WORD
IGNATIUS, EPISTLES OF
WILLIAM R. SCHOEDEL
Ignatius is known to us from seven letters which he wrote early in the 2d century (traditionally ca. A.D. 110) while en route to Rome as a prisoner destined to be thrown to wild animals in the arena.

A. Ignatius Journey to Rome
B. The Recensions of Ignatius Letters
C. The Form and Style of Ignatius Letters
D. Ignatius Theology
E. Ignatius, the NT, and Early Christian Literature
F. Ignatius Conception of Ministry
G. Ignatius, Judaism, and Hellenism

A. Ignatius Journey to Rome

Ignatius was conducted from Antioch in Syria across Asia Minor and on to Rome by a detachment of 10 Roman soldiers who grudgingly gave him leave to meet with other Christians along the way. He was especially well received in Smyrna by Polycarp, leader of the local church. There too he was visited by representatives from Ephesus, Magnesia, and Tralles and in return wrote a letter to each of these communities. He also took the opportunity to communicate with the Christians in Rome in order to proclaim to them his longing for martyrdom and to forestall any effort on their part to obtain his release.
The next stop was Troas where Ignatius wrote to the Christians in Philadelphia. He had visited Philadelphia before reaching Smyrna and had just received news about the church in that city from two messengers who had passed through it in an effort to catch up with Ignatius. From Troas Ignatius also sent two letters back to Smyrna. One of the letters to Smyrna was addressed to the church as a whole and the other to Polycarp in particular. The second letter, however, was evidently intended to be read publicly and was designed to reinforce the links between Ignatius and the Christians in Smyrna.
We hear about Ignatius for the last time from Polycarp, who in his letter to the Philippians recalls that Ignatius and two other Christians (who presumably had been added to the band of prisoners after the departure from Troas) had been well received by the Philippians (Pol. Phil. 1. 1; 9. 1). In the same letter (or, if Polycarps letter is composite, in an earlier communication) Polycarp indicates that he was making a collection of Ignatius letters at the request of the Philippians (Pol. Phil. 13. 2).
The information about Ignatius contained in later accounts of his martyrdom is historically worthless.

B. The Recensions of Ignatius Letters
Eusebius (Hist. Eccl. 3.36) places Ignatius martyrdom in the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98117), and a date in the second half of Trajans reign or somewhat later seems to fit the picture of the conditions reflected in the letters. Arguments are still advanced (notably by Joly 1979) that call into question the authenticity of these documents, but the researches of Zahn (1873) and Lightfoot (1885, 21889) and their followers continue to dominate the scholarship. Thus the authenticity of (a) what is now often, though misleadingly, called the middle recension is generally accepted. By the same token, (b) the so-called long recension is usually regarded as a 4th-century (perhaps Neo-Arian) revision (Hagedorn 1973:xxxviilii) consisting of interpolations into the original letters and the addition of 6 spurious letters. This recension is found in numerous Greek and Latin manuscripts and came to be the form in which Ignatius was most often known until Archbishop Ussher, in his Polycarpi et Ignatii Epistolae of 1644, brilliantly unearthed an earlier (Latin) form of the text akin to that quoted by Eusebius. Ussher had rediscovered the middle recension. The Greek of that recension (except for the letter to the Romans) became available with the publication of Ignatius letters from Codex Mediceo-Laurentianus 57,7 by Isaak Voss in 1646. The Greek text of Ignatius letter to the Romans had a separate history as part of an account of Ignatius martyrdom (Codex Parisiensis-Colbertinus 1451), and this too was soon published by Th. Ruinart (1689). Our knowledge of the middle recension has been increased somewhat by the discovery of several important oriental versions: Coptic (fragments), Syriac (fragments), Armenian, Arabic. It should be noted that almost all of the collections of the letters of the middle recension in the manuscripts also include some or all of the spurious letters. Since the interpolations and the spurious letters are in all likelihood the work of one person, these collections represent a curious mixture of textual traditions. Finally, (c) what some have called the short recension proves to be no recension at all but merely an abridgment of a Syriac version of the middle recension. The term-short recension, then, would serve most accurately to describe the so-called middle recension and is often so used.

