Showing posts with label Ignatius. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ignatius. Show all posts

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Ignatius and Trajan.

Ignatius was bishop of Antioch and a disciple of the John the apostle. The story of his execution tells of how Trajan had come to Syria and was the judge who saw Ignatius and condemned him. An excerpt of this follows:

"For Trajan, in the ninth year of his reign, being lifted up with pride, after the victory he had gained over the Scythians and Dacians, and many other nations, and thinking that the religious body of the Christians were yet wanting to complete the subjugation of all things to himself, and thereupon threatening them with persecution unless they should agree to worship daemons, as did all other nations, thus compelled all who were living godly lives either to sacrifice to idols or die."

Although implying that Trajan instigated a persecution, the same story begins with something else:

"Wherefore he (Ignatius) rejoiced over the tranquil state of the Church, when the persecution ceased for a little time, but was grieved as to himself, that he had not yet attained to a true love to Christ, nor reached the perfect rank of a disciple. For he inwardly reflected, that the confession which is made by martyrdom, would bring him into a yet more intimate relation to the Lord. Wherefore, continuing a few years longer with the Church, and, like a divine lamp, enlightening every one's understanding by his expositions of the Holy Scriptures, he at length attained the object of his desire."

Thus, it seems to be a bit of inconsistency in the story. One paragraph says that Trajan was active in seeking out Christians to persecute. The other that Ignatius was the one seeking out martyrdom. Perhaps a mix?

This is a peculiar case, however, where history provides us another part of the story, because the Roman governor, Pliny, sent Trajan a letter asking what to do about Christians and Trajan provided an answer:

"You have adopted the right course, my dearest Secundus, in investigating the charges against the Christians who were brought before you. It is not possible to lay down any general rule for all such cases. Do not go out of your way to look for them. If indeed they should be brought before you, and the crime is proved, they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that where the party denies he is a Christian, and shall make it evident that he is not, by invoking our gods, let him (notwithstanding any former suspicion) be pardoned upon his repentance. Anonymous informations ought not to be received in any sort of prosecution. It is introducing a very dangerous precedent, and is quite foreign to the spirit of our age." - Letters of Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, The Harvard Classics, vol. 8.

In the account of the martyrdom of Ignatius, it appears that he alone was targeted for execution, so it seems to me that the account of Trajan to Pliny was the more accurate one regarding the policies of the time. Certainly a martyrdom is still a martyrdom. Trajan had Ignatius executed solely for his profession of Jesus. As for me, well, perhaps when I am a bit older and ready to die, perhaps I too should seek out a place where Christianity is illegal and try to give my testimony. Waziristan seems like a good destination ...

Another tidbit about Ignatius is that he had a nickname, Theophorus, which means "carrying god". Many early Christians took on second names just as Simon became Peter and Joseph became Barnabas. Given his early position in the church, this nickname was likely given by the Apostles directly. Of course Jesus Christ lives in us as Christians, and we have communion directly with God as a result. No need for priests when you can go direct. No need for temples, because if God lives in us, then we are the temple.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Ignatius and Polycarp.

The Alameda County Library was quite nice to have the collections of writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers. I will be going through this for awhile. The next letters I read included one from Polycarp and several from Ignatius. Both were martyred, but it looks like Ignatius is a generation older than Polycarp. What impressed me about Ignatius was that all of his letters emphasize the humility and wisdom of the bishops and presbyters (elders) and required strict adherence to their rule. At this point, it is clear that the bishop is only one per city, whereas the presbyters are several. Ignatius compares the presbyters to the Jewish Sanhedrin, so that we can presume a number of perhaps 23 or more per city. In the letters of Ignatius, there are only warnings and threats to those who do not adhere to the rule of the bishop, elders and deacons, but nothing admonishing the leaders.

There are shorter and longer forms of most of the letters from Ignatius which have puzzled scholars. I certainly have no where near the knowledge of these scholars, but here is my wild guess: Ignatius wrote the letters as he was traveling to Rome to be fed to the beasts. He wasn't sure how much time he would have to write the letters, so he wrote a short form and then went over them a second time to add in some detail - producing two versions. Hence, the difficulty in determining which was the original and which the modified, together with the fact that all of the letters involved have two forms. Anyway, that is just pontificating based on ignorance.

Ignatius was apparently highly respected as a church father. The reason I say this is that there are a number of "spurious" (i.e. apparent forgeries) attributed to Ignatius which deal with subjects which occurred much later in church history (according to the scholarly introductions - this is not my own observation). My guess is that his name was invoked to lend credibility to particular theological positions at later times when there wasn't such a clear leadership.

The letter from Polycarp is quite different in tone. Unlike Ignatius, he emphasizes the duties of the presbyters and specifically deals with an elder by the name of Valens who seems to have opted out of his elder role, and perhaps opted out of the church completely. This letter I find much more realistic, but this is probably due to my rebellious spirit.