19 February 2009

St. Ignatius on Discipleship, part 5

Discipleship and Christology

Ignatius’s statements about the person of Christ echo the scriptural polemics against Docetism and incipient Gnosticism. There is no certain answer concerning the number of heresies he was attacking.1 Certainly we can see that he fought Docetism. No less prominent at the turn of the first century was Gnosticism. One of the elements in his passionate desire for martyrdom may well have been an attempt to differentiate himself from his Gnostic-docetic milieu.2 His writings follow the pattern of the apostle John, who linked 'loving the brethren' to proper Christology. Imitation entered Ignatius’ understanding of his death only in regard to the person of Jesus Christ.3

Ephesians 4:2-3 “Therefore in your concord and harmonious love, Jesus Christ is sung. And do ye, man by man, become a choir, that being harmonious in love, and taking up the song of God in unison, ye may with one voice sing to the Father through Jesus Christ, so that He may both hear you, and perceive by your works that ye are indeed the members of His Son. It is profitable, therefore, that you should live in an unblameable unity, that thus ye may always enjoy communion with God.” Unquestionably, Ignatius here describes the relationship of loving the brethren, an act of faithful discipleship to Christ, to one’s ability to believe correctly about the Son of God. Therefore those who believe wrongly about Christ manifest this in improper action within the community.

Ephesians 5:1 “who are so joined to him as the Church is to Jesus Christ, and as Jesus Christ is to the Father, that so all things may agree in unity.” Here he simply argues for the unity of the Church from the basis of Christ’s unity with the Father. We are to understand that to be a logical relationship. If you are living according to Christ, it will look like the union of Christ to his Father.

Ephesians 11:1 “being stones of the temple of the Father, prepared for the building of God the Father, and drawn up on high by the instrument of Jesus Christ, which is the cross, making use of the Holy Spirit as a rope, while your faith was the means by which you ascended, and your love the way which led up to God.” This symbol captures the overall scheme Ignatius uses to illustrate his concept of salvation. Man and God have responsibility and actions in his view. It is Trinitarian and highlights the idea of human activity in salvation. The description retells his thought on the place of the church in God’s program. Since the word "stones" is plural we are reminded that he is addressing a congregation...not an individual. A group could not perform this obedience unless it is unified.

Ephesians 17:1-2. “For this end did the Lord suffer the ointment to be poured upon His head, that He might breathe immortality into His Church. Be not ye anointed with the bad odor of the doctrine of the prince of this world; let him not lead you away captive from the life which is set before you. And why are we not all prudent, since we have received the knowledge of God, which is Jesus Christ?” Reception. He implores them here to adhere to the doctrine of their mentors. Notice how this doctrine is to be handed down, but not to be developed. So that unity with the bishop connects the believers to the true heritage of the Church, the Apostles.

Magnesians 1:1-2. “For as one who has been thought worthy of the most honorable of all names, in those bonds which I bear about, I commend the Churches, in which I pray for a union both of the flesh and spirit of Jesus Christ, the constant source of our life, and of faith and love, to which nothing is to be preferred, but especially of Jesus and the Father, in whom, if we endure all the assaults of the prince of this world, and escape them, we shall enjoy God.”

Magnesians 7:1. “therefore the Lord did nothing without the Father, being united to Him.” Again he points out the glaring emphasis on the unity of the Father to the Son, as an example for us to follow in our Christian lives.

Magnesians 7:2. “There is one Jesus Christ, than whom nothing is more excellent. Do ye therefore all run together as into one temple of God, as to one altar, as to one Jesus Christ, who came forth from one Father, and is with and has gone to one.” His inclusion of ‘ones’ here highlights the unity between God and between the believers.

Magnesians 8:2. “There is one God, who has manifested Himself by Jesus Christ His Son, who is His eternal Word, not proceeding forth from silence and who in all things pleased Him that sent Him.” The concept of silence could be treated independently as a paper topic. The Father sends the Son in who is his word, not in silence, but in full expression. God’s love is expressed fully in the sending of the Son, the word. The father is not silent, for the word is going forth, incarnating in the flesh.

Magnesians 13:1-2. “Study, therefore, to be established in the doctrines of the Lord and the Apostles, that so all things, whatsoever ye do, may prosper both in the flesh and spirit; in faith and love; in the Son, and in the Father, and in the Spirit; in the beginning and in the end; with your most admirable Bishop, and the well-compacted spiritual crown of your presbytery, and the deacons who are according to God.” This description encapsulates the thesis of Ignatius’ letters to the Churches. It warns of false doctrine, calls for unity of the body, and includes submission to Christ-appointed leadership.

