ANF – Who Are You?

In addition to the seven previously summarized letters of Ignatius, there are an additional eight letters purporting to be from his hand.  Very few – if any – scholars seriously believe that Ignatius wrote these.  Even a casual reading of them reveals drastically different style and substance, and while these things in and of themselves are not necessarily indications of alternate authorship, there seems little solid evidence upon which to argue that they are authentic.  We don’t know who wrote these next eight letters, whether it was one person or several.  I’ll go ahead and briefly summarize them as well.  They are ancient documents, even if they aren’t what (or who) they claim to be.  This phenomenon is known as pseudepigrapha.  Writings in this genre include those who claim to be by someone they aren’t, or those that are incorrectly or falsely attributed by others to be from someone they aren’t.  They can be an interesting study in what other people in history thought were important things to convey, perhaps choosing to write as another person in order to lend greater weight or authority to their importance.

I’ll deal with all eight of these writings here.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Tarsians

After a perfunctory exhortation to faithfulness and complaint about his treatment en route to his death, this letter immediately dives into the issue of false doctrine and those spreading it.  Multiple heresies are dealt with or mentioned, including the idea that Jesus was not actually physical but only spiritual, that He is not the Son of God, or that God the Son and God the Father are actually identical and one in the same (different from Trinitarian theology), or that Jesus was human but not divine and finally that there is no resurrection of the dead.

The rest of this short letter deals with these ideas by quoting extensively from Scripture, something  that the other letters of Ignatius did very sparingly.  It concludes with an exhortation to duties similar to Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp.

I have no difficulty agreeing that this is not the same kind of writing as the previously reviewed letters of Ignatius.  It demonstrates the growing concern with heretical ideas that contradict the eye-witness accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry, a concern that has hardly subsided in the centuries since this was penned!

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Antiochians

This letter makes little to no mention of martyrdom, unlike Igantius’ other writings,  but dives almost immediately into warning against heretical teachings.  Once again these warnings are heavily substantiated with Biblical quotes from both the Old and New Testament.  Like the last false letter, it also  mimics the exhortations to proper duties from Ignatius’ letter to Polycarp, perhaps indicating that this was another area in addition to doctrine that was of concern to the author and the audiences of  their day.

The Epistle of Ignatius to Hero

This is a personal letter to a deacon by the name of Hero.  This letter begins with cautions to Godly living and behavior on Hero’s part, and then moves on to warnings against teachers of false doctrine.  He seems to refer to those who might push for observing Jewish law, as well as to those who deny the humiliating crucifixion of Jesus.  Hero is exhorted to mind his duties as deacon faithfully and in purity of faith, and also seems to indicate that Ignatius is recommending him to Polycarp for the bishopric of Antioch.  If this was a real person, we have no further historic record of them.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Philippians

Again this letter dives almost immediately into defending Christian doctrine, including the Trinity and the Incarnation.  There is an interesting section that theorizes how Satan machinated the execution of Jesus, only at the last minute to change his mind and try to prevent it from happening.  He talks about Satan bringing Judas to repentance and then encouraging him to suicide.  There’s also an interesting line about how Satan “terrified also the silly woman, disturbing her by her dreams”.  Initially I thought this referred to some early story of a woman plagued by demonic dreams, but I now think it refers to Pontius Pilate’s wife, as mentioned in Matthew 27:19.

The letter goes to great detail to show how Satan is either inconsistent or ignorant or foolish or audacious or any number of other unpleasant attributes.

The Epistle  of Maria the Proselyte to Ignatius

This is interesting in that it purports not to be from Ignatius but to him, written by a woman named Maria.  This is interesting in that I’m not aware of any copies remaining of letters to the Apostles, only their responses (such as Paul’s two responses to the Corinthians).  The only information we have on this alleged author is that she is from Cassobelae, although others (based on a scarcity of geographical knowledge of where such a place might be) think that a better interpretation would be Maria Cassobolita or Castabalitis, as Castabala was a well-known city in Cilicia.

Her letter entreats Ignatius to facilitate the transfer or  movement of three people -Maris, bishop of Neapolis, Eulogius, and a presbyter by the name of Sobelus to Maria and the congregation she is apparently a part of.  She then goes on to anticipate a possible concern of Ignatius – that these three men are rather young.  She embarks then on a discourse to demonstrate, Biblically, how their mere youth alone should not disqualify them (presumably for official service in the church).  At the end of her defense, she dutifully defers to Ignatius’ position as leader as well as all other clergy, not wanting to appear presumptuous.

The Epistle of Ignatius to Mary at Neapolis, Near Zarbus

This would be Igantius’ response to the letter from Maria, and provides reason why some presume that the previous letter’s heading is read incorrectly as Maria being from Cassobelae.

Ignatius salutes Mary as a woman of wisdom, and indicates that he has agreed with and complied with her request.  Ignatius goes on to mention that this Mary was in Rome with Linus, the second bishop or pope of Rome (after Peter), and then mentions Linus’ successor, Clement, who also had the opportunity to hear and learn from Peter and Paul.

The Epistle of Ignatius to St. John the Apostle

This brief letter purportedly written to St. John, the Apostle of Jesus, asks for John to come, and to bring with him Mary the mother of Jesus, reaffirming the tradition that Mary and John continued  to stay together after Jesus conferred them to one another’s care (John 19:25-27).  The letter mainly praises Mary and her attitude and disposition in all situations both good or bad, and seems to be arguing for a supernatural amount of grace and purity in her, perhaps anticipating or supporting an already existing doctrine of Mary’s perpetual virginity and her own virgin birth.

A Second Epistle of Ignatius to St. John

This letter is a request from Ignatius that John allow him to go to Jerusalem, where he might meet with Mary the mother of Jesus as well as Jesus’ brother James.  This would raise the question of date of authorship, since all  of the other letters (including some of the spurious ones) are written by Ignatius during his final journey towards martyrdom.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Virgin Mary

The final of the eight spurious or pseudepigraphical writings is actually two writings – a very brief letter from Ignatius to Jesus’ mother, Mary, and an equally brief response from her.  Ignatius seeks to hear from her firsthand things that he has heard and learned from St. John regarding the life of Jesus.  Mary responds that she will come to him, but that in the meantime he should trust everything that John taught him.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s