Monday, October 31, 2005

HFH Patristics Reading Group: St. Ignatius' Epistles to the Trallians, Philadelphians, and Smyrnaeans

Discussion hasn't been thick on the ground for Ignatius, so we're going to blaze through three epistles at one go: the Epistles to the Trallians, Philadelphians, and Smyrnaeans. If this is moving too fast for anyone, speak up.

These three hit the familiar themes of the obligation to obey one's ecclesiastical superiors:

"In like manner let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of apostles. Without these, it cannot be called a Church." (Trallians)

However Ignatius also reminds his readers that

"Good, too, are the priests; but the high priest is better, to whom was entrusted the holy of holies; and to him alone were entrusted the secret things of God." (Philadelphians)

More on the linkage between the hierarchy and the sacraments:

"Let that be considered a valid Eucharist which is celebrated by the bishop, or by one whom he appoints. wherever the bishop appears, let the people be there; just as wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. Nor is it permitted without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate the agape; but whatever he approve, this too is pleasing to God, so that whatever is done will be secure and valid." (Smyrnaeans)

And in the Epistle to the Smyrnaeans, a discussion of the Eucharist as a sign of unity as well as being the Real Presence of Christ:

"Take note of those who hold heterodox opinions on the grace of Jesus Christ which has come to us, and see how contrary their opinions are to the mind of God.... They abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of our Savior Jesus christ, Flesh which suffered for our sins and which the Father, in His goodness, raised up again. They who deny the gift of God are perishing in their disputes."



Blogger sophia said...

I appreciated the Trallians quote. Esp in the fact that it is telling what can be called a church. Back when we were Protestants, my husband used to pose the question to close friends and family, "What is The Church?" For years, I would think it was the most obvious question ever, even though I knew he didn't agree with my simple answer. Of course the right answer in my eyes was found in Matthew 18:20, "For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them." "So, church is a gathering of believers. Right? Wrong, he would argue. I could never wrap my brain around why he felt such a need to be in a church which could be traced to the apostles, with sacraments, with a church hierarchy. Finally, I am starting to see that the early Christians were protecting their pearl of great price, their faith, from the outside forces. It seems to me that this is why they drew these boundaries around what is the church and what is not, and who their ecclesiatical superiors were and who were not. This is why they had the councils and wrote the creeds. The outside forces are as present as ever, and who am I to dismiss the wisdom and the parameters drawn by the Christians who have gone before me. I am finally starting to understand the deeper significance of the question: What is the church?

12:21 PM  

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