Friday, October 14, 2005

HFH Patristics Reading Group: St. Ignatius' Epistle to the Magnesians

Here's my favorite part from the letter to the Magnesians:

"It becomes you not to presume on the youth of the bishop, but to show him all reverence in consideration of the authority of God the Father: just as even the holy presbyters, so I have heard, do not take advantage of his outwardly youthful appearance, but yield to him in their godly prudence: yet, not to him, but to the father of Jesus Christ, the Bishop of all."

And here's the most confusing part:

"Christianity did not base its faith on Judaism, but Judaism on Christianity, in which every tongue believing in God is brought together."

Anyone have any thoughts?

Magnesians has a lot to say about the threefold ministry, and especially about bishops. From Quasten:

"We obtain from Ignatius' letters a vivid picture of the hierarchical
dignity and prestige accorded a bishop in the midst of his flock. St. Ignatius mentions nothing of the prophets, who prompted by the spirit were still going from one Church to another, as described in the Didache. A monarchical episcopate reigns over the communities. We all but see the bishop surrounded by his priests and deacons. The bishop presides as god's representative, the priests form the apostolic senate and the deacons perform the services of Christ....The bishop is above all the responsible teacher of the faithful, and to be in communion with him is to be safeguarded against error and heresy.... The bishop is according to Ignatius also the high priest of the liturgy and the dispenser of the mysteries of God. Neither baptism, nor agape, nor Eucharist may be celebrated without him."

This very clarity of the existence of the threefold ministry and the bishop's role led in the past to suspicions of inauthenticity in the epistles. Quasten again:

"The authenticity of the Epistles was for a long time questioned by Protestants. On their view, it would be unlikely to find at the time of Trajan the monarchical episcopate and so clear cut an organization of the hierarchy into bishop, presbyter and deacon. They suspected the Letters of Ignatius of being a forgery, made with the very purpose of creating the hierarchical organization. But such a falsification is incredible.... [T]hey are generally accepted as genuine today."

Now in Calvin's defense, only the long recension was known in Calvin's day, and since it contained interpolations that were unquestionable of later date, it's not entirely unreasonable for early Protestants of Calvinist sympathies to suspect the authenticity of the letters. If the modern scholarly consensus that the short recension is authentic causes any problems for Presbyterian or other Calvinist theology, I'm not aware of it. Though I admit to being curious as to how the demonstrated existence of bishops in A.D. 100 now co-exists with the Calvinist position. Since I don't know any stupid Presbyterians, I assume there's some theology that deals with the issue.


Anonymous George said...

"Christianity did not base its faith on Judaism, but Judaism on Christianity, in which every tongue believing in God is brought together."

Without reference to scripture it may be easy to dismiss this as zealous hubris, but it perhaps could be seen as a condensation of Hebrew scripture insinuating multiple personship, i.e. Genesis 1:26, and/or as the object, and ultimate manifestation, of messianic characters starting with Moses and foreshadowed with such piercing detail in Isiah 53. And since John 1:1 indicates the existence of Christ from the beginning, it would seem that one could infer that Christ received the prayers,sacrifices and devotions of the Hebrew people, 'one in being with the Father'.

Just one simplistic opinion...

8:07 AM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...


I think you must be right; Ignatius can't possibly be speaking in a historical sense, but rather in the sense of "Before Abraham was, I am."

6:16 AM  

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