Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Book Review: V is for Vendetta

February 11, 2019

V is for Vendetta by Alan Moore & David Lloyd

Back a few decades, my best friend started to get into graphic novels.  The genre was really beginning to explode, but it never interested me.  I felt then – and still do – that you either have to focus on the art or the story but it’s difficult to do both.  Inevitably, the visual tends to overshadow the literary, and while some might argue that this is why it is a separate or unique genre, it just doesn’t work for me.

Part of the fun of your children getting older is that as they enter their teens there’s an opportunity for them to begin sharing with you some of the things they’re discovering.  Musically, this can be a challenge as my oldest son really likes rap!  Fortunately though, I grounded him in the classics of rock and roll as well, and so we can talk about what he’s listening to.  Similarly with books.  And while the kids really enjoyed various comic-style books over the years (Asterix & Obelix, Bone, etc.), for the first time I’ve read something more substantive that my son picked up at the library the other day – V is for Vendetta.

I watched a good chunk of the movie without sound on some plane flight at some point, but didn’t realize it came from a graphic novel.  I can’t say that I was overly impressed, and therefore my opinion of graphic novels as a whole remains the same. The story line is interesting, but predictably (to me) the story and character development is rather shallow.

The setting is in the 1990’s in a post-apocalyptic Britain that has become a totalitarian state in the aftermath of atomic warfare that  wiped out most of Europe and Africa.  The titular character – V – is never unmasked in the novel, but wears several different masks, the most common of which is a lightly colored Guy Fawkes mask.  He saves a young woman from police brutality and disciples her in the ways of anarchy.

However it’s a very idealistic anarchy, to say the least.  V is strong, resolute, moral in a brutal sort of way.  He’s literate and enlightened thanks to forced drug therapies at a concentration camp years earlier that probably also contributed to his physical prowess.  He wages a one-man war against the totalitarian government, leading towards a breakdown in control and the beginnings of a popular uprising against the State.  V’s murderous violence is clothed in the righteousness of a holy warrior against a completely evil and unjust State.  He opines that anarchy has two elements, one destructive and one creative, and that the destructive element should be renounced and abandoned as soon as the status quo is overthrown.  But we don’t see that in the book – much as we don’t see it historically or in real life, either.  The truth is it’s hard to put away the bombs and the bombers, as they often find themselves as the new government.  While V does not find himself in this predicament, it’s a historical reality.

There are bad systems that should be raged against, undoubtedly, but the book doesn’t dwell on the reality of the human condition – that I identify as sin – which ensures that no matter how virtuous or benign the ruling system may be, it will inevitably become corrupted and co-opted by people driven to utilize the system to achieve personal ends and needs.

The novel glorifies the fight, and pictures it as inevitably victorious.  But it doesn’t deal with the aftermath and the struggle to replace a corrupt system with something better.  Nor does it deal with the individualistic nature of anarchy, which means that just because one system is overthrown doesn’t mean there will be a mutually agreeable replacement.

I’ve enjoyed talking through the book some with my son and hope to do more of it.  I look forward to his continued explorations in literature and the world around him.


Veterans Day

November 11, 2018

Below is the address President Woodrow R. Wilson delivered to the United States public on the first Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day), November 11, 1919:

The White House, November 11, 1919. 

A year ago today our enemies laid down their arms in accordance with an armistice which rendered them impotent to renew hostilities, and gave to the world an assured opportunity to reconstruct its shattered order and to work out in peace a new and juster set of international relations. The soldiers and people of the European Allies had fought and endured for more than four years to uphold the barrier of civilization against the aggressions of armed force. We ourselves had been in the conflict something more than a year and a half.

With splendid forgetfulness of mere personal concerns, we remodeled our industries, concentrated our financial resources, increased our agricultural output, and assembled a great army, so that at the last our power was a decisive factor in the victory. We were able to bring the vast resources, material and moral, of a great and free people to the assistance of our associates in Europe who had suffered and sacrificed without limit in the cause for which we fought. 

Out of this victory there arose new possibilities of political freedom and economic concert. The war showed us the strength of great nations acting together for high purposes, and the victory of arms foretells the enduring conquests which can be made in peace when nations act justly and in furtherance of the common interests of men. 

