09 December 2008

Why St. Ignatius?

St. Ignatius, Bishop and Martyr of Antioch, was the focus of my senior paper at seminary in 2002.
Let me tell the story of why I chose him to research, and why that changed me.
For the sake of keeping it brief, one needs to read the short letters of Ignatius. There are but 7. Okay, now that you've done that read on. Either in 2000 or 2001 I completed a course in the Early Church Fathers. During that seminar-style class, every student had to produce a presentation on a character from that period. All the big names were already chosen--NO that's not true! It was simply by chance that my group assigned Blessed Ignatius to me.
When I presented material for his 7 letters I knew what kind of reaction I'd get. You see I went to Dallas Theological Seminary, finishing in 2002. The standard evangelical seminary student cannot be prepared for the shock of St. Ignatius. [that fact btw was an initial chisel for me to question the evangelical claims-more on that soon] Some of the students literally gasped aloud at the content of the Bishop's letters! [Okay it's time for you to go read them-gotcha] He, quite like N.T. Wright describes St. Paul, sounds more like a fanatical terrorist than a gentle shepherd to the 21st century Western ear. I knew my classmates would misunderstand him, but it was my job to explain him to them. That is very complicated.
First, the DNA of protestants is to distrust every notion after the death of the last Apostle. Ignatius' sick descriptions must have confirmed their disdain. [surely you've gone and read him by now!] Really, it's in the DNA. They don't teach that at most evangelical seminaries! But it lingers under the surface, controlling assumptions as we study the Bible, Theology and History. The Church, say they, held its breath until the reformation when the 'true' faith was recovered by (insert the father of your protestant tradition). So Ignatius' advice to the earliest believers must have been skewed because he never mentions 5 solas...just one.
Second, Ignatius is incredibly Catholic. Yea, that Ignatius. Chances are you know him by that reputation. He is the one who championed the local Bishop being central to true Christianity. Protestants don't operate with Bishops, so that sets his teachings at odds with something they hold dear--democratic or representative leadership. 'Bishop? Hmmm...catholics don't understand the Bible like the Spirit enables me to do so.'
Third, Ignatius is not romantic, but rather graphic. He never mentions having, or inviting, Jesus in your heart...or being His private friend when you are alone. He seems to enjoy the fact that he will go to the circus, though. Only, this circus will be his end... his flesh and bones food for animals. That presents another hurdle for protestants. We don't seek martyrdom...rather victory! God forbid that we should make sacrifices. In our worldview a willing scapegoat makes no sense [except for baby Jesus]. Protestant evangelicals don't make the crucial connection that my thesis will demonstrate.
That thesis posits that St. Ignatius contains the vital link for us to read both the New Testament [mostly SS. Paul and John] and the rest of the early Church. That link is what we would call discipleship. So when I had to find a paper topic later on, St. Ignatius just screamed at me from a previous semester. 'Come follow me! Find out why I've been misunderstood, neglected, and cast aside for other glamorous figures.'
Posts that follow will be the sections of the paper in much the same style and method as originally done. I have not changed the paper much, preferring to stick to the expectations of the course to which the paper belonged. I would not approach the topic just this way if I were to do it over. That will wait for another day.


Richard Naff said...

Dcn. Chris,

You got a preference for which translation, short/long format and redaction we ought to read? I haven't read Ignatius and set out to do so at your blog entry's urging. I came to find out I have a list of options to choose from as to which are the "real" letters.

In all, it probably doesn't make a lot of difference, but we may as well be on the same page, yes? Can you give a link you would personally find representative of your own studies? I clicked on some bold letters and stuff in your article but didn't find anything that worked.

CMWoodall said...

This one is recent and accessible

Middle recension is the most accepted. The Syriac version discovered late in the debate solidified the entire corpus' credibility.

Which brings up a point I forgot to mention. Though I can elaborate in the next post, the gist is simple.

In the English Reformation [how convenient] there was an enduring row over the episcopate. Most Anglicans appealed to Ignatius because he advocated it so strongly, so early. Well, the Presbyterians got hold of the spurious editions to his writings and used that fact to discredit an early mono-episcopate. Late editing of Ignatius meant late redacting of the episcopate back into his corpus.
Alas an Anglican uncovered the oldest known manuscript from Blessed Ignatius, in Syriac. So that edition is basically the text used by all modern scholars. So If you use the J.B. Lightfoot [another Anglican] translation from a century ago, you've still got the best text behind the English translation.

Richard Naff said...

OK, so after some searching, I finally found this:


This appears to be the text you have studied and upon which you are basing your blog entries. Maybe you could post this in the main blog entry so others can easily find it.