" but living or behaving in a way that it contrary to Church teaching. But I wonder what else he may have been thinking of, with the persecutions and heresies going on at the time as well.

Along the same line of not being only nominally Christian, he cautions people against retaining the Jewish faith.  He's basically pointing out that at this point the Christian Church is a religion itself, and they are not a sect of Judaism.  He says, "for if we are living until now according to Judaism, we confess that we have not received grace" (VIII.1) and "It is monstrous to talk of Jesus Christ and to practice Judaism..." (X.1).

III. Avoid false teachings:
Ignatius cautions his readers against believing in heretical teachings: "...not to fall into the snare of vain doctrine, but to be convinced of the birth and passion and resurrection which took place... for these things were truly and certainly done by Jesus Christ, our hope, from which God grant that none of you be turned aside" (XI).  He seems to have included this specifically to warn against the docetist movement. The docetists denied that Jesus truly suffered and died, but that he only was appearing suffer.  So Ignatius is trying to specifically warn his readers about those who do not belief in the Lord's Passion.

These are my highlights of St. Ignatius of Antioch's letter to the Magnesians. It's not a very long letter, and is easy to read. Here are links to two different translations (neither of which I was quoting from):
An older translation and a newer translation.

My quotations are from Readings in World Christian History vol. I, edited by Coakley and Sterk.

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