To us in America the reflections of Armistice Day will be filled with solemn pride in the heroism of those who died in the country’s service, and with gratitude for the victory, both because of the thing from which it has freed us and because of the opportunity it has given America to show her sympathy with peace and justice in the councils of nations. 


(Thanks to Wikipedia)

Beautiful words which in hindsight were so very blind to the reality of sin interwoven into the deepest recesses of the hearts and minds of mankind.  I’m grateful for the resolve of men and women who do and have and will serve our country to keep us safe, striving as well to extend the blessings of peace and liberty to other people.  But I don’t trust those good intentions much farther than I can throw them and I trust the lasting results of those intentions even less.  I prefer the words of Psalm 146:

Psalm 146 English Standard Version (ESV)

Put Not Your Trust in Princes

146 Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
    I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.

Put not your trust in princes,
    in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
    on that very day his plans perish.

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
    whose hope is in the Lord his God,
who made heaven and earth,
    the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
    who executes justice for the oppressed,
    who gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets the prisoners free;
    the Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down;
    the Lord loves the righteous.
The Lord watches over the sojourners;
    he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
    but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.

10 The Lord will reign forever,
    your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the Lord!

(Thanks to

Thank you to all who have, do, and will serve.  I’m sorry it’s necessary.  But it is, and will continue to be until the Lord reigns forever and in all places.




You Don’t Say?

October 21, 2018

I opined earlier this week about various potential catastrophic events that could prove to be the undoing of the world or large portions of it, whether by a lack of bugs or education-related financial collapse.   Neither of which was on the horizon as I was growing up under the shadow of imminent nuclear annihilation.  The Doomsday Clock is a visual reminder of the potential horror we still live with, but which time and the passage of landmark arms limitation treaties and reductions in nuclear arsenals slightly quelled.  Those achievements actually moved the clock back significantly, both from where it started in 1947 and where it nearly struck midnight in the 1980’s.

Incidentally, we’re back to two minutes before midnight on the clock, just like we were in 1953.

So withdrawing from a decades-old agreement signed by President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987 just sounds foolish, doesn’t it?  Surely our President has, once again, gone mad!  Or remained mad.

Maybe not.

It’s fairly common knowledge that the Soviets and the Russians have failed to keep the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty.  The main effect of this seems to be that the Russians have felt free to work on new weaponry while the US – in honoring the treaty – has not.  Pulling out of the treaty with international understanding that it is Russia who has not honored it and therefore rendered it moot might be a good reminder to folks that the Cold War isn’t necessarily over, and nuclear weapons are still here and likely to stick around long past our lifetimes.

Unless someone presses some  buttons and accelerates the end of our lifetimes considerably.

Nothing much changes, folks.  While it’s comforting to think that we’ve progressed past barbarity and distrust and dishonesty and spies and assassinations and all the other hallmarks of a long and difficult history as a species, we haven’t.  This requires wisdom to navigate the safest course we can through our sinful condition, and we need to recognize that not everyone honors the principles and ideals that we find so soothing and wise.

While it’s sad to see something that was a big deal at the time discarded, it’s sadder to know that it was never really the big deal we all hoped it would be.  Back to the drawing board, and prayers that maybe next time it will work a little better.

Heir of the Dog

October 15, 2018

Here’s a good essay by well-respected author and academic Gene Veith.  He asks the question whether adults should still be held culpable – even prosecutable – for crimes they committed as minors.

His basic point, one that is reflected in many of our legal forms and procedures (such as – in general – treating minors accused or convicted of offenses differently than adults, including lighter punishments and the possibility of having their criminal records as minors expunged or sealed permanently), is that we generally understand that children are children and held to different standards of accountability.  We all did things as  children that, having attained some level of maturity or at least age, we wouldn’t repeat.  The why we wouldn’t repeat might be sketchier – is it just a better understanding of legal ramifications or actual recognition that words or actions once somehow judged appropriate never really are?  But barring some extreme situations, I don’t presume to judge the character of an adult based on some random fact about their childhood, especially if what I know of them as an adult outweighs that random incident.  Such as, say, eating glue in third grade.

There are also times when a minor commits one or more crimes so heinous that they are no longer treated as children but as adults, because the fundamentals at play ought to be understandable even by someone under the age of 18.  There’s a line between adulthood and being a minor, but it can be a permeable one, as well as an inconsistent or inaccurate one.