C. The Form and Style of Ignatius Letters
Although the epistolography of the authentic letters of Ignatius owes something to Paul, Ignatius is more deeply indebted to the formulae of the Hellenistic letter; and he varies such formulae in ways that are distinctively his own. Thus he works up the greetings at the beginning and end of his communications from a wider range of conventional materials; he developes special forms of common transitional devices at the beginning of the body of the letter (where he avoids the thanksgiving) and elsewhere; and he reflects more directly the Hellenistic idea of the letter as a substitute for face-to-face encounter (Schoedel Ignatius of Antioch Hermeneia, 7). Perler (1949) has shown that the colorful, ornate, and sometimes reckless style of the letters has connections with a stream of popular and, in some quarters, suspect rhetoric known as Asianism. Ignatius is saved from vacuity and bombast, however, by the fire and passion that fuses the elements of his style into a single, if somewhat dense, whole.

D. Ignatius Theology
Ignatius self-understanding as a martyr provides the most useful point of departure for appreciating his thought. His experience in this regard may be seen as a heightened form of the experience of all Christians (Ign. Eph. 10), and the special difficulties that he faced may be taken as extensions of the difficulties confronted by every bishop (Pol. 15). Among these was resistance from the bishops own people and, in Ignatius own case, a sense of possible unworthiness. More than conventional self-depreciation seems to be involved in the doubts that Ignatius expresses about his spiritual condition. His arrest may well have precipitated the crisis. But there is also a good possibility that he was shaken by a challenge to his authority in Antioch. This possibility depends on taking the peace restored in Antioch and reported to Ignatius by the two messengers on their arrival in Troas (Phld. 10.1; Smyrn. 11.2; Pol. 7.1) not as the cessation of persecution in Antioch but as the capitulation of those formerly opposed to their bishop (Harrison 1936: 79106). In any event, Ignatius is gratified by those who see beyond his bonds and the apparent unworthiness that they symbolize (Smyrn. 10.2; Pol. 2.3); and it seems fair to suggest that his persistent call for unity in the churches and obedience to the bishop was at the same time a call for recognition and support and a search for the ratification of his own worthiness (Schoedel 1985: 1014). Certainly the level of activity involved in terms of letters written, messengers sent on ahead, and representatives assembled (or yet to be assembled in Antioch) is extraordinary and suggests that more was involved than simply a spontaneous outpouring of sympathy for a persecuted fellow Christian.

Ignatius links his self-understanding as a martyr and his theology at one crucial point: He asks how his impending death can have any meaning if the Lord did not truly die (Trall. 10; Smyrn. 4.2). Anti-docetic themes are common in Ignatius and are found concentrated especially in the letters to Tralles and Smyrna. Ignatius probably responds also to a distinct Judaizing form of Christianity in his letters to Magnesia and Philadelphia (Magn. 810; Phld. 59). But it is significant that he tends to deal with it in terms drawn from his debate with docetism (Magn. 9.1; 11). Any threat to the authority of a bishop is naturally resisted by Ignatius. But at a deeper level he senses a connection between the reality of the incarnation and passion of the Lord (as well as his presence in the elements of the sacred meal) and a genuine commitment to concrete deeds of faith and love (Smyrn. 6.28.2); such faith and love, as Ignatius sees it, are to be found only in a community united under its bishop and not in an elitist conventicle.

Corollaries of Ignatius emphasis on the incarnation include the relegation of the doctrine of creation to the periphery of his thought, the attentuation of eschatological themes, and a preoccupation with the worshipping community as the sphere of divine influence in the world. It is characteristic that when Ignatius turns his attention to the cosmos, it is to describe (in mythological terms that are far from clear) the mysterious events that surround the entrance of Christ into the world and his departure from it (Eph. 19). In doctrinal terms, Ignatius anticipates orthodox theology in seeing the incarnation as the paradoxical union of flesh and spirit in the God-Man (Eph. 7. 2; Smyrn. 3.2). And this in turn presupposes a definition of the divine nature as timeless and changeless in good Hellenistic terms (Eph. 7. 2; Pol. 3.2). The association of God (and bishops) with silence elsewhere in Ignatius (Eph. 6. 1; 14.215. 2; 19. 1; Magn. 8.2; Phld. 1.1) may indicate that his conception of divine transcendence owes something to Gnosticism as well (Paulsen 1978: 11022); but it is perhaps more likely that his language here has metaphorical significance (Magn. 8.2) and that it represents an extension of his insistence on the superiority of the silent deed over empty words (Schoedel, 5657, 7678, 91, 17071).