Trallians 6:1-2 “I therefore, yet not I, but the love of Jesus Christ, entreat you that ye use Christian nourishment only, and abstain from herbage of a different kind; I mean heresy. For those [that are given to this] mix up Jesus Christ with their own poison, speaking things which are unworthy of credit, like those who administer a deadly drug in sweet wine, which he who is ignorant of does greedily take, with a fatal pleasure leading to his own death.” In one of his clearest examples of polemics against heresy, Ignatius parallels the concept of accepting new teachings to taking a poisonous drink, enjoying its pleasure yet ignorant of its harm. A lot of scholars claim that doctrine was not firmly developed by this time. Ignatius shatters that ultra-modern & liberal assumption. One cannot 'mix' purity with impurity and create orthodox doctrine. The deposit of faith, the rule of faith, the 'faith once delivered' was already being defended against poison.

Trallians 9:1-2. “Stop your ears, therefore, when any one speaks to you at variance with Jesus Christ, who was descended from David, and was also of Mary; who was truly born, and did eat and drink. He was truly persecuted under Pontius Pilate; He was truly crucified, and [truly] died, in the sight of beings in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth. He was also truly raised from the dead, His Father quickening Him, even as after the same manner His Father will so raise up us who believe in Him by Christ Jesus, apart from whom we do not possess the true life.” Here Ignatius outlines the proper understanding of the Son incarnate. The connection to his earthly lineage affirms his unity. No one who believes otherwise can be truly a Christian. Docetism clearly embodies the heresy refuted here. Docetism asserts/ed that Jesus 'merely appeared' to his disciples to return to them from the grave. Stop your ears when you hear it!

Romans 3:2. "For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal." For our God, Jesus Christ, now that He is with the Father, is all the more revealed [in His glory]. Christianity is not a thing of silence only, but of [manifest] greatness.” Again silence is contrasted with the Son. Since the Son is glorified with the Father, the church carries on the word with the assistance of the Spirit.

Romans 7:3. “I desire the bread of God, the heavenly bread, the bread of life, which is the flesh of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who became afterwards of the seed of David and Abraham; and I desire the drink of God, namely His blood, which is incorruptible love and eternal life.” This Eucharistic prayer conveys the link between the body and blood of the Son and the incorruptible divine nature. When we take the Holy Communion, we sup on the medicine of immortality.

Philadelphians 9:2 “But the Gospel possesses something transcendent [above the former dispensation], viz., the appearance of our Lord Jesus Christ, His passion and resurrection. For the beloved prophets announced Him but the Gospel is the perfection of immortality. All these things are good together, if ye believe in love.”

Philadelphians 11:3 “May the Lord Jesus Christ honor them, in whom they hope, in flesh, and soul, and faith, and love, and concord! Fare ye well in Christ Jesus, our common hope.”

Smyrneans3. “For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh, and I believe that He is so now. When, for instance, He came to those who were with Peter, He said to them, "Lay hold, handle Me, and see that I am not an incorporeal spirit." And immediately they touched Him, and believed, being convinced both by His flesh and spirit. For this cause also they despised death, and were found its conquerors. And after his resurrection He did eat and drink with them, as being possessed of flesh, although spiritually He was united to the Father.”

Smyrneans5:1-2. “Some ignorantly deny Him, or rather have been denied by Him, being the advocates of death rather than of the truth. These persons neither have the prophets persuaded, nor the law of Moses, nor the Gospel even to this day, nor the sufferings we have individually endured. For they think also the same thing regarding us. For what does any one profit me, if he commends me, but blasphemes my Lord, not confessing that He was [truly] possessed of a body? But he who does not acknowledge this, has in fact altogether denied Him, being enveloped in death.”

Smyrneans 6:2 “Let not high place puff any one up: for faith and love are everything, to which nothing is to be preferred. But consider those who are of a heretical opinion with respect to the grace of Christ which has come unto us, how opposed they are to the will of God. They have no regard for love; no care for the widow, or the orphan, or the oppressed; of the bond, or of the free; of the hungry, or of the thirsty.”

1 A. A. K. Graham, “Their word to our day, IV. Ignatius of Antioch,” The Expository Times 80 (Jan. 1969): p.102.

2 Ibid., p.108.

3 Daniel N. McNamara, “Ignatius of Antioch on his death, discipleship, sacrifice, and imitation,” (Ph.D. diss. McMaster University, 1978) p. 248.

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