What interests me, tangentially to this conversation, is our obsession as a culture with beginning to rescind honors and accomplishments by individuals based on a later-discovered moral failing or flaw, perhaps an isolated incident but more typically of an ongoing nature.  I first wondered about this with Bill Cosby.

For example, his honorary degree from Penn University was revoked in February 2018 as the nagging rumors of sexual foul play finally materialized and were acted upon, leading to his conviction and a 3-10 year prison sentence.  Wikipedia claims Cosby has over 70 honorary degrees from various institutions.  Many rescinded those degrees once his misdoings were verified.  Other institutions did not revoke their degrees, such as Virginia Commonwealth University.  Other schools removed the names of prominent honorees from buildings because of either real or perceived transgressions.

Obviously Cosby’s sexual behavior is deplorable and deserves punishment.  However on the flip side, does  such behavior counteract or overwrite a person’s other achievements?  Is this a binary thing – where you are either an accomplished professional or a disgusting criminal?  Can you only be one or the other?

That is problematic to me, as I don’t know many binary people.  I know many people who have wonderful characteristics but also who have some characteristics I don’t like so much.  And of course in my vocation as pastor, I am called upon to hear confession from time to time.  Very personal and specific confessions of actual bad or even illegal things people have done in their past.  And I am then charged and privileged to declare the forgiveness of Jesus Christ to that person, and to mean it.  I’m not allowed to distance myself from that person afterwards because what they confessed was too heinous.

Yes, there is a difference between the forgiveness of Jesus Christ and potential  legal liability for one’s actions.  But again, this isn’t a  binary thing.  We’re all guilty of some infractions real or imagined, large or small.  Did we make a full stop at that stop sign?  How often are we going over the speed limit?  Yet we generally say that such things don’t negate the good things a person has done or accomplished in their life. Sure, you ran that stop sign, but we’re not going to take away your Nobel Peace Prize because of it. 

As a Biblical Christian, I hold the tension that says that each of us is capable of amazing acts of love and grace, and at the same time capable of amazingly hurtful, cruel, even criminal behaviors.  The person is the same, capable of both sides of the coin, and therefore not binary.  Perhaps for short periods of time, but when considering the work and span of a person’s life, only in rare cases (Hitler, duh?) can we say that a particular person was practically universally bad.  Or good.

St. Paul fleshes this out in his amazing words in Romans 7.  This reality that we all live with – that there is a continual battle within us between the sinful and evil me, and the holy and righteous me.  I’m not binary.  By putting my faith in Jesus Christ, both mes exist within me – for the moment.  Only one is going to last, however.  Eventually I will be binary – I will be completely and only perfect.  But until that day, when Jesus returns and ushers in a new creation, I remain both saint and sinner.  The traditional theological phrase is simul iustice et peccatorAt the same time righteous/just and a sinner.

What this should lead to is not a glossing over or ignoring of sin, but the recognition that someone might be capable of a great sin, and yet still capable of accomplishing something great and praiseworthy, either before or after the period of time when they perpetrated the great sin.  It allows me to condemn Mr. Cosby for his sexual violence against women while recognizing that he is a legitimately gifted comedian, actor, and even thinker.  The two are not mutually exclusive.  And just as the sin needs to be punished, the gift remains worthy of praise.

And such praise is necessary, every bit as necessary as the punishment of sin or illegality is.

If  we’re only going to acclaim the admirable works of perfect people, we have nothing left to praise.  Nothing at all.  Which means what remains would be to determine which sins or illegal actions would be severe enough to counteract not only whatever good someone may have done in the past, but any good they might achieve in the future.  (And, for the Lutherans reading, I’m using generic terms and not dealing with a theological argument about whether we on our own are capable of any good works!)

And who will determine what sins or illegal actions those are?  And on what basis?  And what happens when a sin that is at one point considered heinous is eventually not viewed as a sin at all?  Can we counteract not the punishment that was due, but also the praise that was scrubbed out?  I don’t think so.