An important feature of Ignatius view of the incarnation is his teaching that flesh and spirit complement rather than oppose one another in the God-Man. Flesh and spirit in this context, however, refer to two spheres or two dimensions; and it is significant that Ignatius describes not only Christ but also redeemed humanity in terms of the complementarity of the two spheres (Martin 1971). Thus things fleshly become spiritual when done by those who are spiritual (Eph. 8.2). This reinterpretation and reversal of the NT formula opens up the way for a more-open attitude toward the things of this world and probably has something to do with the greater appreciation that Ignatius himself shows for the popular culture of the Greek city. It should be noted that when he speaks of the hatred shown Christians by the world (Rom. 3.3), he is thinking primarily of the exercise of Roman power. Pagans in the immediate vicinity of Christians, on the other hand, are to be dealt with as brothers (Eph. 10.2).

E. Ignatius, the NT, and Early Christian Literature
In developing his thought, Ignatius was in a position to draw on many strands of the theology reflected in the NT, and he absorbed much of the basic religious vocabulary of his sources (with a notable lack of attention to sin however). He had been particularly impressed by Paul, not least because he had found in the apostle a model for dealing with his sense of possible unworthiness (Ign. Rom. 9.2; cf. 1 Cor 15:89). In appropriating the earlier materials, Ignatius thought seems to have been shaped especially by two somewhat antithetical yet ultimately reconcilable developments: the emergence of more mystical strands of Christianity (which the gospel of John and Ephesians also reflect); and a growing emphasis on the need for discipline and order (which Matthew and the Pastorals also reflect). It was a theology of the incarnation, as we have seen, that served to give coherence to these diverse tendencies in Ignatius.

The gospel material in the letters is reminiscent especially of Matthew, and one passage in particular (Smyrn. 1.1) suggests that Ignatius may in fact have had the gospel of Matthew before him (Khler 1987: 7396). That, however, is not certain (Koester 1957: 2461). There is no real trace of Mark in Ignatius, and we find only one passage with special affinities with Luke (Smyrn. 3.2). And that passage (in which the resurrected Lord came to those about Peter and said, Take, handle me, and see that I am not a bodiless demon) may well depend on tradition independent of the gospel. Some (Maurer 1949) argue that Ignatius knew the Gospel of John (Rom. 7.3; Phld. 7.1; 9.1), but that seems unlikely (Paulsen 1978: 3637).

Of Pauls letters only 1 Corinthians can confidently be said to have been read with any care by Ignatius, though echoes of other letters of Paul are probably also discernible from time to time. Points of contact between Ignatius and Pauls (or Deutero-Pauls) Ephesians are sometimes striking, yet probably not sufficient to require a literary relation. That is even more obvious in the case of similarities between Ignatius and the Pastorals.
One striking parallel between Ignatius and 1 John is found (Eph. 14.2), but it provides no guarantee that the bishop had read that document. Equally problematic are parallels involving 1 Clement, 2 Clement, Hermas, the Preaching of Peter, and the Odes of Solomon.

The numerous echoes in Ignatius of Rom 1:34 are likely to go back not to Paul himself but to a development of semi-credal material in the tradition. other strands of tradition seem to stand behind formulized passages elsewhere in Ignatius, but it is not at all clear what accounts for the shape that they have. The prior crystallization around baptism of statements about the birth, ministry, and passion of Jesus seems possible at times (Eph. 18.2). Elsewhere such a listing of events reflects anti-docetic concerns more strongly and may represent in part a response to the immediate situation (Trall. 9). Certainly the series of Christological antitheses in one celebrated passage (Eph. 7.2; cf. Pol. 3.2) looks like a rhetorical elaboration of a few traditional elements created by Ignatius himself (von Campenhausen 1972: 24153). Contact with apologetic themes in another passage (Smyrn. 13) suggests yet another context within which collections of statements about the ministry of Jesus once figured (Schoedel, 22029).

