Tuesday, November 22, 2005

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

The Epistle to the Romans I've saved for last because it's the most controverted of the lot. In general I'm trying to keep this reading group from detouring into apologetics for Cathodoxy (great word, isn't that?), mostly because after several years of the internet I've seen all the armchair apologetics I care to deal with, and I'm just not interested in reading the Fathers as a sort of ammunition-gathering exercise. But there's no way to avoid the Big Issue of this particular epistle--the Ignatian claim, if it be there, to some kind of Roman primacy. So let's dive right in.

Here's the money paragraph from the epistle, according to our ANF translation:

"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, which also presides in the place of the report of the Romans, worthy of God, worthy of honour, worthy of the highest happiness, worthy of praise, worthy of obtaining her every desire, worthy of being deemed holy, and which presides over love, is named from Christ, and from the Father, which I also salute in the name of Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father: to those who are united, both according to the flesh and spirit, to every one of His commandments; who are filled inseparably with the grace of God, and are purified from every strange taint, [I wish] abundance of happiness unblameably, in Jesus Christ our God. "

And now Quasten's commentary:

"When one compares the opening words of the various epistles to the communities of Asia Minor with the salutation of that addressed to the Church of Rome, there is no doubt that Ignatius holds the Church of Rome in far higher regard. The significance of this salutation cannot be overestimated; it is the earliest avowal of the Primacy of Rome that we possess from the pen of a non-Roman ecclesiastic....

"Among these titles of encomium lavished upon the Church of Rome by Ignatius, one in particular, namely, 'presiding in love' prokathemene tes agapes, has attracted the attention of scholars. But they are very much divided as to the meaning of this phrase.... According to [Harnack], the Roman Church is called 'presiding in love' because she is the most charitable, generous and helpful of all the Churches and therefore the protectress and patroness of charity. The fact cannot be ignored, however, that the expression appears twice in the salutation and with no apparent change in meaning. At its first occurence it runs thus: 'Which also presides in the chief place of the Roman territory' (hetis kai prokathetai eu topo xorion Romaion). Here the suggestion of ecclesiastical authority is inescapable and Harnack's interpretation is inapplicable. Proof of this is that the same Greek idiom, in the only other place in Ignatius' works in which it is met with (Magn. 6, 1, 2), unmistakably refers to the exercise of supervision by bishop, presbyters, and deacons.

"A more difficult problem is the sense of tes agapes.... F. X. Funk, basing his solution upon the fact that in several instances Ignatius makes the term agape a synonym for the respective Churches, turned the passage in the letter to the Romans by, 'presiding over the bond of love'--'bond of love' being merely another way of saying 'the Church universal'. But more recent investigations by J. Thiele and A. Ehrhard have proved that this translation is scarcely correct, given the context and the trend of Ignatius' thought. Moreover, the old Latin, Syriac, and Armenian versions of Ignatius' Epistles do not favor such a rendition. Rather convincing is the suggestion of J. Thiele, namely, to give the word in this passage a wider and profounder meaning, and to understand by 'agape' the totality of that supernatural life which Christ enkindled in us by his love. Then Ignatius would by the phrase 'presiding in love' assign to the Roman Church authority to guide and lead in that which constitutes the essence of Christianity and of the new order brought into the world by Christ's divine love for men.

"But, aside from the problem presented by so difficult an expression, the Epistle to the Romans, taken in its entirety, shows beyond cavil that the position of honor accorded the Roman Church is acknowledged by Ignatius as her due, and is founded not on the extent of her charitable influence but on her inherent right to universal ecclesiastical supremacy. This is borne out by the passage in the salutation, 'which also presides in the chief place of the Roman territory'; again by the remark, 'you taught others'; and still again by the plea to espouse the Church in Syria as Christ would and as a bishop should: 'Remember in your prayers the Church in Syria which has God for its shepherd instead of me. Its bishop shall be Jesus Christ alone and your love'. Significant also is the fact that although Ignatius admonishes to unity and harmony in all his Epistles he does not do so in the one addressed to the Romans. He does not presume to issue commands to the Roman community, for it has its authority from the Princes of the Apostles: 'I do not issue any orders to you as did Peter and Paul; they were Apostles, I am a convict'."

Well I'm definitely pushing the Fair Use boundaries for quotations, so I'll leave the floor open for comments now, with only a couple of remarks. First, Quasten was clearly mistaken, at least empirically, in using the phrase "beyond cavil," as there is definitely still a lot of caviling on the point of primacy. Second, I'm not sure how much even Quasten's very strong pro-primacy position is a problem between Catholics and Orthodox, as there seems still plenty of room for agreement as to primacy and yet disagreement as to the nature and extent of that primacy. Maybe some of our Orthodox reading groupies (I know there are at least two!) would like to comment?

Third, the phrase that interests me most in all this is "as did Peter and Paul." Here is, very very early, the traditional (or I suppose soon-to-be-traditional) coupling of the apostolic names, in a context that takes for granted their intimate association with the Church of Rome as direct authorities over the Church there.


Blogger sophia said...

I'm not sure what you are saying in your last paragraph...that it is interesting that Peter and Paul are coupled as leaders together or that Peter and Paul were coupled as leaders together over the Church in Rome. Can you clarify?

I am at a pretty elementary level about Orthodox theology. However, I remember learning early on that the Orthodox Church recognized the Church in Rome as the "first among equals" with all of the five sees having authority in decisions. I think the Orthodox would say that the problem came when the Roman bishop begain to claim supremecy and sovereignty, abandoning the brotherly nature of the churches for a more fatherly one. Again, I am no theologian, so don't quote me.

My friend Dr. Jeffrey Macdonald, who is much more well-versed on Orthodoxy is going to be teaching a class on St. Athanasius next Saturday night at 5:00 at St. Johns the Forerunner Orthodox Church, 800 West Park Street, Cedar Park. The phone # is 258-1711. Last time, he referred to Quasten's Patrology as a good resource. So, there is that communality. Anyone is invited to attend if you are interested.

8:56 PM  
Blogger The Opinionated Homeschooler said...


Thanks for your knowledgeable input! From my dim memories of reading Bp. Kallistos Ware (or do I mean Abp.?), what you say sounds right.

In the last paragraph, I was thinking about the common claim that Ss. Peter and Paul wouldn't have been seen by the early Church as leaders of the Church in Rome, and especially that Peter may never even have been in Rome. Personally I take the word of someone living a few decades afterward to the speculations of those living two millennia later.

6:25 AM  
Blogger sophia said...

Yes, I agree with taking the word of those closest to the time period rather than historians/theologian 2,000 years later. So, that is very interesting. Thanks for clarifying.

9:26 AM  
Blogger sophia said...

Yes, I agree with taking the word of those closest to the time period rather than historians/theologian 2,000 years later. So, that is very interesting. Thanks for clarifying.

9:26 AM  
Blogger sophia said...

An update-- the next church history class on St. Athanasius is Sat, Dec 17 at 5PM.

9:13 AM  

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