Hopefully Mr. Cosby learns from his sins and their consequences.  Not only that, I hope that others in positions of power or influence or wealth learn that such behavior is wrong.  Always.  But his accolades and accomplishments need to remain in the public eye as well, as reminders of what is possible despite our shortcomings, our failures, our sins, and as encouragement to others that good can be accomplished even if they get off to the wrong start.

Women’s Roles in the Church

September 27, 2018

The idea has been brought up in the last nine months that perhaps our congregation should have women Elders.  Our denomination traditionally has fought against this practice, although it is technically permissible through the careful wording of language in a congregation’s Constitution (which must be vetted and accepted by our polity in order for a congregation to be truly affiliated with the denomination.  So, as a pretty traditional and conservative Church body, we stand with the predominant Christian practice of the last nearly 2000 years and do not generally permit women Elders, and never women pastors.

There are exceptions, of course, to allowing women to be Elders and interestingly enough our two closest daughter congregations both allow it.  This is one of the reason some of my parishioners are asking about it.  Other reasons include some people growing up in other denominations that allow women pastors and Elders.  And of course our cultural climate for the last 50 years has really stressed that if women are to be considered equal to men, they must do identical things to men.  This is  not an option for strident feminists.  A woman should get a college education and join the workforce and stay in the workforce.  The maternal instinct should be shunted to the side as much as possible, and certainly a woman who truly upholds the equality of women should never opt to be a stay-at-home mom.  Equality requires that we be identical, our culture says, and our parishioners are hearing this message loud and clear and internalizing it.

So it was that I received a short note asking me why I didn’t think women were worthy to be Elders and bringing up two New Testament women who some think were not just Elders but perhaps even pastors – Priscilla  and Phoebe.  After clarifying that this is not an issue of worthiness or capability, but rather a matter of maintaining God’s Word to us that our value and worth is contingent not on what we do or don’t do but rather on the fact that God the Father created us, God the Son died for us, and God the Holy Spirit seeks after every last one of us, here is my quick treatment of Priscilla and Phoebe.