F. Ignatius Conception of the Ministry
Ignatius conception of the local ministry consisting of a single bishop (overseer), presbyters (elders), and deacons goes beyond the NT but is close in spirit to the Pastorals. Ignatius apparently found the arrangement in place in the congregations of Asia Minor. He seems, however, to have emphasized the authority of the bishop in ways that appeared unusual to his contemporaries, and he no doubt assumed too readily that monarchic bishops were to be found everywhere in the church (Eph. 3.2). The threefold ministry reflected in the letters may represent a fusion of a Jewish-Christian system of elders and a gentile-Christian system of overseers and deacons (cf. Phil 1:1). In any event, there are hints that the arrangement is still somewhat in flux in Ignatius. Also still missing in Ignatius is any convincing evidence of the idea of apostolic succession, for episcopal authority is seen as derived directly from God or Christ. This in turn probably does not mean, as some have suggested, that Ignatius conceives of the bishop as embodying the presence of God or Christ in an extraordinary manner. Ministerial authority has been significantly enhanced by Ignatius, but it is difficult to show that it has been legitimated in a fundamentally new way. The elaborate and quite varied comparisons between the bishop and God or Christ, between the presbyters and the apostles, and between the deacons and divinely approved service seem to remain true comparisons and to express conventional ideas about receiving the one sent as the one who sent him (Schoedel, 11214). It is also interesting to note in this connection that when Ignatius reflects on the words of inspired prophecy that he delivered in Philadelphia about the need to obey the bishop, he does not link the charisma of prophecy formally with the office of bishop (Phld. 7). In principle the Spirit still blows where it wills.

There is also no convincing evidence in Ignatius of an overarching ecclesiastical authority above the level of the local bishop. The preeminence accorded the Roman church in the address of his letter to them (the one letter that fails to draw attention to the bishop of the community) is a spiritual preeminence and is emphasized precisely because the Roman Christians form the last and presumably most important link in a chain of churches to whom Ignatius looks to give his martyrdom significance. It is the approval of the churches that will assure Ignatius of the value of his ministry and thereby confirm his worthiness to become a disciple and to attain God in martyrdom (Eph. 1.2). For the churches are made up of Christians who apparently realize their discipleship here and now (Magn. 9.1; 10.1; Pol. 2.1) and who walk united in the path marked out for them by the apostles (Eph. 11.212.2). In this connection Ignatius may well have been thinking of his own presumed failure to unite the church of Antioch until the turn of events announced to him by the messengers in Troas. In any event, Rome is the place where the reality of Ignatius Christianity is to be decisively demonstrated, and the Roman Christians are the last in a line of well-wishers who will paradoxically show their love for their visitor by urging on the wild beasts.

G. Ignatius, Judaism, and Hellenism
The broader cultural horizons of Ignatius have proved difficult to define. He does little with the OT Scriptures (Eph. 5.3; Magn. 12; Trall. 8.2; cf. Eph. 15.1; Magn. 10.3; 13.1); and he regards Judaism as an entity distinct not only from Christianity but also from Scripture and the prophets (Magn. 8.12;9.2; 10.3). Important light on some points in Ignatius is shed by parallels from Philo and Josephus, however, and Ignatius met a group of Judaizers in Philadelphia who worked with a Hellenistic-Jewish conception of the Scriptures as archives (Phld. 8.2). The gnostic affinities of Ignatius were stressed by Schlier (1929) who took the mythological account in Eph. 19 as his point of departure. Danilou (1964: 3943) accepted Schliers analysis as a whole but reclassified what emerged as Jewish Christianity. And the importance of the Ascension of Isaiah as an item in the background reconstructed by Schlier lends plausibility to this shift of perspective. Bartsch (1940), on the other hand, chose to take the emphasis on oneness as the main indicator of Ignatius indebtedness to gnostic and quasi-gnostic thought. But it now seems clear that more relevant parallels to such themes as unity and concord are to be found in less esoteric realms of Hellenism and Hellenistic Judaism (Schoedel, 5155; 74; 11617). As suggested above, this may well be true also for the theme of silence in Ignatius. The reflections of these and other features of popular culture in the letters go a long way to account for the literary and theological peculiarities of Ignatius.

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2004 .