Priscilla – Our knowledge of Priscilla comes from four places:  Acts 18, Romans 16:3, 1 Corinthians 16:19, and 2 Timothy 4:19.  These passages tell us she was married to a man named Aquila who were Jews and tentmakers like St. Paul, had been expelled with other Jews in Rome likely in association with the Emperor Claudius sometime between 41 and 54 AD (probably 51-52 based on the reference to the proconsul Gallio).  These events are referenced as well by several Roman historians.  They are Paul’s travel companions from Corinth (where he meets them in their exile) to Syria.  They remain in Ephesus while Paul continues his travels, and it is in Ephesus where they meet Apollos and expounded or proclaimed to him the Christian faith more fully.  They are also in Rome and are referred to by Paul as co-laborers or co-workers in Christ.  They are said to host a church in their home in Corinth.
What do we learn from this?  Aquila and Priscilla are valued and trusted friends and co-workers with St. Paul.  Together they are credited with laboring on behalf of Christ, including the further education of Apollos.  Priscilla is not singled out in any of these things, but is treated as a partner with Aquila.  The reference to them as co-workers in Romans 16:3 is not a theological or church term, but a common expression of someone working together.  It doesn’t mean that they were necessarily doing the same things, but that they worked together.  Paul makes it very clear that there are many ways to serve Christ in the church (1 Corinthians 12), and not all of them are the role of Elder or Pastor.  The fact that Aquila and Priscilla serve Christ does not mean they are doing the same things Paul is doing.  And the fact that they host a church in their home does *not* necessitate that they were the leaders of that church.  Paul nowhere makes that assertion, and I most frequently hear that interpretation of the texts by people who already have made up their mind that women ought to be pastors or Elders/leaders in the Church and go off looking for texts to support their point of view.  An objective reading of the verses about Priscilla do not, I believe, lend themselves to this interpretation.  Particularly when we recognize that nowhere else in Scripture are women understood to serve in official capacities within the priesthood or Church, and that Paul specifically cautions against this elsewhere.
Phoebe – She has only one mention in Scripture – Romans 16:1-2, where Paul greets her as a deacon in the Church and a sister in Christ.  He instructs the Roman Christians to receive her and to be of whatever assistance to her they can.  Some scholars presume that she might be the person carrying Paul’s letter to the or perhaps even reading it to them.  Once again, he clearly has respect and appreciation for her and her work on his behalf and Christ’s.  But once again, there is nothing specific in what Paul says about her or  her work that would lead us to assume – again especially in light of Paul’s other words on the topic of women in leadership – that she is a pastor or an Elder.  Deacon is a Greek term typically interpreted as servant.  Because of Paul’s usage of the word, it has come to have a more specific, Church meaning as some sort of professional Church worker.  I assume this is why some translations don’t use the word deacon in Romans 16:1 – to avoid some of the confusion that has evolved regarding the word vs. the church function.  The question then hinges on how Paul uses the word deacon, and whether we can or should interpret this to be strictly or even primarily any sort of pastoral or spiritual oversight role.
Paul uses the word deacon in six places:
  • Romans 16:1 – in reference to Phoebe without further clarification
  • Philippians 1:1 – mentioned along with the overseers of the congregation, implying perhaps that deacons – while serving an important role – are not the leaders/overseers of the church –
  • 1 Timothy 3:1-12 – Paul lays out the qualifications for overseers as well as deacons, indicating fairly clearly that their duties were not the same.  The qualifications of a good deacon are considerably fewer in number and scope than the qualifications to be an overseer.
Once again, a straightforward reading of these verses would not lead us to think deacons were the same as overseers/pastors/Elders, but rather serve another function within the Church that bears mentioning along with overseers/pastors/elders.  Again, most arguments that Phoebe was essentially a pastor or elder are made by people who seem to have their minds made up on the subject already, and who are also blatantly ignoring Paul’s other teachings on this topic (most notably, 1 Timothy 3:12).  Towards that end, there are a few other references that are often brought up such as Euodia and Syntyche in Philippians 4:2-3.  They are also acknowledged and praised and thanked by Paul as co-workers working closely with him in his ministry, but not said to be doing the same things he is.  Also frequently mentioned is Galatians 3:28.  But it is clear contextually that Paul doesn’t mean that these differences don’t exist.  There clearly are still men and women, still Jews and non-Jews, still those who are enslaved and those who are free.  His argument has to do with the freedom we have in Christ as opposed to the constraints often endured culturally or societally.
The argument that women were leaders in the early Church requires a backwards reading of today’s ideas of equality and feminism into Scripture.  The argument today is that equality means doing the same things – and this is never the Scriptural definition of equality.  The argument today is that if women are not doing the same thing as men, it is tantamount to oppression by men and a betrayal of their gender by women, neither of which is Biblical (or frankly even logical!) in the least.
Biblically, our value and worth come from the fact that we are creations of God the Father and bear his  image, not what we do.
For 2000 years the Church has tried to give witness to this Biblical truth.  We are created equal but different.  Oftentimes that message has been confused or warped by sinfulness.  It has certainly been used inappropriately as a tool for oppression or suppression of women by men.  But the fact that we misuse it sinfully sometimes does not deny the essential truth behind it.  Frankly, our misuse of it only further heightens the validity of the situation.  In Genesis 3 God tells Eve that part of the effects of sin in her life and the life of her gender will be a constant struggle with men for control, and that more often than not, women will lose that struggle.
It has nothing to do with ability.  Men and women are equal before God, and have equal and intrinsic value and worth.  They have different giftings and abilities as well.  I  know women who would be far better pastors than some guys I know!  But that doesn’t mean we are free to arbitrarily define or redefine Biblical reality.  Even if we don’t understand the reason, we are to remain faithful to God’s Word to the best of our ability.  Women voluntarily recognize this authority and submit to it – it is not a means for men to exert control over women.
The LC-MS acknowledges that, despite 2000 years of church history, sometimes congregations feel compelled to make women Elders.  We tend to resist this as the Elders traditionally carry authority similar to the Pastor, and so confusion can be started.  If women can be Elders, why not Pastors?  So the LC-MS has discouraged the use of women Elders.  Yes, there are LC-MS congregations (locally!) who have women Elders, and loopholes exist Synodically that allow this.  Does that mean we should do it?  The fact that a loophole exists does not mean that it must or even should be taken.  The larger question is how does our congregation sees herself in 2000 years of Christian history and practice, and what are the overwhelming arguments put forth that women should be Elders here?  Is it simply a matter of convenience?  Is that an adequate argument against a pretty strong and consistent Scriptural argument against such a practice?  Should we go ahead and permit women Pastors as well?  The LC-MS draws a very firm line on this one!  But if women are up helping distribute Communion, isn’t that similar to being a pastor?  The questions continue and flow out from there.
So, it is not a matter of capability or  worth, but an attempt to hear what God’s Word says.  There are some who will abuse God’s Word to make women inferior to men.  They are sinful and wrong who do this.  Women are every bit equal to men, but that very equality requires that women be women and men be men, rather than attempting to take on one another’s roles.


Interesting Read

September 7, 2018

How do you articulate an identity in the face of an overwhelming alternative narrative?  Where do you begin?  What do you identify both as the strengths and challenges of the alternative?  What critique do you offer against the prevailing alternative narrative?

It might look something like this.


ANF – The Martyrdom of Ignatius

July 31, 2018

This post is one of a series of reviews of the early Church Fathers, who are technically referred to as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (before the Council of Nicaea).  To find other reviews of these ancient writings, use the search bar on my blog and search for ANF.


The precise author of this is unknown, though the work itself indicates that it was written by someone accompanying Ignatius to Rome and his martyrdom.  If this is the case, then traditionally the author is assumed to be Philo, Agathopus, or Crocus.  Each of these individuals are mentioned in various of Ignatius’ letters as accompanying him on all or part of his journey.

However some modern scholars are skeptical of the ancientness of this document, pointing out that there are no references to it before the seventh century.  However an absence of references on hand today does not mean that it wasn’t referenced in writings we don’t have.  The sparseness of the account also leads other scholars to presume that it really was written by a contemporary of Ignatius.

After his various letters describing his deep desire to be martyred for the faith, the actual report of Ignatius’ death is very brief and devoid of detail.  He was presented to wild beasts to be torn apart on the 20th of December during the reign of Trajan.  Scholars differ as to the precise year, though the early 2nd century is the most likely (perhaps AD 107 or 116).  His remains amounted to nothing more than a few bones which were collected and sent to Antioch for preservation.


ANF – Who Are You?

July 9, 2018

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.


ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to Polycarp

July 7, 2018

This post is one of a series of reviews of the early Church Fathers, who are technically referred to as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (before the Council of Nicaea).  To find other reviews of these ancient writings, use the search bar on my blog and search for ANF.


Polycarp is reputed to be a disciple of St. John, and the last link between the Apostles and those who were taught by them.  He was the bishop of Smyrna.  Ireneaus writes a letter of encouragement to Polycarp, exhorting him to continued faithfulness and the promotion of unity in the faith.  He also exhorts him to various other Scriptural mandates, including an equal love of all people regardless of their sex or status.  His letter concludes with admonitions to the people under Polycarp, that husbands should love their wives (Ephesians 5) and that the congregation should follow the leadership of their bishop, Polycarp.

ANF – The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans

July 5, 2018

This post is one of a series of reviews of the early Church Fathers, who are technically referred to as the Ante-Nicene Fathers (before the Council of Nicaea).  To find other reviews of these ancient writings, use the search bar on my blog and search for ANF.

In this letter Ignatius maintains some of the themes in his other letters, namely unity in faith and practice under the guidance of the appointed bishop.  However he touches on a new theme as well  in this letter.

Ignatius warns the church at Smyrna about those teaching that Jesus only appeared to be incarnate, but that his physical body was an illusion and He was only spiritual.  We know this as the heresy of docetism, from the Greek word for phantasm or apparition.  It began to be formally addressed close to the end of the 2nd century, but from writings like this it seems that it was present much earlier.  It grows from the Greek philosophical idea that anything material is definitionally inferior to the spirit, since material things decay, change, die, etc.  The idea that God – true Spirit – would take on corruptible human flesh would have made little sense in this philosophical tradition, so the temptation to argue that it was an illusion would be very tempting.  This teaching gained ground in part due to a pseudographical (one person writing as though they are someone else) work called the Gospel of Pete, which the early Church identified as not from the authentic St. Peter.

Ignatius warns his readers to reject this notion of the false-incarnation of Jesus that directly contradict the first-hand eye-witness accounts of the Apostles in the canonical gospels.